Writer: Andy Diggle
Pencils: Billy Tan
Colours: Christina Strain
In Daredevil: The List, the Diggle penned one-shot written last year tying into Dark Reign, the renowned assassin Bullseye destroyed an apartment complex and killed over 100 people in Hell’s Kitchen. Let’s fast forward to the present. In the building’s place and aided by the Hand’s resources, Daredevil built what amounts to a fortress in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen where the apartment building stood. It’s meant to usher a new era for the city, one which Murdock describes as one without cause for worry about their safety from people like Bullseye. It’s a beacon of assurance, in his words. It just so happens though that this fortress’ construction coincides with a new attitude and approach to justice for the man without fear. How is this new attitude perceived by his friends and the residents of the Kitchen? Let’s find out!
After years of fighting against one another, The Hand, an ancient band of ninja assassins, came to their nemesis Matt Murdock with a proposition. They asked him to join them as their new leader. After accepting their offer conditionally, Murdock continues to protect Hell’s Kitchen as the masked vigilante, Daredevil. The only difference now is the army of ninjas accompanying him, existing only to serve their. As he becomes more aggressive in his actions, Marvel’s heroes ranging from Iron Fist and Luke Cage to the Avengers stand in wait, looking on for the moment Daredevil finally crosses the line he’s walked like a tightrope for so long.
What’s the Story?
The first issue opens at Jigoku-Castle, the ancient sanctum of the Hand and their Japanese headquarters. Very little time is spent adding to what appears to be a larger story brooding, continuing the trend of showing flashes of this piece to the larger puzzle seen in Daredevil. A cabal within the Hand loyal to an ancient entity we only know as Snakeroot has appeared often in Daredevil. They believe themselves to be pulling Murdock’s strings from behind the scenes. Something is afoot in the Hand, and it seems like Matt Murdock’s crossing of the line towards his damnation is the first step towards what the cabal calls the rise of Snakeroot.
The story shifts to the Big Apple. Shortly after the events Siege, the infamous assassin Bullseye was captured. In this issue we pick up his story as he’s transported to a holding facility while he awaits trial for mass murder and treason for his role in the deaths in Daredevil: The List and his role in Norman Osborn’s Avengers. Bullseye tries to goad his escorts into setting him free, but when they refuse he stops his heart and flatlines. In a panic, the security escorts rush to remove his restraints. Just as they do, Bullseye grabs the defibrillators from the crash cart they had brought in and shows them a shocking good time. The final escort flying the transport turns to see what’s happened. He fires his weapon which Bullseye deflects off his handcuffs and into the pilot’s forehead. I score it a 50 for technique, 40 for artistry. Not too shabby.
Next we get our first look at what Shadowland actually is as Bullseye stands atop a roof looking upon the New York skyline, joining others like Moon Knight, Spiderman, the Punisher and the Kingpin from across the city. Meanwhile, some of the Avengers have gathered at Avengers Tower to talk about Shadowland and what it means to Hell’s Kitchen. With longtime team-up buddies Iron Fist and Luke Cage listening, the Avengers make it clear that Murdock’s methods are fine for now, but when the time comes, Shadowland is to be torn down. They also warn that it would unwise to not heed them. Avengers vs. The Hand is quite a throwdown. Popcorn anyone?
Not content with his view from afar, Bullseye pays Daredevil a house call looking to tango with his old nemesis. Unfortunately for him, Daredevil arrives on Shadowland’s rooftop with his army of ninjas in tow. After making it quite clear he will not make the same mistakes that cost so many people their lives, a battle between Daredevil’s ninjas and Bullseye ensues, spanning a city block. After killing several of his ninjas, Daredevil steps in and fights Bullseye. In their most brutal battle yet, Daredevil quickly dispatches his old rival, perhaps for the last time.
The Pretty, Pretty Pictures
I suppose the first order of business is the new Daredevil costume. There’s been no build-up for the costume change other than the teasers that were released leading up to the event. There’s very little to distinguish it from the more commonly known red costume. The costume is entirely black save for his eyes, the DD insignia on his chest and the red strap and holder for his billy clubs. The biggest addition to the costume are the blades strapped to his wrists. Other than that, his horns are a little larger and more pronounced. Overall it’s not the worst costume he’s worn, that distinction belongs to the ridiculous armored costume from the mid-1990s. This is a very basic costume that looks okay. I doubt we’ll see it too far beyond Shadowland’s story, seeing as the solid black costume serves as a tangible reminder of his change in character. It’s more of a plot device than anything.
Other than that the art is good. The only real contentions I have with it are the scenes with the Avengers in their tower. The rest of the book takes a darker tone with its inks, and it really feels out of place in a book that focuses more on moody or environmental lighting, such as using the moon’s light to illuminate the characters and the skyline, or the red lighting inside Bullseye’s transport. I thought the scenes with Bullseye early in the issue were nicely done. The close-up of him as he’s wearing a Dr. Lector styled mask allows you to see the chilling, sinister look in his eyes.
