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A Devil of A Run

 

Daredevil: The Murdock Papers

Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev

Marvel, 2006

Rating: 4.4

 

Posted: July 7, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Spoiler Warning: Major plot details are given away in this review.

Brian Michael Bendis' tenure on Daredevil -- inarguably his high-water mark in mainstream comics to date -- has been all about dismantling those superhero comic conventions that readers assume will always be there, like a security blanket. From making Daredevil's secret identity public knowledge (for real, and for keeps) to dethroning the Kingpin (again, for real), Marvel's most popular writer has made a habit -- nay, a mission -- of upending and remapping the boundaries of the status quo. If he were writing Spider-Man, he'd start by killing off J. Jonah Jameson.

Now, his storied Daredevil run with artist Alex Maleev coming to a close -- (yes, class, for real; he'd previously taken a short break from the series but soon returned) -- Bendis wraps things up in a fairly conventional manner that feels at times like the final episode of a long-running TV series. Some absent characters return, most notably Matt Murdock's blind wife Milla, who jumps back into her estranged husband's bed seemingly just so she can gasp in horror when one of his ex-girlfriends dramatically busts into the room, and act hysterical thereafter. And there's a long-time-coming showdown with a despicable archenemy -- the assassin Bullseye (still looking like Colin Farrell in that awful Daredevil movie), who's technically killed two of Murdock/Daredevil's past loves (if you count the resurrected Elektra) and is aiming for a third.

Of course, Bendis doesn't tie things up in a tidy little bow. True to form, he doesn't let up on the shitstorm that's rained down on Murdock during the course of his run. The Kingpin, seeking to avoid jail, bargains with the FBI: In exchange for his freedom, he'll turn over material, incontrovertible proof that Murdock and Daredevil are the same, allowing the Feds to prosecute Daredevil for a number of offenses. These "Murdock Papers" are the MacGuffin that sets a whirlwind of activity in motion, as Elektra, the Black Widow and a former FBI agent all show up to help Murdock get to the information before his enemies do.

Not every obstacle Bendis throws Murdock's way rings true. (Here's that Spoiler Warning again.) The Kingpin's revelation that the "Murdock Papers" are a fake designed to implicate Murdock -- after all, if he chases after them, he must have something to hide, right? -- is a disappointment: The reasoning is flimsy at best, and the whole scene feels placed in the story to provide another dramatic twist, when one isn't really needed. But give him points for keeping the figurative excrement flinging to the very last -- ending up with Matt Murdock arrested and in jail, facing the consequences of his repeated lies and obstruction.

Some other writer may eventually "fix" Matt Murdock's life, although that'd be a mistake. Serial fictions like comic books can't thrive if every chapter wraps up neatly. For a long-running character like Daredevil to seem viable, he must undergo some form of change. Bendis understands this, and goes beyond the "illusion of change" that most writers deliver while still maintaining a status quo. He exits Daredevil having left an indelible mark on the mythos that future writers dare not ignore, perhaps even more of a mark than Frank Miller (after all, Miller had the Kingpin learn Murdock's identity in Born Again, only to let Murdock return to some semblance of normalcy).

Such a downer of a cliffhanger may feel like a counterintuitive way to end one's residency on a title, but then "counterintuitive" has been the operative word throughout Bendis' term. As a result, under his watch Daredevil has been a consistently gripping, must-read book for the first time in ages. Here's hoping new writer Ed Brubaker can maintain that momentum.

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