Do you like checkers? I think there is a point in everyone's life (usually when we're young) that checkers is an awesome game. One of the earliest board games played internationally, you may call it draughts, but everyone has a basic idea of how the pieces move, what the theory of the game is and how to win. It's a simple but challenging game, probably taught by a family member or a friend, maybe even by a super-cool math teacher on a rainy day. Young and old can play the same game and get the same enjoyment out of being kinged or hopping over a bunch of your opponent's pieces. Some might even call checkers the 'gateway drug' to chess, as it takes that board and provides a challenging new game to play in checkers' place.
The thing about checkers, though, is that eventually you're going to want to play something else. Playing a lot of games of checkers, day in and day out, can get boring. The game can seem childish and simple after awhile, and if you asked a room full of fourth graders if they'd rather play checkers or Halo? Not that checkers isn't fun now and again, but nowadays, we the playing public wouldn't settle for the same simple game over and over.
With Shadowland, Andy Diggle has finally tipped over the board and scattered the checkers all over the floor (maybe kicking a couple under the couch). Sure, he played checkers with us and started out with similar gambits that were noticed before, but now with the end of a major story arc and Marvel's 'street crew' settled in a new direction, I can say with some satisfaction that this is a new, refreshing direction for the character of Matt Murdock and his continuing troubles and heroism. So what game are we playing now? Can it be Battleship? Read on and find out.
(WARNING: Yep, spoilers ahead for Shadowland #5 and Daredevil #512. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the good guys win in this one, but watch how they do it. Diggle crafted a fantastic ending, so please grab a copy and read along!)
I like Andy Diggle. My dad read The Losers comics he wrote for Those Other Guys and ever since then, I've had a soft spot for the writer. Which is why it was such a disappointment for me when I quit reading Daredevil right when his run started. I was burnt out on the Infinite Checkers Game/Magic Act/Use Your Own Metaphor Here, played out since Kevin Smith reintroduced us to the Frank Miller standard of Daredevil stories back in '98. From Smith it was Bendis, who is to this day, I think, our modern checkers king. Brubaker picked up the board in mid-play and didn't think to switch out the current strategy. So yeah, I stopped playing checkers, wrote a little something about it and then went to frag fools on my X-Box. To you, Dear Reader, I admit I didn't follow Shadowland very well; the tie-in books sometimes had more information or framing sequences than I expected them to, I still have no idea what the Silver Sable was doing here and the pacing was a little clunky in places. It's what happens in big, multi-arc, cast of thousands, event plotlines; sometimes that's just a lot of checkers on the board who've been kinged.
So when did Diggle overturn the board on readers? Despite the radical change, are more simple games of checkers just around the corner? What has Shadowland done and will it stick?
Matt Murdock was a man who was pushed to the edge and stood in the face of fear once more. With the demon inside of him, he confronted his own misgivings, self-pity and torments and, by opposing them, ended them. Elektra makes a fantastic turn in this book as the one to show Matt how far gone he's become and to hand him the sword to 'metaphorically' perform a kind of harakiri on his soul to release himself from his fears and the demon in one go. Much like Elektra's mysterious rebirth, Matt's body disappears from the view of his supporting cast, leaving him to walk the Earth like Kane from Kung-Fu. For the first time in a while, Daredevil is not in Hell's Kitchen. Their local protector has screwed up so badly, he's not even going to show his face for awhile. Spider-Man's done a lot of things and is still considered a man or menace, but he would never leave New York City. Our heroes have feet of clay, but that normally roots them to their hometown. The fact that the X-Men pulled up roots and went to San Fransisco is still a big deal and the idea that Matt Murdock, shamed and hurting from the beating he took from Shadowland is finding a bus and hoping on to "walk a long and lonely road paved with good intentions"... well, that's new. This isn't his jet-setting years with the Black Widow, this isn't Born Again, healing along with his best girl by his side and settling into the quiet life (for all that lasted). This is a bold new direction that will, indeed, change his books for the time being.
Hell's Kitchen is going to have a new protector in the form of the Black Panther (not a shock or a surprise, really, but the black pages with the quote from Jawaharlal Nehru are a nice touch.). If your LCS has one, grab a Sneak Peek and check out the preview of Black Panther: Man without Fear #513 (or peek at the preview pages here at CBR); just from this brief glance into the book, you know the tone of the stories has changed for Hell's Kitchen. It's not a place you'd ever want to live for sure, but there's a certain amount of healing going on. T'Challa is taking an undercover position at a local diner, he's going to be hanging out more and more with the actual locals and we're going to see a more man-on-the-street hero from Black Panther than we have from Daredevil in the past few years. Matt Murdock lived a pretty insular little world where his troubles revoled around him like big angsty planets and now that he's gone, those planets can stop influencing the tides around Hell's Kitchen.
His supporting cast is going to have to move on. Foggy Nelson, God bless him, is Matt Murdock's stalwart defender, his best friend, and has gotten the worst end of the stick the majority of the time. There's an absolutely heartbreaking scene with him in Daredevil #512 where you realize that this friendship has, once again, left him with a shattered office and a broken career. Having more faith in Matt Murdock than even Matt has in himself, he refuses to stop believing in him. Becky Blake can only wish him luck and leave him standing int he ruins of yet another office, waiting for the most unreliable friend in the Marvel Universe. I'm not saying Matt Murdock isn't worth it, but after all this... will Foggy still be waiting for him when he gets back? Will Hell's Kitchen even want that hot mess back on their streets?
This is why I say that Diggle has changed the book, the character, and the game entirely. The board is overturned and the cycle of "the purest soul" pushed to the brink of his own morality again and again is, for now, over. Who knows what's going to come next? Maybe we're playing Chinese Checkers as I can guess that Matt will indeed use his amazing martial arts skills to fight some crime and try to find inner peace with the demons he just exorcised. He might even wander back into San Francisco, catch up with old friends and hey, he might fall in love with a girl who will die in his arms once more.
But this is a new board and a lot of the old, insular habits have fallen away in the wake of Shadowland. While I might have been a little iffy on the execution, this event came to a most satisfying conclusion and brings with it change. Change is key and while we may never be able to escape what came before us in these incredibly long running serial stories we read from week to week, we can maybe use that history to teach us something new. Maybe we'll play chess, maybe we'll use the checkers as chips in a game of poker. Maybe I'm a little like Foggy Nelson, standing in the same ol' devastation and waiting for my hero to return. Either way, the change in the book is inescapable and I'm looking forward to what's on the horizon.