Man Without Fear: The Death of Daredevil TPB – Jed MacKay

2 out of 5

The last issue of this mini-series – taking place, as I understand it, between volumes of DD, post him being completely not-walking-again wracked by a collision with a truck, pre the inevitable New Start – is quite affecting, and I think well captures what I believe writer Jed MacKay was trying to do in the preceding five issues. Unfortunately, as that italicized qualifier might suggest, it’s quite a muddle leading up to that point.

Not to oversimplify things, but the remit is clear: Daredevil is dead; long live Daredevil; and so it’s up to the creatives on this inbetween series to connect the death to the rebirth. Given a life of extreme struggles (and frequent ‘you’ll-never-X-again’ bodily harms!) what might finally convince Matt Murdock to give up his hero post? And once having made that decision, what would it take to reverse it? Examining any given hero’s motivations – and pushing their reasoning behind those motivations to a break point – have been a pretty constant source of storylines over the years, but it can still be a good way to dive deep into some sticky, psychological plumbing. Issue 5 of this series focuses on a speech Matt had received from his father, after his original truck injury, encouraging him to use Pain as a motivator, and to dismiss Fear; events of issues 1 – 4 are meant to inform the way this speech finally gets him off his butt in that concluding part, and if you only read book 5, I think you’d be convinced that they did the job: MacKay uses the structure of Matt’s rehabilitation – learning to walk again – to have the character time-lapse review the interactions he’s had and to reinvigorate his Fear-conquering self, and the focused narration – and artist Danilo S. Beyruth’s close-cropped art – effect this intelligently, and emotionally. It’s an incredibly paced issue, using a recurring visual motif of a DD-outfit-clad skeleton – representing Matt’s need to shelter himself from the harms of the life he’d been leading – and that Pain vs. Fear speech, to really drive home the nature of the internal struggle the character is going through, and the strength it takes to overcome and put the costume back on. I think it’s worth noting that the dialogue here is logical – it’s a conversation between Matt and his Dad, and then it’s Matt talking to himself. Elsewhere in the series, MacKay uses intercutting conversations, and it’s a bit too cinematic and cluttered for the comics page, at least as handled here.

The series otherwise splits things up based on a particular figure Matt might interact with in that issue, with the first book trying to do the heaviest lifting of Foggy talking to an unconscious Murdock, while the latter’s brain sets up that skeleton figure, and then also an under- and confusingly utilized opposing spectre, of a Daredevil without any skin. The things that work in artist Beyruth’s favor in the conclusion work again them, here: their Romita-esque lithe figures are better for more grounded interactions, and the tight focus better for slower beats, but the issue requires really surreal, busy panels (the going-ons of Matt’s thoughts, picturing enemies and friends and lost loves), and it’s just not a good visual-to-word match. This competes with all of that overlapping dialogue – Foggy’s narration; Matt’s narration; the spectres – as they’re all just talking, but not to one another, making for a very clunky introduction to our tale.

The second issue is a better sync up, visually – artist Stefano Landini has a more open, organic style, closer in spirit to Chris Samnee – but the cross-cutting script is still in play, and it’s main narrative thread is “voiced” by an oddly chosen character. Like, thematically, it makes sense – it’s an important person in Matt’s life, and Murdock’s interaction with them would certainly weigh heavily in terms of “mistakes I’ve made” self-reflection – but I think the way MacKay chose to actually tell the story from that character’s perspective ends up being distracting as a “twist.” This type of hiccup is somewhat echoed by the Pain vs. Fear speech that keeps repeating throughout: we know Matt’s quoting something, and maybe this is a famous speech comic fans already know, but to a rarely-read-Marvel-comics guy like m’self, the lack of any context on the speech until the fifth issue just made me essentially brush off most of the dialogue relating to it preceding that last issue – like, you know it’s not going to make sense until then, so why pay attention?

Issue three features conversations with Danny Rand, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones, each one trying and failing to motivate Matt, while we flashback to a fight they all had with Foolkiller. Again, conceptually, this all follows – bring in other characters with different perspectives on Matt’s life – but the Foolkiller bits really just feel like an attempt to insert action into a talky title, and we’re still dealing with too many layered conversations; complexity for the sake of complexity.

Issue four has a similar problem – Wilson Fisk comes for a chat, and we flashback to a scuffle they had, and it all feels like unnecessary “insert action here” filler – but the series’ general problems are especially compounded by the way the turning point falls flat. This conversation is meant to be the spark that brings Matt back to life, but the talkiness, and the occasionally overly flashy structure, distract wholly from its potential impact.

And then that fifth issue.

MacKay is skilled at dialogue – nothing comes across as unnatural, or hammy – but I feel like this is a book that’s wholly subject to the limitations of Big Two publishing requirements. Calling in a writer to create an epilogue to another writer’s run, and to lead into the next writer’s, essentially means you’re building off of someone else’s work, and you can’t leave any dangling pieces. Still, the concluding book shows how gracefully MacKay could’ve been capable of stepping through Matt’s psyche, but it’s a fairly quiet, actionless issue, and I’m sure that wouldn’t fly for all five issues. Even that issue count is suspect: if you boil this down to the needed dramatic points, it probably could’ve been handled in an effective 3, or even 2 issues, but we scheduled for 5. So figure out how to stretch that out, and add in some action to keep people entertained. I’m not saying you couldn’t fulfill all of these “needs” in a five-issue mini-series, but I just don’t think it happened here.

The TPB contains an appreciative ton of the alternative covers.