Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Avengers #1, or Out of Costume Goodness

Gather 'round, DD lovers, for I have a great story to tell you about, featuring our favourite superhero, in his civilian identity of blind lawyer Matt Murdock. There's a sprinkle of Foggy Nelson goodness in it, too, and I'm sure some will appreciate that.
The above panels are from the first issue of New Avengers, by Brian Michael Bendis.
The chronological setting is right after Avengers: Disassembled, the disastrous event that lead to the dismantling of the group of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
That's right. It is hard to believe, seeing as how nowadays we have something like five or six different flavors of Avengers (Mighty Avengers, Young, New, Secret, Dark, diet, with almonds etc.), but at that time there were no more Avengers in the Marvel Universe. The story narrates how, by fate or chance, a new team of Avengers spontaneously formed itself during a time of crisis.
At that time, Bendis was in the apex of his run in Daredevil, with Matt having unmasked after beating the daylights out of Kingpin and with the FBI on his tail incessantly seeking proof to his activity as the red-clad vigilante.
New Avengers #1 is set just in those times. Along with his friend and partner Foggy Nelson, and with Luke Cage working as a bodyguard for them, Matt arrives by helicopter to the Raft, a maximum security installation designed to hold the most dangerous supervillains. He's welcomed by the woman who will be their guide through that dantesque hell: Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman.
Under a request by Mr Fantastic, Nelson & Murdock are there to confer with Robert Reynolds, a superhuman said to have confessed to the murder of his own wife.
After having convinced a rather scared Foggy to get out of the helicopter, and after the proper introductions are made, Jessica leads the three of them to the sub-basement.

All the while, Foggy expresses his perplexities about him being dragged there, in a claustrophobic facility crawling with dozens of murderous individuals, and in general about the opportunity of locking up all of said individuals in the same place.
Jessica Drew tries to reassure him that everything is under control (yeah, and we all know how it always goes in fiction whenever "everything is under control"). She also lets a comment slip about Matt's outing by the tabloids, to which Matt adamantly restates that he's not Daredevil. Nice to see that Bendis is consistent with what he's writing in other books (mostly because not always he does that).

So, the quartet reaches sub-basement 7, which is possibly even creepier and more claustrophobic than the rest of the place, and they are joined by two SHIELD redshirts.

The Fogster complains some more, and Jessica reassures him again, saying that there are three superheroes there with him besides the SHIELD agents stationed there, implying again that she doesn't buy that Matt is not DD. I wonder if she is doing that on purpose, to tease Matt, or if she's just desperately searching for a way to make Foggy's incessant whining stop. Then there's a blackout.

A total blackout in the maximum security prison. Crawling with supervillans. With them in the sub-basement.

As if it wasn't enough, the corridor is rocked by the shockwave of an explosion occurring elsewhere.

Faced with such a critical situation, Matt keeps his cool and orders Foggy to stay behind Luke's unbreakable hide, while he goes to check Reynolds' cell. Reynolds, he recalls having being told by Reed Richards, is one of the most powerful beings on the planet, and he's supposed to be a good guy. Matt asks him to help them get out of there. Unfortunately for them, Reynolds appears to be distraught and apathetic to the point that he doesn't listen to him, or even care about whatever is happening outside of his cell...

The tension keeps rising, and the dialogues become more concitated. The most panicked of all is of course fun-loving "Foggy" Nelson, who goes all "I told you so" on the others, especially on Matt, whom he irrationally blames of having forced him to come to that place.

- Please, get me out of here before something...

And there he is behind him. The K2 of insanity. The in-continuity answer to a careless fanboysh question like "lol ppl what if teh Venom symbiote bonded with a dude wh's already a bloodthirsty psycho?!?".
Cletus Kasady. The nightmare known as Carnage.

He pops out behind poor Foggy as the others watch (or sense, in Matt's case) in horror. Matt thinks fast and shoves Foggy out of the way right before Carnage unleashes in a sudden madness of tentacles, fangs, spikes, superstrength, spider-sense immunity and freaky-colored speech baloons. Bendis also provides a handy B&W freeze frame for a quick reference on who he is and what he does (a useful device for such a setting, I must say. It certainly beats having the characters on scene introducing the newcomers with improbable lines, as happens often).

