A Shadowland Primer

Shadowland is about to descend upon Marvel’s heroes. With the summer event drawing ever closer, this week we’re previewing the potential blockbuster that will pit a dozen of Marvel’s best characters ranging from super powered arachnids to adept martial arts masters against one another with the soul of New York resting in the balance.

We’re not quite clear on what Shadowland actually means in terms the series itself. From what I’ve read, Shadowland is going to be a large, castle like building erected in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. It will presumably function as both a sanctuary for Hell’s Kitchen residents, and a headquarters for Daredevil and his clan of ninjas. What’s interesting about the location though is that the building will be built where an apartment complex used to be, the same which was destroyed in Daredevil: The List which cost over 100 people their lives at Bullseye’s hands.

At the heart of the story though is a man. Matt Murdock, otherwise known as Daredevil, has always treaded the line between perceived good and evil precariously. Frank Miller once said it best; “With all the hardship Matt Murdock has been through in his life, why didn’t he end up a bad guy?‘ And I think that question really gets to the core of Matt Murdock as a human being. Why didn’t he become a bad guy? So I thought it would be really interesting to explore that question, and see what would happen if you pushed him. Tempted him.”

Elektra? Murdered. Karen Page? Murdered. His identity? Publicly outed as Daredevil and eventually imprisoned. His wife? Targeted, driven mad and his marriage left destroyed. Meanwhile, each of his enemies have been there every step of the way to ensure Matt could never get back up; yet he did every time regardless. Having faced so much hardship, feeling helpless to help those closest to him, he now has the power to do what he’s never had the capacity to do. Help. Now we’re seeing Murdock going deeper into the recesses of his own darkness than ever before, with the power to affect change while making statements such as:

The Hand is just a weapon. And a weapon can be used for good instead of evil…if the man who wields it is righteous

I’ve been back on my heels for too long, too wrapped up in my own problems to see the city was going to hell around me…but not anymore. No more standing on the sidelines. Now I have an army at my command, and I intend to use it to take back the streets. From this day on, Hell’s Kitchen answers to me.

The police, the courts, the judiciary—all corrupt. They can’t be trusted. They can’t be relied upon, not anymore. And without justice this city will tear itself apart. I will not allow that to happen. If the police will not save this city from itself – we will…The time for waiting is over! From this day forth, the Hand will no longer hide in the shadows! We will take back the street! Starting here, in Hell’s Kitchen!

Hell’s Kitchen is now under the protection of the Hand! Any and all criminals will be dealt with ruthlessly – be they citizen, police, or H.A.M.M.E.R. On this ground, a monster in Norman Osborn’s employ massacred over one hundred innocents! Let this be the place where we draw the line and say – no more. Let this be the moment where we say as one – never again!

This is the tone Murdock has taken throughout Diggle’s run, a much more pro-active, authoritative tone in seeking justice. What’s interesting about the creative opportunities Shadowland presents is the ability to take Murdock even further down the rabbit hole. The difference now though is that as he makes clear, he’s a man without any attachments, without anyone left to bring him back. In contrast, his supporting characters have always been there to pull him back from the edge, but with his friends absent from his life and his marriage in shambles, now more than ever he’s free to act. Whether that’s for better or worse we’ll have to wait and see.

All of these events led to Matt Murdock not only joining the Hand, but doing so as the leader of his longtime nemeses. Ed Brubaker, the previous Daredevil scribe, set Murdock up as the Hand’s leader with the intention of having the character take the band of ninja assassins down from the inside, with Murdock praying he had the strength to be successful. It may just be that Murdock will for the first time have to save himself. But can he?

Diggle’s Daredevil run sees Murdock becoming fixated with using the Hand to clean-up the streets of New York, despite warnings from his sensei about the true evil behind the Hand. Murdock believes though that they can be used for good. The organization’s web of deceit runs deep though. In the past few issues of Daredevil, it’s apparent that a secret cabal of Hand members wishes to subvert Murdock and use him as a pawn for their own plans to unleash the true darkness of the Hand.

In the build-up to Shadowland, we’ve seen quite a few teasers alluding to the allegiances that will be forged throughout. Let’s look at a few.

Teaser #1: Elektra, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage

This teaser was one of the first released showing the first of many clear divisions between Marvel’s heroes. This one shows Iron Fist and Luke Cage standing in an alley way facing the deadly ninja assassin Elektra, former leader of the Hand. She also happens to be Murdock’s college sweetheart. In the picture, her sais are drawn while the three of them prepare to fight. Considering the Daredevil: Cage Match one-shot released several weeks ago, it’s safe to assume that Cage will be opposing Daredevil throughout Shadowland. Typically, to top it off, wherever Luke Cage goes, his old friend and partner Iron Fist is sure to follow. With Cage and Iron Fist in opposition to Murdock, it’s safe to say Elektra will be at Murdock’s side, reuniting the two ill-fated Shakespearean lovers. A Luke Cage/Iron Fist versus Daredevil/Elektra tag match doesn’t sound bad in the least. Shall we take wagers? My money’s on the ninjas.

