Daredevil #82, by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Frank D'Armata
It's been about two years since I finally lost all patience with the Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev run on Daredevil, driven off by the storytelling shortcuts and squandered potential, but I have to admit to a certain curiosity as to how it all turned out. That, as much as my interest in the work of Brubaker and Lark, led me to pick up the first issue after Bendis and Maleev departed. The greatest failing (if hardly the most noticeable one) of Bendis's writing was his refusal to confront the consequences of his own plot developments, his insistence on writing standard and sub-par Daredevil stories even as he changed the character's life in what should have been irrevocable ways, exposing his secret identity and setting him up as the successor to his own worst enemy. I opened this comic half expecting to find it all revoked, to see Daredevil's secret identity restored and his wedding ring gone and his billy clubs flailing in action against the splendiferous Stilt-Man.
Instead I see Matt Murdock sitting in prison, exactly the place where Bendis's plot should have been pointing him all along, so he got at least that much right. (Mind you, based on what I've read about his final storylines I don't have any regrets about skipping the last two years. Apparently I missed the federal government siding with the Kingpin so they could shoot Daredevil, for what reason I'm not exactly sure. And a demon baby. That's about it.)
Anyway, Brubaker inherits the book with Murdock rotting behind bars, and you know what that means: another comic book writer trying to replicate the first couple of seasons of Oz. All the key elements are there as Murdock locks horns with crooked COs and tries to navigate the ethnic fault lines that divide the prison's warring gang factions, although in a nod to the Marvel universe setting, each faction is headed by a different small-time supervillain. I think John Constantine did this same plot five or six years ago, except then it didn't have Dakota North or the Tarantula.
Of course, anyone reading a forty-year-old superhero franchise is looking for quality of execution, not originality of plot. (But it is a lot more frustrating when the comics that purport to break out of the genre mold always do so in exactly the same ways, sometimes raiding the same source material.) In that sense the new creative team is a major improvement: Michael Lark is both more subtle and more graceful than Maleev, although he coats his figures in somewhat more ink than usual and throws in one static, narrowly-focused double page spread as if to reassure the fans of the last run that he'll be maintaining stylistic continuity with his predecessor. Happily, Ed Brubaker makes no such concessions in his dialogue.
Okay, with that backlog of snark out of the way (sorry--it was just sitting in the bank for two years, building interest) I can say that I enjoyed this comic. Brubaker's writing is well-suited to the half-superhero, half-crime genre approach that Daredevil tends to gravitate towards. Most of those kind of comics left Marvel when Bill Jemas did, and not without some reason, but Daredevil has thrived under that model and Brubaker is perhaps the ideal writer to continue it. He also benefits from the dramatic fallout of Bendis's plot and he seems to be putting it to better use than Bendis usually did, finally trapping Murdock in the consequences of his own ill-advised actions and forcing his friends to pay the price.
Unfortunately, as with Bendis's run, I get the sense that all of the daring plot developments could disappear in a single storyline. "The Devil in Cell-Block D" could easily be a transitional story-arc designed to move Murdock from the Bendis status quo to whatever Brubaker has planned. Presumably Brubaker will spring Murdock out of prison before the arc's end--although you never know--but I hope he doesn't take the step of restoring Daredevil's secret identity. All the pieces are in place, though, right down to the mysterious impersonator who's leaping around Hell's Kitchen dressed like Daredevil just as Murdock is about to stand trial.
That possible retrenchment would be especially regrettable coming hot on the heels of Brubaker's big last-page reveal in the latest issue of Captain America. The Red Skull's death had provided the sole element of novelty in an otherwise conventional Captain America comic, in much the same fashion that Murdock's exposure did with Bendis's run. It's not that I expect any of these changes to last forever; sooner or later corporate custodianship or fanboy purism or the desire to conform the comics to the latest Ben Affleck movie will always win out. But it's disappointing to see the backstage mechanics manifest so early and so transparently on stage, and to see writers clearing away their own best work.
Daredevil, to be fair, may not be heading there. This storyline could end in acquittal and the old status quo or in something new and unguessable, and while that uncertainty should generate a fair amount of narrative suspense it just leaves me mired in the worrisome possibility that Brubaker, too, will chose the safe route. So in that sense Brubaker and Lark are Bendis's victims, as well as his beneficiaries.