In the Marvel Universe, Hell's Kitchen isn't just another neighborhood in New York City, it's where the costumed vigilante Daredevil declared martial law. The Man Without Fear issues such decrees from a medieval Japanese-style fortress called Shadowland, and uses a secret society of ninja assassins known as the Hand to enforce his will.
Sometimes though, Daredevil will himself deal with those who break the law in Hell's Kitchen, as demonstrated in issue #1 of "Shadowland" by writer Andy Diggle and artist Billy Tan. Daredevil punished his old foe Bullseye, and he did so with lethal force. It was an act that shocked many of his fellow superheroes, and in "Shadowland" #2, they paid a visit to their wayward friend Matt Murdock to try and steer him off his destructive path. Daredevil responded by declaring all-out war on his former allies.
CBR News spoke with Diggle about not just "Shadowland" but also his work on the ongoing "Daredevil" series, which features artwork by Roberto De La Torre and ties-in to "Shadowland," and which also comes to an end in November with issue #512.
Diggle kicked off his run with Daredevil failing to stop Bullseye from blowing up a tenement building full of people; an event which still haunts him to this day. "Daredevil is one of those characters who is always hammered by the bad guys, and in Ed Brubaker's run he was hammered hard," Diggle told CBR News. "He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. But in trying to deal with it, he becomes so driven and focused that he becomes almost selfish and stubborn about it. He has no patience for anything else. That almost egotistical single-mindedness is part of his dark side, and presents kind of the thin end of the wedge for how he's developed into 'Shadowland.'"
Readers of "Daredevil" and "Shadowland" know that it's not just unfortunate events that transformed Murdock into the ruthless and fanatical vigilante he now is. A secret cabal within the Hand called Snakeroot is also working to turn the Man Without Fear to the dark side, although exactly how they do so remains a mystery. "I'm aware that Matt is making some radical and very dangerous decisions. It seems on the surface to be out of character, but there's a specific reason for it," Diggle said. "That reason is one of the big revelations in 'Shadowland' #3."
Matt Murdock isn't the only character whose behavior is being influenced by the Snakeroot cabal. One of his chief lieutenants in the Hand, Angela Del Toro -- AKA the costumed crime fighter White Tiger -- is also under the thumb of Snakeroot. "When she got turned to the dark side in Ed Brubaker's run on 'Daredevil,' Black Tarantula [Daredevil's other chief lieutenant in the Hand] used his healing factor to bring her back to the good side, Diggle explained. "What he didn't realize was that his healing factor would wear off, and her evil Hand persona reassert itself. So she's become kind of a triple agent. Let's just say I have plans both for Carlos [La Muerto, the Black Tarantula] and Angela, which I don't want to spoil here. That is, of course, if they're still around once the story ends."
Daredevil and the White Tiger's perspectives may be cloudy, but Black Tarantula is seeing the events of "Shadowland" with a clear head. Not that things are any easier for him. In "Shadowland" #2, the Tarantula expressed some doubts about the way Daredevil was going about his crusade, prompting Murdock to order him to attack a group of heroes. Now the Tarantula must decide whether to trust Daredevil or turn against him.
"In some ways Black Tarantula is the voice of reason, despite being a morally gray character. He used to be a bad guy and spent time in prison. Now he's trying to reform by helping out Daredevil, but he's not an angel by any means. He's just trying to do the right thing," Diggle explained. "I think many people would think, 'Yeah, killing Bullseye was the reasonable and sensible thing to do. Think of all the lives that could have been spared if Batman had only killed the Joker.' Then on the other hand you have some characters who think, 'No, murder is murder, and there's never any excuse in a civilized society.' The fact that there is no easy answer is kind of the point, and Black Tarantula can see both sides of the argument. He's spent time in prison with murderers and psychopaths and felt like Bullseye definitely had it coming. But that's clearly not the same thing as picking a fight with the Avengers. There's no ambiguity about whether or not Spider-Man is a good guy!"
In this week's "Shadowland" #3, Daredevil's war on crime is complicated by the arrival of another anti-crime crusader, Frank Castle -- AKA The Punisher. "Frank is a guy who deals with what's right in front of him. He's not interested in the moral politics of what Matt Murdock is doing. The other characters are agonizing about the pros and cons of Matt's new direction, but Frank isn't the kind of character who agonizes about that stuff," Diggle said. "When he wades in in issue #3, it's not because he's taking sides. It's because he's responding to a very immediate clear and present danger, and he does so in his own inimitable style. It's actually quite fun having a character like Frank Castle around when these other characters are so conflicted about the decisions Matt is making. You can just have Frank step in and say, 'You know what? Just shoot the guy!'"
