Or – “Heel Turn Or Swerve? Only Vince And The Writing Team Know For Sure…”
The real fact of the matter regarding Daredevil is that he’s pretty much ALWAYS been marginalized in the Marvel Universe. Sure, there was the Fantastic Four Crossover back in the day, and he played a role in Contest Of Champions (aka Marvel Super-Heroes At The Winter Olympics, a story I’m sure I should tell one of these days) but generally speaking, Matt Murdock doesn’t come and play in all the superheroic reindeer games. Things are about to change, though, as DD is going to be a power player in the post-Norman-Osborn Marvel U. Whether his role will be that of hero or villain seems to be up in the air…
Previously, on Shadowland: The Hand has a long and storied history in the Marvel Universe. Originally a feudal-era Japanese offshoot of some sort of ninja clan, they’ve grown to become a thorn in the side of most of the heroes in the Marvel Universe. They killed Matt Murdock’s mentor, co-opted Elektra, and eventually lost favor as villain groups go, replaced by Hydra and such. In recent years, they even found themselves fooled into being led by a Skrull, but when the fake Elektra was unseated, the ninja clan was leaderless. Enter: Daredevil. As the Hand splintered, DD agreed to take over leadership of the group, ostensibly to try and keep them on the straight and narrow. But there’s an old saying about ‘gazing into the abyss’ and its effects on your psyche, and Mister Murdock has found himself traveling a pretty dark path of late… Can the “street-level” heroes of the Marvel Universe pull him out of his tailspin?
We open with some dark and seedy doings in the bowels of a Japanese castle. A cadre of evil ninjas (known as the Snakeroot) has infiltrated the Hand, and are slowly trying to corrupt Daredevil, leading him down a path that will taint his spirt forever blah blah blah fishcakes. “He cannot be corrupted from without,” muses one of the evil ninja. “He must damn HIMSELF.” Luckily, they keep their evil schemes numbered for just such an emergency. Back in New York, the fallout from Norm-O’s deposement (is that a word?) continues, as the merciless psychopath known as Bullseye is out of Hawkeye’s costume and being remanded to the custody of The Vault, a maximum-security facility of metahumans and costumed nutjobs. Chained up and wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask, Bullseye tries to get away using psychological tactics, and fails, but suddenly goes into cardiac arrest. It’s an interesting gambit, but I was dragged forcibly out of the story by the fact that the second half of this sequence is dark and muddy as heck, and Bullseye’s entire facial shape changes from panel to panel. When the guards try to save Bullseye, he ends up killing them with the defibrillator they tried to save him with. “The heart’s just another muscle,” he sneers. “It can be CONTROLLED.” Bullseye kills his jailers and sets forth to New York, specifically to Shadowland, Daredevil’s pagoda/castle (built on the site of a building that Bullseye himself razed, apparently.) We get a glimpse of a few of our ground-level, realistic players: Moon Knight (who is also on Mars this month), The Punisher (who just last month was a scarred cyborg mess), The Kingpin (whose blindness was cured by miraculous something or others) and Spider-Man (whose wife was sold to the devil in exchange for a donut that represented his soul.) It’s a good thing that we have these stories to remind us of how the normal folks live.
Regardless of backstory, though, all the players seem to sense something big is in the wings, and the Kingpin remarks to his majordomo, Lady Bullseye that it’s time to begin… But begin WHAT? At the same time in Avengers Tower, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor meet with Luke Cage and Iron Fist, asking them to act as Avengers ambassadors to Hell’s Kitchen, and see what’s really going on with DD. The Big Three want to make it clear that as soon as things are back to normal, Shadowland will be a thing of the past. When Luke wonders what they’ll do if he says “no,” Cap curtly responds “That would be UNWISE.” While they do have a point about building a fortress in the center of New York being a questionable idea, the thought that three super-soldiers would drop from the sky and dismantle it brings back the old Civil War-era Iron Man tactics, making me kind of side with Daredevil on this one. As the threesome observes the castle, Bullseye actually climbs up it and calls the man out. “The last time I agreed to fight you alone,” comes a voice from the darkness, “you murdered 107 innocent civilians.” To keep that from happening again, he lets a batallion of his ninjas attack first. Luke and Danny arrive to help, but Daredevil wants an assurance first: That they swear their eternal allegiance to The Hand. “That would be a no,” replies Cage, and Daredevil turns down their help. Bullseye hacks his way through Daredevil’s retinue, only to face the man himself in hand to hand combat. Daredevil quickly dislocates both the assassins arms, to Bullseye’s disbelief. Power Man Cage and Iron Fist leap into action as Bullseye babbles for mercy, but they’re too late. Daredevil takes a sai and performs some poetic justice on the man who once ran Elektra through…
If this series is what I hope it is, we may be looking at a REAL game-changer. There have been a number high-profile villains who played anti-hero (Venom, The Punisher, and others) as well as misunderstood villains gone straight (65% of the Avengers) but we’ve never actually seen a first-tier hero go rogue on this scale. The implications of the ending (presuming that Bullseye is actually dead) are that Matt Murdock has finally been corrupted by his near-constant stream of indignities and dead girlfriends due to ninja attack and has finally come to the realization that his morality has been keeping him down. Pretty heady stuff, especially given the Avengers ready to swoop in and shut down his operation, and the fact that it looks like none other than The KINGPIN may be his only ally. Either way, this issue was nice and tense from a character viewpoint. Having not read Daredevil in a while, I can’t telll you if he’s out of character, but Luke, Danny and Thor are well-done throughout, and Captain America and Iron Man aren’t distractingly written. (A bit more hardcase than in recent months, but still.) My major complaint comes in Billy Tan’s art, stiff throughout the issue, but almost grotesque in the final panel of page 8, and distracting as hell when he draws Iron Man repeatedly in nearly the same pose several times. Parts of the issue are just plain ugly, and I am saddened that the whole thing is wrapped in a cover by John Cassaday (at least the issue that I bought.) Still, the writing makes up for many of the faults here, and if I’m the only one rooting for an honest-to-Goran/Globus heel turn, some people are seriously missing out on the potential here. Shadowland #1 earns a well-done 3.5 out of 5 stars overall (a score which could have been a 4, possibly a 4.5, if only the art were a bit clearer.)
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Would it not be awesome to see a major hero turn dark for REALSIES? Imagine the dramatic potential!