Just when the latest ridiculous Marvel Comics crossover makes one want to throw up their hands (or inner fluids) in disgust, in comes the latest issue of “Daredevil” to wash all of that funk away. Month in and month out, Mark Waid continues to skillfully maneuver the series past prior glory days of the 1980’s or early 2000’s and especially away from the eternally bleak tone the series often had. Once again, regular artist and co-storyteller Chris Samnee enhances the already exceptional scripts into brilliance and Matthew Wilson nails it all down with vibrant and moody colors. This series is what consistent quality looks like; all that changes are the details of each plot. In addition, not only are Waid and Samnee doing iconic work on one of Marvel’s most well known heroes – Daredevil did get a film, a spin off sequel to it, and soon to be a TV show on Netflix – but they are seeking to use their stories to teach their readers something profound about life and people every now and then. Such a thing can be tricky as it is very easy for a writer to get preachy when a story seems to have a moral or educational aspect to it; more than one issue of Christos Gage’s “Avengers Academy” succumbed to this. Yet much like how “Iron Man” and “Ms. Marvel” have often been a hero used to teach others about the perils and dilemmas of alcoholism, Waid has realized that “Daredevil” can fill such a niche with mental illness. All of this is done while wrapping up one of the run’s more interesting and creepy arcs.
Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson and ex-D.A. Kirsten McDuffie have moved to San Francisco which means Daredevil has quickly become the area’s local superhero once again. His latest case has seen him get stuck in the middle of a twisted family dispute between his old nemesis the Purple Man and several of his super powered children. All of them products of the mind controlling villain’s various rapes of women over the years, the kids banded together to overthrow him and then strike out on their own . Unfortunately, their raw emotional powers create havoc wherever they go and they’ve zapped Daredevil deep into the depression that he’s sought to overcome since “Shadowland”. Murdock, with help from the new woman in his life, has to overcome both his crippling negative emotions as well as a furious Purple Man to save the kids from their own angry father. It all comes to a head in a local arcade where the raw emotional powers of the kids end up making Zebediah Killgrave powerful enough to effect Daredevil directly.
The issue starts out with a pitch perfect explanation and dramatization of what clinical depression is and from there things kick into high gear. As always, Samnee’s pencils are a feast for the eyes, and even in a tense arcade showdown there are Easter eggs in the background for fans (such as machines which pay homage to Howard the Duck, Bullseye, and even a motorcycle Ghost Rider might ride). The scenes where Killgrave goes after his children one by one are incredibly harrowing, and thus make the eventual climax all the more satisfying. Waid has run wild with Brian Bendis’ reinvention of the villain as an incredibly creepy force to be reckoned with, instead of the usual incompetent mind controllers superheroes are used to. Rather than simply have Murdock “tough it out” past depression, Waid is aware that it is a daily struggle which can’t be done alone, even for those who are superheroes. The previous arc revealed that his mother Maggie suffered from it shortly after giving birth to him, and in real life its’ not uncommon for more than one member of a family to suffer mental illness. Atop of that, of course, are all of the incredibly traumatizing things that Daredevil has experienced and endured (up to and including being possessed by a demon, having lovers be murdered in front of him, and his own return from the dead).
Finally, this story merely continues the display of what a treasure of a character Kirsten McDuffie is for this franchise. Like many superheroes, Daredevil has been through his share of lovers and most of them have seen tragic ends. Kirsten, however, has been intelligently crafted and written to stand out among them without falling into the stereotype of either a “damsel in distress” or a “strong female character” who knows martial arts and fights in spandex with guns (or sai). She’s smart as a whip, capable in a fight without training, every bit the legal expert Matt or Foggy are, open to improvisation and above all has her own breed of compassion. She has empathy mixed with her own sardonic and sassy sense of humor, never allowing Murdock to wallow in the dumps or get stuck in his own head for long. Many superhero writers struggle mightily to create new women to add to their respective franchises (i.e. Dan Slott), but in Kirsten, Mark Waid has achieved the sort of deep success that looks all too easy to those in the audience. Waid’s entire run has been about Matt struggling to stay above his depression and tragedies to be a “man without fear” once again, and Kirsten is the perfect partner for such a run, complimenting both he and Foggy wonderfully. Too many writers (and editors, frankly) believe that male superheroes need to be all about juvenile bachelorhood or macho-man tropes, but Waid wisely understands that having a well crafted and consistent female lead can make any title hero stronger so long as their interactions are engaging and progressive. As awesome as Waid’s Daredevil has been, he’d be nowhere near as successful without a cast like Kirsten and Foggy around him, written just as consistently well.