One of the best pages though is the splash page of the New York skyline with Shadowland in the middle of it. From across the city, other characters from heroes to villains and everyone in between gaze at Murdock’s building. It’s hard to gauge their intentions or where their allegiances will lay based on these panels, but it’s clear Daredevil has their attention.
The final battle between Daredevil and Bullseye is perhaps the best piece of art in the book. From the battle spanning a city block to the final site atop a convention centre, the artists come together to capture every bloody punch, kick, slice and dice of the action. The complete brutality of Daredevil’s turn is captured in the final pages when he steps in to fight his rival. Tan turns in some bone shattering visuals as we see Daredevil dislocate both of Bullseye’s shoulders before the finale. In a homage to Frank Miller and what turned out to be more than a teaser, Daredevil seemingly kills Bullseye viciously, exactly how Bullseye killed Murdock’s ex-girlfriend Elektra in Daredevil #181. Tan captures both the anger in Murdock’s face for all the pain Bullseye’s caused, released in a swift motion, while Bullseye feels the sharp, poetic pain of his approaching end; the agony in his face and fear in his eyes tells his story.
The first issue of Shadowland set-up the transition for Daredevil as he walks a path darker than any he’s walked before. In the past the character has always restrained himself from extracting vengeance on Bullseye for everything he’s responsible for. Shadowland however places Murdock at the edge of the darkness he’s always fearlessly stood in front of. Despite his trials and hardship, despite murdered girlfriends, public betrayals, lost friends, and broken marriages, he’s always bounced back.. If Bullseye is dead, then it works two-fold.
First, if you know your Frank Miller origin stories, Daredevil and Elektra are considered the two martial arts adepts of this generation that are capable of taking down the Hand. Elektra, for her part, was corrupted. Her world has been one of darkness for years and she has fought to regain her soul from the Hand’s influence on her quest for redemption. As an assassin, she is synonymous with death. Yet, she’s always been written in such a way that she still clings to her love for Matt Murdock, while fighting it because she’s not the same person she was when they were together in college. She feels that the person she is, isn’t worthy of Matt’s love for her because of what he represents as a person, the goodness inherent to him.
This scene changes that, because for the first time Daredevil, Matt Murdock, whomever you’d like to refer to him as, has taken a step over the edge. He’s gone to the one place he can’t come back from, and is symbolic of the darkeness he’s embraced in his plan to use the Hand to clean up the streets of New York. In some perverse way this is bringing Daredevil and Elektra closer together, because she’s been there and is the only one who can begin to understand this path he’s on. After this issue, it’s harder to predict how Elektra will play into this though, but she’s definitely become a wildcard in this story.
Secondly, the actual death of Bullseye is more directly symbolic of the end of Daredevil’s previous characterization. It’s foreshadowed quite nicely early in the issue when the Hand cabal says that the harder you push Murdock, the harder he pushes back. With the death of so many people, Bullseye finally pushed him too far. In what we can really call a transitory scene, Bullseye’s literal death is an allegory for Murdock’s, not just his own.
There are minor gaffes that have yet to be explained. Overlooked are Bullseye’s compulsion to attack Daredevil understanding that at this point it’s ludicrous to do so (noting that he is a sociopath and doesn’t necessarily need a reason), as well as Marvel’s heroes somehow knowing all about Shadowland and Daredevil’s role in the Hand. It’s clear there’s been a lot going on off-panel and there’s a tremendous gap between the last issue of Daredevil and this one. I feel like the book didn’t cover that information where it should have. As a result it feels like the book detrimentally rushed through those points in order to get to the fight scene. This is especially the case for those jumping into the series without having read Daredevil prior, who are surely going to be confused by everything going on because it’s explained poorly. Perhaps this will be filled in during the tie-ins, but the gaps within this issue don’t make this an easy read either. To really understand the events, having read Diggle’s Daredevil is required. It’s otherwise inaccessible for anyone outside the regular DaredevilI readers.
The majority of the book is used to set-up the final showdown between Daredevil and Bullseye, so truthfully very little happens in the issue. This issue really functions as a primer for the aftermath; a catalyst more than anything. Minor allusions are made to the subplot, so it still isn’t clear where certain allegiances will rest, nor what the Hand’s cabal has in store for Matt. It’s clear though that as Shadowland looms over the Marvel Universe and in the wake of this book’s events, there will be no shortage of characters lining up to stop or question Daredevil’s new methods. The book functions well to set-up the rest of the summer event, although with all the tie-ins forthcoming, it’s hard to say how much will be worth reading. For the casual reader, reading Shadowland as a stand alone is feasible and worth it, but may not be fully understood without foreknowledge. I enjoyed the story as a whole despite some minor issues. It’s looking quite good, and if this issue is an indication, then we could be in for a devil of a ride.
Andrew Ardizzi is a student of journalism at Humber. He writes for the Humber Et Cetera. You can find him at his blog Come Gather ’round People Wherever You Roam. You can check out his review of the last issue of Daredevil before Shadowland beings right here.