Welcome to the Devil in Detail, where I’m going to trace our way through 40 years of Daredevil and the seminal runs that began each era: Frank Miller in the 1980s, Brian Michael Bendis in the 2000s and Chip Zdarsky in the 2020s.
This week we have the end of Miller and Janson in ‘Roulette’ and other stories, Bendis and Maleev’s ‘The King of Hell’s Kitchen,’ and the return of Mike Murdock in ‘One More Day’ by Zdarsky, Chris Mooneyham and Manuel Garcia.
Daredevil Vol. 1 #183-191 ‘Roulette’ and other stories
This month we’re going to be covering a lot of ground in Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” saga, Janson’s last eight issues in fact (as well as Frank Miller’s self-drawn epilogue issue ‘Roulette’), so rather than string you along any further I’m just going to get into it!
I thought it was kind of funny to have Frank Miller writing a cautionary drug use story in issues #183-184 seeing as his characters are often egregiously high as a kite in other books. This all feels especially ridiculous when he’s giving PCP as many ‘street names’ as a youth pastor would at sunday school (please let me meet a single kid who calls it ‘rocket fuel’ or ‘hog’). That said, it was still surprising to me how sharp this story could be with a CCA sticker stamped on the front, even when this comic gets hokey or preachy it still is literally covering child drug abuse and cycles of violence. Speaking of violent substances, I thought it was pretty fun that Daredevil avoids all spicy food. I mean he has a pretty good reason to, but also it sounds about white. After that little mini-arc though we have one of the best issues in this whole run, the FOGGY ISSUE!! It’s all Foggy all the time, he’s even getting so detective noir that Frank Miller’s parodying his future self! It’s delightful. Honestly one of the best parts of this whole story is the opening page where Matt speaks straight to the audience and gives us this weird, fun, meta recap page. His fight at the docks is also really strong for an issue that’s just supposed to be focused on his sidekick, Miller and Janson never slack on the fisticuffs. The other best part of this story is how Foggy teams up with his most natural unnatural partner, Turk Barrett! It’s the kind of buddy adventure I didn’t know I needed and it ends perfectly with Foggy absolutely finessing Turk and exiling him to the other side of the country. Issue #186 kept that quality streak going with one of our first proper Stilt-Man centric stories (somewhere in Alaska David Harper just felt his stilt-senses tingling). It’s so great watching that man lumber through the skyline on his impractical legs, probably crushing a water tower every time he changes stance. He truly is one of the best.
I swear every time Klaus Janson draws Daredevil he gets a little bit beefier, his version of the hero is such a bruiser. There’s so much great art in these 9 issues, even letterer Joe Rosen gets to go buck-wild. First off, Miller and Janson’s covers are really great I mean issue #184’s is so fucking funny to me, that sneer, the weird way he holds the gun? Bellissimo. I think the thing I’ve really come to appreciate from Klaus Janson however is his really strong grip of the mechanics of comic art. His colors are criminally underrated, he has this power to drench Daredevil in every light he’s in, turning the guy into this six foot tall mood ring. His economy of the page is so tight too, with each fight feeling contained but frenetic, full of really striking moments. There are also some amazing page layouts all throughout this, and I’m not just talking about those super tall Stilt-Man panels. It’s just great seeing how Janson incorporates the means of conversation into the way it’s portrayed, like having a strained phone conversation split down the middle by the cord of the payphone, or having Matt’s panels shrinking in on him while he’s in the sense-dep tank. I’m really going to miss this guy, what an artist.Continued below
Our favorite Hornhead had some defining moments in these issues too, for one we have his first ever meeting with the Punisher (who is strangely congenial in this). It’s so satisfying watching this version of Matt get rattled, mainly because of how suave he usually is throughout, which really complements the surfer look he’s got going. I think it’s interesting seeing how this incarnation of Matt is unabashedly sexist (and I’d argue that’s a conscious choice, not a product of the time). He doesn’t think Heather is capable of running her father’s business and basically tries to pigeonhole her into being a housewife at the same time he’s asking her to be his actual wife. That said, it’s absolutely insane that Foggy’s first response is to rope Black Widow into artificially divorcing the two of them, I mean it’s the right move but it’s also absolutely brutal. I also wanted to mention that we see probably the first use of my favorite motif in this book, with Heather trapped behind the cage of window panels, showing us just how suffocating the idea of a marriage with Matt is. Still, Matt continues to grow even after going through his abandoned fiance phase, seeing as in issues 187 through 190 we get a bunch of new revelations and ninja shit. I think it’s so cool that Stick explains that Matt’s sensory powers were never really because of the radiation he was exposed to, that was just the catalyst for his own exploration into them. That’s such an awesome and empowering idea, Daredevil is a self-made hero and personally created his own sensitivity. On a slightly less profound note I really loved watching him use Elektra’s sai, honestly it’s cool seeing him use any weapons other than his billy clubs (I love them, but variety IS the spice of life), just watching him block nunchucks is so satisfying. I swear, adding ninja to a fight just opens so many avenues.
