Today we’re going to take a look at Charles Soule and Phil Noto’s latest outing: The Death of Daredevil.
First, some of my personal background with the character. This might take a minute, so feel free to skip down about half-way if you really just want the Death of Daredevil review. When I started reading comics, the Ann Nocenti/John Romita Jr. run of Daredevil was mid-swing, and it really helped me to connect to the character. He had all the Catholic guilt I was raised with, he cared about social issues, and he was brave/foolish enough to face down the marvel devil himself in a story that was pretty existential for a youngster like me. I liked how he never gave up. I liked how unlike other super heroes who worried about protecting secret identities, Daredevil/Matt Murdock was all about what’s right. During the day, he fought for what’s right in the courtroom, at night, he’d put on his red tights and fight for what’s right in the streets. Add in the fact that he’s a ridiculously poor decision maker in his own personal life and a powerset that’s just crazy enough to be realistic, he was a character I could really relate to. The other big bonus about DD is that because he was never over-powered, he’s always been a B-level hero. He’s got a cool enough design that he got a toy during Secret Wars, but you’re not going to see his book being interrupted to face down the Beyonder or Thanos in a big crossover because he’s just not at that level. He’s Netflix level, not MCU level.
That’s actually my favorite part about DD. Because he’s B-level, Marvel doesn’t really need to care about him too much. Unlike Spider-man or your name brand Avengers that can’t be messed with too much without causing a big to-do, Marvel has always been comfortable giving the Daredevil book to a creative team and letting them do what they want.
It’s worked out really well. Frank Miller wants to make him a ninja? Sure. Nocenti and Romita Jr. want him to beat up Ultron with a stick? Ok.
Bendis and Maleev want to make him not only fight the kingpin, but become the kingpin, too? Aiight.
Waid and Samnee want to move him to San Fran and make him wear a red shirt that says “I’m not Daredevil”? Let’s do it.
Daredevil is a character who fits grim and gritty as well as light hearted swashbuckling adventure and everything in between.
I’ve been buying Daredevil’s book pretty consistently since Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada brought the title back as the flagship of the Marvel Knights line almost 20 years ago. I’m pretty sure it was the last book I purchased through Marvel’s subscription policy way back when they still did that sort of thing directly. There have always been ups and downs, but overall, the book remained solid for long stretches thanks to creators like Bendis and Maleev or Brubaker and Michael Lark. The only time I dropped the book was in the lead-up to Shadowland, which I thought was pretty sub par. It took DD off the street level (or prison level at some points) and played into the mystical Hand Ninja take-over of DD’s mind and it wasn’t all that good. That story caused me to miss out on the Francesco Francavilla Black Panther run that followed, so I’m still kinda mad at that. Still, things picked back up with Waid/Rivera’s reboot which led into the great Waid/Samnee run a few years back. The book has on my comic shop subscription list ever since.
Then came Charles Soule.
His run, most notably with Ron Garney but eventually with plenty of other artists due to Marvel’s double shipping policies, was unique to me because it never really rose to the level I really liked, but it never dipped to a level that I found to be outright bad, either. It’s always maintained “good enough” status. It started off with a costume redesign (bad choice), but the Ron Garney art made it look really cool, so that was a wash. Then, there was the first villain, Tenfingers. He played into some of the dark mystical elements (not my favorite choice), but he was so ridiculous, I couldn’t hate him, so that was a wash, too. Even DD’s protege Blind Spot was a plot thread that had enough potential to stay interesting, although I was never sure if it fit into my idea of a Daredevil book.
And so it has gone for the rest of the Soule run. He makes choices that I wouldn’t make, but the quality has always been enough that I didn’t question things too much. I would, however, take long breaks in reading the book, though. For example, to review this story from issues 609-612, I had to go back all the way to before issue 600 to catch up.
Part of me is glad I fell off, though, because the story from 600 forward wasn’t all that good. Soule has some cool ideas like Mayor Kingpin or the new villain Muse, but they’re overshadowed by poor decision making. DD’s sidekick calls on “the beast” from the Hand to give him powers to beat Muse, while Daredevil gathers all the street level heroes of New York for a plan that involves them…staking out bad guys and getting arrested?
Then, Matt Murdock gets to be mayor and he lets out all the heroes and all the major crime bosses not named Wilson Fisk to fight the invasion of Hand ninjas and oh, goodness, we’re back into Shadowland territory again.
Then, DD’s new priest shows up with his other priest warrior buddies and they steal the NYPD’s horses and fight the Hand in a story that made my heart sad for buying it. It was bad ridiculous.
In 606, Phil Noto picks up art duties, and through the machinations of a new character called “The Reader,” brings Mike Murdock to life. Mike is Matt Murdock’s made-up twin brother with a brazen personality. He’s legitimately brought to life by the Reader’s powers, and almost immediately starts making problems for Matt Murdock.
