At some point, all good things must come to an end. The final curtain must lower, the stage must go dark and the narrative must be allowed to end. Such a thing is common for virtually every piece of fiction except for modern franchise comic book characters from the “big two”, who much continue indefinitely. As such, the only sense of closure or finality a reader ever gets is a satisfying end to a particular run of creators on a particular title. Ideally, the best time for a writer and/or an artist to leave a book is when they are still popular, commercially successful and regarded as still being in a creative and collaborative prime. Unfortunately, often times this perfect combination simply doesn’t occur; circumstance may cause some runs to be aborted in their infancy or extend longer than they should to the point where even ardent fans may collectively ignore a final arc or two. With this issue, Mark Waid ends his five year run as the head writer of “Daredevil” alongside Chris Samnee, who also ends a run of nearly four years as the main artist. It has been a run which has earned the series critical acclaim, an Eisner award, consistent monthly sales, and a place within the annals of history (and book stores). It has taken the character from the bleakness of a crossover involving demonic ninjas and yet another near death experience towards something far more balanced and nuanced. It has revitalized the series artistically as well as provided fresher takes on many of his (small) rogues gallery. It is a run which fans may never see the likes of on this title ever again once the last page of this eighteenth issue is read.
The more things change, the more they seem the same. Seeking to end the run on a bang, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee brought in the villain most associated with Daredevil despite the fact he originally debuted in “Amazing Spider-Man” – the man mountain gangster himself, Wilson Fisk (better known as “the Kingpin of Crime”). He’s perfectly exploited Murdock’s more “open” and “fearless” lifestyle in San Francisco as well as his current troubles with rivals such as the Shroud and the Owl to position himself in a way where he can destroy his horn masked nemesis once and for all. Forcing Daredevil to fight his virtually opposite match in Ikari in a battle he can’t win (lest the two people he loves the most, as well as ex Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter, die), Murdock has to adapt quickly when circumstance (and someone else) wind up taking Ikari’s life. All Murdock can do is try one more fearless bluff to attempt to save Foggy and Kirsten from Kingpin’s clutches. And even after that dangerous affair is settled, there are still some things which can’t be put back in a box. All of Murdock’s secrets and allies have been exposed to the world, and there’s no way to bottle them up again. His only options are to flee in fear, or embrace something new and progressive in a way he’s never done before. And in the end, having the faith in himself, his lover Kristen and his best friend Foggy to face their challenges together honestly despite facing an endlessly changing and unknown future is what earns Matt the right to call himself “the man without fear”.
This last issue of the Waid and Samnee run contains all of the strengths which have propelled them in all of their previous ones. Waid has a sense of Murdock’s voice and moves, as well as being able to place him in different perils than he’s ever faced before every time. Samnee is in perfect sync on his artwork, with a timeless sense of flair, motion, style, and detail. Readers have seen Daredevil fight the Kingpin before, but the stakes have never seemed higher – and the fact that it’s been many years since their previous brawl also works to the scene’s favor. The script toys with the current expectations that a reader has with the genre, especially in regard to whether characters live or die. In decades past, major cast members never died; in decades since, many comics have over used slaughter to instill a sense of shock in their readers. With this being the finale issue of the run, both Foggy and Kristen have never been in more peril. Lesser writers would have brutally killed one or both without any regard to how overplayed that is or how apathetic readers have become to it. Waid and Samnee do the opposite, allowing the story itself to live up to themes that have been presented with the characters. Readers have seen Daredevil in anguish over a friend or lover who has been murdered before him by a villain so many times, a top ten list could likely be complied. But witnessing him bravely stand with them openly and face the future is incredibly rare. Even Julia Carpenter – who has been forcefully shifted into a more powerless role in “Amazing Spider-Man” over the years – gets to shine with the few scenes she is given. The triumph of the final double page splash feels both earned and appropriate. The dirty little secret of fiction is that tragedy can be shorthand to poor writers seeking a shortcut towards quality or relevance. Showing someone in misery after miserable things happen to them is hardly as innovative as many believe; it is just as predictable as goofy antics can be, only far more pretentious. This finale cuts to the bone of its’ lead and allows his cast to take him into the future. Foggy Nelson has never been braver, more troubled, loyal, or memorable than he’s been in this run. Even more importantly, Kirsten McDuffie is unlike any woman who has ever graced the pages of Daredevil before. She’s brave, confident, and competent without being a scantly clad martial artist, while being both funny and flawed without being a hysterical damsel in distress or sexist stereotype. Daredevil himself has also never been as layered, interesting, or easy to root for as he has been these five years.
