Each week, Big Issues focuses on newly released comic-book issues of significance. This week, it’s Daredevil #25 and Daredevil: End Of Days #7. Written by Mark Waid (The Indestructible Hulk, Kingdom Come), Brian Michael Bendis (All New X-Men, Guardians Of The Galaxy), and David Mack (Kabuki, Daredevil) and illustrated by Chris Samnee (Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Captain America And Bucky), Klaus Janson (Daredevil, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), and Bill Sienkiewicz (New Mutants, Moon Knight), these two issues prove that anyone who puts on a Daredevil mask is asking to become the universe’s punching bag. Warning: major spoilers ahead.
Only one Marvel comic made it onto The A.V. Club’s “best comics of the ’00s” list, and that same title was the only book to appear on both our 2011 and 2012 “best comics” lists: Daredevil. Two completely different runs—one a gritty, street-level crime comic, the other a dynamic superhero adventure—yet both teeming with emotion and suspense, putting the hero in situations that test him in new, catastrophic ways. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil continued down the dark path paved by Frank Miller as they revealed Daredevil’s secret identity, turned him into the new Kingpin, and sent him to prison. In 2003, that series won Eisner Awards for Best Writer and Best Continuing Series, and nine years later, Mark Waid’s Daredevil scored the exact same accolades.
Waid—along with artists Paolo Rivera, Chris Samnee, et al.—has embraced the atmosphere of the pre-Miller days to pit Daredevil against supervillains that fall outside his rogues gallery, including Klaw, Mole Man, the Spot, and Doctor Doom. That bright superhero tone initially overrode the darker aspects of the story, including the ongoing question of Matt Murdock’s mental state, but the second year of Daredevil has moved in a considerably bleaker direction. Daredevil faced new villain Coyote to take down a terrifying human trafficking ring, his best friend Foggy Nelson was diagnosed with cancer, and a mysterious figure is conspiring to take down the hero for good, continuing the streak of bad luck that has followed Matt Murdock since he got hit by a truck filled with radioactive chemicals.
Since October, readers have had the good fortune of two Daredevil books on the stands that capture everything that makes the hero so captivating. Bendis returned to the character with Daredevil: End Of Days, teaming with co-writer David Mack and artists Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz to tell a riveting Ben Urich story set after Daredevil’s death. Checking in with nearly every major living character in the Daredevil universe, End Of Days is a tribute to the works of past Daredevil creators, but also a deeply personal story focusing on one man’s relationship with a mythical figure that he will never quite understand. As Ben Urich searches for the meaning of Matt Murdock’s last word, “Mapone,” he begins to unravel the mystery of Daredevil’s final days; he completes the puzzle in this week’s #7, but at a terrible cost.
In both the present and the future, whoever dons the mask of Daredevil is doomed to suffer. Suffering has become an integral part of Daredevil’s character, and over the years, his ability to overcome misery has become his greatest superpower. End Of Days introduced a new Daredevil trained by Matt Murdock to take his place in the event of his death, and after a Spider-Man visual red herring at the start of #6, the true identity the new vigilante is revealed at the end of #7. When he sees his father with an arrow in his stomach, Timmy Urich pulls off his red mask, continuing the Daredevil tradition as he learns the lesson that Murdock was taught over and over again in his superhero career: The life of Daredevil is a tragic one. Once Timmy fully understands that, he’ll truly be a man without fear.
Ben Urich’s ultimate fate isn’t clear yet, but in a series full of casualties, it’s very possible that Urich will be the final one. If End Of Days is Urich’s last hurrah, it’s been a damn good one, with a creative team firing on all cylinders to create a tense thriller that just so happens to take place in a superhero world. After an atmospheric start that established the various mysteries at the story’s core, the miniseries has been a nonstop stream of “holy shit” moments, beginning with Punisher breaking out of prison and killing as many people as possible. Circumstances have only worsened for Urich as he looks for answers (at one point he gets thrown out a skyscraper window), and his search reaches an explosive climax this issue as Punisher, the new Daredevil, and a horde of Hand ninjas have an epic rooftop battle. It’s an astounding action sequence illustrated with frenzied energy by Janson and Sienkiewicz, beginning with an eye-popping splash page featuring a deluge of ninjas and arrows falling toward Ben and Daredevil.
