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  Daredevil: Hardcore

 

Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev

Marvel, 2003

Rating: 4.2

 

 

Posted: January 20, 2004

By Kevin Forest Moreau

It's disappointing, although understandable, that Brian Michael Bendis chose to end his initial run on Daredevil by bringing back Wilson Fisk, the steely Kingpin of Crime he so skillfully dethroned in the impressive Underboss. Everything successful about the writer's first tenure on the book has been a result of his bold willingness to shake up the status quo in real and direct ways, from overthrowing Fisk to the "outing" of Daredevil's secret identity as blind attorney Matthew Murdock (such revelations aren't new in superhero comics, but no writer has examined the repercussions as deftly as Bendis). So the predictable return of one of Daredevil's primary foes can't help but seem a bit like a cop-out, like a return to the same status quo Bendis has been so dogged about upending.

But like it or not, superhero comics need their status quo; more importantly, they need their villains, and thus it was inevitable that Fisk would one day once again assume his place in New York's criminal underworld. Right?

Well, yes and no. Give Bendis points for this much: If his bringing back of a key figure in the Daredevil mythos feels a bit like surrender to the static and unchanging nature of superhero comics, at least he gives us an ending that doesn't make a mockery of the progressive strides made during his time on the book. Which is to say that, at the end of Hardcore, things are not returned to the good old days of Daredevils past. In fact, Bendis manages to throw yet another curve into the long-running struggle between his protagonist and antagonist. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that Hardcore finishes, at least for now, what Bendis started in Underboss, inverting the relationship between the two characters as established by Frank Miller in his seminal Born Again arc: As in that story, Matt Murdock is a man unhinged. But this time around, it's he, rather than his massive foe, who holds the upper hand.

And that's the key purpose of said comeback: To further illustrate the crumbling mental state of Matt Murdock, who rips into his opponent with the same savagery with which he dispatched The Owl in the previous collection Lowlife. It's one thing to beat a perennial loser like The Owl, whose one-note character lent itself perfectly to the machinations of some of Fisk's former henchmen; it's another entirely to thrash The Kingpin, even one so far removed from his heyday.

Wilson Fisk is a changed man: He doesn't simply show up back in New York as if nothing had ever happened. He's leaner, hungrier (his wife Vanessa has disappeared, along with most of his fortune) and prone to getting his hands dirty. Many of his former lieutenants no longer trust or respect him. No longer the cravat-wearing man-mountain of Silver Age Marvel, he's not entirely unlike a besieged Tony Soprano, slowly working to rebuild his organization (even if Alex Maleev, capably employing his murky, shadowy linework, makes him look more like Michael Chiklis in The Shield).

If Bendis works to make Fisk's comeback a credible one, the return of Typhoid Mary, the dangerously unbalanced henchwoman he once employed, isn't quite so successful. Better handled is the reappearance of Daredevil's longtime foe Bullseye, who aims for a hat trick by attempting to kill Murdock's current blind girlfriend Milla (after having slain Elektra -- who, Marvel being what it is, is today not quite dead -- and Karen Page). Despite being given a makeover to more closely resemble the Colin Farrell character from the dreadful Daredevil movie, Bullseye makes the most of his brief appearance. Bendis doesn't really utilize him fully -- he already seems to be cramming too many classic characters into his final arc -- but neither does he portray him as quite the cartoonish ham of the film and Kevin Smith's Guardian Devil storyline.

Hardcore, to its credit, doesn't attempt to neatly tie up all of the loose ends of Bendis' acclaimed and invigorating run. At its end, Matt Murdock is still teetering dangerously close to the edge, his secret identity is still no longer a secret, and his relationships with friends -- and the public -- are still fragile. And even if Wilson Fisk is back, he, like Daredevil, is not the man he once was. Hardcore at times feels a bit contrived, with Bendis straining a bit too hard to wrap up his run with grand dramatic confrontations. But despite initial appearances, it doesn't simply deliver us back to The Way Things Were. The more things stay the same, the more they change.

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