If It Bleeds, It Leads: Daredevil: End of Days #1 Reviewon October 5, 2012 at 8:43 am
One of the main reasons cited for the runaway success of Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil (Eisner awards for Best Writer, Best Continuing Series and Best Single Issue tend to be indicative that You Done Good) is that Waid depicts Murdock as a more positive character than he has been since Frank Miller revamped him in the 80s. Waid successfully broke from the years-long general formula for a good Daredevil story, which was to throw some terrible hardship at Murdock and watch him go nuts for a while.
That, however is Mark Waid. Daredevil: End of Days is written by Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote Daredevil from 2001 to 2006, and who put Daredevil through trials like revealing his secret identity, accusing him of murder, and having him marry a woman who goes violently insane and requires commitment… and not the good kind where people throw you a party and give you salad spinners, but rather the kind where the jackets tie in the back and the big blue pills don’t give you a boner.
So will Bendis’s take on this supposed final Daredevil story embrace the Waid’s more positive take on the character? Sure! Provided you get a warm fuzzy feeling over seeing the title character murdered in the street in broad daylight on page four! But that’s okay, because this Daredevil comic book isn’t really about Daredevil!
Depressed and confused? Don’t worry; stick with me and we’ll work through this. And it is generally a comic book worth working through.
The story opens, like I said, with Bullseye flat-out murdering Daredevil on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. And it gets bleaker from there.
The bulk of the issue is told from the point of view of Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, who, when Daredevil is killed, is busy staring down the barrel of the Bugle closing up shop like every other dead tree newspaper in America and who is probably a severance and three unemployment checks away from debasing himself to start a rotten, pathetic blog (hi, Ben!). Jolly Jonah convinces Ben to write the story of how Daredevil came to this end as Urich’s swan song for the Bugle, while leads Urich to discover previously unreleased video of the killing revealing that Daredevil said a single enigmatic and unknown word before his death, which spurs him to begin writing the story… a story starting with the last appearance of Daredevil before his final battle with Bullseye… where Daredevil, you know, murders The Kingpin (don’t worry, Mark Waid! Three Eisners means we like seeing Daredevil acting like a hero, too!).
Okay, so let’s start with the obvious ways in which Bendis is playing with fire in this story. First, it is a bold choice to solicit an eight-issue miniseries touted as the final Daredevil story, and kick it off by killing the title character. Second, a protagonist uttering a mysterious word as a MacGuffin to drive an investigation into his death is at least as old as Citizen Kane – in fact, Bendis has Urich make a “Rosebud” joke, the parallels are so obvious. And third, having Daredevil’s story being told by a third party in the form of a newspaper article is so antithetical to the concept of “show, don’t tell” that it runs the real risk of being boring if it’s not handled skillfully.
The good news is that, so far, Bendis is handling it skillfully, and he seems to be doing it by making the A plot not about Daredevil, but about the people Daredevil affected, with Urich as their surrogate. Bendis delivers a ton of Urich’s internal dialogue complaining that the television coverage of Daredevil’s murder is too focused on the “if it bleeds, it leads” car wreck fascination over the battle itself, and not on how many people Daredevil affected through his lifelong sacrifice. We meet a minor character who is vocally disgusted with the media’s treatment of the killing, and almost most tellingly, Daredevil’s and Kingpin’s murders occur in front of crowds of people. So what we seems to have here is a story that will define Daredevil’s legacy based on the people he affected, from the point of view of a single reporter. Which, granted, sounds a lot like a smaller-scoped version of Marvels, but that series didn’t become a classic for no reason.
So this is a strange beast: a comic that makes some bold choices that could derail the story if not handled correctly, and which is rooted in classics of the cinema and of comics so obviously it would be easy to scream, “Derivative!” and move on… and yet Bendis has hooked me in. Look, I know that the secret word is nothing but a device to keep Urich snooping around for another seven issues, and I know there’s a decent chance that we will discover that it’s actually a magic word fed to Daredevil by Doctor Strange – Secret Invasion showed that Bendis thinks years ahead in story, and I doubt Bendis put Daredevil on the New Avengers, close to the good Doctor, just because he thought Mike Deodato drew a cool Daredevil – and I know that I’m gonna run into even more moments throughout the series where I stop and say, “Wait: didn’t I read / see / hear something just like this in Citizen Kane / Marvels / The Dark Knight Returns / Dawson’s Creek?” But the fact of the matter is that Bendis making the choice to kill the hero and his archenemy in the first issue gives the entire story a momentum and a sense of uncertainty that is exciting: without Daredevil or The Kingpin on the table, what the hell does Bendis have up his sleeve for the rest of the story? Sure, Bendis has set himself about a half-dozen traps to turn this story into a boring expositional tract leading to a magical reveal that invalidates the opening salvo… but it’s a strong enough salvo that I really want to see what happens next.
Artwise, if this is intended to be the final Daredevil story, the only choice that could make more sense than teaming Klaus Janson on pencils with Bill Sienkiewicz on inks and painting would be Frank Miller… and if I were to hazard a guess, Frank was probably asked, but was unable to participate due to his prior commitment to hiss at protestors and check under his bed for terrorists. However, considering that Janson was Miller’s inker on most of Miller’s classic 80s issues of Daredevil, and Sienkiewicz did the art on both the Daredevil: Love and War graphic novel and on Elektra: Assassin, what we have here is a look that mirrors the stories that pushed the character from a D-Lister to a classic noir character. The lines here are thick, and the look often abstract, with some panels showing the Sienkiewicz trademark of patterns and elements pasted to traditional comic art. The violence is visceral and affecting, and overall it looks like an 80s Daredevil comic… only with some Bendis trademarks, like a two-page spread of small panels of 32 people all responding to the same question. Look: if this is supposed be the last Daredevil story, and you can’t get Miller or Gene Colan? These are the guys you want doing it. It just looks like classic 80s Daredevil.
As a wise man once told me: “Things look good now, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time for it to suck.” And there is a chance that that could happen to Daredevil: End of Days; Bendis has made choices that offer plenty of chances for things to go wrong, or worse: go boring. But he makes some bold and interesting choices in this particular issue that, frankly, compel me to stick with the book and see how it turns out. Sure, it’s a 180 from the more positive and fun stories that Mark Waid has been writing about Daredevil, but it calls back to classic Daredevil stories from the 80s, after Daredevil became a noir hero but before he became a fucking ninja crimelord.
Sure, it could all go horribly wrong… but it hasn’t yet. Check it out