Comics

Mark Waid’s Narrative Multitasking in "Daredevil"

Matthew Derman
Splash Art: Daredevil #25 cover (a detail). Interior Art: Daredevil #1, Daredevil #26 andDaredevil #27.

With Daredevil #27 writer Mark Waid has achieved a milestone in comics storytelling, a drawing together of seemingly unrelated plot-points and narrative arcs that have been in play since the very first issue.

Last month’s Daredevil #27 was a definitive endpoint to the largest, longest storyline of Mark Waid’s run thus far: Bullseye’s elaborate revenge scheme. Tying in characters and events from the first issue through the twenty-sixth, Waid played the long game with this narrative, letting it build slowly and in non-obvious ways at first, then picking up the pace toward the end until he was ready to show Bullseye as the mastermind behind it all. This allowed Waid to tell the his bigger story by writing numerous smaller ones, structuring the series as a string of separate one-to-three-issue arcs that only came together in the end. And though not every one of these storylines was equally impressive, their brevity and connectivity kept the book fast-paced and entertaining as a whole, sliding from one beat to the next without ever really pausing, and crashing into its conclusion with a bang.

Waid developed his overarching Bullseye tale and simultaneously told shorter, self-contained stories in almost every issue, a feat of narrative juggling that could not have been easy, yet he never dropped the ball. Nothing that happens is inconsequential, even if it looks that way. In the debut, Daredevil battles and handily defeats the Spot, a C-list (at best) Spider-Man villain. At the time, it feels like a throwaway encounter, like Waid just wanted to have a bit of fun with a low-level bad guy for his opening chapter. Almost twenty issues later, however, Spot would become an essential part of Bullseye’s plan, his teleportation powers stolen and given to one of Bullseye’s many agents, Coyote, who makes some of the most mentally torturous moves against Daredevil.

By the end of Daredevil #3, the titular hero has also gone toe-to-toe with Klaw, another villain who usually deals with different do-gooders (the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Black Panther, etc.) but is sent after Daredevil for reasons that, at first, are left mysterious. Of course, it will ultimately be revealed that Klaw, too, was working for Bullseye, one of earliest attacks the former assassin makes. These are the first two threats of the series—and Klaw is also connected to the first legal battle Daredevil’s not-so-secret identity Matt Murdock fights—so Bullseye’s machinations are present long before Daredevil (or the reader) has any reason to even suspect that there’s anyone out there plotting against him. But Waid knows it already, and takes his sweet time in getting to the final reveal, putting the audience through the same increasingly intense series of torments and battles that Bullseye puts Daredevil through.

I won’t list every one of the many smaller stories here, because there are far too many of them, and admittedly, not everything that goes down is directly tied to Bullseye’s plot. Indeed, before confirming that there even is a villainous mastermind out to ruin Daredevil’s life, Waid tells the story of the Omega Drive, another long-form narrative related via several shorter arcs. Introduced in the sixth issue through characters met in the fourth, the Omega Drive becomes the center of Daredevil’s life for quite a stretch. It holds detailed information on five of Marvel’s “Megacrime Families:” A.I.M., Hydra, Black Spectre, the Secret Empire, and Agencé Byzantine, and once Daredevil steals it from them, all five groups (and many other major criminal organizations) come after him. His determined struggle to fight back and keep the information safe spans about ten issues, plus a crossover with Avenging Spider-Man and Punisher, yet at the same time Waid continues to tease out other threads. Matt Murdock’s budding romance with assistant D.A. Kirsten McDuffie, his father’s grave being disturbed by the Mole Man, Foggy’s growing distrust of Matt’s mental state…Waid develops all of these and more, and they will all be important pieces of the puzzle even after the Omega Drive has been handled. Again, Waid is constantly telling stories of varied lengths, so even as he crafts the sprawling (sometimes to a fault…but that’s for another time) Omega Drive saga, he adds details and complications that will tie into the much larger Bullseye story in the end.

Bullseye’s plan itself is surprisingly straightforward, considering how much material Waid mines from it. Essentially, Bullseye uses anything and everything from Daredevil’s past that he can to both psychologically and physically ruin him. Coyote leaves Jack Murdock’s missing remains in Matt’s office desk, which Foggy discovers and interprets as proof that his friend and partner has lost it. Coyote also teleports Matt’s ex-wife Milla out of the mental hospital where she lives and into Matt’s bedroom, then back again, causing the hero to question his own sanity as well. Eventually, he discovers that Coyote is responsible, and it is through their conflict that Daredevil learns for sure that someone hidden is plotting against him, though he does not yet get a name. It will take a few more strikes from Bullseye before the whole truth is revealed, and they are the most vicious and twisted parts of his scheme.

