Warning: This review contains spoilers.
I came to Daredevil: End of Days reluctantly. I remember standing in my local comic book store, turning to the now infamous two-page spread in the beginning of the comic, feeling disgusted and angry, putting the comic back and thinking, “Fuck this.” As a devout Daredevil fan, Matt Murdock being murdered in the street by his nemesis, with his own baton, in such a gruesome fashion, seemed ignoble and unworthy. I felt betrayed. But the more I heard people talking about how brilliant it was, I decided I had dismissed it without knowing enough about it. So I gave it a second chance.
Second impressions are a hell of a thing. It’s quite possible that End of Days is a masterpiece in the making. It transcends the conventions and assumptions of comic books and what they can accomplish. This issue achieves a level of complexity, subtext, and characterization normally reserved for novels. And I mean classic novels, like The Sound and the Fury or To the Lighthouse. This comic is so much more than your standard “death of a superhero” story, which was my initial, uninformed opinion of it. No, this comic is a nuanced, subtle examination of “The Hero” archetype, the merging of news and entertainment, voyeurism, schadenfreude, the cheapening of any sense of justice in society, and the untenable dependence between hero and villain. In fact, there are probably layers of this story that I won’t even notice until I reread it multiple times.
The story is told through the eyes of Ben Urich, and the death of Daredevil story will be his last report before The Daily Bugle goes out of business. Urich is reluctant to do the story at first, because he does not want to participate in the circus that has been made of Daredevil’s death in the media and by the public. This theme will strike you rather quickly. Several pages prominently feature images of people ogling Daredevil for one reason or another. In the opening scene, people stand about with their camera phones recording Daredevil’s brutal demise. Later, another group of bystanders record and witness Daredevil beat the Kingpin to death in the streets. Then we see a flashback when Matt Murdock was outed in a tabloid as Daredevil, and reporters hound him with cameras and questions. And in the final panels of the issue, Daredevil watches Ben Urich from the rooftops. Whether this is really Daredevil, a ghost, or something else entirely, remains to be seen. But what I took away from this pattern was that this is a story about storytelling; about legacy. Everything here is done in public. The fact that The Daily Bugle is going under, but crowds stand in the streets recording the violence for their own sensationalist benefit, says a lot about what society has become. They have reduced violence to sport, news to voyeurism, and heroism to, well, nothing. As Urich observes, “And for all the good Matt Murdock has done these people…all the lives he’s saved…all that he gave of himself…end of the day…Hell’s Kitchen just stood there and watched him die.” If you look at the full page image of Daredevil staring at the crowd after he has killed the Kingpin, there is a single billboard across the street that says “1-800-LAWYERS.” Even justice itself has become a bad joke.
End of Days is the superhero story taken to its logical conclusion. After reading this issue, I believe that this is the only way the Daredevil story could possibly end. What other ending could there be? Matt Murdock feels his work is done and retires to the suburbs? No way. I don’t think that is a realistic ending for any superhero. I think eventually vigilantism and superheroism has a 100% mortality rate. It must, right? It can only end in death. Eventually, either the hero becomes fed up after dealing with the same villains for decades, can’t take it anymore, and kills them (like Kingpin), or the hero grows old, rusty, makes mistakes, and is dispatched by his enemy. New heroes fill the void, and the process repeats itself. We’ve seen this in Ultimate Spider-Man with the death of Peter Parker and the rise of Miles Morales. We’ve seen it in countless incarnations of the Green Lantern. We’ve seen it in Robin, Captain America, Flash, X-Men, and others. This is why the ending of The Dark Knight Rises made no sense to me. Batman should have died in the explosion at the end of the movie, not retire to some Tuscan villa with Catwoman. That ending was phony. And the reason is that the work of a superhero is never done, and a true hero never stops fighting. Urich essentially makes this point in End of Days when he says, “Matt took all of this frustration, confusion, anger and rage and focused on two areas…the law…and justice. Of all the self-pity and excuses Matt could have wallowed in, Matt did the opposite. He fought. For those who could not fight for themselves. He fought…He was always there.” Why? Because that’s what a hero is. They are always there. And eventually, it is their downfall. It may qualify as tragedy, but I believe that is the natural conclusion to the life of a superhero.
Many people may read this book and think, “Well, if the public doesn’t care about all that Daredevil has done for them, if they simply sensationalize his death or ignore it altogether, and if nobody is going to even bother reading Urich’s article, then what’s the point? Why bother?” There’s a really interesting philosophical concept in the Indian classic Bhagavad Gita that says, “Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure.” The point here isn’t that you’ll get what you want. Daredevil and Urich do what they do because they feel that it’s right, not because they think they’ll necessarily receive their desired outcome. Superheroes don’t fight crime because they think they’ll always win. Journalists don’t only write stories they know people will read. It’s like that other philosophical classic, The Myth of Sisyphus. The role of a superhero is much like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill, only to watch it tumble back down again. But he repeats the process ad infinitum, not because he really believes he’ll ever set the boulder at the summit, but because it is his duty. He was born to push the boulder, just as Daredevil was born to defend the helpless and Urich was born to report the truth. Are you starting to see the unbelievable depth of this comic book?
Now I have to draw attention to the stunning artwork in this book. You’ll find remarkable penciling by Klaus Janson, but you’ll also see gorgeous paintings by Bill Sienkiewicz. It is truly a beautiful comic book. Yes, it’s brutal, bloody, and nasty. But even the violence is wonderfully rendered, and there are images in this book that should be hung in museums. It’s simply that good. The attention to detail and talent here is staggering. These artists have set the bar very high for any competition that comes their way.
Brian Michael Bendis is the most talented writer in comic books today. The mystery of Daredevil’s last word, “Mapone,” is really just a framework around which Bendis explores complex social and artistic ideas. Every single aspect of this comic book is at such a high level of quality and maturity, that I knew going into this review that I would never be able to do it justice and describe its value accurately. This is a comic you must truly experience for yourself. Yes, it’s violent and hard to read. Yes, it’s dark and grim. But the story here is so compelling, the art so beautiful, and the ideas so big, that you simply can’t pass this one up. At some point I may have to return to this book and write another review, once I’ve reread it multiple times and had a long time to think about it and its many layers and meanings and subtexts. If the rest of the eight-part End of Days series is as good as this first issue, it will be a worthy and satisfying end to the Daredevil legend.