You’d hardly know it from how Daredevil has been written for the last decade, but this character has had serious identity issues over the years. From changing his name to pretending to be a long lost brother of himself, he’s traipsing around New York loopier than a Looney Tune. In Marvel’s latest Epic Collection “Purgatory & Paradise” you get a good taste of that behavior which features Daredevil comics from 1995 to 1997.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Taken to the edge! The black costume is no more – but who is that running around in the original yellow suit? And the classic red? Is it Matt Murdock? Jack Batlin? Or…someone else?! The Man Without Fear faces an identity crisis – and it won’t be easy to put his broken life back together! If he can, it’ll be a new dawn for Nelson & Murdock – unless the hotshot lawyer Rosalind Sharpe has other ideas! Faces from Matt’s past resurface, including his mother, his former lover Black Widow, and his dead mentor Stick…but there’s something different about Spider-Man! Meanwhile, villains line up to take on Daredevil – like Pyro, the Enforcers, the Absorbing Man and Mysterio! Matt faces one of his hardest cases: defending Mr. Hyde! And DD pulls an all-nighter battling Insomnia!
Why does this matter?
The first third of this collection features Daredevil attempting to figure out who he is while the remaining pages get into a more familiar Daredevil storytelling groove. Villains of all shapes and sizes show up like Pyro, Mysterio, Absorbing Man, and Hyde. Speaking of, Matt Murdoch has to do some lawyering for Hyde and he doesn’t like it one bit!
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This collection opens with Matt Murdock going by the name Jack Batlin and sporting his black and red armored suit. Another Daredevil is running around town in the red and yellow costume and Daredevil doesn’t know what is going on. On top of all this Matt is being haunted by a woman who fell from a window. It all culminates into a conclusion involving Matt fighting all three costumed versions of Daredevil, Stick coming out of the woodwork, and Matt realizing who he really is deep down. It’s a trippy first third of the arc, involves a villain named Sir (that has a serious moral dilemma in regards transphobia), and eventually resets Matt Murdock as a stable lawyer who is also back with Karen Page.
Props should go to writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Ron Wagner who basically pull Matt Murdock out of his strange identity crisis funk and back into the light. The captions are very well written drawing you into Daredevil’s psyche and never getting overly dramatic. I could see these working in a Film Noir version of Daredevil as they draw you in and feel quite nihilistic. This is a hero who is at war with himself and the only way to come out of all this is to wake up and fight.
Much of the rest of this collection revolves around Matt and Foggy joining a new high powered law firm run by a woman named Rosalind Sharpe. She has a more corporate look at law including supporting a villain like Hyde even if it’s certifiable he’s a criminal. This portion of the trade involves Matt’s life as a lawyer much more which makes the story feel more complete then the identity crisis storyline earlier in the collection. It’s more back to basics fight comics too as Daredevil faces off against villains of the month like Pyro, Mysterio, and Absorbing Man.
Art throughout this collection is quite well suited to the dark alley fight scenes and exciting moments as Daredevil plunges off the side of skyscrapers. Ron Wagner, Cary Nord, Shawn McManus, Larry Hama, Pasqual Ferry, and Gene Colan all put in stellar work. It’s dark, it rains a lot, and that gritty atmosphere is always present. I was reflecting on how the covers tended to have a brighter superhero feel even when the stories within were rather edgy and more akin to something at Vertigo.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The first third of the book has some good captions that get inside Daredevil’s head, but it feels circular in its approach never really moving forward for many chapters. It’s a slow slog through Matt’s madness. The resolution also seems to come and go so quickly you might miss it. In this trade, we learn Matt’s identity crisis is due to a nervous breakdown living with the guilt of killing a prostitute. It all leads to Matt talking to some prostitutes who knew the one he killed and them relaying that she was in so much pain she’d rather be dead anyway. In a not so elegant way, Matt sort of shrugs it off and admits being Daredevil is what he wants now. It’s too simplistic and leaves a lot of the build-up and emotion on the table. It turns out a year later writer Joe Kelly erased the murder by revealing the prostitute never died and is, in fact, Typhoid Mary. Crisis averted! It’s too bad it’s not resolved in a more complete way here.
Is it good?
The trials and internal tribulations of Matt Murdock is a long and winding road evident in this 20th volume. This is a strong read thanks to the excellent captions and moody art as well as how it’s an attempt at resetting Daredevil and making him what we know of him today.
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