Alright, back to the plot, Natasha Romanoff’s guest appearances through the end of this arc were pretty great, she’s so matter of fact and really glib all throughout this. I mean, someone who can stay snarky even after getting poisoned with super cancer is a winner to me. Still, the absolute stand-out stars of this final act are The Hand. This just cemented their place in Miller and Janson’s run because, KIRIGI IS BAAACK!! Don’t even TRY and put that absolute juggernaut of a ninja in a corner, nothing stops my 8-foot tall baby boy. There are these really great politics between the Hand and the Chaste here but honestly I’m just here for that comeback. I just love how willingly Frank Miller sends this story off the deep end, we have buried Hand Ninjas jumping out of graves, Stick sacrificing himself by turning himself into a metaphysical octopus of death and blood-splatter, even Daredevil does some funky inadvertent resurrection magic. I think Miller sets up an incredible status quo in his ending too, with Elektra reborn and the beginning of the Matt Murdock/Wilson Fisk equilibrium cemented. You can see why his run has been so prolific, not only does it have some amazing stories, but it also creates such a clear new identity for the series.
Now before we finish up (trust me, I’m aware of how insanely long this has run), I just want to talk about how perfect Frank Miller’s final writer/artist issue, ‘Roulette,’ is. The pacing and fidelity of this epilogue is so exact and its rhythms and repetitions are really powerful. The contrast between Chuck and Matt’s childhoods makes the pathos of this story especially resonant and really increases the impact of what might be our first instance of a suicidally-contemplative Matt Murdock. There’s something that just clicks in how it analyses cycles of violence. It is so compelling and watching the narrative bounce between childhood wonderment and a game of russian roulette with a paralytic is just gutpunching. There is so much about Frank Miller that is excessive or blunt in his work, but stories like this are the reason I can’t help but mythologise Daredevil and the creators who have sculpted his nuance. Well done Frank.Continued below
Daredevil Vol. 2 #56-60 ‘The King of Hell’s Kitchen’
So in one of my (not so) rare peeks behind the curtain, it’s been a good while since I got to write one of these, that’s why I felt very gratified by the time jump in Bendis and Maleev’s ‘The King of Hell’s Kitchen.’ Generally speaking, I’m an absolute sucker for when stories hurtle their characters forward in time, especially in superhero comics where it feels like everything’s constantly stuck in a static, unchanging current day. And what a jump it was, Daredevil is no more, the rogues are in hiding, Milla is the devil’s bride and Matt has a MUSTACHE!! So without further ado, let’s jump in and see what our fifth Beatle is up to.
I think this arc does some really great character work with Matt, it’s almost certainly the best we’ve seen since the pair established their version of Matt in ‘Underboss,’ while there are aspects of that time jump where it seems like it’s been used to justify the progression of story elements that didn’t feel organic, the depreciating psyche of Matt Murdock wasn’t one of those. For one, with the narrative distance given to Daredevil in this arc he’s almost able to embody this slasher villain archetype, both in the beginning of the arc through narration and at its end when he faces off against Sano Ren in this really tense and sensory fashion. But with that impenetrable Daredevil comes a cracked and fragile Matt who’s hitting a world record of superhero interventions that only Sentry could challenge. It seems like he should be in the prime of his life, he’s married, his villains are scattered and he has a chance at safekeeping both the underworld and upper echelons of New York (it was nice learning that he’s not the only Democract devil), but despite that he’s sad in a way we hardly ever see. We’re used to a frustrated and overwrought Matt from Bendis, but after a fight that pushes him to his logical breaking point we finally have Matt lying as shattered on the outside as he is internally, and with Urich he finally lets down his guard and the two share this beautiful moment where they’re able to just talk about their hurt. Now admittedly, he was on a lot of painkillers, but seeing him finally able to cry over and acknowledge the death of Karen Page is such an impactful turning point. All the way from ‘Out’ to ‘Lowlife’ we’ve seen this very singular, very static characterisation and now that almost feels intentional because of the denial in Matt that it represents. Three cheers for the emotional growth of willful grief.
