NOTE: This review contains spoilers.
Damn, I wanted to like this issue. Not only had we been waiting for it for what felt like a month too long, this also marked Andy Diggle’s last issue and I wanted this mini to end on a high note, not just for us fans, but for Diggle as well. To say that Shadowland was a somewhat controversial storyline would be the understatement of the year, but I was personally more than willing to put my feelings on the matter behind me and enjoy this story on its own merits, knowing that Diggle can be an excellent writer and has demonstrated this on many occassions. A powerful final end to this mini-series would have served to cap off his run in a positive way.
Daredevil: Reborn got off to a great start, in my book at least, and I had high hopes for the rest of the series. While issues #2 and #3 seemed to indicate that we were dealing more with a crime story set against the backdrop of a redemption story than the other way around (which would have been the more rewarding option), the preview for this final issue got my hopes back up. However, the tension of those first few pages quickly fizzled and the story we were left with was one so emotionally unrewarding that it actually made me angry. That’s right, for the first hour after reading this, I have to admit that I was a little pissed off. Me. Pissed off. I’m rarely pissed off. Even more rarely am I pissed off at something as mundane as a comic book.
The first problem I had with the issue is the too quick segue between the dramatic and tension-filled scene that shows Matt almost passed out in the blind boy’s bath tub and the one that follows, in which they’re seated in the living room with Matt patched up and apparently all better. I actually had to stop to check if I had missed a page. Sadly, I hadn’t.
Anyway, this little heart to heart between Matt and the blind boy (Billy, apparently) sets the scene for Matt’s transformation from self-loathing and defeated to “let’s go beat up the bad guys.” It happens because he gets a good talking to by someone who with each panel looks more and more – and most likely not coincidentally – like the child version of Matt himself (complete with a dead hero father), and it happens so suddenly that you can’t help going “huh?”
So, next up, we see Matt don the exact same outfit he wore in Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear mini twenty years ago, and go out hunting for bad guys. This costume and the ersatz stigmata (Matt is bleading from his hands and temple) are good examples of what’s wrong with this issue. Matt’s wounds are an obvious reference to Christ that I assume is meant to act as a not so subtle symbol for Matt’s rebirth as a hero. The return to what looks like his old pre-Daredevil costume is, again, another example of the writer hammering home the message of rebirth without allowing this theme to come naturally through the character. The result feels hollow. It becomes a matter of telling a story by reminding readers of past stories and hoping that makes up for the lack of real emotional impact. Religious imagery á la Born Again? Check. Bring back an old costume used in a much better story? Check.
The showdown with the villain Calavera is a paint by numbers ordeal where Matt stands up to his fears by saying all the right things at all the right moments, before skipping town and going home. This takes us to the worst scene of the entire issue and the one that I have to admit actually upsets me. While the issue up until now had been a disappointing collection of clichés, the ending made my jaw drop. First of all, let me say that I’m a big fan of Matt and Foggy hanging out, and that seeing the two best friends reunited should be a cause for celebration. However, Matt showing up in Foggy’s kitchen in the middle of the night and casually telling him that he’s been looking for places to rent an office, is such an out-of-left-field development that I’m considering clinging to the notion that this is all happening in Matt’s head and that he’s really on an acid trip. Nothing about this scene feels natural or in character.
Now, we all know that Daredevil is being relaunched in July and one of the conflicts of the first few issues will be between a Matt that’s eager to sweep everything under the rug and the people around him who are not as eager to let him off the hook. So, in a way, one could say that Matt suddenly acting this way is a way for Diggle to tie this ending to the start of Mark Waid’s run. Sadly, that explanation doesn’t make this complete mood shift any less jarring. It also doesn’t explain why Foggy is acting as if Matt didn’t basically try to kill him during their last encounter. There is also nothing going on earlier in the issue to explain why Matt, even though he may have forgiven himself, should act this way. This story should be able to make sense on its own, not rest on readers having a hunch of where the next writer might want to go two months from now.
Now, you might wonder why I’d be willing to give this issue as “high” a rating as a 4.5 when just writing this review has me grinding my teeth. Well, when you take out the final scene and the fact that this was supposed to be a redemption story, it does actually hold together well enough as a crime mystery story. So, if you approach this issue, and the entire mini-series, with a completely different set of expectations you would get something entirely different out of the experience. Objectively, this issue isn’t quite as bad as my strong subjective feelings about it would indicate.
As you can tell, I’m a little heart-broken about this. Like I said, I wanted this to be good. I wanted it for my own sake, because I’m a huge Daredevil fan who was really looking forward to a rewarding ending, and I wanted it for Diggle’s sake too. My impression has been that he’s been really invested in this story which makes this ending even more baffling. Heck, the final issues of both Shadowland and his Daredevil run proper were much more compelling than this. When the time comes for me to do a post looking back at Diggle’s entire run, I know it will fare much better on average than this single issue when everything is all added together. It’s just such a bummer that this lackluster effort was his last on the title.
On the positive side? Well, Davide Gianfelice’s art is perfectly fine (I, for one, don’t mind the Abe Lincoln beard) and Jock’s covers have been absolutely stunning throughout this series.