Marvel Knights 20th #1 opens with a shot of Matt Murdock at Karen Page’s grave, which is appropriate seeing as the first Daredevil arc of the Marvel Knights era in 1998, "Guardian Devil," dealt with the impact her illness and death had on Murdock. Looking at it this way, in the context of an anniversary issue, it makes perfect sense. Matt Murdock has come a long way since then, however, and lost a lot of other people in his life. And while it’s entirely plausible that he would still feel the impact of her death years later, this is the first time that we’ve been introduced to the idea that her gravestone is a sort of subconscious constant for him, drawing him to it despite the fact that (at this point in the story) he knows nothing else about himself.
And that's not even the strangest thing to happen in Marvel Knights 20th #1. To writer Donny Cates’ credit, you don’t have time to dwell on this facet of Matt’s psyche before you’re thrown in the deep end of a truly baffling mystery. Not only does Daredevil have no idea who he is, but the entire Marvel Universe seems to have lost all memories of their former lives. Well, except the Hulk, apparently, who works through his alter ego Bruce Banner -- and, by extension, Frank Castle -- to “wake up” the superheroes around them.
Cates does a great job of explaining a lot without giving anything away. At its core, Marvel Knights 20th is a mystery, and as such is filled with clues and hints that all lead towards what’s truly going on, but there’s also nothing here which will help you solve the puzzle before the creators are ready to let you in. We see familiar characters with no knowledge of their former lives, others are unable to see themselves as they truly are, and in the end, we’re introduced to a cabal of villains who may be responsible for what’s happened, or may merely be similarly in the dark as the rest of us. Make no mistake: This is an event on the scale of House of M or Age of Apocalypse in its scope and implications, except the approach to this is far more intimate, deceivingly so.
As the issue progresses, you -- like Matt Murdock, Frank Castle, and others -- find out more and more about the world you’ve found yourself in, and with each revelation not only does the mystery deepen, but the scope of exactly what’s happened gets grander. It’s not yet revealed just how the wider narrative will tie into the actual anniversary of the Marvel Knights imprint, but the characters involved certainly evoke the origins of the line. Daredevil, Punisher and the rest of the street level heroes were all largely redefined for a new generation of readers thanks to Marvel Knights, so it makes sense that they take center stage here.
There’s a lot that Travel Foreman gets right in this issue, but his greatest asset is in being able to depict the complex turmoil Matt Murdock is experiencing. The former Man Without Fear is anything but, here, and from the pained facial expressions to the subtle yet clearly desperate and defeated body language, Foreman depicts a very different Daredevil. His arc throughout this issue is akin to George Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life, in that he’s a man unaware of his importance, desperately grasping at understanding a world that is strange and completely wrong to him.
Foreman paints a very ugly Matt Murdock in several scenes, which is perfect; he’s crying, frantic, scared, and all of that is right there, on his face. Similarly, the action is exaggerated but not unrealistic. An early scene of Matt running from Frank Castle shows his legs elongated as he leaps over a gravestone, and again when he jumps out of a window a little later on, his form is warped, but only so much as to stretch reality a little. There’s also an impressive page as some of Matt’s memories return to him, structured with concentric circles radiating out from Matt’s head, within each a different image from Daredevil’s history, including a Marko Djurdjevic cover from Daredevil #95, the Jack Kirby cover from issue #4, an obligatory Frank Miller image. It’s a great shorthand for the history with Daredevil that we all share with Matt Murdock.
Marvel Knights 20th #1 isn’t a particularly rewarding issue, as there are far more questions asked than answered. It's sort of like being given the first chapter of a mystery novel and being told to wait before you get the rest. Your instinct and the compelling nature of the plot makes you want to devour the rest of the story to find out just what is going on. It’s hardly a criticism to say that you want more of something, however, so in that sense, Marvel Knights 20th #1 is a success. We’ll have to wait for subsequent issues to see just how well it serves as a celebration of the much-loved imprint.