I don’t think any of that could’ve been possible without the foils of Ben Urich and Milla Donovan in this arc. Ben has aged about thirty years in this one year gap, but he’s still the sharpest person in this series, drawing a rich tapestry of New York’s crime history from the prohibition, to Fisk, to the multi-million dollar power vacuum of Hell’s Kitchen as it stands. I think in terms of actual gravitas he lacks some of that pizazz I’m used to though, I mean he and Foggy hanging out should be my favourite ever but instead it’s just… fine. We have the same problem when he hangs out with Milla. But what he does do well is co-develop with Matt, the idea that he’s this reset button to remind Matt what uncompromising strength looks like is such a flattering and ingenious idea and it really reminds me of the support-centric recovery of Daredevil we saw in ”Man Without Fear.” Milla is the other major accompaniment of this arc, and while I stand by the fact that she’s an unnecessarily hollow character, Bendis’s uncompromising drive to pin her as Matt’s emotional support does eventually reach a point of compelling flattery, even if it feels very disingenuous. Still, I just think that Milla pining after Matt and waxing on and on about what the world has done to him would be sweet if it wasn’t just more emotional lip service on his behalf before she’s been given depth of her own. It’s only once that sympathetic admiration cracks that we see just how well she can serve as a foil. Matt never told her about Karen, not her life or her death, and that’s the centrepoint of his denial. This all feels especially compelling because of this month we know it’s not the first time it’s happened! He never told Heather about Elektra and tried to marry Heather on impulse after his first love’s death, and now he’s doing the same thing to Milla after losing Karen. This boy needs to learn to DEAL with his FEELINGS. By leaving Milla so emotionally short-changed we’re given a way to see the degree of repression Matt has been embodying. Not only that but we even see the use of my favourite motif with her, window panes as a cage! (back for seconds!) They’re a classic but it’s so fun seeing them recontextualized here, all that locked away secrecy Matt was keeping has been let out and now it’s externally imprisoning his new love, Milla. Suffice to say, his marriage is fucked at this point. Now it’s all about seeing who breaks it off first.Continued below
Alright, the fact that we’re this far through and I haven’t even talked about what this arc is about probably shows how obsessed with the character work I was, but yeah, this arc was cool. Mostly we were seeing what the new Kitchen looks like without the old guard of Fisk and the rogues gallery there to enforce it. The answer, apparently, is the Yakuza in all of their Kurosawa-y glory. Bendis has talked about being a bit embarrassed of his portrayal of the Yakuza here, and while they are a pretty shallow, stereotypical group, they still make for a fun villain. They have that same vibe as The Hand where each fight with them is a body problem, it’s more about surviving the quantity of them than the ferocity of each fighter. On top of that Maleev, Hollingsworth and co go all-out with their fight choreography, even the sound effect lettering changes! It’s so baffling to me that Daredevil’s fight with Sano Ren, a brand new character, was better than his climactic fight with Kingpin way back in issue #50. I think I’m mainly just a big fan of Daredevil telling this guy how he should’ve done crime better during their fight, but c’mon, who doesn’t love a trash-talking superhero?
It would be remiss of me as well if I didn’t ask you all to pour one out for the unsung hero of this series, the sweet soul who was taken from us far too early, Agent Driver. You outshone the whole world around you and so you were robbed from it before your time. Rest well sweet boy, you will be missed.
