For the past two years, Mark Waid and a host of extremely talented artists have given us one of the most intriguing mysteries in superhero comics. Matt Murdock is desperately trying to reinvent himself, to start his life over as a new man, but someone is intent on keeping him placed firmly in the past, and they’ve sent new and dangerous threats, and reminders of his largest failures, in a bid to do so. The person behind it all (assuming this reveal isn’t just another red herring) was revealed in the newest issue, and it may cause some fans to scratch their heads. The following contains HUGE SPOILERS for DAREDEVIL #26.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Daredevil finds himself on the brink of madness – his friends think him mad, and don’t believe a word he says – he has no one to turn to. Then, he discovers his lifelong nemesis Bullseye has been resurrected by the Hand, and is responsible for the recent tragedies taking place in his life.
For DD fans, it’s a pretty familiar story. That’s why readers may find themselves shocked to see, in DAREDEVIL #26, the reveal that Bullseye may be the one behind the turmoil in Matt’s life. But, wait a second. Isn’t Waid’s DAREDEVIL the book that brought the character out from the long shadow of Frank Miller? Isn’t Waid’s DAREDEVIL a return to the swashbuckling adventure hero of the Wally Wood or Gene Colan era? Isn’t bringing Bullseye back to life, or referencing a story where Matt was possessed by a demon and murdered somebody, or having Foggy discover the identity of Matt’s mystery man in an extremely convenient and coincidental way the exact thing this series shouldn’t be doing?
Well, not exactly.
It’s true that part of what made Waid’s run so immediately successful and well received was the sense of freshness. But here’s where DAREDEVIL and a book like Matt Fraction’s HAWKEYE differ. Mark Waid respects continuity – he respects where a character has come from, their personal history, and the thematic narrative tapestry of their respective mythos. That isn’t to say Fraction doesn’t, but I would say that HAWKEYE is more of a Matt Fraction book than it is a Clint Barton book. And that isn’t wrong, and his and Aja’s creative vision is obviously speaking to people in a very real way. That being said, the Clint in that book isn’t the Clint I know, but the Matt Murdock in DAREDEVIL is the Matt I’ve read for years.
Now, clearly, Marvel doesn’t have to worry about pleasing an aging pretentious fanboy like me, and I’m not saying HAWKEYE is anything but an excellent comic book. It just isn’t a very good HAWKEYE comic to me, whereas DAREDEVIL clearly belongs to the franchise its title carries. With the reveal of Bullseye as Matt’s tormentor, I feel as if Mark Waid understands this distinction. Most Marvel fans are familiar with the story of Ditko’s wish to reveal Green Goblin as just a random, unknown person beneath his mask – because, Ditko argued, that’s the way real life works – the real monsters are walking anonymous among us. But Lee’s choice to make it Norman Osborn feels a lot more right because that’s creating a mythology and a narrative. Ditko’s may have more artistry to it, more of the hard complicated facts of the real world, but Lee’s has fictional flair.
That being said, it’s a pretty insane coincidence – I mean, Spider-man’s new and mysterious villain is actually his best friend’s dad? But it’s become such an established part of his history that we don’t even question it. DAREDEVIL is in a unique position where the current volume stood out to people for it’s separation from the titles past history. But I think that Waid has made it clear, in varying degrees of subtlety, that you can’t escape who you are. DD stories don’t have to be like the stories of Frank Miller, but if they’re going to be about Matt Murdock, they do have to take into account that those stories happened to him. Matt has literally spent the last two years of his life completely ignoring the events of SHADOWLAND, and it’s taken up until now for him to address them.
This isn’t a mistake on Waid’s part – this is the brilliance of the long game he had planned. Of course, in retrospect, it all seems obvious. A story about a sad, broken man finding happiness has a story about a man running from something not far below the surface, but again, Waid pulled a fast one on us. He tricked us into thinking that Daredevil’s world had changed, so that it would sting all the more when it was revealed how similar things will always be. In hindsight, it seems downright insane that we’ve been reading a book where a blind old man danced with a corpse and the title characters best friend was diagnosed with cancer and we were calling it a return to carefree, swashbuckling superheroics.
DAREDEVIL #26 still sparkles with fresh ideas and innovation. Bullseye now reduced to an invalid, trapped in an iron lung after one resurrection too many, is the kind of fascinating new idea that I love the series for, and of course, I’m sure there’s plenty more surprises waiting for us in the real identity of Ikari, and for all we know, the reveal of Bullseye could be nothing more than a fantastic ruse. Fans may have found themselves nonplussed by this issue’s big reveal – they may have found themselves wishing for something different, something bigger, something more unexpected. But I think DAREDEVIL is a stronger series for working within the confines of a characters history and world, while applying new ideas and innovations to that world. DAREDEVIL #26 is both reflective and forward thinking, a meal rich with substance, a comic that respects its characters but isn’t tied down by their years of complicated continuity, and only Mark Waid could’ve pulled it off.