I’ve been meaning to write about Mark Waid’s Daredevil series for a long time now. I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say this, but if you don’t already read Daredevil, you need to start right now. You can find people saying the exact same thing here, here, here, and here. Honestly, if you love comic books, there’s really no reason for you not to pick up this book. It easily competes with Thor: God of Thunder for Marvel’s powerhouse series. Issue #22 has all the elements that have made the series great so far, and it’s a perfect jumping-on point for anyone not already reading the book. This issue is also one of the first appearances of the highly controversial Superior Spider-Man, as well as the return of Daredevil’s most ridiculous enemy, Stilt-Man. And in true Mark Waid fashion, he manages to do the seemingly impossible by making Superior Spider-Man likeable and Stilt-Man menacing.
Dan Slott’s series-ending Amazing Spider-Man #700 is really two superhero stories in one: the death of a superhero and the origin story of another. From the time I discovered the ending of this story in the spoiler leak several days ago, to actually sitting down to read the issue, I’ve been trying to piece together what exactly frustrates me so much about this storyline. Is it that Peter Parker dies a horrible death? Actually, no. Superhero deaths are nothing new, and with the comic book industry’s illustrious history of retconning and bringing characters back to life, I imagine we haven’t seen the last of Peter Parker. Not to mention, superhero death stories can be genuine works of art. It wasn’t so simple as just being an irate fan who doesn’t want to see his childhood hero’s demise. So why did this disappoint me so much? After all, it is just a comic book. These aren’t real people. They’re characters in a story. But no. It is more than just a story. There is a philosophy in every comic book. People don’t read comics merely for the fireworks of two emotionally damaged people in leotards beating the hell out of each other. No, we read comics for what the stories tell us about ourselves and the world around us. And my problem with Amazing Spider-Man #700 is that in attempting to show how a villain might be redeemed and rise to the challenge of heroism, instead, Slott has written an origin story which thoroughly misunderstands what makes a hero.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say at the outset that I’ve never liked Superman outside of the first two Christopher Reeve movies. At various times in my life, I’ve tested the Superman waters again, both on paper and film, and have been disappointed. My problem has generally been that you can’t relate to him. He’s perfect, really. If you’re a human villain trying to defeat Superman, you have to either find some kryptonite or become a magician (or realtor, apparently.) Otherwise, you have to be a super powerful alien or an alien robot. When someone pulls a gun on Superman, we yawn. Also, my impression of Clark Kent was that he’s a bit of a wiener. That’s mostly an act, because Superman (Kal-El) is quite confident and fearless. But the fact that either we see Clark as a fuddy-duddy weakling or Superman as an all-powerful half-god exemplar of interstellar perfection, there’s not much to relate to. Also, his method of hiding the fact that he’s Superman (thick-rimmed glasses) is stupid. The explanation I once received that he actually hides his identity by some kind of mind control (on everybody!?) is stupider.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
If you’re a fan of comic books and you use the internet, which I think is likely given that you’re reading a comic book blog right now, you’ve probably already seen that the ending of Amazing Spider-Man #700 was leaked today and anyone who has seen the spoiler now knows who becomes the Superior Spider-Man, a plot point which has been shrouded in secrecy for months now.
Again, SPOILERS AHEAD!
If you’re curious, if you don’t care about spoilers, or if, like me, you are so fed up with Dan Slott and his shitty shitty oh so shitty Amazing Spider-Man stories and don’t care anymore, here is the link.
Of course, since this is a spoiler preceding even the release of advance copies, either it’s fake or some sneaky intern at Marvel (or Dan Slott, for all we know, given his track record of fucking with readers) took pictures of the actual book and posted it on 4chan. Now, I am pretty confident this is real, since I saw on Dan Slott’s Facebook page today that he wrote a post saying that ASM 700 had leaked and everyone should be careful if they don’t want it ruined for them. Plus, the leak isn’t just a plot description; there are actual pictures there, and the images are clearly Humberto Ramos’s penciling.
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.
It has been nearly ten years since Fox released the poorly-received Ben Affleck vehicle Daredevil to theaters. Though much of the criticism of that film was justified, it was certainly exaggerated. Yes, it was far from perfect, but much of the hostility about that film had more to do with Bennifer “Gigli” Affleck’s shaky career and tabloid popularity at the time, and less to do with the actual quality of the film. Given Affleck’s meteoric rise in the director’s chair in the last few years, if Daredevil were made with Affleck today, I doubt very much it would have been panned so harshly. It still would have received its fair share of deserved criticism, but Affleck wouldn’t have gotten a Razzie for it. Daredevil definitely had its problems, but many of those were remedied in the 2004 Director’s Cut version of the film. If you’re a Daredevil fan and were disappointed with the theatrical release, then you need to check out the R-rated Director’s Cut. It’s darker, more violent, and includes an interesting subplot that was entirely cut from the theatrical version. Yes, some unforgivable problems still remain, such as the atrocious soundtrack where the orchestral score would have sufficed, and the unintentionally funny fight scene in the park still made the cut. But in general, it’s a vast improvement over the original, and certainly worth two hours of your time. It’s a very fun movie, and it looks great. And frankly, I think Ben Affleck looks the part and did a good job playing it too.
The criticisms one might hurl at Punisher MAX could be responded to with, “Well, what did you expect?” No reasonable individual is going to approach this book unless they have already steeled themselves for cranium explosions and frequent disembowelment. Not only is The Punisher arguably Marvel’s most violent antihero, but this is Punisher within the MAX imprint, which includes an “Explicit Content” warning on the covers, and prides itself on said cranium explosions. I honestly lost count of how many people in this book lost their heads to point-blank shotgun fire. I think it’s likely that most people come to Punisher MAX (and other MAX books) precisely to experience the ultra-violence, for whatever reason. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. From Robocop to death metal, ultra-violence can be an interesting, even valuable way to explore the reaches of human brutality, and its meaning and nuances. I’m still not convinced that Punisher MAX achieves that as effectively as other mediums. But there is a discernible part of me that was drawn into this book; a dark part of me that couldn’t put it down.