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One of the hardest things when creating comics – or any serialized fiction, for that matter – is deciding what to do after you’ve completed a big, elaborate story arc. Mark Waid spent nearly all of the first twenty-seven issues of his run on Daredevil taking Matt Murdock slowly through a plot sprung on him by longtime foe, Bullseye. Along the way, there were a number of mini-arcs that introduced new foes like Coyote and Ikari while also pitting Daredevil against classic villains (though not for him) like Klaw and Mole Man. It was plotted very well by Waid, as he takes issues and events that initially seemed unrelated and ultimately spins them into a larger plan. So with that giant arc complete, it appeared like readers were in store for a light, palette cleanser this month. The irreverent cover, by regular artist Chris Samnee along with issue artist Javier Rodriguez, features an Alfred E. Neuman-eqsue kid wearing a shirt that reads, “I Beat Dare Devil.” However, what comes inside the issue is a terrific take off Daredevil’s origin, one that sets up an exciting new threat to DD.
The central story in this issue centers around a present-day encounter between Matt Murdock and Nate Hackett. Initially, Hackett, who has arrived at Murdock’s office, seems like another guy implying that Murdock is really Daredevil (Murdock was publically outed as the hero during Brian Michael Bendis’ 2000s run). Murdock, dealing with partner and friend Foggy Nelson’s tough battle with cancer, quickly loses patience with this man. The twist occurs when Hackett talks about the link between Murdock and Daredevil, “You are, too. I should know! I gave you the name!” It’s then made clear that Hackett was one of the bullies from Murdock’s youth who would tease the seemingly-timid bookworm by calling him “daredevil” (much of that storyline was the centerpiece for Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.’s masterful 1990s miniseries The Man Without Fear). In fact, Hackett and his bully friends were chasing young Murdock when he had his fateful encounter with a truck full of radioactive waste, giving him superpowers.
What happens then is an interesting push and pull between Hackett and Murdock. Hackett, who has been racked by guilt because of the accident and subsequently fell into a sordid life, felt relieved by the revelation that Murdock turned out all right. Meanwhile, Matt still feels resentment against the bully who made his early years painful. There is, however, a deft turn by Waid that suggests that pre-accident Matt might not have simply been the poor victim but also a haughty boy given to bragging about his prizefighter father and future legal career to those around him. The thrust of the current plot is that Hackett was briefly a member of the cult Sons of the Serpent and though he quit before the group turned really bad, he still lost his legitimate job because of the association. He wants Murdock to help him fight the wrongful termination case. Matt overcomes his ill will towards Hackett simply through legal principles (“The reason I can’t get Nate Hackett out of my head… was the words ‘false arrest.’”). The end of this issue throws a courtroom twist that indicates that Daredevil may find himself embroiled with the Sons of the Serpent in the immediate future.
Waid and guest penciler/colorist Javier Rodriguez tell a great stand-alone story, though it also sets up what looks to be another compelling storyline after concluding the last one. Taking his visual cues from Chris Samnee, who has been illustrating recent Daredevil issues, Rodriguez gives the book a bright look and crisp line. Rodriguez has some really standout panels, like the flashback to a battle between the Sons of the Serpent and Daredevil that also featured Defenders Hulk, Luke Cage, Dr. Strange, Valkyrie (and others). There is also a wonderfully nasty panel of little Murdock immediately after his origin accident, with yellow acid burning his eyes. Daredevil’s beginning has never looked so horrifying.
This issue is an example of the best kind of comic book revisionism: taking a known incident from a character’s background and rather than totally reversing it, instead finding an interesting new angle to explore that sheds light on the character and his/her background. Overall, this is a very good jumping-on point for new readers. It doesn’t required knowing much about what’s happened in the first two-plus years of Waid’s run but still offers an intriguing story thread to develop.