Ending a long ongoing series is a difficult proposition in mainstream comics, especially when given a limited page count. Not every story can have an entire volume dedicated to its final installment like Fables. So when a creative team is given 20 pages to deliver a final chapter on a story that is composed of more than 1000 previous pages, they are faced with an interesting challenge. How do you balance the climactic action promised by a grand finale with the catharsis and introspection needed to make the ending feel meaningful? What is the balance between spectacle and epilogue? Daredevil #18 is an issue that understands this struggle and walks the tightrope as gracefully as its titular character swings between the rooftops of San Francisco, dividing itself into two impactful, but very different halves.
The first half of Daredevil #18 is all action. Almost everything throughout Daredevil’s time in San Francisco has helped build to this showdown with Kingpin in some way. The Owl and his daughter, Shroud, Kirsten, Foggy, and now both Ikari and Kingpin are involved. What happens here is all in service of resolving the confrontation efficiently though. Daredevil #17 was the climax of action for the series, raising the stakes and touting an incredible action sequence with Ikari and an incredible cliffhanger. Where it focused on raising adrenaline, the first half of Daredevil #18 acts more effectively as the period on a long sentence.
Daredevil and Kingpin’s fight is the centerpiece of the action. While Foggy and Julia Carpenter get some moments, it all reads like background and their fates are never really in question. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee recognize that Kingpin is the one iconic element of the Daredevil mythos they haven’t addressed until now, and make the most of this one physical encounter.
Their duel emphasizes the power and brutality locked within Kingpin’s frame, and offsets the grace and precision of the Ikari so that both stand out on their own. Kingpin’s enormous fists and face fill compact panels, seemingly applying pressure to their edges. In one sequence every punch he throws is lit in red by Matt Wilson’s coloring, putting the reader in Daredevil’s perspective with blood filling his eyes. Letterer Joe Caramagna matches these moments with some excellent sound effects of “FAM” and “KAK” that embody the pain of a fist fight.
The red coloring around Kingpin’s punches aren’t the only thing to focus on Daredevil’s perspective. Samnee and Wilson reveal his victory with more elegance, playing with individual panels to show the world as Daredevil is seeing it. Smoke is used to obscure colors, and the same thing is accomplished with Samnee’s pink-lined rader effects, both putting the focus on forms and space. Even a small panel of Daredevil smiling uses a cross-hatching effect in the background to obscure any sight beyond what the blind hero can control. Kingpin’s defeat is even more elating as a result, with Daredevil’s victory becoming the reader’s as well.
Considering the length and scope of this Daredevil saga though, this showdown feels trite. It is a fistfight over a dining room table that is ended by outside intervention. There are also a lot of key elements that are only peripherally incorporated. Shroud and the Owl family are featured in a brief cutaway, playing an important, but undramatic role. Foggy and Julia are provided moments, but they are uninspiring. Even the later inclusion of epilogue-like pages focusing on some of these characters read like perfunctory footnotes to leave no loose ends. The first half of Daredevil #18 rests entirely on the power of Daredevil and Kingpin’s brawl, and while it is a well executed action sequence, it doesn’t meet expectations set by the series that precede it.
However, this battle isn’t the finale; it’s only intended to be a resolution of the final plot in this legendary run. The second half of the issue represents the true climax of Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil, where the fireworks aren’t found in explosions and fist fights, but in a scene that digs into the conceit of this 54 issue run (give or take some annuals and digital issues). Waid makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, what he sees as being the core of the character Daredevil and his arc over the past four years in a conversation between Matt, Kirsten, and Foggy.
While much of this series has been characterized as light and fun in comparison to past Daredevil stories, that hasn’t really been the case at all. Instead, the many bright moments have served to highlight the darkness of the character. Using that bright facade, Waid and Samnee have tapped into the depression, anxiety, and rage that fuel Matt Murdock. His battle with these emotions have shown him to be a hero for his perseverance and drive, not because of a chemical accident.
Once more, Matt is found in darkness by his friends, unwilling to move from it on his own and step out into the light. The revelation of his public identity and embrace of a new life in San Francisco are shown not to be solutions, but stop gap measures preventing real confrontation. The ensuing dialogue reveals why both these two dear friends and so many readers care about Matt, and why he is a classic hero. It’s only through the wisdom and support of his friends that Matt can move from the darkness and into the light one final time.
Matt Wilson’s colors in this scene reveal so much. The darkness of an unlit room first submerges Matt, and then drapes itself across his form. Light is brought in by his companions, illuminating his own clothing as well. Together wearing shades of rose, aqua, and lime, they present a poor man’s rainbow. Slowly, the world becomes brighter until Matt walks into the light in the final panels. Samnee’s use of space, providing a bottom panel that is simply borderless and white says so much by showing nothing at all, revealing a hopeful, bright blank canvass.
Waid uses the ongoing plot point of Matt’s autobiography to express all of these ideas in the words of the hero. His voice is not expository, but thoughtful and self-deprecating. He acknowledges his own flaws in a “final” chapter, while his friends praise him. This monologue compliments, rather than overwriting or undermining Samnee and Wilson’s presentation. The two narratives compliment one another and create a coherent portrait of who Daredevil is.
And yes, this final scene is on the nose and touches upon melodrama, but it absolutely should. This version of Daredevil has always embraced being a part of the superhero genre, painting a story in bold strokes with big action and heartful drama. This moment between friends, for as quiet as it may seem, fits the tone of the series beautifully. Daredevil is a modern legend, an undying hero whose adventures teach lessons and reveal aspects of our own humanity. This finale feels appropriately legendary, revealing a character who is equal parts myth and man.
Waid, Samnee, Wilson, and all of their other collaborators have created a truly legendary version of Daredevil, and Daredevil #18 is an excellent capstone to their accomplishment. It manages to walk the fine line between spectacle and catharsis, providing a fine ending to this last adventure and, more importantly, addressing the thematic core of the series. In these final pages, Daredevil lands exactly on the point of why it has mattered so much for so many comic readers, and why it’s likely to continue doing so for a long time.