Rosebud: Daredevil: End of Days #8 Review

daredevil_end_of_days_cover_2013Editor’s Note: I’ve been there for a lot of people’s last words. And every time it’s the one thing they spoiled about the most.

Mapone is not a thing.

I have, as I’m sure a lot of people have since Daredevil: End of Days began several months ago, Googled the living shit out of the word “Mapone.” And there is nothing there; there is some family out of Italy, a Fleetwood Mac fan on YouTube, some promotional trinkets company in South Africa… and since October, a bunch of reviews of Daredevil: End of Days. If you look for the definition of “Mapone,” there isn’t one. If you try contextual searches, you wind up with articles about Halo battle maps, mapping values in computer programs, and MAPI interfaces.

In short, “Mapone” is not, by any real definition, a word. It is, rather, a sound you make with your mouth. So as a mystery, writers Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack picked a good mysterious word to act as a throughline for the story… but Daredevil: End of Days #8 is the last issue of the miniseries, meaning that it is time for them to put up or shut up.

And they have put up. We learn the meaning of the word “Mapone” on the very last page of the issue, Citizen Kane-style. And the reveal is, in fact, a surprise, and it is, in fact, generally satisfying… until you close the book and stop and think about it for more than ten seconds.

So it is a really fortunate thing that this issue accomplishes so much beyond the silly little mystery, closing out a story that turns the legacy of Daredevil into a tragedy that is almost Shakespearean in scope, and which is implied to doom everyone it touches. Daredevil: End of Days #8 is a truly weighty and satisfying speculative end to the story of Matt Murdock, regardless of the whole “Mapone” mystery that has kept us going through this story. And that is a good thing.

Because Mapone is not a thing.

Ben Urich is dead, killed in a battle between Hand ninjas, The Punisher and the new Daredevil, who turns out to be Urich’s son, Timothy. As Tim mourns his father, we get flashbacks of conversations between Matt Murdock and Tim talking about the importance of family, and that, when the time is right, Tim’s training might be taken over by Stick. or at least Stick’s “eternal spirit.” In between the flashbacks, Tim meets with Peter Parker (who doesn’t know anything about what “Mapone” is), The Punisher (Who only tells Tim that most men’s last words are about the thing they feel guiltiest about. Well, that and that if Tim fucks up as Daredevil, Punsher’ll gut him), and Nick Fury, who tells Tim that he’s known what “Mapone” is all along (Because Nick Fury, that’s why!)… and Tim tells Fury to go to hell. Upon entering Josie’s Bar, he comes across the, as usual, delightful clientele getting ready to beat down a female pool hustler, leading Tim to put on the Daredevil mask… and finally discovers what “Mapone” is.

So I’m just gonna go ahead and stick a big ol’ spoiler alert here, because there’s not a way to really dig down into how effective the reveal of what “Mapone” is without, well, revealing what “Mapone” is. And we need to get into that, because as the single thread and central mystery that has taken us through Daredevil: End of Days, it is almost the most important thing here, and if it fails, it brings the entire series down a peg.

Well, it doesn’t fail… but it doesn’t completely succeed either, because if you stop and think about it for more than a minute, it feels a little bit like a cheat. Because “Mapone” is Mapone Romanova. The daughter of Matt Murdock and Black Widow.

Which, on one hand, makes a lot of sense and is extremely satisfying. We’ve spent seven issues on Ben Urich’s shoulder, learning through his interactions with Matt’s old acquaintances, that the man had himself some secrets. And while Murdock’s spent about fifty years chasing Tony Stark for the title of King Pussy Hound of The Marvel Universe, his most iconic relationship has always been with Black Widow, who as a spy, is known to be able to keep a secret herself. So the idea of a secret, accidental child, trained by two Avengers but kept secret to keep her out of danger, is a damn interesting idea… and the idea that Murdock, dying on the street like his own father did, would have his last thoughts being guilt over leaving his daughter in the same way, is thematically symmetric with Murdock’s own life, and feels like a logical and satisfying way to end Murdock’s story while starting Tim’s and Mapone’s.

