Daredevil has consistently been one of the best comics you can get since Mark Waid took over the writing last year, and it has been that way at least partially because Waid made a conscious choice to turn the character away from the noir darkness that has defined it since Frank Miller’s run in the 80s. There was a long run on this book where the writers seemed to make a conscious choice that God hated Matt Murdock, and Matt Murdock would respond to this divine hatred with the grace and aplomb of a gutshot bath salts addict with terminal neurologically-based vertigo.
In the last issue, Waid moved straight past the noir-influenced obstacles of bitchy, damaged hot girls and random betrayals straight into pulp: someone dug up his dad and put his remains in Murdock’s desk for Murdock’s partner Foggy to find. Foggy, predictably, flipped out and kicked Matt out of the law firm… which until recently would be the trigger mechanism for the writer to have Daredevil become homeless, or excessively violent, or to bang Typhoid Mary in Peter Parker’s house while Captain America pounds on the door to serve a subpoena.
In Daredevil #17, however, Waid zigs where everyone else would zag, delivering a flashback story that ultimately reinforces Daredevil’s new, more upbeat attitude and personality in a believable and organic way… albeit being kind of a goofy story with some real holes in it.
This story happens in the aftermath of the events of finding Battling Jack Murdock stuffed into a drawer next to the stapler and the bottle of Jack Daniels (assuming it was my desk), with Daredevil ready to turn on Foggy and dive into self-pity, as he would at any point between 1984 and last March. Here, however, we get a flashback to another time, right after Karen Page left Nelson & Murdock, when Foggy was being secretive and ineffective at work (guess he has the bottle in his desk), leading up to an attack on their law office by Stilt Man. Because it is Daredevil, and eventually, Stilt Man must appear.
The story falls into two main points, the most important one being how Murdock comes out on the other side of the apparent breakup on the friendship, and this part was really pretty effective. The secret Foggy was keeping was not only professional, but personal, and a gift that Daredevil kept close to himself. Waid uses this to have Daredevil connect to the memory of his father overcoming great odds to become champion, rather than wallowing in the self pity he seems to have for the past twenty-five years, and come out on the other side with a positive attitude toward overcoming the obstacle as opposed to just knuckling to it. It works for the character based on his entire history, while nodding toward the dark motivations that, in recent history, would derail him completely.
The second point is the actual Stilt Man attack story, which, well, has some fucking problems. Waid has Stilt Man attack the office in broad daylight, ostensibly to trash the office so no one could figure out what he was there to steal. Which is fine, and Waid’s depiction of the battle is exciting enough, but he has Daredevil figure out that the attack was a feint to set up a hit on Foggy… which really doesn’t make any sense at all. First of all, we see Stilt Man throw Foggy out the window during the beginning of the attack, which by rights should have been the sum and total of the hit plan right there. But instead, Waid has the whole attack be a distraction so that some other dude with a scalpel could murder Foggy on the street. You know, on the street, in broad daylight, with a crowd of bystanders and cops milling around the scene of the original attack to see the murder. Which, as plans go, certainly is one… but clearly we’re not talking about master criminals here. Let’s just say that they didn’t need Daredevil to break up this plot; D-Man and Squirrel Girl could’ve put a dent in this little conspiracy.
The coolest part of the story is Mike Allred’s art, which is one hell of a match for a flashback, retro story calling back to all the early Gene Colan stories. Allred has a style that won’t work for everything; it’s simple, cartoony and retro, and he eschews the standard, choreographed and fluid action sequences. There are panels in this book where Daredevil looks like he is trying to walk and fight with a massive load in his pants. But the visual look hearkens back to those simply-lined Silver Age books, which give the look of this issue the retro feel you’d want from a flashback story. I will never picture Allred drawing, say, Hawk & Dove (although after all the Liefeld issues of that book, I would pay real money to see that book), but on this particular issue, it works extremely well.
Daredevil #17 isn’t a perfect issue, but it does something that was almost necessary, given Waid’s almost complete turnaround of the character from the noir tropes of the 80s, which is give the character a perfect opportunity to spiral into those self-destructive habits, and make a conscious choice to continue in his new direction. As such, it is a story that needed to happen in order to cement the character’s new direction… I just wish it didn’t have the holes in it that it does. Still and all, it’s a good looking book, and one that does what it sets out to do. It’s worth picking up.