It must be a little disheartening to be a roadie for a magician. Don’t get me wrong, magic is really cool and even better when you see it live. No one goes into a magic show and thinks, “Oh this is all real, and this man has some sort of sorcery!” No, we go in knowing we’re going to be fooled, and are delighted or disappointed by the results depending on how good the performer is.
But if you were a roadie traveling around the country with this elaborate and really good magic show, I could see how it’d take a little something from you in the process. Every night when the magician would go to perform, you’d set up his mirrors, hide his playing cards, even simply stand on the other side of the curtain, and night after night, you’d have the show ruined for you. You never doubted this was fake, but there’s only so many times one can be reminded of that so boldly before a sort of resentment would build up. This performer is lying to people every show and they buy it because they’ve never seen it. And while they’ve all convinced themselves this is new and exciting, you’ve seen it all before.
I stopped reading Daredevil awhile ago. I quit lugging around Matt Murdock’s failing law office, setting up his girlfriend for disappointment, and standing in the wings while he got pushed to the edges of morality only to yo-yo back into place to do it all again in so many months. Another new writer would take the stage, and comic buyers would eat it up while I swear I’ve read this story before.
WARNING: We’ll be talking Shadowland #1 and Daredevil #508 this week, so grab your copies and read along!
Before Shadowland, Daredevil got this amazingly bad idea that taking over the Hand could fix all of his problems. The Hand have been after him to join or die, expecting option no. 2, and got option no. 1. Along with a mysterious old man with fantastic martial arts skills and a shady sort of background, they build a skyline-breaking fortress in Hell’s Kitchen. A sort of crazy-ninja martial law is enacted, and criminals are hung from lampposts Spider-Man style, only a lot more gruesomely because this is Daredevil, and we are very serious in Daredevil. The other heroes who live in New York City sort of eyeball the big castle in the middle of things and figure that Daredevil’s a pretty good guy and he’s got this one, but send Iron Fist and Luke Cage just in case. Surprise, things have taken a turn for the worst and, going over the line, Daredevil stabs Bullseye in homage to Elektra’s infamous death with a sai through the chest. Foggy Nelson, Matt Murdock’s long suffering partner, and Dakota North, his most recent romantic attachment, rush to Daredevil’s rescue only to be put in peril and really, sing along if you know the words!
Hold up a sec, we need to talk about this: Daredevil stabs Bullseye through the chest with a sai and everyone believes that Bullseye has been killed. Gaping chest wounds with stabbing weapons can do that to a guy, and it’s not like he’s going to be up and about like nothing happened, but if you think he’s really dead then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you for a steal. First and foremost, this is Bullseye, one of the most popular villains around for the past few years. From his own mini-series to his time in the Thunderbolts, there’s no way he should have been a power player in Civil War (hired on as a Thunderbolt) and in Siege (same job), but here he is in the big leagues. He’s a general all-purpose cleaver use of murder and a visual cue to the reader that someone can and will die, it’s just a matter of how important they are. He’s too long running a nemesis and, honestly, too good of a character to lose in issue #1 of an event book. His death or incapacitation comes at the end of a story for better flow, but I am certainly no Marvel editor. Maybe this is to show you how amazingly serious this book is when we lose a prize-winning villain right off the bat. Well, in the same issue he’s stabbed, Bullseye himself talks about how he can control his heart. A faked death? Daredevil is also working for the Hand, and they have a pretty nifty little ceremony in the back that can clear this death thing right up. A resurrection? Or maybe some third thing we haven’t even seen yet, but I hate it when a story tries to sell you on a major plot point you know is false from the beginning. Even if this is truly the end for Bullseye for now, there’s going to be a certain amount of disappointment.
Because I’ve seen Daredevil beat the hell out of Bullseye. I’ve seen him take over a criminal organization because he thinks he can do it better. I’ve seen superheroes try and talk him down, only to be rebuffed until Matt Murdock loses everything. I’ve seen a mysterious old Asian man withhold secrets while putting Daredevil on a path to danger. I’ve even seen him sport a new costume with extraneous bits attached to it. Comics are not always fresh and original every issue; it’s a comic fan’s delight to see a hero or villain return from obscurity to be re-imagined or remind us of some previous story. Over in Amazing Spider-Man, there’s a smorgasbord of Kraven the Hunters. At the end of Second Coming, we’re teased with the maybe-possibly-kind-of return of the Phoenix. Who doesn’t like an old tune with a familiar melody that we know the lyrics to?
Daredevil wasn’t always this story. He wasn’t always a man gone too far only to retreat back because the last steps don’t jibe with his sense of morality. That’s a pretty heavy storyline, and one that should have deep ramifications on the character — he’s shown the Abyss, only to have it look back at him. Frank Miller really did set the standard on a character he didn’t create, and we’ve been following his pattern for a long time. Sometimes very badly, sometimes so well that you have to check the front cover just to make sure Miller’s not there. And no matter what’s taken from him, no matter how crushed he is at the end of the line, no matter how many times Foggy Nelson has to cover for him, Matt Murdock is asked if he wants a nice Hawaiian Punch and he says “Sure.” Certainly, as Steve Wacker said in an interview with USA Today, this presents Daredevil with a certain amount of naivete, the “purest soul.” On the other hand, he figured taking over a demonic death cult would be just beating some people up. Stopping crime for him has been beating people up and hanging them on signs. Defeating Bullseye once and for all is beating him up and stabbing him.
This is issue #1 and really, it’s only the start of things to come. There’s going to be a cast of thousands here, other major events that won’t even have to do with Daredevil (hear we’re getting a new Power Man?) and, like “Curse of the Mutants,” it’s got a broader appeal to non-comic readers. Wacker said, “Any character who was optioned for a movie I tried to get in here” and that was in USA Today. So new people are coming to the show. In the pages of Daredevil #508, it looks like there might be some sort of evil influence on Matt Murdock’s mind, since the Hand has shown to have sway over such things. From early shots and solicitations, it looks like every street level Marvel hero is going to charge into Hell’s Kitchen to try and take it back, so this is one very big battle for one man’s soul. It would be arrogant and silly of me to read the first issue of anything and lay judgment on the whole story. But that’s what happens when you schlep for the magician; you see all his tricks and you know the show by heart.
Sawing a lady in half or pulling a rabbit from a hat is standard and cliche. If you see those tricks over and over again, the thrill fades away. If you know how it’s done, the tricks become shoddy and worthless. But, if your dress those tricks up in a new context, switch up the steps or distract the audience from the familiar routine, it can delight the crowds once more. I’m not saying Daredevil shouldn’t be a faithful man on the brink of his own destruction, I’m just daring him to do better.