Superhero comics can often feel like the sport of boxing. There is ample violence along with plenty of spectacle, but a clear set of rules keep that violence contained and seemingly safe. Punches are thrown with gloves, referees enforce well-known rules, and there's little chance to reckon with the actual consequences of violence. Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Marco Checchetto's opening salvo on Daredevil, "Know Fear," began with that seemingly forever-delayed reckoning when Daredevil kills a man during a street fight. Daredevil #5, the final installment in that story, confirms that the creative team both intends to deal with that action, and that they are capable of addressing it with all of the gravitas it deserves.
"Know Fear" has spent many pages running through the various excuses that could be summoned for killing a man. Initially, there was the possibility of a villainous plot or Daredevil's victim not actually being dead. Zdarsky has gone out of his way to wipe away these possibilities. Instead, he has doubled down on the simple nature of violence. Even someone superhumanly powered cannot crack skulls against concrete forever without eventually leaving bodies in their wake. Like the tasers and stun batons carried by police, there are only "less lethal" options, none that leave out the possibility of death altogether. So it comes in chapter five that not only Daredevil, but all of his fellow street-level crime fighters, must acknowledge what comes of their actions. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and even Spider-Man all nod to their own complicity in manslaughter, stating that, "it's part of the job." It's a logical outcome of the superhero genre, but one that goes ignored or unstated in almost all of these comics. That's why making Daredevil a murderer with such logical and moral clarity feel like an epiphany. The comic says to the reader in hushed tones: "Of course all of your heroes are killers."
This conclusion alone would make "Know Fear" stand out among the current crop of Marvel superhero stories, but it's the open-ended nature of the narrative that pushes it over the top. There is no lesson to put this terrible genie back in its bottle at the end of Daredevil #5. Matt Murdock is a man of Catholic faith who truly believes in the tenet: Thou shalt not kill. He now sees both himself and his friends as killers, and is left adrift. The presentation of this realization is a haunting thing, and one that cannot be ignored by creators or their fictional characters. It is a reckoning without resolution, as plain murder cannot be wiped away with a spell, radiation, or another multiversal crisis. It is a deep, soul-harming thing that resonates through every panel of Daredevil #5, especially the quiet ones at the end. It is the sort of thing that will infect every moment of this run and possibly (hopefully?) future series.
Along the way Checchetto never lets readers forget about what Matt Murdock is capable of. In an early action sequence, each punch lands with tremendous force intended to induce cringing rather than the typical smile or cheer. Human bodies are warped in the air by a fist and a dedication to anatomy makes it easy to imagine the jaws wired shut or long-lasting limps that follow these brief moments of brutality. The horror of these moments is underlined when Daredevil stops "holding back" against a superpowered opponent, resulting in some absurdly destructive outcomes. Yet Checchetto's most striking work, and the best moments in the entire issue, come in reflection. When Daredevil is apart from his violent calling, left to reflect on his actions alone or with his few confidantes, the isolating impact of this story becomes evident. Each punch is a reminder of the hypocrisy and terrible costs inflicted by vigilantism, but it's the solitude of aftermath that really drives the build of this story home.
Daredevil #5 is the rare mainstream superhero comic that forces itself outside of mainstream conversation. It refuses to play by the rules of the game, removing the gloves and pretense of boxing in order to confront the real costs of violence. The result is not pleasant, but it demands readers' attention and engagement. Zdarsky and Checchetto are grappling with one of the essential tenets of the superhero genre, that might makes right, and their first bout is a significant reckoning. Where Daredevil goes now might be unclear, but it will undoubtedly be towards a story and ideas deserving of serious consideration.
Published by Marvel Comics
On May 15, 2019
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Marco Checchetto
Colors by Sunny Gho
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Julian Totino Tedesco0comments