Ever since Frank Miller introduced the Hand, Daredevil has been heavily associated with ninjas, and Daredevil #25 introduces a new ninja antagonist named Ikari who has all of Matt’s strengths and none of his weaknesses. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s current storyline has been all about using elements of Matt’s past to terrorize him in the present. The radioactive isotope that took away his sight but amplified his other senses has been used on inmates to wreak havoc across Hell’s Kitchen, and Ikari first appears wearing Matt’s father’s old boxing robe, surrounded by the smell of the dead man’s shaving cream. Ikari’s costume takes the Daredevil’s original yellow-and-red color scheme and applies it to a devil-themed ninja costume, replacing the hero’s billy clubs with two Kusurigama blades. The striking design by Samnee places emphasis on yellow, a color we don’t see often in Daredevil’s world. It’s not a remotely stealthy color, but Ikari isn’t trying to hide from anyone, and he wants to make sure Daredevil sees him as clearly as possible when he defeats him.
Fear and despair go hand in hand, and it’s no wonder that when Waid pulled Matt Murdock out of his decade-long depression, Daredevil became a more confident hero. There’s a cool confidence across the board on Daredevil since Mark Waid took over, and the title has had a clear narrative and artistic direction that makes the final product the equivalent of a swagger in comic-book form. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee know they have the chops to tell a fantastic Daredevil story, and they’re just showing off with #25. The last few heart-wrenching issues have largely focused on Matt helping Foggy with his cancer diagnosis, but this week’s narrative is straight-up superhero action at its finest, showing how an extended fight sequence can still be an intensely character-focused story. While Foggy waits in the hospital for his upcoming surgery, Daredevil heads off to find the person who has been tearing down his life, instead walking into a trap where Ikari waits to strike. Ikari’s mission is to give the man without fear something to be afraid of, and by the end of this issue, the fight has been taken out of the hero and he has to run to survive.
After dominating last year’s Eisners, Daredevil was largely ignored this year except for a well-deserved Best Penciller/Inker nomination for Chris Samnee. That’s not to say that the quality of Daredevil has taken a dip, but the competition certainly stepped up their game last year, especially over at Image Comics. Samnee’s smooth, graceful linework and exquisite use of shadows has given the title a beautiful graphic look, which is amplified by Javier Rodriguez’s stark color palette. When Daredevil uses his enhanced senses, the panels are colored with bright shades of green, blue, and orange that pop when surrounded by a dark urban background, capturing through color how vivid those senses are in Matt’s mind.
Samnee is one of the best action choreographers working in comics, and there are no flashy splash pages in this issue’s fight, but rather pages full of small panels spotlighting swift movement across an intricately detailed environment. Each bone-crushing hit is rendered with devastating impact, convincing the reader that Daredevil needs to run before the hero comes to that inevitable conclusion. Throughout the course of the fight, Waid incorporates flashbacks to moments in Matt’s past, from his days getting beat up on the schoolyard to his early training sessions with his mentor Stick. Matt turns to these memories in order to convince himself to fight on, but as the pummeling continues, his mind drifts to one image: his father getting knocked out in the boxing ring and the sound of the bell telling him the fight is over. As much as Matt wants to stay in the game, he needs to regroup or there’s not going to be a game to play anymore.
While Samnee is providing sleek, beautiful artwork in Daredevil, Janson and Sienkiewicz are embracing ugliness for their End Of Days work. Janson’s work with Frank Miller has given his linework an exaggerated quality that still maintains an element of gritty realism, and the addition of Sienkiewicz’s ink gives everything a rough-around-the-edges quality that is perfectly suited for Mack and Bendis’ story. There’s a chilling four-page silent sequence in the middle of #7 that showcases the art team’s ability to build tension, starting with two pages of small panels switching between shots of Urich and the disgusting apartment belonging to the deceased Bullseye. The panels stay small as Urich moves toward Bullseye’s computer, slowing down time as Urich finally discovers what he’s been looking for this entire time. That’s when the ninjas show up, and the art team transitions to bigger widescreen panels to better illustrate the upcoming action.
Both Daredevil #25 and Daredevil: End Of Days #7 are penultimate issues, and the creative teams take full advantage of this last opportunity to build suspense before the conclusions of their stories. With Daredevil, that means breaking down the main character so that the stakes are raised for the third year of the title, while in End Of Days, that means delivering a memorable climax to a story that has been hyped since 2007. As these plots head into their final chapters, it’s become abundantly clear that while Daredevil is the man without fear, he’s also the man without luck. If his misfortune results in comics of this caliber, then hopefully that never changes.