You know that expression about the road to hell being paved with good intentions? Nobody in the Marvel Universe understands it better than Matt Murdock. In the recently completed “Shadowland” event, Murdock – in his guise as the costumed crime-fighter Daredevil – used the ninja assassin cult known as the Hand to implement an aggressive campaign to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen. It turned out, however, that the Hand had ensnared Murdock in a trap designed to turn him into a monster.
Thanks to the efforts of Murdock’s super-powered friends, the Hand’s scheme failed – but Murdock has been left a broken and guilt-ridden man. This January, writer Andy Diggle is joined by artist Davide Gianfelice (“Northlanders”) to kick off “Daredevil: Reborn,” a four issue miniseries showing how Murdock might recover from the traumatic events of “Shadowland.” CBR News spoke with Diggle about “Reborn” and the dramatic finales of both “Shadowland” and “Daredevil.”
“When Ed Brubaker left ‘Daredevil,’ Matt had just become leader of the Hand, which very much changed the tenor of the ‘Daredevil’ comic. There’s a big difference between a one-man, lone-wolf vigilante and the leader of an ancient, internationally powerful, criminal ninja empire. Intrinsically tied up with that was the question of, why would they turn to him in the first place,” Diggle told CBR News. “He’s their arch-enemy, and he never kills. They’re assassins. So why would they choose him? Answering that question became the spine of the story. They must have known he’d never let them kill, so they must have had some ulterior motive. Then I remembered that the Hand had always worshiped the Beast, as we saw in Frank Miller stories like ‘Elektra: Assassin’ and ‘Elektra Lives Again.’ So I thought, ‘Ah-ha! They’re trying to trick Matt Murdock into damning himself!’ It also occurred to me that everyone had forgotten about the Beast. So when I finally revealed him as the Big Bad, the readers would hopefully think, ‘Of course! We should have realized that all along!’
“So the idea that they were trying to trick Matt into becoming a vessel for the Beast was one of the first things I came up with. It never occurred to me that it would be a big separate crossover event,” Diggle continued “‘Shadowland’ was really just going to be an arc of my regular run on the title. And what has become ‘Daredevil Reborn’ is simply the way I always intended to end my run. Again, it’s become a separate miniseries, but really, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all one big story. I don’t worry too much about what title they slap on the front cover.”
While he was possessed by the Beast, Matt Murdock performed a number of heinous acts, but it was in “Shadowland” #5 when the demon finally pushed him too far, attempting to get him to kill his best friend, Foggy Nelson. This allowed Matt to temporarily break free from the Beast’s hold, presenting the hero Iron Fist with the opportunity to hit Murdock with a Chi-empowered blow. This temporarily energized Matt and, with Elektra’s help, allowed him to free himself from the demon’s thrall.
“Foggy is very much the human point-of-view in this big, super-powered story. We kind of lose sight of Matt when he gets subsumed by this evil persona,” Diggle explained. “So we needed somebody else to be our point-of-view character; to kind of ground things for the reader. Foggy has a lot of heart, and because it’s heart that Matt loses, it needed to be Foggy that brought him back. In a way, Foggy was Matt’s lifeline back to a normal life.”
Once being freed of the Beast’s influence, Daredevil then had to come to grips with all the violence he committed while the demon’s thrall, including the cold-blooded murder of his old foe Bullseye, which occurred in “Shadowland” #1. “At the end of ‘Daredevil’ #512, we had Matt take responsibility for it,” Diggle said. “We had the opportunity to give Matt a sort of moral get out of jail free card by blaming the Beast, but we chose not to. We could have just said, ‘Oh he was possessed. It’s not his fault. It doesn’t count.’ I thought that was a little too easy, and it was a bit too much of a cop-out. It would make it inconsequential, and stories should have consequence. Otherwise it’s just filler.”
When it came to the decision to kill off Daredevil’s most dangerous foe, Diggle told CBR News he simply felt it was time the psychopathic assassin experienced some consequences for his past actions. “One of my first jobs at Marvel was writing ‘Thunderbolts,’ with Bullseye as major player. And while he’s a fun character to write, he’s deeply unpleasant. I don’t consider him an anti-hero, or somebody you love to hate; I consider him to be the worst kind of monster. Then I wrote him again in ‘Dark Reign: Hawkeye,’ where Bullseye is pretending to be Hawkeye. And again, he’s just this horrible monstrous character. After a while he showed up in ‘Daredevil’ again, and I was like, ‘Why hasn’t somebody killed this son of bitch?’ Because the stuff he does is just horrendous,” the writer remarked. “In the real world he probably would have been executed by now, but in comics they don’t let you execute the super villains because they need to be back next month. So I thought it was ballsy of Marvel to allow me to kill him off. They said, ‘If you want to kill Bullesye, go ahead and kill Bullseye.’ So respect to Marvel for that. We’ll see how long he stays dead! I’m not naive. This is comics. But at the same time, let’s write with conviction.”
Bullseye may have been a despicable human being, but that doesn’t mean Matt Murdock isn’t feeling any guilt over killing his longtime nemesis. “Recently, Matt has been rather petulant and selfish, and frankly, hasn’t really been guilty enough. There’s a difference between guilt and self-pity. I think he’s indulged in too much self-pity without really being self-aware. I find that hard to respect in a person,” Diggle said. “I thought, ‘Let’s give him something to feel guilty about!’ But it’s not black and white. It’s like the old question of whether Batman should kill the Joker. Could that ever be justified? It’s not an easy yes or no answer. It’s interesting. There’s a moral gray area, and that’s where the drama happens. So let’s see him deal with the consequences.