Another player in the "Shadowland" game is Matt Murdock's old flame, Elektra, who appears in this week's "Shadowland" #3 and in the "Shadowland: Elektra" one-shot by Zeb Wells and Emma Rios. "She starts to play much more of a role in 'Shadowland' from issue #3 onwards," Diggle confirmed. "We've already seen her working with Izo, the blind ninja master who wants to reform the Hand. So it's not spoiling things too much to reveal that she goes to Matt and tries to infiltrate the Hand by claiming that she wants to join them, which doesn't seem unreasonable given her history."
So far, the action in "Shadowland" has taken place in and around Daredevil's fortress, but starting with issue #3, the scope of the story will escalate as things explode outward. "The thing that's turning Matt to the dark side starts turning everybody else to the dark side as well," Diggle said. "Things are going to start to get quite explosive in Hell's Kitchen. The population starts turning on itself. A malevolent force is radiating out from 'Shadowland' it's spreading. It's not just about one man anymore. It becomes something everybody else gets swept up in."
Another malevolent force that's been wreaking havoc in "Shadowland" is Daredevil's old foe Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime. "All throughout my 'Daredevil' run, Fisk has been very deliberate about staying under the radar. He wants people to think that he's a spent force -- and of course he isn't. He's playing a long, patient game," Diggle said. "Occasionally he'll step out of the shadows, topple a domino and watch the ripple effect spread out across the rest of the story. He's not getting directly involved, not putting himself in the line of fire. He's using other characters to do his dirty work for him, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. For example, he's the one who sends Ghost Rider into Shadowland. It's all with a very specific goal in mind, which will come to a head in 'Shadowland' #5."
While Diggle is chronicling the main action of the "Shadowland" event in the eponymous miniseries, he and co-writer Antony Johnston are showing the story from another point of view in tie-in arc of "Daredevil." "Antony has really helped me raise my game. We decided that if 'Shadowland' itself is very much about the costumed superheroes, then we were going to make 'Daredevil' itself a parallel story featuring the more grounded, down-to-Earth, regular human characters like Foggy Nelson, Dakota North and Detective Kurtz," Diggle explained. "The idea being that you could read either story on its own and it still will make sense, but if you read both titles then hopefully it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. That keeps everything more grounded and a bit more self-contained, which I think 'Daredevil' readers like. They like the fact that the 'Daredevil' title has been fairly insular and not overly connected to the rest of the Marvel Universe. That grounded feeling means we can keep the story in 'Daredevil' dark, gritty, and urban rather than overly superheroic. Tonally, I think that works nicely. We just need to make sure that 'Daredevil' readers get enough of the big picture story to keep everything making sense from one issue to the next, because inevitably there will be stuff that happens in the other title that will be important. We need to make sure everything ties up."
Diggle has been writing comics for almost a decade now, but "Shadowland" is his first big superhero crossover event, and working on the project has required him to learn a new set of skills. "It's a challenge for me because I've always liked writing very short, self-contained stories. I'm not the kind of writer who tends to do a lot of ongoing runs. I'm much happier doing mini-series and short run books. I kind of pride myself on trying to make my stories very tight and self-contained, where everything connects and there are no loose ends. But when you're writing a crossover story, you want to introduce loose ends because those are the threads that other writers will follow in their spin-off titles and one-shots," Diggle stated. "So writing this has required me to approach storytelling in completely the opposite way to what comes naturally to me. It's been an interesting challenge."
Diggle ties-up the loose ends of "Shadowland" in November with issue #5 and "Daredevil" #512, which has been solicited as the final issue of the series. "A few weeks ago Marvel put out these 'Who is the new Man Without Fear?' teasers that featured various characters, and the fans kind of shrugged them off," said Diggle. "Then the solicitation for 'Daredevil" #512 hit saying it was the final issue of the series, and suddenly everyone lost their minds. It was like, 'What's happening? They're killing off Matt Murdock! They're raping my childhood! And I'm like, 'Everybody take a deep breath and relax. We know what we're doing. We're respecting the character that you love."
"Shadowland" #5 and "Daredevil" #512 aren't the end of Diggle's work with the Man Without Fear, they're just the end of the first act of a larger story the writer has planned to conclude with the recently announced "Daredevil Reborn" miniseries in January 2011. "I'm not done with Daredevil. I get to finish this story the way I originally pitched it, regardless of what the title on the front cover says," Diggle said. "And I get to work with artist Davide Gianfelice, who is absolutely fantastic. When I saw his work in the first book of 'Northlanders' it just completely blew me away. I'm really excited to be working with him."