Comic Review: Daredevil #23

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** SPOILER WARNING **: If you have this issue in your possession and haven’t, for whatever reason, sat down and read it, you might want to skip this one for now.  If you haven’t picked up DD #23, then my goal is to convince you to do so by going into detail how awesome it is.

Welcome to ‘How to Craft An Amazing Single-Issue Comic 101’, taught by Professors Mark Waid and Chris Samnee.

You start, class, with the very first thing the reader is going to see in the comic: the cover.  Keep it simple, elegant, and eye-catching.

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Here, we’ve got our titular hero swinging into action, against a stark black background, over a flaming rendition of his interlocked double D logo.  Doesn’t give a thing away, plot-wise, but it does ‘pop’ quite nicely.

Opening sequence: we have what appears to be a two-page retelling of Daredevil’s origin from a first-person POV, with our protagonist himself narrating in captions, detailing how young Matt Murdock was blinded by radioactive waste in trying to prevent an elderly man from being mowed down by a careless nuclear waste transport driver.

In an age where editorial footnotes that refer back to specific prior issues have gone the way of the dodo, this is an almost unheard-of way to kick off a comic: the conceit that any given comic is someone’s first issue or first exposure to that title / character, and rather than put the onus on the reader to consult Google or any number of online ‘pedias to find out what they missed, you actually work that information INTO THE STORY ITSELF.

Amazing, I know.  That crazy Waid.

We’ll pause for a moment to let you catch your breath and marvel at the fact that once upon a time, most comics did this as a way to make the new reader feel welcome and not have to reset the numbering back to #1 every six months or so as an attempt to let people jump on.  (Single-issue sales also used to be quite higher than they are now: coincidence?)

Ah, but wait: Professors Waid and Samnee have pulled a fast one.  On page four we pull back and reveal that all is not as it seems, and it’s not a flashback, but rather present-day — the person who was blinded in the heroic act wasn’t Matt Murdock . . . but rather an unidentified adult male in an orange prison jumpsuit with the number 22 emblazoned on the breast.

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This is a scientific experiment of some sort, which ends with the mysterious Number 22 not getting the radar sense and heightened hyper-facilities that kid Murdock did.

Instead, the radioactive ooze only melts his face off, much to the annoyance of the gathered scientists and technicians, who clean up the mess and proceed to repeat the experiment with the next subject in line, Number 23, clad also in an orange jumpsuit . . . but with a burlap sack tied around his head, and his hands bound behind his back.

23 is at the head of an entire line of misfortunate — and perhaps captive against their will — guinea pigs.

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The opening scene of your comic is your most important, as evidenced here.  This is where you set the tone and pace, get that hook deep into the reader’s attention and yank on the line a few times to make sure it’s secure.  Your potential customer, if his or her eye is caught by the cover, might actually flip through the comic in the shop and they could very well read this opening act as they decide whether or not to purchase.

There’s nothing like a nicely set-up mystery to seal the deal.

Second scene, page six: splash page, a gorgeous establishing shot of Daredevil perched on a gargoyle with the iconic Chrysler Building in the background.

Splash pages are, in comics terms, the equivalent of guitar solos in a rock-and-roll number: perhaps a bit superfluous, but they do give an artist a chance to show off a little.

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Chris Samnee is a perfect partner for Waid in this joint.  He’s got a crisp, clean style with fluid lines and just enough detail work without it being overbearing or making the work too noisy.  He has solid foundations that anchor the visuals just enough while allowing for strong stylistic flourishes on his characters — there’s just a welcome hint of cartooning chops there.

After posing majestically for the reader, we pull back again to find that DD isn’t alone: he’s got his old friend and law partner, Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson, along with him.

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After several terse issues where Foggy and Matt had an extended falling out — which culminated in a concerned Foggy dropping a dime to NYC assistant D.A. Kristen McDuffie, with whom Matt had begun a tentative romantic relationship, that Daredevil might be a little off his rocker and should be brought in by the NYPD for psychiatric evaluation.

Kristen and Matt’s relationship seems to be on hold, if not irreparably damaged, but Matt’s forgiving of his old pal.