The toxin that blinded a young Matt Murdock and gave him his superpowers is recreated by Bullseye and used on numerous test subjects, human and animal, with varying results. Mostly what happens is that they go insane, transformed into “wilders,” overwhelmed by their heightened senses to the point that they lose all control of their mental faculties. They present an interesting challenge for Daredevil, but one he is more than prepared to deal with, having lived with his blindness and super-senses long enough to know what works against them. However, one of the test subjects makes it out with his mind intact, and also without going blind. He calls himself Ikari, and he is a perfect new foe, possessing everything Daredevil has in terms of skills and powers, plus the one thing Daredevil lacks: sight.

It is Ikari who delivers the most brutal blow against Daredevil by causing him fear. The two have an intense, issue-long combat where Daredevil is never really winning, but keeps convincing himself and the reader that he’s about to turn the tide. It is perhaps the tightest scripting Waid delivers, as Daredevil keeps coming this close to gaining the upper hand, yet constantly gets one-upped by his opponent instead. He pulls out every trick he can think of based on the assumption that he and Ikari are equals, that their powersets are exactly the same. But of course, Ikari has a distinct advantage in his vision, which he keeps secret until the end of the fight. He then beats Daredevil to within a half-inch of his life, sparing him only for the sake of letting him live in terror of their next encounter. The “man without fear” becomes deeply afraid; a chilling defeat. This comes at the end of Daredevil #25, and is something of an “all is lost moment” for the book. A mere two issues later, not only has the hero bounced back, he has discovered whose hand was behind his recent turmoil and brought Bullseye and his people down for good. Well, maybe not truly for good, because supervillains tend to find ways to return, but at least for now Bullseye is out of the equation and Daredevil can let relax, however briefly.

The whole basis of Bullseye’s secrecy is that he made a seemingly impossible return. Based on the Daredevil’s history, Bullseye is one of the most obvious choices for the primary villain of such a personal and targeted revenge. Based on Bullseye’s history, though, it’s quite a surprise, because a) he’s a hands-on assassin, so this deviates from his M.O. tremendously, and b) he’s supposed to be dead.

Daredevil stabbed him through the chest in a time before Waid, during the “Shadowland” storyline. But that narrative also centered around the Hand, a mystical order of ninjas with resurrection abilities, so it seems like a fair move on Waid’s part to bring Bullseye back through them. Death is rarely permanent in superhero comicbooks, and Waid takes the this one seriously enough to have Bullseye return as an invalid. He cannot move at all, and needs a machine specially designed for him to have any of his senses except for sight, a status quo that is perhaps a little one-the nose: blind hero’s nemesis has only his eyes. But not sooner does Waid introduce this idea than he smashes it, or rather burns it, subjecting Bullseye to the toxin that stole Daredevil’s vision, leaving the villain blind as well. A brilliant brain in a useless body, Bullseye ends up as good as dead, and only one issue after Waid even fully exposes him. There are hints and glimpses in a couple of previous installments, but Daredevil #26 is when Foggy figures it out, and Daredevil #27 ends with Bullseye destroyed, his agents arrested, and a final splash page of Daredevil cracking perhaps the widest and most indulgent grin of his life as he pole vaults victoriously into the night.

When I said “definitive endpoint” above, that image is what I meant. Daredevil, free of burdens that have plagued him since that title began, setting off confidently to face whatever new evils await him. Waid opened his run with the character having a similar swagger, and then piece by piece, story by story, he broke that down until Daredevil was broken, lost, and worst of all afraid. Now he’s back where he started, only stronger than before, having survived one of his most personal and painful conflicts. But even in the way Waid finds a solution to his protagonist’s biggest, longest-running problem, he adds layers to yet another ongoing narrative that isn’t at all resolved as of now.

Foggy has cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma, and his treatment is only just beginning. It is Foggy’s need for Matt as his friend that pushes Daredevil not to lay down after Ikari so thoroughly trounces him. It’s a fitting way to bring things to a close, finding a threat so enormous and unbeatable that it makes Bullseye’s ambitions seem small. Matt needs to be able to focus of Foggy, and that means no more distractions, no more letting his enemies decide how and when to play the game. He takes the fight to them this time, and in less than twenty pages, it’s over, and he’s once again the hero and, more importantly, the friend he wants to be.

Now the question is what new terrors Waid has in store, what the next master plan will be. At the same time, maybe there doesn’t need to be another arc of this scope. Waid has proven he can do short- and long-term payoffs at once, so now I’d be curious to see him try a new pacing structure all together, rather than beginning the same patterns again. Whatever the case, Foggy’s illness remains an ongoing problem, and I don’t doubt that Kirsten McDuffie’s time as a love interest and potential crimefighting ally is far from over, so Waid has still got some slow-burning irons in the fire. It’s good to see him stick around to follow through on them, even though he’s already provided such a satisfying conclusion to an ambitious and rewarding narrative.

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