Sunday, June 19, 2016

Charles Soule's Daredevil Just Ain't Workin'

It really is time for some frank talk about the current volume of Daredevil. Let's go ahead and say it: this just isn't working. The single word brought most forcefully to mind by these first 8 issues is "superficial." Charles Soule has opted to write the book as a superficial adventure-of-the-month title featuring a central character with almost no inner life and no real supporting cast. Soule's story-structure is overly repetitive--in over half his issues to date, he stages a fight scene then lets everything else play out around it. Worse, the stories themselves are generic, by the numbers--one could plug just about any other hero into the lead role without having to change much and they'd work out about the same. They have no impact, they don't lead to anything and they don't amount to anything.

Soule has introduced some elements that could, if properly worked, make for an interesting book but having introduced them, he has a bad habit of not doing anything with them.

Matt as a prosecutor is an intriguing idea and addresses a longstanding dichotomy in the character, a defense attorney by day and masked vigilante by night. In making Matt a city prosecutor, Soule perhaps underestimates both why that original dichotomy was interesting in the first place and why this new direction is potentially quite problematic but there's a lot of potential there and Soule's own legal background inspired hope that he may be able to bring some life to the scenario. Alas, he's done almost nothing with it. Matt's reasons for wanting to become an assistant district attorney, a fairly major change, remain unexplored. Everyone with whom Matt works in this capacity is a faceless non-entity. They come and go in a few panels and one doesn't even remember their names. The work itself initially tied into the first story arc but that angle was quickly dropped and the job sidelined. Matt himself freely leaves it whenever he wants to go bust heads. He's unfairly blamed by his superior for screwing up a major case and exiled to a minor-league project in order to prove himself, he violates his orders and walks away from that assignment to play Daredevil and a few issues later, he's in Macau, having taken a vacation! It gives the appearance of an author who isn't even keeping up with his own story. Now, obviously, the book is "Daredevil," not "Matt Murdock: Assistant D.A." but why introduce this major change then treat it in this way?

Blindspot, DD's sidekick, is another new wrinkle. Having Daredevil train a protege is something with which a talented writer could work and, of course, Blindspot is a story in himself, a working-class guy from Chinatown, an illegal immigrant who constructed a stealth suit and took to fighting crime. Unfortunately, he, too, has been given very little attention. His training mostly happens off-camera, which seems a waste given that Matt, in this scenario, is taking on the role of Stick, the crotchety old bastard who trained him. It would be interesting to see more of how Matt imparts the same lessons to the youth. Blindspot was theoretically neck-deep in the original storyline of this run but it was all handled very superficially. His involvement, along with his mother, in a criminal cult begs all sorts of questions, questions that are then entirely ignored or barely touched upon. A subsequent and ill-conceived encounter with Elektra--there was absolutely no reason Blindspot should have been there--has, at present, left him sidelined.

Soule brought in Elektra, which, in a DD book, is like invoking the nuclear option, then didn't really do anything with her. Her two-issue arc reads like the set-up for a much more interesting story but Soule walks away from his most spectacular twist--that Elektra had a previously unknown child by Matt--then just abandons the larger story entirely. The child is revealed to be a series of false memories put into Elektra's mind, Matt thinks he knows who did it and thinks it was done specifically to get at him, then Elektra leaves and the next issue just moves on to something else entirely, which can't help but add to the overwhelming feeling of pointlessness this entire run has so far generated. In #8, Matt is suddenly participating in a poker tournament in Macau, the tone is suddenly straight James Bond and not so suddenly, I just don't care.

Soule inherited a book that was in utter creative ruin, as low a point as DD had ever been in its 50+ year history. The big Marvel Secret Wars event offered him the opportunity to simply hit the reset button and entirely delete his predecessor Mark Waid's abominable rape of the character. Whether by choice or by editorial edict, he declined this option and the "solution" he concocted--having Matt somehow erase from every mind on Earth the knowledge of his secret identity--has made an unbelievable mess of not only DD's continuity but that of countless characters with whom DD has interacted over the years.[1] Large portions of his history are now entirely inexplicable. Ben Urich, whose decades-long partnership with DD was built upon his figuring out it was Matt beneath the mask, Spider-Man, DD's friend, confidante and sometimes collaborator who has been in on Matt's secret for 30 years of comic stories, the Black Widow, who actually lived with Matt for some years, his partner in life and in crimebusting and whose every interaction is premised on her knowledge of who he is--it makes my head hurt to even think about the destruction this memory-wipe garbage has wrought[2] and all in the name of preserving that godawful Waid run that never should have happened in the first place. And, of course, how Matt did this remains entirely unexplained, something that drifts around between Matt's thoughts from issue to issue. No resolution to this--if any is ever even offered--is going to be dramatically satisfying or, indeed, anything better than an ill-conceived insult. It's "One More Day" all over again, no matter how it works out. Soule had a reset button available to him in the Secret Wars event. Waid could have simply been erased without ever being addressed. The path Soule has chosen allows Waid to continue to destroy the book long after he's left it, that godawful prior run poisoning not only what should have been a fresh start but DD's entire history.

Though Soule hasn't quite caught up to them yet, his artists have returned some semblance of the proper pulp noir tone to the book. The first story arc, brought to life by Ron Garney and colorist Matt Milla, was, in fact, a great experiment in comic artwork. Visually ambitious, perfectly suited to the character and looking like nothing else coming out of Marvel--a joy to see. Unfortunately--notice how that word keeps turning up?--Marvel can't seem to keep a regular artist on the book. In only 8 issues, there have already been three and the two following Garney--Matteo Buffagni and Goran Sudzuka--just look like they're trying to imitate Garney, an impression furthered by the constant of Milla and his innovative color schemes. The artwork, to be clear, is good  across the board and not really a source of complaint. No one has been able to do Garney like Garney though. The book needs a regular artist.

"Superficial" may be the word much of this run brings most immediately to mind but another that also ranks prominently is "disappointing." Soule needs to seriously shape up. If this is really all he has to offer, it's time for Marvel to find a new writer for this book.

--j.

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[1] Of everyone in the world, Matt allowed only Foggy to retain this knowledge and Foggy is furious with him over it, so much so that he tells Matt he'll never help him again. And then, of course, he helps him again a few issues later, another example of Soule seemingly not following his own storyline.

[2] Storylines like "Born Again," most of Brian Bendis' run on the book or all of Elektra's interactions with Matt over the years are inexplicable without the knowledge of Matt's secret. How do all the characters involved in them now explain their pasts?