When you’re one of the Marvel Universe’s premier street level heroes, a dedication to making your world a better place and the ability to laser-focus on that goal are helpful tools. But can they also be weapons that your enemy uses against you? Writer Andy Diggle is currently exploring that question in his ongoing story in Marvel Comics’ monthly “Daredevil” series. Recently, Daredevil, AKA Matt Murdock, took control of the secret society of ninjas known as the Hand, and is trying to turn the shadowy clan of killers into a force for good. In order to do this, though, Murdock has had to make a number of morally questionable decisions.
This July, Daredevil’s business with the Hand comes to a head in “Shadowland,” a five issue miniseries by Diggle and artist Billy Tan that finds a number of Daredevil’s costumed colleagues becoming alarmed by the Man Without Fear’s currently uncompromising actions. CBR News spoke with Diggle about his plans for Matt Murdock and “Shadowland,” which ties into the ongoing “Daredevil” series that Diggle co-writes with Antony Johnston and was announced Friday at the Mondo Marvel panel at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo.
The current “Left Hand Path” arc in “Daredevil,” which comes to a conclusion in June with issue #507, sets the stage for “Shadowland.” Matt Murdock has traveled to Japan for a top-level summit to help him consolidate his control over the Hand. But that control may only be an illusion.
“With ‘Daredevil,’ there’s been a tradition of the writer leaving Matt Murdock in a very sticky situation when he passes the title on to the next writer. When Brian Bendis passed it over to Ed Brubaker, he left Matt Murdock in prison with his secret identity exposed; and when Ed passed it on to me, Daredevil had just taken over leadership of the Hand, who had previously been his arch enemies. So that’s inherently an exciting place to start my run, because the story’s already up to full speed. I get to grab that ball and run with it. Dramatically, I have to deal with the repercussions of Matt’s decision. What is he going to do now and how did this happen?” Diggle told CBR News. “My first year of ‘Daredevil’ is about addressing this fundamental question – why did the Hand choose Matt? Because on the surface, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Matt Murdock doesn’t kill, and the Hand are assassins. That’s kind of a conflict of interest!”
“Matt has been driven to extremes by the relentless burden of what he’s been put through over the past year,” Diggle continued. “But certain elements within the Hand have their own agenda, which Matt is not yet fully aware of. Seeing these intrigues interweave and play out will lead us into ‘Shadowland’ – which is the point where all the various plot threads converge… and explode!”
Thematically, “Shadowland” is about the battle for Matt Murdock’s soul. “I read this great interview with Frank Miller where he said, ‘With all the hardship Matt Murdock has been through in his life, why didn’t he end up a bad guy?’ And I think that question really gets to the core of Matt Murdock as a human being. Why didn’t he become a bad guy? So I thought it would be really interesting to explore that question, and see what would happen if you pushed him. Tempted him.” Diggle remarked. “The Hand aren’t trying to break him or beat him down like he was in ‘Born Again.’ Instead, the question is whether he’ll be corrupted by the temptation of power. He’s never really wanted power before. That’s not part of his nature. Power has always just been a means to an end. But the situations he’s been through recently have been so extreme, his moral compass has gotten a little bent out of shape.”
While Matt Murdock has been completely wrapped up in his own emotionally-draining personal life, the wider Marvel Universe has gone to hell in a handbasket under Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign. Now Murdock feels that it’s time for Daredevil to step up and make a stand. “Daredevil’s saying, ‘Okay, fine. If this is what it takes to do the right thing now, I’m going to take it as far as circumstance requires.’ Rather than letting the Hand turn him to the dark side, he thinks he can turn them to the light side. Which was, of course, Master Izo’s plan all along,” Diggle explained. “Daredevil is one of the few iconic characters where you can make this kind of moral dilemma really work. With most characters, you know which way they’d jump in any given situation, but Daredevil still has the capacity to surprise you, because he’s poised on the borderline between light and dark, good and evil, justice and vengeance. And that makes him a great character to play out these grand, operatic morality plays.”
The lead up to “Shadowland” occurred during the “Dark Reign” era of the Marvel Universe, when Norman Osborn held power. In order to “protect” the people of Hell’s Kitchen from the corrupting influence of Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R., Daredevil made a number of morally dubious decisions, the most extreme of which was his declaration of martial law in Hell’s Kitchen, enforced by his army of Hand ninjas. When “Shadowland” begins Norman Osborn is no longer in power, and the new “Heroic Age” of the Marvel Universe will have dawned – but it seems Daredevil didn’t get the memo.
“All the other heroes are looking at Matt Murdock carrying out this very extreme, dark, militaristic operation, and they’re saying, ‘Hey, you can chill out now. Everything’s cool. The good guys won!’ And when Matt doesn’t chill out, they start to get seriously worried about him,” Diggle said. “So his friends Danny Rand and Luke Cage decide that they need to have a quiet word with him to de-escalate the situation.”
