"Daredevil" #504 gets off to a strong start as Matt Murdock prepares the Hand to strike back at Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. for the actions taken against Murdock's friends, including getting Foggy Nelson disbarred and Dakota North's PI license revoked, but it doesn't maintain that fiery energy for long. After the initial pages, the issue becomes mechanical in its plot progression and relies on some rather obvious and overused story ideas. One plot 'twist' in particular should surprise no one.
The conflict between Murdock's Hand and Osborn's H.A.M.M.E.R. could be interesting, but isn't presented as such here. The direct confrontations are barely shown; Andy Diggle relies on Murdock and Osborn talking about how they're going to take the other down; there's far too much telling and not nearly enough showing here. Osborn's conversation with Bullseye is very good, though, as Osborn raises Bullseye's continued inability to defeat Murdock. Osborn likens it to Murdock simply being that one opponent that has Bullseye's number, an interesting way to reconcile Bullseye's past failures and maintain his 'badass killer' status.
However, with the Hand and HAMMER moving against one another while Wilson Fisk sits on the sidelines, it's easy to guess what his game is, making the reveal of who is behind Foggy and Dakota's problems not nearly as surprising as Foggy makes it out to be. The classic "play two sides against one another" plot is so obvious here that it's hard to believe that either side falls for it. Diggle uses Lady Bullseye's relationship with Fisk well and in a contrasting manner to how Osborn treats Bullseye. There are definitely possibilities there.
The best part of this issue is the art of Roberto de la Torre and Matt Hollingsworth, which is dark and keeping in the visual tone set by Alex Maleev and Michael Lark previously on the book. de la Torre did some good work on "Thunderbolts" with Diggle, but he's definitely taken his art to the next level on "Daredevil" as every panel is visually interesting and drives the issue on. He uses a lot of shadows and chooses interesting angles to play up the drama of conversations, giving the book a noir feel at times. His facial expressions have also improved over the past year and carry a lot of the meaning throughout the issue, allowing Diggle to pull back on the dialogue. Hollingsworth's colors complement the style well, matching the sketchy elements of de la Torre's line work, highlighting the strength of his pencils. de la Torre may be the artist to watch in 2010 as the 'next big thing.'
Diggle's writing doesn't keep up. His scene to scene work is good, but the plotting in this issue is mechanical and cliched. Hopefully, he plans to go somewhere interesting in the future and subvert the story conventions he's falling prey to and this issue will take on new meaning in retrospect, but, taken on its own merits, it's not good plotting.