Daredevil is special. He’s a little gritty and a little noir. He’s not like Spider-Man or any of his other Marvel brethren. Most writers look at Daredevil as a special challenge. The hallowed history associated with the character brings with it a reverence few characters can claim as their own. The hallmark Frank Miller stories from the 1980s and the woefully underrated Nocenti follow-ups set the stage for what the character would mean for the coming generation. Of course, it all went to hell in the 90s, but what didn’t?
When Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti launched the Marvel Knights line in 1998, they brought filmmaker Kevin Smith in to helm the relaunched Daredevil title. What followed was a series of lengthy runs on the series by a respected creative team that took the character to new and exciting places. His girlfriend was murdered by his arch enemy. His secret identity was revealed to the public at large, sending his life into utter chaos. He declared himself Kingpin of Crime in an effort to clean up his city. He eventually went to prison as a result of all this crazy. He escaped and went on a quest to find the men responsible for putting his life in the toilet. His name was cleared officially, but not in the public eye. People will ALWAYS think he’s Daredevil, regardless of what the court papers ultimately said. Fisk returned with a new assassin and he and Murdock actually went to war to see who would lead the ninja clan The Hand, some of Daredevil’s most notorious enemies. Daredevil would take on the role of Hand Leader (like Elektra before him) and try desperately to change their ways and use them as a force for good.
And then he got possessed by a demon and made a giant paper castle in New York City.
Shadowland marks the end of a 12-year run of consistent quality in the main Daredevil series. The trials of Matt Murdock and his supporting cast were some of the most engaging in comics. Sales remained relatively consistent as each high-profile team came onto the book, brining their own stories to the Man Without Fear. Even Shadowland writer Andy Diggle had an extremely strong follow-up to the departing Ed Brubaker, following up on the Hand angle from Brubaker’s latter issues. The idea behind Daredevil as the Hand leader is solid. Brubaker and Diggle set the stage for something exciting and interesting. Somewhere between Daredevil #507 and Shadowland #1, something went horribly wrong.
It’s not even Daredevil in a more antagonistic role that’s the problem. I have no doubt Murdock could have gotten there. The story was definitely taking him to a darker place, but the radical shift in tone making him a full-on villain between issues brings with it a profound disconnect. And it just kept getting weirder as more and more was revealed (mostly not in the main title, but that’s another gripe completely). Murdock didn’t go over the deep end and start killing people. He was possessed by “The Beast,” the demonic force behind the Hand’s mystical powers. Suddenly, the master ninja attorney crime fighter was blasting his former friends away with pink demon energy and growing actual horns as the Beast threatened to swallow his soul while The Punisher leads a team of heroes to kill him. This is a DAREDEVIL story! Daredevil shouldn’t have magic demon powers! That’s ridiculous! It’s a wholly different tone and story from out of nowhere and it’s not over yet.
Whatever the final shakedown is from Shadowland, we know that Murdock will be disgraced (rightfully so) and replaced by T’Challa in the newly-renamed Black Panther: Man Without Fear starting with issue #513 with writer David Liss and artist Francesco Francavilla taking over. Bear in mind that Black Panther hasn’t even been mentioned in Shadowland or any of its relevant tie-ins since the event began, so I can’t begin to imagine how or why this happens. We already know that the Daredevil: Reborn mini begins in January… But why?
Daredevil was performing admirably. Sales are no higher now on the title than they were a year ago, according to figures from Comichron.com. Daredevil consistently sells in the 45,000 copies per month range, and that’s not too bad, considering the overall decline in sales in even top-tier titles. I fear for the Man Without Fear as he loses his title to another hero. It’s hard to say how many readers will follow after the rampant weirdness of Shadowland and what will come of the book and the character after the dust settles. Regardless, Shadowland has kind of sucked, and Daredevil hasn’t sucked in over a decade, something few other titles can claim.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, Marvel. You’ve broken my Daredevil, and that in turn breaks my heart. I only hope Diggle can recover in his ill-conceived mini-series and that Hell’s Kitchen’s Guardian Devil can usurp the former Wakandan king since he has no damn business in the book.