Daredevil does something in the first issue of ‘Shadowland’ that causes events to spiral out of control, and a conflict erupts that pits him against many of the Marvel Universe’s other street level heroes. “I could give you a list of characters, but some of them are supposed to be surprises and I don’t want to spoil it. But I can reveal that you will see Moon Knight, Punisher, Colleen Wing, Misty Knight and Spider-Man – who’s been a lot of fun to write. You always want to have a joker in the pack. Like, ‘The Losers’ was very dark and gritty, but there was always Jensen in there to lighten the tone a bit. Here, Spidey is my Jensen. When you want to put a grin on the reader’s face, Spidey’s a great character for that. He’s also a voice of reason. He’s such a grounded, decent guy. With all these huge egos running amok and Daredevil wrestling with the weight of the world on his shoulders, sometimes you just want a regular Joe like Spidey to come along and give you a little bit of perspective.”
Matt Murdock didn’t attempt to take control of the Hand alone, having the costumed heroes Black Tarantula and White Tiger working alongside him, and both characters continue to have pivotal roles to play in “Shadowland.” “Black Tarantula is kind of the voice of Matt’s conscience while Matt’s becoming more and more uncompromising. But, of course, there is the whole thing about the road to hell being paved with good intentions,” Diggle explained. “So Black Tarantula and White Tiger are the kind of grounded human characters who are there to ask him, ‘Are you sure that’s a good idea? Are you sure you really know what you’re doing?’ Also, they’re there to watch his back, keep an eye on the Hand and to be his intermediaries and emissaries. They’ll start to have serious misgivings about the directions he’s taking. They won’t say so publicly, but privately they’ll ask him if he’s sure he knows what he’s doing.”
“Shadowland” isn’t just a story of heroes. Wilson Fisk, the villainous Kingpin of Crime, and his ally Lady Bullseye will also have parts to play in the story. “In recent issues of ‘Daredevil’ we’ve seen that the Kingpin is quietly taking over other New York gangs. He’s been freeing prisoners and having them work for him, but they think they’re working for people like the Owl or the Hood. He wants the street to think that the Kingpin is a spent force, while actually he’s quietly consolidating power behind the scenes,” Diggle stated. “He’s patiently playing the long game, rather than trying to make a grab for power right now. Occasionally he will step out of the shadows to topple a domino, then step back and watch the effect ripple out across the city.”
The Kingpin’s machinations will result in some unusual alliances taking shape in “Shadowland.” “Because the Kingpin seems to be going straight while Daredevil seems to be going dark, it’s going to create some very strange bedfellows, so to speak. Kingpin steps up and says, ‘You know, somebody is really going to have to take this Daredevil guy down.’ And the heroes are kind of reluctantly forced to agree with him,” Diggle remarked. “So it puts people into very unexpected and uncomfortable alliances. There’s a certain amount of friction that will be generated by that.”
At the same time “Shadowland” is unfolding Diggle, his co-writer Antony Johnston, and artist Roberto De la Torre will be spinning a parallel story in “Daredevil” #508-511, adding to “Shadowland” while standing on its own. “The two stories are designed to stand alone, but it also works if you read them together,” Diggle explained. “Antony and I have plotted the arc so you can zig-zag between the titles if you want, or you can read either title on its own, and the story still makes sense – which is ultimately kind of a plotting challenge. The plots run parallel without crossing over too much, which makes life a lot easier.”
In “Shadowland,” readers will be treated to huge superheroic battles, while in “Daredevil,” Diggle and Johnston will examine the smaller and more intimate aspects of the conflict. “‘Daredevil” will be more focused on the ground level characters like Dakota North, Foggy Nelson and Detective Kurtz,” Diggle revealed. “Also, you’ll get to see a lot more of what’s going on in Matt’s life within the walls of Shadowland. The high concept of ‘Shadowland’ is ‘Daredevil Is The Bad Guy,’ but within the pages of the ‘Daredevil’ title, we get to see a little more of how things look from his point of view.”
Another important character in the “Daredevil” story is the community of Hell’s Kitchen. “We get a sense of how the presence of the Hand and their Shadowland fortress is affecting the ordinary guy on the street. It’s a pretty crazy, extreme thing that’s going on. There’s a giant Japanese castle right in the middle of their neighborhood, and the streets are being patrolled by ninjas,” Diggle said. “For ordinary people, that’s kind of weird and scary. They’d already got their heads around the fact that they had a local guardian in this Daredevil character, and that was kind of weird and scary, but they knew he was a good guy. But this is a whole other order of magnitude. It’s gotten weirder and scarier, and frankly, they’re not crazy about it. They want the cops back.”
“Shadowland” comes to a conclusion in November, and Diggle is currently hard at work planning out where “Daredevil” is going beyond the epic storyline, which will leave Matt Murdock in a dramatically different place, both physically and emotionally. “I’m currently mapping out the arc after ‘Shadowland,’ and it’s very much focused on Matt as a person. We get back inside his head in a way that we haven’t done for a while now,” Diggle said. “You’ll notice that in my run I haven’t been using an interior monologue for Matt, except when he dreams. So the only time you see his interior monologue is when we see into his subconscious. And there’s a very specific reason for that, which will become apparent during the course of ‘Shadowland.'”