However, I’m gonna go on record and say that the whole “Mapone” mystery was a Goddamned cheat. Because “Mapone” is not a thing.

It is not a Russian or an Irish name, it is not a word with any meaning in English or Russian, it isn’t anything. Which means that there was no real way for the reader to really intuit that “Mapone” might be a person, let alone Murdock’s daughter. Bendis and Mack might as well have made the decision to name Murdock’s daughter, “Roxxon,” or “Pickle,” or “Room Temperature Superconductor,” because the mystery would make exactly as much sense. And while the reveal makes me want to go back through the prior seven issues to see if I missed any clues that there was a child, the fact is that there is no Goddamned reason at all for readers to, in any way, guess that “Mapone” was anyone’s first name. We had months of, “Mapone? Sorry, no idea,” and without clues that a twist is coming? It feels like a cheat. So while the ending is satisfying, how we got there just isn’t.

But the issue isn’t all the ending, and the remainder is spectacularly solid. The opening couple of pages, which immerses us in a sequence of Ben Urich’s final story about Daredevil (with associated typewriter, “tap, tap” sound effects), superimposed over Murdock telling Timothy that Murdock’s life, had he been able to save his father, would have been different, subtly moving to Tim in a boxing gym pounding his frustration out on a heavy bag (with associated “fap, fap” sound effects – and yes, I, too, thought something else was going on when I saw those words), is a seamless way to tie the three characters together, and to place Timothy firmly into a place where it makes sense he would become Daredevil.

In addition, having the flashbacks of Murdock telling Tim that he hopes Tim can find a way to not have to fight, and that he hopes Tim never needs to meet and be trained by Stick, colors this story in ways that I didn’t really realize until I’d read it a couple of times. Because despite Murdock’s wishes, Tim keeps hunting for the meaning of “Mapone”… and he makes the decision to put on the mask and continue fighting. And the presence of those flashbacks twists the ending of Tim meeting a hot redhead who’s also gonna teach him how to fight like Batman from a standard happy action story ending into a tragedy. We have spent seven issues confronting Daredevil’s loneliness and his regrets, all leading to his inevitable violent death alone on a dirty Hell’s Kitchen street… and we are now at the beginning of the story of another guy who has suffered almost the same motivating events, ready to go off and do exactly the same thing. Timothy Urich becomes a superhero, gets the girl… and loses everything. He just doesn’t know it yet. But we do… and that makes this ending simply excellent.

There’s not a lot I can say about the art combination of Klaus Janson’s pencils and Bill Sienkiewicz’s inks, because as a guy who grew up on Daredevil comics from the 80s, this stuff just looks like Daredevil to me. Janson inked Frank Miller’s art back in the 80s, and seeing the art here makes you realize just how much of a contribution Janson made to the look of those books, because the art here is pretty close. And between Janson’s pencils (as an inker, Janson has always had a heavy hand) and Sienkiewicz’s finishing (the man just about pioneered big, heavy inks, ink splatter, and huge darkness), the art here is a tad abstract, with darkness everywhere that helps the tone of the story. The storytelling is clear, with a simple-to-follow panel layout, and visual cues like softer lines and focus in flashbacks to show the reader when they are seeing different time periods. But again: the best thing about the art is that, for long-time readers, this looks like Daredevil.

The structure of the story tells us everything that we need to know about Timothy’s life after the final page: a life fighting alone, doomed to end violently and filled with regret. And it makes me believe that the title End of Days doesn’t have anything to do with Daredevil (who lives on through Tim) or Matt Murdock (who was dead by page four of issue one); it’s about Tim. Any chance at a normal, happy life ends the second he puts on the mask at Josie’s Bar and takes Mapone / Stick’s hand. And that realization makes me feel a lot more weight and satisfaction from Daredevil: End of Days than I’ve felt at any point since it started. Daredevil: End of Days #8 makes me want to read the whole thing again. And while I will stand my ground in my opinion that “Mapone” was a cheap Maguffin to use, it doesn’t diminish the accomplishments that the creative team otherwise made in this series.

If you haven’t been reading Daredevil: End of Days, look for the trade soon. Thanks to this ending, the whole ride is well worth the read.