Daredevil #93, by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #214, by Christos N. Gage and Phil Winslade
Last February I worried that Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark's then-nascent run on Daredevil would have no goal other than reverting the comic to its pre-Brian Michael Bendis status quo, restoring Matt Murdock's secret identity and slotting all the characters back into their familiar roles. One year later, they appear to have done just that. The restoration was inevitable, and I suppose handled more elegantly than most--nobody had to "punch through time"--but it still casts the past twelve months of comics as nothing more than a long, generally well-written exercise in trademark maintenance.
Brubaker, Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano did include some interesting feints and detours along the way. The recently-concluded arc flirted with casting Daredevil in a dashing, globe-trotting mode not too far removed from the character's old sixties swashbuckler persona, even renovating no less lame a villain from that era than the Matador. But within a couple of months Murdock was back to dangling criminals off rooftops and brooding in the rain; the only thing to distinguish Paris from New York was the replacement of his usual cornice with a gargoyle, and even that could have come off the Gotham City back lot. Now Daredevil is back in Hell's Kitchen, the Kingpin is free, and everything new is old again.
I have to give the team credit for taking longer than I expected--six months longer, which these days is just a single storyline--but they still ended up at exactly the same place we all knew they were going. Worse yet, with a year of comics behind them, they still haven't shown us their version of Daredevil--only what he was and inevitably will be again.
Their storyline leaves me with a lot more respect for comics like Christos N. Gage's one-shot Deadshot tale in the latest (and last) issue of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, which doesn't even try to tinker with the character's status quo. And why bother? It's Batman, whose character traits are even more rigidly prescribed by public familiarity and profit potential than Daredevil's.
Fortunately, Batman inhabits a broader range of story types than Daredevil. Gage builds a plot around his fundamentally unalterable protagonist by resurrecting a venerable story type that's been neglected in recent decades, confronting Batman with a puzzle. The caped crusader has to work out how to handle a threat who's legally untouchable, isn't afraid of him, and scares other criminals more than he does. The solution is so simple I can't believe it hasn't been done before, but Batman's bit of knot-cutting displays the keen analytical mind that used to be his chief character trait before hypercompetence and irritability took over. This is the kind of story Paul Dini should be producing every month over in Detective Comics (which also makes no claims to reinvent the character but still falls short of its promise more often than not).
Gage is aided by Phil Winslade's dense but expertly modulated page compositions; Winslade works with a five-by-five-panel grid, subject to countless expansions and variations, that conveys in a single issue what many a lesser team would stretch out over two or three months. The story also benefits from Gage's familiarity with Deadshot, the semi-popular antihero he wrote a miniseries for two years ago. Here, as there, Gage bends over backwards to let us know he's writing the Deadshot from John Ostrander's Suicide Squad, which is just fine by me and sits well with the story's preference for consistency over originality.
This comic doesn't aspire to high art, but then neither does Daredevil. Both are tasked with keeping their properties recognizable, but one presents us with the illusion of change even as it undoes its own best changes, while the other accepts its constraints and works to tell an entertaining story within them. Solid, well-made, unassuming comics like Gage and Winslade's used to be the norm for DC and Marvel. Now they're the exception--so uncommon, they almost feel original.