I think the only other person to mature as much as Matt Murdock in this arc was our very own Brian Michael Bendis. After a five-issue hiatus he came back with more spark, ingenuity and restraint than any other arc before this. All through these issues he seemed far more conscious of giving Maleev’s art the real estate it deserved and in some places that restraint turns out genuinely beautifully, like his portrait of Battlin’ Jack’s death. I think there were still definitely moments that irked me. At one point he drags Reed Richards and Doctor Strange in for a scene and gives them a grand one line each, despite giving an entire page of dialogue just to tell people the Yakuza exists later. It’s inconsistent especially when there are places where he could just stop with the monologuing and let the movement speak for itself. His whole framing device of Milla and Urich’s conversation just pulls readers out of Matt’s war with the Yakuza and removes so much of its impact. Still! This was absolutely the strongest arc we’ve had from Bendis and Maleev in ages and it’s left me so curious about where we go next. We’re well past the halfway mark now, so let’s see where we’re left at the end of next month with ‘The Widow.’
Daredevil Vol. 6 Annual #1 ‘One More Day’
Alright people, we are so close to catching up to Zdarsky and Checchetto’s present day Matt Murdock, but now that we’re almost there it seems like someone else has stepped into the ring. Someone a little looser, a man with a certain pizazz to him. That’s right, today we welcome the forever funky and newly existential, Mike Murdock! So who is Matt’s grifty, thrifty twin brother? I don’t actually have to tell you that because I can just let someone who’s smarter than me (@redringside) do it for me. Still, with the Mike of the past defined and ready, I guess it’s time to look at the new, scrappy Mike Murdock of the future (and also the past, but the new past? Listen, there’s a lot of hurdles to jump here but you’re just going to have to take them like a champ and come on this ride with me)! Zdarsky does actually do a great job at painting the inevitability of this shift in status quo just from a character perspective too. We really see how much Mike is fraying at the seams when tackling his own non-reality, his rant to Black Cat (who’s in her own really great series) just shows how much Mike is at his wit’s end and actually justifies the emotional recourse of an insane in-world retcon like this.Continued below
Complementing Zdarsky on his journey through the Murdock Saga are artists Manuel Garcia and Chris Mooneyham, and generally they do a pretty great job. I really loved Mooneyham’s pencils all through the flashback sequence, he echoes a lot of John Romita JR’s iconic work on the character while bringing his own kind of emotional fluency too it. In comparison Manuel Garcia’s art ends up looking fairly plastic-y, though that is as much a product of the contrast between the two as it is of Garcia’s individual talent. I think you can really feel the artistic influence of Zdarsky from behind the script in Mooneyham’s work too. The image on the left especially shows this willingness to delve into some creative page layouts that feels especially well constructed when paired with the really deliberate and persistent use of color motifs in the delineation between Mike and Matt. It’s such a testament to the talent of this series that even without the heavy hitting artistic prowess of Marco Checchetto, this annual holds its own. It probably doesn’t hurt that both Zdarsky’s main cover for this and Declan Shalvey’s variants are just the crunchiest, most exquisite covers you’re ever gonna see.
This book also had a couple of great surprise stars pop out from the woodwork, namely one Battlin’ Jack Murdock who has officially earned himself the title of most rightfully exhausted man on Earth. He’s raising TWINS on his own while trying to continue a heavyweight boxing career well into his 40s. The stress from that would’ve given him a premature heart attack if the mob hadn’t gotten him first. Still, the whole flashback sequence is just a drumbeat of tragedies for him: him ostensibly losing Maggie, Matt’s childhood accident, Mike’s continual disappointments and the inevitable tragedy that we don’t get to see on page. But even with all that he manages to carry so much spark under the molding of Zdarsky and Mooneyham, the energy when he beats up a room of people for Mike is just electric and he’s such a grounding aspect for the absurdism of this sibling story. The other great reveal from this book was the unveiling of who the hell Butch is! I think Chip’s already proven how good he is at hiding major characters in plain sight with the inclusion of Sister Margaret (Typhoid Mary), but making Butch the secret son of Fisk just cements that. It’s such a compelling inclusion too, who was Butch’s mom? Did he grow up with Wilson’s other son, Richard? If so, was he ever involved with Richard’s powerplay in ’Underboss?’ It’s so exciting seeing a bunch of past continuity be reshaped and reintroduced as we hit this point of familiarity with the run. I just can’t wait to see how Butch acts as a foil in Mike’s redemption arc, who knows if he’ll help or hinder.
