In the era of seemingly endless crossovers and reboots, relaunches and rehashes, it can be easy to lose faith in “big two” superhero comics. Yet at times a run will come along on a franchise which is so seminal, so potent, and so timely that it reminds many in the readership that there is still life in many of these franchises besides the eternal sale of merchandise or inspiration for adaptive media. The run of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee on “Daredevil” is such a run, and it is a shame that it will soon come to an end.
This issue symbolizes so much of what this run has offered since its’ inception. A complete story is told, while at the same time embellishing on long term subplots from previous issues while setting up new subplots for this next and final arc. And in addition, it has a moral and a theme beyond simply filling the pages of a well established franchise, all done with top notch dialogue and some of the best art in mainstream comics. Matt Murdock has faced many threats and challenges in his life, but his latest proves to be one of the rockiest – admitting his love to former New York ADA Kirsten McDuffie despite all of the tragedy which has surrounded those he’s loved (mostly at the hands of his nemesis, Bullseye). He confides in his fears to his best friend, “Foggy” Nelson (who is still recovering from cancer and in hiding), who tries his best to get Matt to stop over-thinking and be happy for once. However, a knife carrying lunatic and a conspiracy from two of his enemies quickly bring things into focus, even for a blind man.
In this additional masterful issue by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and new colorist Matthew Wilson, the expectations of the audience as well as the entire genre in terms of relationships are put through the ringer and ultimately turned on their head. While some superheroes in mostly red costumes seem to pretend like their past never happened, Mark Waid utilizes that past to spin his story into a new angle. Nearly every turn seems to go against what the usual conventions usually dictate. Assuming that Kristen will now be a target for his enemies, Daredevil’s clueless to the idea that she might have enemies of her own. Rather than petrified by the experience, Kristen’s thrilled and energized. And while the establishment of a new threat to his status quo (former D-list vigilante the Shroud acting as a legitimate crime boss with Matt’s old foe Owl at his side) provides a notable last page, it’s the meat within the previous nineteen which makes this issue a keeper.
There is no telling how this last arc before a line wide continuity reshuffle will go. It may be possible that Daredevil’s adventures will once again end in misery and tragedy. However, at nearly every turn with this series, Mark Waid has sought to steer Daredevil away from the endless cycle of repetition which began with the Frank Miller run of the 1980’s. He’s sought to portray his lead as truly being a “man without fear” not just in terms of overcoming super villains, but in overcoming the fear within his own life. Striving to see the positive and enjoy the good things in life despite his own depression and personal tragedy may be Daredevil’s greatest battle yet, and it is a battle he’s never done alone. At a time when so many superhero comics at both Marvel and DC seen to reinforce the idea that fear always triumphs over love, that if a hero truly loves someone they need to stay away lest they die regardless of circumstances, “Daredevil” is there to tilt that worldview onto it’s side. When a superhero formerly known for being the bleakest of the bleak is finding happiness at a time when even Spider-Man and Superman have buckled under the assumption of positive romances destroying comics, it says a lot about what current editorial regimes believe about their own characters. For over four years “Daredevil” has been akin to an oasis in a desert, and it will be a shame to lose it in less than four months. Regardless, this issue rocks, and this will be a run to remember for decades to come.
The comics below are honorable mentions. They’re still good, but not as good as the above. Without further ado:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #43: IDW’s exceptional licensed comic continues to deliver on all of the spills, chills, suspense, action, and plot twists that readers of this woefully underrated series have come to expect. The “Attack on the Technodrome” reaches its’ third issue, and the best laid schemes of rats and Ninja Turtles often go awry. Amid the non stop action throughout this issue are keeping track of all the characters who seek to manipulate other characters and who end up getting played themselves! The Turtles have set up Shredder and the Foot Clan against general Krang and his genetically modified rock soldiers in a bid to save the planet and take down their two biggest enemies. Unfortunately, their mole Fugitoid has been discovered, and the lot of them may end up as pawns in the megalomaniac schemes of Baxtor Stockman instead! Back in New York, Splinter leads Old Hob and his band of rag tag mutant warriors against what is left of the Foot Clan back home, but is quickly left to fend for himself in a sword duel against Shredder’s right hand, Karai. Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, and Bobby Curnow have written a story which offers all of the one liners and over the top action that fans of the franchise have come to expect, yet have also delivered it in a long term and increasingly reactive story which takes its’ readers seriously and is every bit as complex and well thought out as many prime time dramas. Cory Smith on art (flanked by Ronda Pattison’s always exceptional colors) matches the line work of previous artists while putting his own spin on things, seemingly at home in arcs involving Krang and his Dimension X hordes. This series is the total package and has been for its’ near four year haul. It is a shame that more fans don’t seem to appreciate it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutanimals #1: How good is the editorial team behind IDW’s TMNT franchise? They can offer a reboot of a spin off of the Turtles’ early 1990’s Archie Comics series using a word that isn’t even real and pull off a top notch comic! Writer Paul Allor and former main “TMNT” artist Andy Kuhn (with colorist Nick Filardi) follow the exploits of the one eyed mutant cat Old Hob and his rag tag band of mutant fighters collected on the fringes of the main series in their own mini series. His “soldiers” are the hulking (but now intelligent) mutant snapping turtle Slash, the thrashing Mondo Gecko, the loyal hermit crab Herman, the dimwitted Pigeon Pete, and scientist Lindsay Baker, a former employee of mad scientist Baxtor Stockman. They quickly find themselves mixed into the scheme of Lindsay’s old colleague and lover Jillian, who seeks to convince her to betray her mutant allies of convenience and join her at “the Null Group”. It’s a company which the Foot Clan subcontracts to do mutant research for, which Old Hob very much wants to destroy. On his raid of the company, they find another experimental subject, the Mutagen Man. Having side characters land their own spin off can be tricky, but Paul Allor does an excellent job of establishing who these characters are very quickly. He especially illustrates Old Hob’s zeal against humans and his efforts to maintain control of his team at all costs (such as manipulation). Perhaps the biggest surprise is the appearance of the Mutagen Man. Previous incarnations in animation just seemed to serve to sell a toy, yet Allor and Kuhn introduce and establish him as a pitiful and tragic character within a mere three pages. Mr. Null is a villain created in the licensed comics for Archie in the 90’s who has never appeared since, despite being one of the most ruthless ever created for the franchise. It is great to see him recreated here, and it is great to see another top notch Ninja Turtles spin off set up by IDW. Every decision they make with this franchise in comics seems to be the right one, and it’s embarrassing how much they get right while their peers in the “big two” stumble and bumble with similar franchises.
Quantum & Woody Must Die #2: Due to not obtaining the first issue until weeks later due to a fluke at the local comic shop, this second timely issue is available for review now. That’s two straight weeks of Valiant Entertainment’s most dysfunctional duo (at least when Archer & Armstrong aren’t around). Regular relaunch writer James Asmus and “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” artist Steve Lieber collaborate on this newest arc of the adopted brothers’ series, which is being sold in mini series form due to economics. Despite their reputation, Eric/Quantum and Woody (and Goat) have managed to put aside their differences enough to eke out a career as “heroes for hire” who currently have the public on their side regardless of how bizarre or dangerous their missions get. Yet the two are in the cross hairs of two groups who want to do them in – a group of wronged citizens exploiting their therapy sessions, and LyAnn Quill, who is yet another monstrously evil CEO. Eric tries in vain to get a date with a woman he saved, but their various enemies work their schemes into turning the brothers against a crowd at a news conference. For the moment everything comes up roses for the brothers, but how long can it last? As always, Asmus provides manic, rapid fire one liners and the sort of raunchy humor that most sitcoms or comedy films would kill for, while Lieber as always proves himself a master of both action and visual humor. It is a shame these two are only together for a brief arc, as their collaboration may be providing one of the best Quantum & Woody stories yet!
Spider-Man 2099 #9: Crossovers have a way of derailing some smaller titles which were chugging along perfectly fine by themselves. Few recent examples come to mind than this “Amazing Spider-Man” spin off, which brought Peter David back aboard one of his best selling franchises of the 90’s (which once led an imprint all by itself). The first five issues established a decent premise, an enjoyable lead and a cast of interesting characters and subplots around him. Unfortunately, all of it got tossed out the window for “Spider-Verse”, which yanked Miguel O’Hara outside of 2015 and back to his own time at the end of the 21st century, only to have him take part in the aimless chases and battles against Morlun’s kin. Only one out of three crossover issues could honestly be called anything other than “alright” (and that was the last one). “Spider-Verse” may be over, but Miguel’s travels across time and space are not. He’s found himself in a dystopian landcape where the few natives that remain much resort to scavenging to survive. The issue treats it as a surprise that the Hulk’s future self from the famous one-shot “Hulk: Future Imperfect” – the Maestro – appears, despite the fact that he’s on the cover. There’s a bit of action and set up, but all of it is over much too quickly. Will Sliney and Antonia Fabela once again create a visual treat for the eyes, but much like his lead hero, it seems that Peter David has been waylaid from what he was doing by the crossover, and with only three issues left it is unlikely some of what he was building towards will be properly resolved. Since “Amazing Spider-Man” has fallen from grace, it is a shame to not be able to find some of that “magic” in related spin off series. It is also a shame to see this once top notch spin off stumble and hit the dirt after editorial interference. Hopefully the next three issues are at least readable and don’t simply become advertisements for “Secret Wars 2099” which must be paid for.