That story was ridiculous, too…but this time in a good way. Noto’s art is solid, and Soule has a lot of fun with Mike. So now, we’re caught up just in time for “The Death of Daredevil” to hit us like a Mack truck.
The death of Daredevil happens when DD gets hit by a Mack truck. He was attempting a re-do his origin story and push a civilian out of the way of a moving vehicle and this time, instead of ooze and Ninja Turtles and all that, he gets hit and dies. The end.
Part of me is tempted to leave it there, but it does take four issues. Included in the padding is DD fighting for his life and going back through a greatest hits of his life while wrapping up the Soule run. He meets with Stick who reminds him to fight!
He reconnects with Elektra and he knows it’s wrong, but for that one night…it’s not so wrong, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. There’s no way that could end badly…wait, by the end of the next issue it ends badly. Elektra joins DD’s squad with Reader, Cyper, Inhuman cop guy, and Reader’s dog to kidnap one of Mayor Fisk’s cronies, and big E kills the guy. Bye, Elektra!
Then, DD fights not Stiltman, nay, but Stilt-men and I get distracted by an ad with Ron Garney covers for the new Defenders series. That looks good. Anyway, DD continues to face down some of his greatest villains like Typhoid Mary and Gladiator and Ikari and Klaw and hey, Tenfingers is there! DD has Mary set off the sprinklers and then lets Electro zap ‘em all.
But watch out DD, next is Bullseye! Oh no, he’s gonna…get shot by Mike Murdock and get tossed off a building. Thanks, Mike!
In the final issue, there’s a big trial to take down the Kingpin. Everybody shows up Golden Girls style and the Kingpin resigns.
Then, there’s the faces of loved ones and faces of DD from various points in his life telling DD to look. He realizes that he’s been Newhart-ing this story the entire time. He’s actually in the hospital clinging to life, imagining these endings. He thinks about the never ending cycle of violence. Then, he closes his eyes and dies.
For three pages. Then, there’s a heartbeat and a declaration that he will “be the light” and he is unafraid. The end.
This story couldn’t help but remind me of one of my favorite musical discoveries of this year: H. Jon Benjamin (of Archer and Bob’s Burgers fame) released an album in 2015 called H. Jon Benjamin Jazz Daredevil: Well, I should have…* where he hired the best session musicians around to play on his jazz album.
The catch, H.J.B. doesn’t know how to play an instrument. The asterisk stands for “learned to play the piano.” It’s hilarious.
It starts off with 20 seconds of really solid, competent jazz and then clank, clink,clink, clink, clank, clinkity-clank. It’s hitting the notes at the right times…it’s just they’re not really the notes. Even my musician friends have noted how good the timing is, how everything is right except for actually being able to play the piano. This is how I feel about Charles Soule’s run on Daredevil, just without the joy attached.
He has really great artists to help him along the way like Phil Noto and Ron Garney. He knows the notes he wants to hit. He knows he wants Foggy and Elektra and Karen Page and Stick and all the rest to be there. He just makes their appearances flat or cliched. He’s trying to add something to the DD mythos with characters like Muse and Blindspot. I genuinely think he’s trying, but what comes out to me is clank, clink, clink, cling, clinkity-clank. Tenfingers? Come on. Daredevil giving up and closing his eyes? Nah. Mike Murdock–ah, I’ll give you that one, that was fun. But you’ve got to remember this guy is standing on the shoulders of Miller, Nocenti, Bendis, Brubaker, and Waid. All of these writers have had their turn breaking down and/or building up Matt Murdock with much better results. This supposed end of the run is derivative and lazy and doesn’t make sense with what has come before. DD has how many years of super-heroing and jumping off of buildings, but he can’t push a civilian out of the way and escape an oncoming truck? This level of competency might be ok for an Inhumans book, but not Daredevil. To sell me a Death of Daredevil story as derivative as this one that ends with 3 black pages and Daredevil not dying–It made me realize this “good enough” run wasn’t really “good” at all. To quote H. Jon Benjamin about his own album, “In hindsight, I don’t think it’s the best idea in the world.”
“The Death of Daredevil” Final Grade: DD. One D for Derivative and one D for making me feel dumb for buying into the run.
Part of this I’m sure is based on a fanboy-like feelings I have associated with the character, and the fact this was one of two books I would buy regardless of creative teams. I’ll be happy to pick DD back up with the new creative team of Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto when the book relaunches simply because I like those guys and their work –otherwise, I’m not sure I’d continue.
I wish him well, but I don’t think I’ll pick up a Charles Soule book any time soon, at least until he learns how to play the piano.
Until next time, I’ll still be blindly buying comics without fear!