Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Daredevil #500

I guess one of the fringe benefits of renumbering a long running series like Daredevil is the chance to pick and choose your landmark events. Need a few extra pages to give a little extra emphasis to the ending of a major story arc? Well, let's look around and see if we're near an anniversary issue of some kind. As fate would have it, the 500th published edition of the man without fear's ongoing adventures just so happens to coincide with the final chapter of Ed Brubaker's last hurrah with the character. Hence the awkward leap from issue #119 last month, and the seemingly rapid-fire "anniversary" editions. But hey, if it means more content and weightier circumstances on a regular basis, I don't really care what digits they have to throw up on the cover.

Goofy numbering aside, it's easy to see that Brubaker's really made his mark with this character. After devouring Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's run on the series, I had no amount of envy for the creative team tasked with continuing the story, but Bru and his ensemble of partners have performed better than I ever could have imagined. Not only did he pick up and run with the brutal cliffhanger handed to him by the culmination of Bendis's run, he's slowly built to the point that the cast is ready for another huge change in direction, delivered it, and then immediately handed the ball over to the next team. Is this becoming some sort of rite of passage? If so, the expectations have just doubled for poor Andy Diggle, who takes over next month.

Now that he's concluded his run, I can look back and see how much of Brubaker's work was leading toward the enormous revelation that caps off this issue. One by one, he's been slowly cutting the threads connecting Matt to a sense of normalcy and comfort, removing bits and pieces of his civilian identity until we were all ready to see this kind of major lifestyle change. Which isn't to say it was telegraphed… more the opposite, in fact. I didn't see this coming, but now that it's happened I've realized that every last clue was right there, waiting to be discovered. He hasn't wrapped up every single plotline from his run, to do so wouldn't have felt right, but Brubaker has certainly cleaned a few cobwebs and made room for whatever direction the series decides to take next.

An entire cadre of artists has joined the writer for his swan song with Daredevil, with frequent collaborators Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano holding the reins for most of it. These two have swapped places several times over the course of the series, with artwork that's similar enough in tone and foundation that most readers probably didn't even notice. In play within the same issue, their faint distinctions are a bit more noticeable, but they're still similar enough that the switch between scenes is comfortable. They're each asked to deliver a series of very complicated emotions, both in the characters' facial expressions and their body language, and they each deliver across the board. It's clear that both knew just how important this issue was, and brought their "A" game accordingly.

It's only fitting that the best issue of Brubaker, Lark and Gaudiano's run is also their best. I'll miss the noir-meets-ninja flavor they brought to this series, just like I missed the courtroom drama and media headhunting that Bendis and Maleev delivered, but it's time for something different. A great deal of the magic of this series lies in its constant ability to seamlessly reinvent itself, and it's cool to see that Marvel not only gets that, but embraces it. This was the right time for Brubaker and friends to step away, because I don't think they'd have been able to top this issue. Buy it up and get ready for another new beginning.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9.5

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