Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Daredevil #36. Written by Mark Waid (The Indestructible Hulk, Kingdom Come) with art by Chris Samnee (Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Captain America And Bucky) and Javier Rodriguez (The Amazing Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man Annual), this issue concludes Matt Murdock’s New York City adventures with a story that delivers dramatic changes for the character and those closest to him. (Warning: major spoilers ahead.)
In this final issue of Daredevil, Matt Murdock comes out and decides to move to San Francisco.
No, writer Mark Waid isn’t giving the hero a bold new sexual orientation. Instead, Matt’s coming out of the closet and showing the world the superhero costume he’s been keeping in there for most of his adulthood, revealing to the public his double life as a vigilante while on the witness stand and under oath. Confronting the ghosts of the past in order to heal has been a major theme of this Daredevil series, and one of those lingering ghosts has been the tabloid article from Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s classic run that accused Matt Murdock of the truth about his secret identity. In one of his most unethical moves, Matt fought against the claim and sued the tabloid, but he finally expels his guilt over those actions by taking the stand and being honest.
It’s a big step, but Matt wouldn’t have taken it if he hadn’t been forced by the white supremacist Sons of the Serpent, which was planning to use that information to blackmail Matt into providing legal aid. If Matt’s secret identity is confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt, that means the end of his law practice, which means a loss of health insurance for his partner, Foggy Nelson, who is currently undergoing treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma. There’s so much to lose by coming clean, but in this issue’s heartrending opening scene, Foggy reminds his best friend of what he gets to keep: his integrity. Feeling his mortality more than ever before, Foggy Nelson has been assessing the value of his ordinary human life in a world of gods, monsters, and mutants, and he’s concluded that it’s worthless if it costs Matt his integrity. It’s a touching moment of selfless heroism on Foggy’s part, and a reminder of just how much Matt needs his friend for spiritual guidance and the confidence to push through the river of shit that has been his life.
Many fans speculated that the somber tone of this issue’s cover meant Matt’s move would be the result of Foggy Nelson’s death, but that hypothesis just doesn’t match the overall tone of Waid’s run. Daredevil has definitely gone through some rough patches over the last three years, but he’s emerged victorious after each one. Why build a character up so much only to tear him down with the most crushing loss? Matt Murdock moving to San Francisco to grieve the loss of his best friend sounds like the kind of thing that would have happened in the Daredevil title five years ago, but Mark Waid is a writer who understands that life and love offer more storytelling opportunities than death and hate. In fact, this last arc has specifically been about the former triumphing over the latter, with Foggy battling to stay alive and winning while Daredevil takes down a group that preaches hate to the masses. The thing that gives Matt the strength to deliver the killing blow to the Sons of the Serpent is Foggy’s love, and offering total support is Foggy’s way of paying Matt back for inspiring him to be fearless during his cancer treatments.
Matt Murdock’s confession is a huge moment for the character. So huge that there’s an entire page dedicated to the phrase “I AM DAREDEVIL,” printed in giant pink letters that contain glimpses of the superhero community reacting to the news. Not only does he reveal that he’s Daredevil, he goes on to give his entire origin story and disclose the nature of his abilities, hitting all the points in the Sons of the Serpent’s blackmail documents. It’s a surprising move, but also a logical one, especially once Matt addresses all that nasty tabloid business. He admits that he was fooling himself when he sued the Daily Globe; it was his way of holding on to the privacy and security of a secret identity despite the difficulties of maintaining them in the Internet surveillance age. Add in the ethical paradox of being both a superhero and lawyer, and it becomes too much stress for one person to handle. The only way for Matt to move forward is to eliminate the burden, and he ends up suffering some significant consequences for his actions.
Events move very quickly in this issue, which wraps up the Sons of the Serpent storyline with Matt’s confession and a courtroom brawl, then packs in two epilogue scenes that cement the book’s new status quo. The first drops the bombshell that Matt and Foggy knew was coming, showing Matt at a New York State Supreme Court hearing that ends with him and his partner being disbarred. In a nice touch, the judges show sympathy for Matt and thank him for the good he’s done as Daredevil, but ultimately they can’t ignore the history of ethics violations Nelson & Murdock committed to keep Matt’s vigilante life a secret. The two are no longer licensed to practice in New York, but they have one more option that just might be crazy enough to work.