Mostly free from crossovers and always worth the cover price, this Eisner winning run on “Daredevil” has already become a contemporary classic. Issues like this merely demonstrate why on a monthly basis. Next to “Ms. Marvel”, this is easily the best superhero comic that Marvel publishes.
The following three are honorable mentions. They are good enough to be reviewed but aren’t up to the snuff of the above. As for “Amazing Spider-Man #10”, the review to that can be read elsewhere.
Invincible #115: Having skipped October, Robert Kirkman’s seminal superhero comic with Image is back with an understandable reason for its’ lateness; regular artist Ryan Ottley has been suffering from back pain. As the cover demonstrates, this is an issue where other members of the cast get to shine, as well as face each other in mortal combat. The perennial fan favorite (for some) Battle Beast gets in some loving before taking on deposed Viltrimute regent Thragg on a very familiar planet – the “Mantis world” where Nolan once lived and where Invincible’s brother Oliver was born. Thragg wishes nothing to do with an aimless battle which is interfering with his long term goal of repopulating his race, even if means by acting as a “king bee” for the Mantis women. Battle Beast, meanwhile, holds honor in battle as so dear to him that he chastises any who interfere and even injures himself to maintain a “fair” battle. With two splash pages and four double page splashes, the issue reads quickly. As always, such action sequences allow Ottley and incoming colorist Jean Francois Beaulieu to shine. It’s a simple fight issue, nothing more or less, but is at least good and efficient at what it does.
Black Widow #12: With this issue, Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto officially match the longest any previous attempt at a Black Widow ongoing series has lasted, and as the cancellation ax has been staved off for now, it will likely see a fifteenth or sixteenth issue at least. As the cover illustrates, the big “guest star” for this issue is TV journalist and talk show host Anderson Cooper. Having real life journalists or other figures officially appear in a comic has been nothing new for Marvel; past examples include Ronald Reagan, David Letterman, the cast of “Saturday Night Live”, Steven Colbert, and Barack Obama (who sparked the best sales response). However, considering Cooper’s longtime association with ABC projects, the fact that he’s within Disney’s sphere may have been one reason why he was allowed to appear here (and gives the odd feeling that Disney’s reach is everywhere). Regardless, the real crux of the story is Natasha trying to enjoy what for her is a “good” and “simple” day, unaware of Cooper’s “special report” on her as well as danger coming into her (and her attorney Isiah’s) very home. For the Black Widow, a “good day” is taking part in a simple rescue of a kidnapped journalist alongside a troupe of “Howling Commandos” in Somalia and taking down some bad guys along the way. Anderson Cooper’s report on Black Widow is witnessed by most of her fellow heroes and the simple message is that Natasha lives life day by day hoping to not see how she will change if what little good in her life is snuffed out. While the “report” reads as very topical and well put together, it does feel a little silly that the Avengers have team members who have routinely gone rogue who can easily level entire cities (Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Wolverine, the recently possessed Spider-Man), yet Black Widow staging international incidents with handguns is what gets everyone’s capes in a bunch. On the other hand, women seem to be held to a higher standard regardless of circumstance, and this is Natasha’s book after all. This issue is another effective single story which acts as an anchor to both past and future stories. Despite some occasional bumps in the road, Edmondson and Noto have crafted a spectacular run for Black Widow here, and it is a pleasure that they’ll be allowed to do so into 2015.
Loki: Agent of Axis #8: Lee Garbett returns to art chores for this issue written by Al Ewing which once again is forced into tying into the “Axis” crossover event. Although the issue is so bogged down in the aforementioned story that not even a page of text at the start fills in all the gaps, it thankfully is used as the backdrop to an incredibly entertaining and effective issue using the trappings of the event to showcase the characters. Thanks to a massive battle involving a giant, armor clad, tentacle utilizing psychic Red Skull (yes, that is what passes for originality at Marvel Comics), the minds of various involved figures have been zapped and altered. In the case of Loki and Amora the Enchantress, they are now convinced to act as the sort of noble heroes that they previously had battled. To this end Loki thwarts a casino robbery being committed by villains so lame they could only appear in comics, Oddball and the Death-Throws (a gang of juggling super criminals). The new changes of heart and operation put Loki and Amora at odds with Sigurd, Amora’s sister Lorelei, and Loki’s new mortal friend Verity, the human lie detector. This a better drawn and more effective crossover issue than the last (where Dr. Doom ruled the day) and allows Ewing to play more with the themes he’s established as well as the cast he’s centered around Loki. In addition, it’s simply a lot of fun, and more comics should strive to be that sometimes.