Teaser #2: Elektra at Murdock’s gravesite

A second teaser was released featuring Elektra, this one depicting her clutching Matt Murdock’s tombstone. This is interesting considering that several times in the past we’ve seen this theme with Murdock doing the same in place of Elektra at her own grave. It’s very symbolic of their relationship. This plays into the thought process that they will be reunited throughout Shadowland, but the symbolism of the grave itself is intriguing. The headstone says, “Matthew Murdock.”, which implies that something grave awaits him . It’s interesting because one of the the big taglines with this mini-series has been that it’s the “battle for the soul of New York.” If Matt Murdock, the man, is at stake as a metaphor for New York’s soul, it alludes to one of the possible paths he could take. At the same time, Frank Miller established long ago in Elektra Assassin that she always fought off her feelings for Matt because of what he represented, and as much as she loved him, she perceived his humanity and goodness as weakness. She continually grapples with this as she quarrels with her own darkness on her own quest for redemption. Perhaps his losing his way has always been something the character has clutched to.

Teaser #3 and #4: Spidey, Castle, Moon Knight and Ghost Rider, Oh My!

Two additional teasers were released depicting more fights between characters; Spiderman and Punisher, Moon Knight and Ghost Rider. These reinforce the division between the Marvel universe’s street-level heroes and defines whom will side with whom. Considering Spiderman’s image and Moon Knight’s recent turn towards cleaning his own act, it’s safe to assume The Punisher and Ghost Rider will be joining Murdock and the Hand in the battle for NYC. This helps flesh out Shadowland’s Civil War-esque character divide. Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider and Punisher vs. Spidey, Iron Fist, Cage and Moon Knight? Can you say, battle royal?

Teaser #5: Wolverine and Bullseye’s mask.

I’m still not sure what to make of this one. Clearly Bullseye would not be siding with Daredevil – EVER. So where does Wolverine figure into this? As you can see, Wolverine’s claws have impaled Bullseye’s mask, implying at some point that it was removed from his head. Perhaps forcefully. It’s hard to interpret this in any other way than Bullseye getting ANOTHER butt-kicking. Maybe there’s a twist coming, but it’s hard to say anything definitive about Bullseye. Unless…

Teaser #6: Bullseye and Daredevil

…he were to be shown getting impaled on a rooftop by one of Elektra’s sais by Daredevil himself. This teaser is of course an homage to the classic Frank Miller scene from Daredevil #181 where Elektra herself is impaled by one of her own sais by Bullseye. Considering that Andy Diggle has hinted something dramatic happens very early in Shadowland that draws the ire of Marvel’s heroes, could a brutal beating or even death of Bullseye be it? The cover of Daredevil #508 shows Murdock beating down Bullseye (again), so it’s a possibility. Could this be the time that Murdock finally does the deed though? If his humanity always prevented him seeking retribution against Bullseye for all the deaths he’s responsible for, what’s to stop him now that he’s gone further into the darkness than ever before? This is definitely something to watch.

Teaser #7: Daredevil looking quite scary.

Wow, he looks quite evil here. This is a very simple picture of Daredevil in front of a shadowy background. There isn’t much to say, other than if this is the route they’re taking with the character, it’s clearly as an anti-heroic, grey area villain in the ilk of a Punisher or Hal Jordan as Parallax pre Geoff-Con (a Geoff Johns retcon, I just coined it). I believe we’ll see Murdock acting upon what he believe to be right in his search for justice as he tries to protect his neighbourhood, and even more the city. The wild card in this is how his actions will be perceived by the citizens he claims to protect, and the other Marvel heroes. Some will take to his methods, some obviously won’t.

Teaser #8: Marvel collage

This final image shows Daredevil front and centre with a horde of Hand ninjas around him, with slews of Marvel’s characters dead around him, allies and opposition alike. Except for Wolverine, he’s kind of just hanging out with blades in his torso. What does the aftermath of Shadowland hold for Marvel’s heroes? Whatever it is, it’s clearly not looking good.

Shadowland is poised to redefine the status quo for Marvel’s street level heroes based out of New York. With the battle lines drawn and the forces looking to save the city’s soul lining up, only time will tell where this will leave each of them, and more importantly, can Matt Murdock come back this time? Stay tuned for a review on the first issue of Marvel’s summer event later this week. Until then, I bid you adieu.

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.

Andrew Ardizzi
Andrew Ardizzi

Andrew Ardizzi is an honours graduate of journalism from Humber College, and is currently working out of Toronto as a freelance writer and editor. He's also the Senior Editor at Crystal Fractal Comics. You can find him at his blog, or follow him on Twitter.

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