In the issue’s dreamy final scene, Matt’s ex-girlfriend/former partner, Kirsten McDuffie, meets him on the roof of his longtime home and reminds him that New York isn’t the only state he’s practiced law. He briefly moved to San Francisco during Gerry Conway’s run in the ’70s, and the city has some great doctors for Foggy, so why not take the plunge? All it takes is one taunt from Kirsten to make Matt commit to the idea, and he pulls her in for a kiss that ends the issue with the optimistic spirit that has made this run unforgettable.
Last week’s Big Issues looked at Marvel’s current artistic renaissance, a creative revival that can be traced back to Mark Waid’s Daredevil #1 with artists Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin. Mark Waid took a path of superhero reconstruction to give the book a classic sense of fun while still maintaining the maturity Daredevil developed over the past 30 years, and the lush, vibrant styles of both artists matched the retro feel of the script while delivering sophisticated visuals that did incredible work realizing the central character’s unique perspective. Waid took home his first Eisner Award for his work in that first year, as did Paolo Rivera and his father/inker Joe Rivera, and the artistic excellence only continued when Chris Samnee took over for the departing team.
Chris Samnee won an Eisner Award last year for his stunning visuals on this book, combining a smooth, expressive line with strong inking that adds remarkable texture and dimension. His character work is flawless, and the strength of his emotional storytelling has helped make this one of Marvel’s most affecting titles. That’s been especially valuable over the course of Foggy’s cancer storyline, a plot that has benefited from Samnee’s ability to depict what isn’t said. Foggy and Matt are both scared and don’t want the other to know it, but their faces betray them and broadcast their true feelings. Foggy’s face is almost entirely covered by shadows during his conversation with Matt, giving him a haunting spectral quality, but later those shadows are wiped away by the glow of the TV screen showing Matt’s confession. It’s another instance of Matt’s bravery rubbing off on Foggy, but that bravery wouldn’t exist without Foggy to bolster it. Samnee can stage a spectacular action sequence and he does in this issue, but it’s his ability to capture the full weight those quiet, intimate moments that make him such a great partner for Mark Waid on Daredevil.
Javier Rodriguez has been with this volume since the beginning, and his bold color palette is an essential aspect of the book’s aesthetic. Working with art by Rivera, Martin, and Samnee, the colorist wisely chooses to avoid heavy gradients of color, keeping the colors vivid but flat so as not to draw attention from the meticulous linework. Those concentrated areas of different tones become graphic elements on the page, and the way those colors interact effects the rhythm of the artwork. The opening scene in Foggy’s hospital room is dominated by washed-out mint green that cuts through overpowering shadows, putting the two men in the opposite of a warm, homelike environment. The coloring warms up in the courtroom to evoke Matt’s new confidence, with creamy orange as the main hue up until the Sons of the Serpent attacks the courthouse. Once the action breaks out, Rodriguez’s work becomes more dynamic, welcoming the rush of superhero fantasy with pages that dance between primary shades orange, green, and blue, with Daredevil’s red costume serving as a piece of visual punctuation against the bright background. Reality returns when Matt goes before the New York State Supreme Court for a scene dominated by drab greenish gray and a dull burgundy, but the last scene sees a surge in romance as Rodriguez bathes Matt and Kirsten in a pink sunset, giving the two lovers some exquisite mood lighting for the kiss that concludes the series.
Daredevil #36 is a “final issue,” but it will be back next month with the same characters and creative team. As with the last issue of Captain Marvel, Marvel has done excellent work making this last chapter a great jumping-on point for new readers, and someone with only a passing understanding of Daredevil can pick up this issue and get a strong idea of where the title has been and where it’s going. With a change of scenery and drastically different status quo, now is the time to hop on to the only comic book that has appeared on The A.V. Club’s Best Of Comics list for the past three years. This creative team really is that good, delivering superhero perfection on a regular basis with no foreseeable end in sight.