Matt pushes Foggy inside the relative safety of Reynolds' cell. Foggy can only watch in anguish while his partner closes the door, warns him not to open it for any reason, and gets hit by one of Carnage's flailing appendages.
The three plain-clothed heroes are barely managing to contain Carnage, as an inhumanly muscular figure emerges from behind Matt.

Tall, bare-chested, its facial traits stretched in a grotesque grin. And he knows Matt Murdock, apparently.

Matt welcomes the newcomer with a well placed rising double kick, to which the monster retaliates with a hammering of a punch to his face. Attentive readers may already have recognized the guy as Mister Hyde, a semi-regular foe to Daredevil.
Matt takes him on on his own, leaving Cage and Jessica to deal with Carnage. In the meantime, in the darkness of the cell, we have Foggy's defining moment for this issue:

Hearing the sounds of the battle coming from the corridor, Foggy begs Robert Reynolds to get out of his alienation and help his friends to face those impossible odds. Can the words of a simple man like him reach his mind and convince him to return being the hero they said he was? Who knows? Matt Murdock surely doesn't know, and he has more pressing troubles to deal with, namely avoiding the one punch Mr Hyde needs to turn him into paste.

- You put me here, Murdock!!
- Actually, Zabo, you put you here... ...but I see that you might not be in the mindset to see it that way!

The dialogue between the two here is consistent with how Bendis has already depicted Hyde in Daredevil in an issue set before this one. In that circumstance, too, Mr Hyde was irrationally blaming Murdock for having constantly beaten him in the past and sent to prison, like if it was Matt who told him to inject himself with some hormonal filth to become an oversized freak and go play the superbaddie.
Those unfamiliar with Daredevil might also wonder how can Matt have Mr Hyde - a guy who has traded punches with guns like Thor and Hulk - in his rogue gallery, considering that he doesn't have superstrength and all. Well...

...he usually does fine by going the classical way: kicking him in the head as hard as he can.
The artist, David Finch, does a good work with representing the agitation of the scene. His style of portraying characters "good looking" also fits in nicely. For example, as you can see above, Spider-Woman is drawn to look like one of those impossibly attractive multiracial fashion models (you know, half Vietnamese, half Swedish, half Czech etc.).
Anyway, the sound effect was actually them getting reinforcements: Foggy's words have managed to touch Robert Reynolds, who emerges from the cell as The Sentry, grabs Carnage, flies him to space and rips him in half. It's the only deus-ex-machina they get, however, because he doesn't re-enter until the end of all that mess.
No longer occupied with the symbiote, Luke Cage easily takes Mr Hyde out.
But the group still has to find a way out of there. And a quick one also, because the place is filling with... is that water? Foggy wonders if they're sinking...

I love how, despite these dire situations coming one after the other, far from being panicked or even frightened Luke Cage goes simply "Aw, crap..." and Matt just looks irritated. Anyway, our heroes manage to swim out of there before Hydro-Man can drown them, with Foggy grabbed and flown to safety by Spider-Woman (that lucky son of a...).
The heroes emerge on the main deck, where hell has broken loose and Spider-man and Captain America are already fending off against a multitude of inmates (most of them superpowered). They join the dances. While fighting, Matt notices how Spidey has lost his mask, and promptly points out how that's a "bad career move". Bonus points to Bendis for the "dry humor + DD continuity reference" combo.

So, the five of them fight against the horde of psycho supervillains (is that the Mandrill in the left foreground?), and we have our Matt Murdock displaying the best of his agility and physical prowess, as he somersaults over the heads of the multitude, kicking bad guy after bad guy.
Of the group of superheroes there, he's theoretically the weakest. He cannot fly or shoot electricity like Spider-Woman. He doesn't have unbreakable skin like Luke Cage. He doesn't have Peter Parker's spider-powers. He's the only one, besides Cap, who doesn't have superhuman strength. And unlike Cap, he's bare-handed, without his usual billy-clubs.

