The Crater-less Impact of Daredevil’s Shadowland Hits the Big Apple

If nothing else, at the least it’s the timing that’s suspect. Slated for release today, the new series of Daredevil scripted by the high-powered writer Mark Waid coincides with the start of the International Comic-Con at San Diego. This launch is part of a broader strategy at Marvel to refocus attention on core properties. The summer has already seen the relaunch of Moon Knight in the hands of the award-winning creative team of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev. August will see the relaunch of both the Punisher and Ghost Rider. Each of these four has been a mainstay in Marvel’s publishing history, and each have been tied into last year’s “Shadowland” event which billed itself as a “battle for the soul of New York”.

The idea behind “Shadowland” might have been to bring the lone-wolf superheroes (Daredevil, Spider-Man, Punisher, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider and the like) into a sharper focus. Marvel has always allowed for very larger sandboxes; the mutants who populate the X-Men franchise seldom crossed over into the superheroes with geopolitical reach (Captain America, Iron Man, SHIELD’s Nick Fury) and even more seldom with lone-wolf urban vigilantes. Following on from the major shake-ups of “Civil War” and “Secret Invasion”, it was the lone-wolf superheroes that perhaps lost the most ground.

But was it the right move to use Daredevil to bring these characters more sharply into focus?

There’s something deeply rewarding about reading Martin Scorsese’s essay “September 10, 2001… The Day Before” that appeared in the New York Observer in September 2001. It opens with a Scorsese out-of-sync, misfiring his way through be woken uncharacteristically earlier tending to his dog Silas’ eczema, missing his morning coffee and, cold and under-prepared, appearing at a Gangs of New York photo shoot slightly too embattled to properly greet people.

But the mood takes a turn when the shoot begins. After coffee, Scorsese had begun talking with Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader who had just pointed out “the Taxi Driver suite” at the Regis Hotel. The photo shoot was in a building with a clear view of the oval-windowed rooms that Scorsese had occupied in 1975 while working on that film.

“We started talking about Taxi Driver and about that summer in New York in 1975,” Scorsese recalls. “It was a tough summer. Very hot. Lot’s of rain. Lot’s of edgy violence in the area. It made us all very nostalgic.” Scorsese’s memories wend their way to something that is ultimately rejuvenating, of both his dire mood at the beginning of the piece and of New York itself. Just thinking of Taxi Driver, Scorsese realizes, “It was a defining moment in my life, and Paul Schrader’s life and De Niro’s life. Even Cybil Shepherd’s life.” The moment doesn’t really pass in the way that more fleeting experiences often fail to make a full impact. Scorsese close with “I felt much better when I left the shoot. I could talk to people. I could breathe. I could see again. It was like a healing.”

However much it might seem like the minutiae of a daily life, Scorsese clues readers into a Truth of the creative process; that good art is always locative, fixing you as much into the specific character of a single time and place as into its narrative and thematic arcs. And that even at a distance, there is a kind of healing that occurs even when skirting the edges of art. Dickens makes no sense outside of the London of the 1800s. Just as, for all their bluster, the re-casting of Shakespearean dramas in the modern era often leave audiences cold.

To gain any kind of purchase into Daredevil’s “Shadowland”, last summer’s mega-event and the terminal point for 512-issue long series, you’d have to go all the way back to the early fall of 2009 when the final machinations of “Dark Reign” play out. In a strange twist, Marvel villain Norman Osborn (erstwhile Spider-Man nemesis, the Green Goblin) has risen to power to control HAMMER, America’s elite intelligence and security agency. And in an even more diabolical move, Osborn has villains posing as heroes, notably, Daredevil villain Bullseye posing as deceased Avenger Hawkeye.

Dark Reign-The List: Daredevil represents not only the first issue of newly-minted series writer Andy Diggle taking the helm, but also Daredevil’s return to a more mainstream position. Not that previous series writer Ed Brubaker had had Daredevil segregated from the mainstream. In the hands of Brubaker and artist Michael Lark, and Bendis and Maleev before them, Daredevil had enjoyed a very privileged position. It was acknowledged that while Daredevil’s story was playing out in the broader Marvel Universe, it was not directly related to, or impacting on any other characters or settings.

Daredevil in the hands of Bendis and then of Brubaker had proven rewarding and ultimately rich enough by itself to not benefit from filiation from Marvel’s Universe #616. With Bendis Daredevil had found himself the target of tabloid journalism in the wake of the de-throning of the Kingpin of Crime. With Brubaker, Daredevil fought his way back through the conspiracy that had put him in prison and demolished his life to finally take of leadership of the dreaded assassin’s cult, the Hand.

No matter how dark the ending of “Return of the King”, the finale of Brubaker’s run on Daredevil that saw Kingpin Wilson Fisk return to US soil and Daredevil himself erase his Matt Murdock alter ego, there was an almost uplifting ring to the storyarc. Murdock was ready to confront head-on the difficulty the Daredevil persona had made of his life. Friends were placed in the firing line, lovers were murdered, wives were driven insane, the Daredevil identity spiraled Matt’s life out of control.

But with Matt taking over leadership of the hand, there was a palpable shift in the tension of the ongoing Daredevil story. Brubaker left Murdock on the cusp of making a global impact, perhaps for the better. Could Murdock undermine centuries of Hand tradition to shape them into a force for good? What would the incoming Andy Diggle make of Daredevil? In the end, too little. Painting on a canvas the size of New York, Diggle found himself dwarfed not only in the Big Apple, but in Daredevil as well. “The Devil’s Hand”, meant to be a story of corruption of a brave soul, became the small tale of personal confusion and mistrust. And “Shadowland” failed to leave an impact on the shape of New York itself.

But perhaps asking that of “Shadowland” had been asking too much. It has been decades since the dream team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, decades since the birth of the Silver Age of comics, decades since Marvel had any artistic commentary to deliver on the city it lived and breathed. The Big Apple as that magic segue of New York Minutes that can affect so small a thing as Martin Scorsese making up for lost coffee and simultaneously so large a thing as the careers launched on the back of Taxi Driver, seemed wholly beyond the grasp of “Shadowland”.

What will Mark Waid make of Daredevil? It’s hard to be as optimistic after Diggle’s run as it was after Brubaker’s. And that single moment in Diggle’s Daredevil: Reborn when Matt decides to once again put on the costume hardly seems sufficient to the challenge of the deep redemption called for. Daredevil as a character seems that much smaller, but Mark Waid built a reputation for rescuing another scarlet-clad hero, Wally West’s Flash, from obscurity.