[1 October 2009]
PopMatters Comics Editor
It’s the return to a physical comics, Dark Reign: The List - Daredevil. It is honestly hard to believe that there is no blast, that Daredevil did in fact not collide into the biting metal stairwell of an apartment block’s fire escape, that nearby the psychopathically perennial Bullseye is not really gloating. It’s a great comics and it deserves to be read. And every page is alive with sure signs of a mind at work. Not, mind you, the mind of Andy Diggle, just recently tapped to series writer for Daredevil, but of artist Billy Tan.
Diggle is an extraordinary talent, and has already proven himself as a the leading reboot writer of his generation. With concept reboots like 2003’s The Losers, where he recast a DC wartime drama as a post 9/11 spy noir or 2004’s Swamp Thing in which he effectively married together Alan Moore’s classic vision of the plant elemental with the 1999 series featuring the character’s daughter, Diggle has more than made his bones in the industry. His writing is clean and credible. It finds and successfully exploits the core of any character or setting. Yet despite his remarkable talents, with Dark Reign: The List he takes a believable and very necessary back-seat to artist Billy Tan.
Some backstory is needed.
The List is a mini-series spanning a number of special issues in the Marvel universe. Regular characters are co-opted from their monthly series to evolve the ongoing story of the Dark Reign. Dark Reign, Marvel’s major summer event for 2009, paints a nightmare scenario where Marvel universe villains have seized control of the military, intelligence and political machinery, and now pose as heroes before a public held in their thrall.
No doubt Dark Reign itself is forged in the same crucible as recent summer mega-events, where a dalliance with the country’s psychic tensions seems to make for socially pertinent comics. 2007’s Civil War mirrored the rift between supporters and opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 2008’s Secret Invasion, with its motto of ‘embrace change’, seemed to echo the hope crucial to both the Obama and McCain campaigns. Dark Reign taps that uncertainty. The unfounded but somehow primal fear that our political machinery is no longer our own.
This is Heavy, as they say on 30 Rock. Dark Half Hour of the Soul stuff. A genuine Bad Trip. And it is even further confounded by the newest mini-series to emerge from the Dark Reign stable—The List. After the events of the recent Utopia which saw the X-Men come to blows with the villainous Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers, and the birth of the Dark X-Men, the former Green Goblin, now head of intelligence unit H.A.M.M.E.R., writes up his List. Essentially it is a hit-list of superheroes who in Osborn’s eyes have crossed a line. In the The List - Daredevil Osborn puts perennial DD villain Bullseye, now posing as superhero Hawkeye, back into play as his super-villain persona. Bullseye’s assignment is to exterminate with extreme prejudice the hero of the book.
It is here that Diggle writes with aplomb. Perfectly at home in what has become almost exclusively his element. Picking up from where former DD scribe Ed Brubaker left off, The List - Daredevil sees our hero on the horns of a dilemma. DD has taken a position as head of murderous ninja clan, the Hand, in hopes of undermining their evil influence from within. Yet, in the shadows, old familiar threats are at play. Wilson Fisk, the notorious Kingpin of Crime is back in town. And former Spider-man villain and erstwhile Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, has reactivated erstwhile DD villain, Bullseye. New takes on old enemies, it’s Once More Unto The Breach, it’s the heart of Diggle country. We really shouldn’t trust anyone else with this kind of story.
Yet for all it’s plug-and-play allure, for all it’s glib sophistry, what are these summer mega-events really all about? It seems easy enough to understand 2007’s Civil War as voicing both sides of a divided nation, but what does Secret Invasion say about the 2008 election? Is it pro-Obama? Pro-McCain? And further still, does Dark Reign have anything to say about the first year of the Obama Administration? Too much time spent behind the glamorous veneer of media-savvy topicality, and the intellectual construct begins to bulge under the weight. It’s a morass that not even the gifted Andy Diggle can write us free from.
Which is why artist Billy Tan truly redeems Daredevil’s foray into Osborn’s List. It is really hard to convince yourself that this is something that isn’t happening right at this very moment. And that impulse to willingly and continually suspend that disbelief is very necessary to forge ahead in the continuing saga of Dark Reign.