That leads us pretty snugly to the next point, just how well the two Murdock brothers (not the gobshite ones) reflect on one another. This is such a constructive change to continuity and really enhances the iconic moments from Matt’s formative years. For example, getting to see Matt being blessed by his distant mother with Mike as an ostracised observer is so much more poignant. It sort of tells us that even in this new reality Mike is the outsider in Matt’s egotistical ‘chosen one’ narrative. Then we have moments that reflect in the opposite direction like how Jack teaches Mike how to box. It’s portrayed as a really strenuous moment for the two of them but it’s some essential learning that Matt missed with his father. He’s becoming arguably the most famous fighter in Hell’s Kitchen and never got to learn any of that from his dad, which makes this moment with Mike that much more painful and beautiful. It would be so interesting to see Mike fight Daredevil using moves that Matt would recognise from his dad’s old fights. This polarity feeds so well into the main series as well. We get to see a younger, prissier version of Leland Owsley, who really shows just how batshit crazy that guy went in the years in between. His interactions with Mike also lead me to the most tinfoil hat section of this column, because I’m kind of wondering if the Owl told Jack not to throw the fight. It’s not super clear but after Mike places a bet in favor of his dad we see the Owl at the ringside and Mike mentions the Owl’s implication to Butch afterwards. So maybe he went against the Fixer, told Jack not to throw the fight then let the Fixer kill him anyway. It undercuts the valiant sacrifice of the moment but definitely lends events some intrigue and would explain Mike’s guilt around his father’s death. Still, with issues #20, #21 and the annual I think we’ve seen a really powerful step into new plotlines for this series and it’s going to be fascinating watching how that develops.Continued below
We’ll be back next month for ‘Truth/Dare’ from Chip and artists Marco Checchetto, Francesco Mobili and Mike Hawthorne in issues #21-24. In the meantime if you want more from The Hood, Daredevil and weird twins you should definitely check out “Hawkeye: Freefall” which just wrapped up.
-“Five words, Kingpin. And I’ll only say them once. Don’t mess with Guts Nelson” -Daredevil by Frank Miller (“Daredevil” Vol. 1 #185)
-“I shall be strong. Invincibile. And tall.” -Stilt-Man by Frank Miller (“Daredevil” Vol. 1 #186)
-“You’re full of pain and hate. All you’ve learned is how to use the pain.” -Stick by Frank Miller (“Daredevil” Vol. 1 #190)
-“One good thing about being blind– Tear gas can’t make me any blinder” -Matt ‘ACAB’ Murdock by Frank Miller (“Daredevil” Vol. 1 #190)
-“We need each other, Daredevil. We are partners, after a fashion. We are the power in this city”-Wilson Fisk by Frank Miller (“Daredevil” Vol. 1 #190)
-“When Chuckie pulled the trigger, was he his father? Or was he you, Bullseye? Or was he me?” -Daredevil by Frank Miller (“Daredevil” Vol. 1 #191)
-“Well, I am blind. So could you be ‘stunned’ a little louder.” -Milla Donovan by Brian Michael Bendis (“Daredevil” Vol. 2 #58)
-“You kept him safe from his enemies. You kept his secret from the world when it’s your job not to. You’re a reporter. You had every reason in the world to sell him out… and you never did. He trusts you over everyone else in the entire world.” -Milla Donovan by Brian Michael Bendis (“Daredevil” Vol. 2 #58)
-“You cannot and will not win. So, I’m giving you a chance… give up. Because we’ll take little pleasure in hurting you. A little, sure. But just a little” -Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis (“Daredevil” Vol. 2 #60)
-“Well, if you ever need help… (and you know I mean this…) Call the X-Men! I have a hot wife at home. I so don’t need to be here.” -Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis (“Daredevil” Vol. 2 #60)
-“You’re an idiot, Mike. A whisper of an idiot” -Mike Murdock by Chip Zdarsky (“Daredevil Annual” 2020)
-“Trust me, we’re all messing up in our own ways.” -Matt Murdock by Chip Zdarsky (“Daredevil Annual” 2020)
-“Here’s to you and me and taking what’s rightfully ours. Taking what used to be my dad’s. Here’s to Wilson Fisk” -Butch Fisk by Chip Zdarsky (“Daredevil Annual” 2020)
A lot of failed marriages and feelings of confinement this month, so y’know, the usual. Next month will be Frank Miller’s various Daredevil ‘what if…?’ stories, Bendis and Maleev’s ‘The Widow,’ and Chip teaming up with a whole host of artists for ‘Truth/Dare.’ Seeya then.