While Foggy may have been a bit bitter, his heart was in the right place: someone has seemingly been playing a series of villainous pawns against our stoic crimson knight in order to perhaps soften him up for a final coup de grace.

Or maybe to just drive him mad.

Taken one-by-one, each situation was nothing more than a standard day on the job for a urban vigilante, but now Matt has the hindsight to look back (pun intended) and see a clear pattern forming.  Someone, and likely someone powerful, is out to get him.

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Matt, unfortunately, has no clue who the master miscreant may be, and has other pressing concerns: Foggy’s been of poor health as of late, and Matt fears it could be cancer.

Both men are nervously awaiting the results of a battery of medical tests, and while they do, Matt has agreed to bring Foggy along and show him what it’s like to see the world from Daredevil’s point of view, gliding along the rooftops and watertowers of the city skyline.

It’s a touching scene.  With so many of the Marvel icons now running in increasingly tighter circles, having only contact with each other in seemingly unending variations of Avengers squads or X-teams, it’s nice to see a hero who still has an actual civilian identity and people around him that don’t pop Adamantium claws or sling indestructible shields.

Lest the bromance get to be too much, Matt overhears nearby chaos and swings off to investigate, finding a penthouse political fundraiser in complete disarray by  . . .

. . . our orange-jumpsuited guinea pigs from the opening of the story, engaging in acts of purely random, insane mayhem amongst the elite and rich partygoers.

The difference here is that the jumpsuits are now each wearing blinder-like masks covering their eyes.

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Matt swings into action, trying to subdue the threat, but it doesn’t take long for him to realize that there’s something really amiss here: not only do these madmen have a particular unmistakable stench about them that he immediately recognizes — the same nuclear goop that robbed him of his sight as a child — but DD also discovers the reasons for the blinder-masks.

Whoever did this to them also gouged their eyes out, apparently in some attempt to perfectly recreate the circumstances that gave Daredevil his powers.

Being unable to deal with their newfound hypersenses, the jumpsuits are just wreaking random havoc, out of their minds as each and every sensory input is magnified to brain-melting proportions.

Matt can sympathize, remembering how difficult it was for him to get a grip on the amplified signals his mutated nervous system fed to him, but that sympathy only goes so far as he starts to take them down, using a combination of brute force, martial arts finesse, and inventive overloads of their faculties — discharging a police patrolman’s gun close enough to one’s ear to cause the sonic boom of the noise to knock him unconscious, and pursuing one into the sewers, where the stench was just as brutal a blow to the unfortunate victim as a well-placed haymaker.

As if the whole situation wasn’t troubling enough, DD susses out that not only has someone managed to replicate his hyper-sense, but also his ‘radar sense’, the ability to see in 360 degrees and which makes him almost impossible to blindside.

Matt doesn’t have enough time to dwell on these ramifications, as by the time he’s cleaned the mess up, he’s got to meet Foggy at the doctor’s office for moral support as they learn the results of Foggy’s tests.

In an absolutely brilliant final lesson, Professor Waid has Matt hopeful, as he ‘hears’ the M.D.’s calm heartbeat and believes this denotes the news will be much less than they fear, which will be an even bigger relief to Foggy, whose heartbeat is like a pulsing jackhammer to Matt’s hyper-hearing.

And just as said relief washes over him . . . Matt realizes he’s made a horrible mistake.

The jackhammer beat belongs to the doctor, the calm one to Foggy.

The final, elegant, almost dialogue-free page slams home like an emotional sucker punch.

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We don’t learn what exactly the diagnosis is, but it’s not at all going to be good, and it all but ensures the purchase of the next issue to find out.

Screw waiting for the trade.

This is exactly the sort of storytelling that makes it worth the expense and hassle of single issues every thirty (or given Marvel’s accelerated publishing schedules at times, more like fourteen) days.

Professor Waid eschews decompression and the collected edition in light of a powerful monthly installment that’s not just one chapter of a five or six part graphic novel.  It’s an actual, old-fashioned, honest-to-Galactus comic book.

If you’re not reading Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil, you need to be.  This is comics storytelling at its best, and perhaps the definitive take on a classic character that more often than not doesn’t seem to get his due.

Class dismissed.

— mal

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