Shakespeare’s Othello confronts the audience (and reader) with an interesting conundrum concerning the passage of time. The play seems to hold closely with the classical unity of time; that is, the events in the play transpire roughly over the same length of time as the actual performance. Yet, Desdemona’s alleged infidelities with Cassio are described in such a manner as to imply a much longer passage of time, creating two conflicting chronologies within the play. Shakespeare’s playful use of “double time” has been noted by many critics, and in fact the playwright experimented often with notions of the passage of time, perhaps most obviously in the romance The Winter’s Tale, which even features Time as a character.
Comics, particularly the long-running series, feature perhaps the most complicated notion of time of any contemporary artistic media. Consider Batman, for example. Appearing first in Detective Comics #27 in May 1939, he has fought crime for over sixty years. Some of his sidekicks have matured, others have died. His past, present, and future have been explored by various writers; even alternative histories and imaginative potential futures have been told. Yet, as time marches by in his comics, he still remains somehow youthful (or at least pre-middle aged). Nearly every other comic series is rife with similar irreconcilable chronological issues, a characteristic of the medium that Bendis and Maleev attempt to use to their advantage in Daredevil Vol. 11: Golden Age.
The greatest strength of Bendis’ work on Daredevil, just as on his creator-owned series Powers, is the mixture of intriguing stand-alone storylines and grand over-arching narratives. The grand story behind Bendis’ Daredevil deals with problems of identity, specifically how the blind lawyer Matthew Murdock deals with his life once his secret superhero identity has been revealed (to make a long story short: denial and lawsuits). In Golden Age, this problem continues to plague Murdock as a character from a hitherto unknown past returns.
The story begins in 1946, as a small-time crook named Alexander Bont takes advantage of Lucky Luciano’s deportation to consolidate his own power as New York’s first Kingpin of Crime. At the same time, we also see the events of “today” as an octogenarian Bont, recently released from a multi-decade prison sentence, takes his revenge upon Murdock/Daredevil. As the storyline progresses, these two moments in time move towards convergence, as the story of Bont’s rise and fall dovetails with Daredevil’s career as a superhero and current struggles.
To differentiate between time periods, Alex Maleev employs three separate styles. For the 1940s, the art is a black and white, pulp-esque sketch style. While I don’t know how accurate an imitation of 1940s comics this is, it certainly provides a stark contrast with the second style: Maleev’s characteristic dark-hued and subtly nuanced art. The third style bridges the gap, a ’60s-’70s Jack Kirby homage, complete with the “pixelated” look of newsprint comic strips.
It is in this in-between era that Daredevil and Bont meet, as an aging, established Bont begins to experience legal difficulties and runs afoul of both aspects of the title characters identity before being sent off to jail for seemingly the rest of his life. When an aged Bont learns the news that Murdock has been outed as Daredevil, he sets out to get revenge on the man who helped end his reign as crime boss. At the same time, Bont moves full circle within the arc of his own life as a villain, a life that began with the murder nearly 60 years earlier of another costumed hero. And for Murdock, he is brought again into conflict with a former enemy thought reformed, and a present-day adversary becomes, perhaps, an ally.
The logistics of the story at times detract from the gritty realism that Bendis has brought to Daredevil during his long run. Simple math highlights the implausibility of the story. Assume that Bont, when sent to jail, was roughly 50, as his visual depiction makes him appear. At the same time, a fresh-out-of-law-school Murdock was at least 25. The much-aged Bont is at least 75 in Daredevil‘s present day, making Murdock 50. Clearly, however, Matt is as young as ever, looking not a day over 35. Neither does his co-worker, the completely un-superheroic Foggy Nelson, appear to have aged at all. Thus we can see the “problem” inherent in superhero comics: the comics must progress in order to remain current and evolve with changing tastes, but the characters must remain in a kind of timeless limbo, aging little despite the years that go by. Bendis writes Daredevil less as a superhero book than as a true crime or mystery book, but the restrictions of the superhero genre seem to conflict with the verisimilitude required in realistic crime stories.
Despite this awkward “double time”, Golden Age works successfully as an almost allegorical commentary on the passage of time itself. Time here is cyclical. Bont’s life is bookended by his conflicts with two superheroes, and his inability to escape from his past traps him within the cycle of crime and death. Murdock too seems trapped, as friends become enemies, and enemies become friends, his present life continually complicated by his past. And the most important time cycle occurs outside of the boundaries of any individual’s life, as the criminal world of Daredevil renews itself over and over again. Bont’s assumption of power from the Luciano syndicate opened the volume, while the rise of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin who has battled for years with Daredevil, closes it out. Another major theme in Bendis’ work on this title has been Murdock’s attempts to end Fisk’s criminal enterprises once and for all. The volume scheduled after Golden Age will tell the story of the year following what appeared to be Daredevil’s final takedown of Fisk. Golden Age‘s close implies the rise of yet another Kingpin to take Fisk’s place, and another after that. If Bendis succeeds at anything, it is foreshadowing the ultimate failure and futility of Murdock’s and in fact, any hero’s noble endeavors.