“Frank Miller did it in ‘Born Again,’ when the Kingpin beat on Matt Murdock ’til he snapped,” Diggle continued. “Then, to see Matt build himself back up from that is fantastic drama. But once that’s been done, you don’t want to see it done again and again. You can only keep playing that card so many times. I wanted to take that to the point of no return, to take Matt to a place where he couldn’t really get any worse. He really hits bottom. So now we’re going to see if he can climb all the way back up again. ‘Daredevil: Reborn’ is sort of an epilogue to ‘Shadowland.’ I’m trying to clear the decks a little and prepare for whatever comes next. Whoever decides to tackle the Daredevil legacy next will have a clean slate, so they can bring their own thing to the character instead of having to continue my story.”
The final page of “Daredevil” #512 revealed Matt Murdock’s guilt had caused him to flee New York and begin a trek across the country, and “Daredevil: Reborn” #1 opens with him strolling into a small town in New Mexico. “I wanted to tell a Matt Murdock story rather than a Daredevil story. Right now, he’s kind of turned his back on Daredevil. Matt feels that he doesn’t deserve to be Daredevil any more because of all the pain and suffering he caused during ‘Shadowland,'” Diggle said. “He’s in such a low place, he just wants to run away from it all and lose himself in the wilderness. So there’s no New York City. There’s no costume. There’s none of that. It just starts with a lone guy walking out of the badlands and dealing with the ramifications of his guilt.”
The opening of “Daredevil: Reborn” unfolds like a classic Spaghetti Western, with a loner drifting into a small town with big troubles. “Matt is the lone gunslinger who walks into town. And it’s a town with problems. I guess it’s not spoiling things too much to say that the police department of this small New Mexican town is not completely on the straight and narrow, and Matt kind of stumbles into the middle of something big that’s about to go down,” Diggle said. “His first reaction is to say, ‘It’s not my problem. I don’t do this anymore.’ That’s a big change for the character, and it may be fairly shocking to some readers. But he’s not the same guy he used to be.
“This story is about how he’s dealing with stuff now. Is he going to turn the other cheek? Partly, I wanted to send Matt back to the church, as a man who prays and takes confession. I think that works for the character, I think it’s interesting. And frankly, he’s got some stuff to confess now,” Diggle continued, laughing. “I’m not a religious person myself, but the ideals of Christianity – charity, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, non-violence – are very strong ideals to live up to. The idea of being a non-violent, forgiving character when you’re a Marvel superhero [Laughs] is kind of interesting actually. Because superheroes traditionally solve all their problems through violence. So I thought I’d play with that and see how far I can take it. What happens when a superhero refuses to fight? Does it just make him a coward? Or does it make him stronger?”
In the beginning, “Daredevil: Reborn” is a fairly grounded story with the only fantastic elements being Matt Murdock’s super powered senses. “When I was writing ‘Daredevil,’ I tried to make sure we only saw Matt’s inner monologue when he was dreaming. There would be an occasional dream sequence where Elektra and others would try to warn him about something inside him, which we now know was the Beast. The idea was that there was something inside Matt’s mind that’s kind of blanking him; blanking out his own will,” Diggle explained. “Once he’s no longer possessed, we get the real Matt back and that’s why we get to see inside his head again. Now I’m writing ‘Daredevil: Reborn’ and it’s all interior monologue all the time. You’ll experience things from his point of view. You get more sensory input than we did before.”
Since “Daredevil: Reborn” takes place in a small New Mexican town, the supporting cast will be composed of entirely new characters. Chief among the cast are two different kids of villains. “The best bit of advice I ever got on writing superheroes was from Mark Millar. He said, ‘Always create your own villains.’ That way you can tailor them to the story you want to tell and you don’t have to worry about endless continuity,” Diggle said. “The main adversary Matt has to deal with is Cole, a corrupt small town sheriff. We’ve also created a new super villain called Calavera, and he’s been a lot of fun to write.”
Diggle has been a fan of Davide Gianfelice ever since he first came across the artist’s work in the first volume of Brian Wood’s “Northlanders” series from Vertigo. He’s been wanting to work with the Italian artist since then and felt Gianfelice’s style would be perfect for this project in particular “Part of the reason I wanted to work with him was because ‘Reborn’ isn’t your traditional superhero story. It hasn’t got the usual visual iconography. It’s not about muscles, and energy, and costumes. It’s more about atmosphere and the look in a guy’s eye when he’s not saying anything. It almost has a Sergio Leone vibe to it,” Diggle revealed. “That’s the way I’m approaching it. There are lots of silent sequences. It’s about mood and visual storytelling without dialogue. Davide is absolutely nailing those aspects. I couldn’t be more excited to be working with him. I’d love for him to do my next book, too, if we can get it up and running.”
“Daredevil: Reborn” is Diggle’s final story featuring the Man Without Fear and the writer is very excited that he gets to end his run by telling this particular tale. “On the whole, I’m pretty pleased with how ‘Shadowland’ came out, but it’s the most divisive thing I’ve ever written. Some readers loved it, some hated it. I’ve never had such a mixed reaction to anything I’ve done,” Diggle said. “But I am very proud of ‘Daredevil: Reborn.’ It’s very much me doing my own thing, telling the story my way and ending it the way I always wanted to end it.”