He has powers of his own, certainly. But you'd think that in such a pandemonium, they're probably an hindrance more than anything else. Bendis could have Matt being disabled by an overloading of his supersenses, or even toss up some caption or some dialogue reminding us about this factor. He doesn't. Readers are left to imagine for themselves just how tough a time Matt is having, unarmed and underpowered, in all that mess. All of this, and yet there he is. Giving it all. Fighting with no less tenacity than his other companions. An amazing display of heroism.

In short, Matt Murdock, outside his own book, comes out as pretty hardcore.

The good guys, later joined by Iron-Man, manage to defeat the rampaging inmates and contain the breakout. Afterwards, inspired by what has transpired, Cap will offer all of the heroes who have been brought together in this incident to join a new group of Avengers. He will also invite Daredevil (who will coolly reject the invitation), but that is another story.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Speaking of the Devil...

Actual conversation between three DD fans in a chatroom:


(Talking about the solicitations for Daredevil #116, mentioning Kingpin's "old enemies" returning)

[Francesco] maybe, whatshisname there
[Darediva] A good chance to invent someone new.
[Francesco] guy who looked like Maleev with yellow shades...
[Darediva] he's dead
[Francesco] oh yeah
[Francesco] he crushed his head like a watermelon
[Darediva] yep
[Francesco] forgot
[Francesco] poor fellow we've also forgot his name
[jumonji] lol
[Darediva] Sammy Silke
[Francesco] oh yeah
[Francesco] now, _that's_ gay
[Darediva] lol
[jumonji] I love you Bendisesque dialogue right there
[Francesco] you do?
[jumonji] yeah? you?
[Francesco] you love our Bendisesque dialogue?
[Darediva] lol
[jumonji] yeah, right there, above Sammy Silke
[Francesco] she loves our Bendisesque dialogue, heh.
[jumonji] right there in the dialogue
[Francesco] lol
[jumonji] I mean, it's BEndis, right?
[jumonji] yeah
[Darediva] yup
[jumonji] totally Bendis
[jumonji] that's what I'm saying


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Preposterous Plot Points #9 - "Ah, what the hell. I'll just make another private mass..."

Uh, so this priest walks into his apartment..., wait. Let's start from the beginning.

Daredevil has just been kicked off a rooftop and into the dumpster right below by a fat yakuza gangster. I am not making this up. In fact he is in pretty bad shape and with a flu that is messing up his radar and heightened senses. We could say that he got trashed, but the pun would be horrible. Vowing to get revenge on the fatso as soon as he has recovered some strength (and, hopefully, stopped dripping from his nose), he decides to do as his cinematographic counterpart and go to seek shelter in a nearby empty church.

Not content to just sit on one of the empty benches, he goes to hide inside the confessional. In particular, he goes to occupy the priest's compartment.
Just like that. As if nothing was.
Last time I dared to try something like that in a church I was five years old. You'd think this would stop people from saying that Daredevil is a devout catholic, but trust me, it doesn't.
Luckily, no one comes by. Imagine if a old lady with a heart condition went there, kneeled at that confessional, started making her penance, believing her parson to be at the other side of the grille, only to discover afterwards that she had been telling her sins to a figure clad like Belzeebub.
Anyway, DD passes out. He wakes up later, to the words of what sounds like a honest-to-god confession.

As soon as his ears perceive the last words, he bursts out of the confessional. But whoever was there the moment before, has disappeared.
Wow. That was quick.
Either Hell's Kitchen is being colonized by a sect of catholic ninjas who disappear right after confessing (and without even waiting for the priest's absolution), or fatigue and flu have brought our hero's reaction time to equal that of a stoned frat boy.

This mystery settles in an angle of his mind, as our hero goes on with his life. Two days after that, he's in his office, checking recent suicide cases with his private eye, Dakota North. They find out that a woman has committed suicided several days before, by slitting her wrists, in her apartment at the Biltmore. A bell rings in Matt's head.
That night, as Daredevil, he goes to investigate.

I must confess that, being a non native English speaker, I was puzzled when I read "condo" at first. What could a "million dollar condo" be? A uber-elastic, hyper-durable, state-of-the-art contraceptive? No, turns out it's just a short for condominium. You learn something new every day.

