Daredevil #2: The devil and the detective

Daredevil #2: The devil and the detective

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a vigilante brutalizes violent criminals, but the police try to take him down. I suppose that’s the general reality for someone like Daredevil, but the emphasis isn’t always on this aspect of his struggle. With characters that have been around this long, the focus tends to lean toward big villains and the cyclical breakdown and reconstruction of personal happiness. Taking things back to the beginning—playing offense on crime and defense on the law—is risky. What if the story feels too familiar? What if the dynamic between the hero and the cops just isn’t interesting anymore?

Chip Zdarksy and Marco Checchetto are two issues into just such a risky run on Daredevil. It’s not an origin story, but Johnny Law is once again on Matt Murdock’s heels—this time because he’s been framed for killing a perp. The cat to Matt’s mouse is Detective Cole North, a former member of the Chicago PD. North is an imposing figure, and he has a moral purity which Zdarsky makes clear through inner monologue. But there’s foreboding, too: a sense that Detective North’s path leads to tragedy. After all, he’s wrong about Daredevil, and as well-read comic fans know, he’s all-too-right about Wilson Fisk. Daredevil is meanwhile doing his own detective work, trying desperately to find out who set him up; and I suspect that in finding the truth, he will lead North to it, as well. We’ll have to wait and see if the truth is enough to make peace between the two men, but it will at the very least give them a common enemy for a time.

If all of that sounds loaded with familiar tropes, that’s because it is. There’s nothing new about a clean cop pointing his gun at a vigilante. There’s nothing new about false accusations tainting the reputation of a costumed hero. But Zdarsky and Checchetto take these well-worn ideas and give them life through excellent characterization. Matt is utterly alone, which we see in his obvious conflict with the police, but also in how his best friend, Foggy, either doubts him, misunderstands him, or both. We see it in the public’s distrust when he performs a good deed. And we see it in several striking, wide shots from Checchetto—Matt a solitary red figure on the rooftops of New York. Yet, in spite of his isolation, he presses on—seeking to clear his name, yes, but also refusing to let his enemy stop him from helping the people of his city.

Detective North is big and strong, and gives the impression that nothing will stand in his way. But Fisk exposes the weaknesses that we cannot see. North’s composure is under attack by the very nature of who the Kingpin is, but also because of the specific screws Fisk turns in their interactions. Checchetto emphasizes this beautifully in one particular panel: North, his partner, and Fisk in the frame, the detective notably larger than his partner, but the Kingpin of Crime dwarfing them both. The message is clear: Cole North is a formidable presence, but he’s still just a kid trying to move a mountain when he’s taking on Fisk. And in perhaps my favorite panel of the book, the mountain pushes back: Fisk leans into North, puts his hand on his shoulder, and lets the detective know that a physical disadvantage should be the least of his worries.

This complex, compelling character work from both Zdarsky and Checchetto makes for an incredibly stirring read. The framework may be familiar, but the details feel fresh, immediate. The first issue of this new run was decent, but Daredevil #2 is essential. Whatever your experience with or feelings toward the title character, you owe it to yourself to pick this up for its high-quality storytelling. And who knows, you just might find yourself joining the chase, and following the devil and the detective in their relentless pursuit of the truth.

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