It’s been said (and I like to quote) that superhero comics are all about the illusion of change. For all of the crazy stuff that happens to superheroes over the years, they eventually revert back to their classic forms and we love them for it. This is why after a creatively and commercially successful year-and-a-half run for “Superior Spider-Man,” Peter Parker’s return as the title character has resulted in the best-selling comic in fifteen years. (Though I’m certain that Marvel’s usual variant cover tricks and the recent movie helped goose excitement for it plenty.) Essentially, the “illusion of change” theory states that you can keep doing the same old things over and over again so long as it’s done creatively enough for the audience not to care. Here’s where this volume of “Daredevil” comes in. After several volumes of buildup, the mastermind behind the many troubles that have plagued Matt Murdock is finally revealed and longtime readers will likely be pleasantly surprised by who it is.
It’s certainly a clever reveal, and we’re shown a new take on this villain that feels perfectly in line with what we’ve seen of this person in the past. Yet the motivation here is more personal and ruthless than before. We see that firsthand here in the scenes where the accident that gave Daredevil his superpowers is played out over and over on unsuspecting individuals, with the failures turned out onto the city to plague the superhero. That’s only the beginning as this was done so that someone with the superhero’s abilities could be created -- with one crucial difference. So yeah, we’re getting the villain who has all of the hero’s powers, but with one crucial advantage. This being “Daredevil,” you can probably guess what it is.
Yet it leads to a beautifully choreographed fight scene as the two duel it out over New York’s rooftops. The action flows smoothly under artist Chris Samnee’s direction as he keeps everything coherent, even when Daredevil is flashing back to one of his “lessons” from Stick. It’s also a great back-and-forth battle between the two superpowered individuals that really keeps you guessing as to who’s going to come out on top. At least, until the villain reveals his big advantage to Daredevil and it turns into a bloody rout. It’s a great start for this new antagonist, and I hope Waid brings him back later on because for all of his effectiveness he’s more of a concept than an actual character.
Though it’s depressing to watch, the final moments of that fight really add suspense to the volume’s last third. Not only are we dealing with someone who can beat up the title character, but he has his own set of agents to harass him in his civilian identity as well. What follows is straight out of the superhero textbook as Waid rely on his expertise and connections to find a new way to fight this battle. The results are as satisfying as they are predictable. That’s, “predictable” in the sense that we know how this is going to end, but are considerably less sure about the route that we’re going to take in order to get there. Compared to someone like Hickman and his galaxy-spanning epics about the collapse of the multiverse, Waid’s superhero comics hew more to traditional setups and conflicts. Yet when done right, “traditional” can be tremendously exciting on its own terms.
Fighting isn’t all this volume has to offer as things kick off with a one-off story that picks up after D.A. McDuffie’s plea for (the Superior) Spider-Man to find out what’s going on with Daredevil. That leads to a fight between the two that is interrupted by none other than Stilt-Man, which leads to an inevitable team-up. It’s a fun encounter that has Waid poking fun at Spidey’s current status quo, even though Daredevil can’t quite put his finger on what’s wrong with his longtime friend. Samnee also excels with this fight scene as well, which is particularly notable for how he works the sound effects into the action.
There’s also a subplot about Foggy that runs through the volume after he gets some bad medical news. It could’ve come off as a cheap ploy for drama, but Waid plays it smarter than that. Not only is the trope of Daredevil being too busy fighting crime to come with his friend for a doctor’s meeting subverted, there’s a gut-wrenching scene towards the end when Foggy demands that his friend not go crazy on him right when he needs the man the most. Really, Mr. Nelson is this volume’s emotional anchor and his contribution to credibly keeping the main character from losing it can’t be understated.
Even though this volume doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, I’m still left eagerly awaiting the next one. Waid and Samnee have delivered and excellent helping of superhero action and drama that really shows you how the “illusion of change” is supposed to work. Even if the core of this volume can be boiled down to being another take on Daredevil fighting his nemesis, there’s more than enough twists and new additions to make the battle and the volume itself quite worthwhile.