His heightened sense of smell detects traces of wax lingering in the air. The type used in church candles, specifically. As he ponders about that, he's surprised by the noise of the apartment door being opened.
He, Daredevil, the hero with heightened hearing, whose purpose consists in having an uncanny awareness of everything surrounding him, is surprised by a sudden sound coming from the corridor right there. Not even hand ninjas can sneak up on him, he can even discern heartbeats, and yet he didn't hear any approaching sound, no breathing, no fumbling for the keys, not even footsteps. I call BS on that.
I forgot to say it in the beginning of this post, but just from this particular here you could tell that this story is written by Brubaker (script is by Ande Parks). DD's hypersenses here, in fact, seem to be working with the intensity required by the plot. Had Bendis been the writer, we would've had DD not only sensing the incoming person as soon as he reached the staircase, but also knowing what he had had for breakfast that morning by the time he had reached the third floor.

Oh, and there's the "Catholic guilt" thing.
I'll explain it for those who don't know. Catholic guilt is how "chic" pop culture labels guilt when it's coming from a catholic person.
Any ordinary guy could feel sorry about, who knows... having robbed a bank, or having ruined another person's life, or having stolen a lollypop from a little girl... et cetera. But if it's a person who is known to be catholic to do that, then it's Catholic guilt. Also, the more a person is implied to be a practicing catholic - the priest Matt heard before in the confessional, in this case - the more gusto the non-catholic takes in calling "catholic guilt" an ordinary feeling of remorse coming from this person.
It's one of those expressions that makes you feel oh-so-knowledgeable of how the modern world goes whenever you use it in a message board or in the plot of a crime drama tv series.
Not really defending any religion here (I'm an atheist), but I think it's a rather trite cliché, besides being utterly senseless.

Apart from the use of that expression in Matt's thoughts, a major development of the story is centered on the priest's incomprehensible behaviour. Basically, he had hired Little Loco, a young, filthy gang leader from the latinoamerican slums of the city, to brutally slay the lady living in his aparment and have it look like a suicide so that he could earn millions by selling it at increased price. After that, feeling guilty, he goes there, to celebrate private masses at night. Not once, but twice.

So, this man is an assassin (legally), is greedy, unscrupulous, willing to make deals with the most despicable criminals in the city, and then he feels the need to make midnight masses to atone for it.
Isn't that a little contradictory?
I also love how DD goes into "threaten with gritted teeth"-mode* without knowing anything of it all. As far as he could tell, the priest could've been feeling genuinely guilty for what was a mere suicide and was celebrating a mass out of this sense of guilt, or even just out of compassion for the soul of the suicide woman. That is certain a simpler (and more logical) explanation than jumping to the conclusion that the guy was the instigator.
Heck, he could've just interrogated him and detect if he was lying.
All this act with the "hypocrite catholic priest" was also ultimately unnecessary for the purpose of having DD find the killer. Matt could've picked dozens of clues or other traces thanks to his heightened senses in that crime scene, and those could've lead him to Little Loco just the same.
But apparently the idea of the "hypocrite-catholic-priest" as instigator was too alluring not to be used as a plot point.

In conclusion, notice also how, before leaving, DD ties up the hapless priest with some blankets.

Why on earth did he do that? Usually you tie up baddies so that the police can take them away when they come. But in this case, the priest wasn't doing anything of evidently illegal. He was entering an apartment of his property!

* Now I want extra points for the cacophonic alliteration.

Monday, November 3, 2008

1000th visitor!

We're interrupting the hiatus to inform readers of this blog that we have reached the goal of a thousand visitors!
Currently, this blog gets an average of 15 visitors a day, most of whom reach it through google images. Regular visitors, especially those who reach the site directly from its url, are a little more sporadic.
By a weird coincidence, the 1000th visitor (since I put up the sitemeter actually, so it's not really the 1000th, but still) is one of the few regular visitors I have.
Details at sitemeter say he/she is located in Jonesboro, Arkansas and that he/she reached this site on Nov 3 2008 at 1:15:55, directly from its url. I wonder who may this person be.

No wonder, actually. I'm pretty sure I know this person. This is quite a nice coincidence.
You win a hug and a pat on the shoulder. :)

See you around and keep checking this blog.