If the issue has one blemish, it is in being in some rush to tie up certain loose ends. After proving to be an eclectic and dangerous rival, the Shroud is dispatched within a page. The Owl and his daughter Jubula Pride provide a critical deus ex machina moment before also fading from the panels. And it is a shame that Ikari has seemed to meet a grisly end, as there are few franchises as desperately wanting for new rogues as this one is (even if the story does offer a way for Ikari to return). To a degree this rush was needed as there were plenty of other things which took priority. The battle with Kingpin and the resolution of the last pages needed the pages it got. It merely is worth noting that there was some cost to it.
With this issue, Marvel Comics have assured themselves of a hardcover collection which should sell for many years to come in book stores and comic shops in a manner similar to a Vertigo title. The tired cliches and worn tropes of this franchise have been laid bare and replaced with something new. Not even the run by Brian Bendis seemed to reach such a crescendo all those years ago. In fact both this run and finale have been so complete, that it is almost a shame that market realities demand that this series return with a new creative team and direction in a couple of months to run alongside a TV series. If ever there was a run which earned a franchise the right to rest on its’ laurels for a bit and stand on its’ own, it was this run. In the final page, Mark Waid claims he had the best creative experience of his long career on “Daredevil”, and it showed on every page. Samnee’s heart and soul seemed to be etched in every line. Despite this being a franchise which is half a century old, it became personal to everyone involved, and worked on that level. This run has worked on every level. It is the stuff of the gods. Decades from now fans will be wishing the series was as good as it was here.
Farewell, “Daredevil”. Never has a bow been so deserved.
Here is an honorable mention. It’s solid stuff but not quite on Murdock’s level.
Silver Surfer #14: Considering how Marvel Comics’ promotional machine seems to promote everything regarding a crossover with all the zeal of an addict on a speed binge, it is surprising that more of this series’ ties to “Secret Wars” haven’t been played up more. Dan Slott, Michael Allred, and Laura Allred not only have had Silver Surfer and his love Dawn survive the seeming “end of the universe”, but the pair are taking an active step toward recreating it alongside Glorian and the Shaper of Worlds for this arc. Even if it all proves for naught, one would think that Marvel would be justified in promoting this arc a bit more than usual. For a company obsessed with sales, they don’t seem to know how to ride a wave of their own hype sometimes. At any rate, it is another feast for the eyes as Norrin and Dawn are tasked with the impossible; to literally recreate the universe from memory and will. While Dawn proves adept at reviving her home town and many of the world’s best locations, her knowledge of details proves to be underwhelming. And while the Silver Surfer is most insistent on returning the cosmos to how it was (warts and all) despite Glorian’s suggestions, even he can’t resist eliminating Galactus and reviving all those who died for his hunger. Glorian naturally claims that his aid is without a path, but it is also common for the devil to allow a corrupted soul to plunge into the abyss of their own accord. This issue not only serves to revisit many of the cast, locations, and themes of previous issues, but it also tempts the protagonists in new ways. Often ridiculed for being “boring” or “perfect”, Silver Surfer displays how he can be compelling while also incredibly powerful. Glorian has also rarely been used better. All in all, another terrific issue of what should be another historic run for a franchise character this week! The artwork is fantastic and Slott proves that he’s still got the knack for other Marvel characters outside of Spider-Man’s web.