Daredevil, like Spider-Man, has been a character that’s experienced a fair share of shake ups the past few years. Ever since 2010’s Shadowland, ol’ Horn-Head has bounced from brooding near-villain, to swash buckling charmer, and now back to his more pensive roots with the lastest volume.
Writer Charles Soule and artist Ron Garney had a tough job after Mark Waid left the title at the start of Secret Wars. Waid had Daredevil’s identity outted, causing Matt Murdock to be disbarred. This lead to him relocating to the West Coast where he was still licensed to practice law. From there I felt the quality of the title suffered as it struggled to rekindle what made the first few arcs great, but ultimately ended with a reset that should smack of bitter familiarity for us Spider-fans: Matt makes a murky deal with the Kingpin in order to erase his identity from the public’s mind.
I felt Soule’s first arc was a little bland, with new the supporting characters falling flat for me. Soule’s attempt to hit the ground running with his opening arc flew in the face of his radical departure from Matt’s typical character; Matt returned to New York as a prosecutor rather than a defense attorney, picked up a sidekick, and got embroiled in a tale of illegal immigration and ninjas (okay, so the ninjas are pretty par for course). The second arc, which saw its first issue last month and concluded with this issue, worked much better at established clear, tangible stakes for the character.
That’s enough preamble though. How was this issue? Soule’s first arc was light on the Daredevil elements, and this feels like a full pendulum swing back into familiar Daredevil territory by way of a good old fashioned Spider-Man team up (after all, Frank Miller’s Daredevil career started in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man with a Daredevil team-up). The set up is simple, but also a nice change of pace from the typical Marvel team-up story of meet-fight-reconcile. Here, we see Daredevil enlist the help of his old friend Spider-Man to pull off a Casino heist (to steal evidence that has fallen into the wrong hands) which doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. It’s not something you’re going to remember six-months down the road, but it’s a serviceable page-turner with a healthy dose of nice moments of genuine friendship mixed in.
The issue leans heavily on the past relationship between Marvel’s premier street-level heroes, but not to the detriment of those who are unfamiliar with comics that are decades old. Their relationship and the issue’s plot is established (humorously) by the first page and then the issue takes off running. The previous issue isn’t even required. Which is good, because I honestly don’t remember much from it, a statement that lends to the mediocrity of the series, especially when I considered the last issue one of the best to come out of this volume.
Soule’s Spider-Man is a wise-cracker reminiscent of the Ultimate Spider-Man mile-a-minute style of banter and barbs, with a touch of the naivety that Slott injects into the character. I’m always more inclined to like a writer’s Spider-Man when he or she is a little more conservative with the banter, but I can’t really dock Soule for writing him in a way that’s consistent with his current mainstream portrayal.
A lot of the humor from this issue comes from recall-style jokes, where either Daredevil or Spider-Man will repeat a line that the other said in order to emphasize or call into question the other’s motive. It’s a tense style of humor and it works because despite being each other’s “oldest and most trusted colleague in the super hero biz,” neither seem to trust each other. Daredevil’s glib explanation of the heist doesn’t assuage the gut-feeling in Spider-Man that something isn’t right, a feeling exacerbated by the nagging feeling that Spider-Man used to know Daredevil’s identity.
This tension comes to head at the end of the issue where Daredevil comes clean about the mind-wipe. It’s a great moment that works because the whole issue, as I’ve said, leans heavily on both characters recalling that they trust each other, and yet they come to realize that they no longer do. When pressed by Spider-Man, Daredevil searches for a way to approach this like a lawyer but decides to trust Spider-Man with the truth, re-establishing to an extent, the relationship they shared pre-Secret Wars.
Soule doesn’t directly address the similarities between the two characters’ identity obfuscation, but instead has Spider-Man comment on Daredevil’s new black look and gives him the advice “Look out for those black-costume phases. They can do a real number on you.” Which is most likely a reference to the ‘80s symbiote costume, even if the “Back in Black” story with its motif of violent revenge would be more thematically fitting for a Daredevil story; “One Moment In Time”shows us that those events are remembered differently now, so it’s a moot point.
This kind of story is exactly what post-Secret Wars Marvel needed and I suppose set out to accomplish – long term relationships being redefined and restarted with an additional layer. After all, the crux and theme of this issue, trust, couldn’t be done in 2016 when this ground was well covered over 30 years ago. New readers can see the grounds that establish long-term character relationships and old readers can see the twists, turns, and inversions that alter and enhance long-standing conventions in the series.
The art in this issue, handled by Gordon Sudzuka, is serviceable. Both Daredevil and Spider-Man look lithe and acrobatic in their movements, though Sudzuka regularly omitted the web pattern on Spider-Man in shots where he is clearly in the foreground and should be detailed, giving him that ‘60s animated look. My main gripe with the art lands on the shoulders of colorist Matt Milla who has been filling each and every panel of this volume with faux halftone dots.
For those of you who were born in the digital age, comics used to come on cheap newsprint paper and were colored using a style known as halftone. Basically, a series of dots would be printed over a solid color to achieve a particular color. On cheap pulp paper, the colors bleed together and it created a kind of pulpy Impressionist piece, but that’s not something that holds true for bleed-less glossy paper and so the dots just come across as noise on the page and distracting.
I suppose they’re supposed to lend a pulp or old school feel to these stories, but despite the classic team-up, this issue is missing what was the most important element of those stories and what made them so memberable – the streets of New York. Hong Kong looks like it always looks in comics. Faceless high-rises, neon lights, and board rooms filled with shifty glances and automatic weapons. For a true nostalgic set up, we’d need to trade out the bright lights and foreign skies for New York attitude and dingy, back-alley pubs.
So what you get in this issue is a team-up that takes a breather from the typical hero vs hero set up (plenty of that going on in Civil War II) and instead focuses on the actual relationship between the characters in question. It’s not an essential read for Spider-Man fans, but it is one of the better issues to come out of Soule’s middle-of-the-road run on Daredevil. If you’ve been following the series, this is going to read about as well as last issue. If you’re looking for a Peter Parker Spider-Man alternative however, I’d be more inclined to point you toward Spider-Man/Deadpool.