How Charles Soule’s “Daredevil” Changed The World Of Street Level Heroes
A couple of years ago, I went to a comic convention with my now girlfriend and had the amazing opportunity to meet a writer named Charles Soule. While many now attribute his name to Star Wars, I saw him for his past work on series like Uncanny Inhumans, The Death of Wolverine, and Daredevil. Standing in artist’s alley, I presented my first and last copy of Daredevil and said, “Your Daredevil run is one of my most favorite comics I have read from Marvel,”; to which he replied, “Well, it should be your most favorite!” We both laughed, but as the years have continued, I realized that, in hindsight, he was right! His Daredevil run was the pinnacle of Marvel storytelling at the time for me, and what he brought to the character and street-level heroes as a whole can be felt even today.
While stating anything is the best is a rather large claim to make, but with volume 5 of Daredevil, Soule makes many points to that fact and, by utilizing his background in law, is able to give a solid thread of realism to the series that was needed for the time. Coming from the lighter-toned run by Mark Waid, Soule decided it was time to take Matt back to Hell’s Kitchen with some new duds and a new sidekick by the name of Blindspot, a headstrong but still capable kid who works with DD to keep his neighborhood safe.
With All-New All-Different Marvel ramping up in 2016, Daredevil offered a different looking character in a familiar, but at the same time, new landscape. With edgy linework from Ron Garney and a unique color palette of Red, Black, White, and Purple by Matt Milla, the series looks as gritty as it should be for the character (this isn’t the 60s anymore, that’s for sure). The new series manages to tie up loose ends while simultaneously telling two types of stories, a story that ties to Matt’s martial arts background and another that follows his life as a lawyer.
While Soule’s series saw Matt back in New York City and seemingly managing to maintain his secret identity, no one knew why or how it had happened following Waidcs previous run which saw him on the west coast and living a life where everyone knew he was Daredevil. Issues 17-20 sought to answer that question in a perfect transition from the previous volume’s colorful tone to now. In the story arc “Purple,” Matt was forced to butt heads with Zebediah Killgrave, The Purple Man, in hopes to stop his latest scheme. The problem is that his offspring, the Purple Children, were caught in the mix. Long story short, the villain was defeated in classic Daredevil fashion; however, the children knew that the things he did under Killgrave’s control would come back to him. What came next would continue the rotten luck that plagues the man without fear.
To protect DD, the Children manage to convince everyone that Matt and Daredevil are not the same people, which means that Matt’s new love Kirsten McDuffie, has forgotten this as well. Causing a rift in their relationship and forcing Matt to leave and head back to his home. As the readers, we are left to wonder if he did it out of a lack of choice or because he wanted this, deep down. All in all, this small arc manages to bridge the gap, both narratively and tonally while priming Daredevil for the obstacles ahead.
Soule’s run on Daredevil has an amazing knack for introducing some interesting villains that not only serve the story but also leave a lasting impact on those who read it. When the series begins, we are introduced to one of these villains that goes by the name of Tenfingers. An ex-Hand member with magical powers and ten fingers on each hand. His presence is large, and his army is powerful, and in only the first few issues, we see just how intimidating he can be. Acting as the new crime boss in Chinatown, he inadvertently becomes Blindspot’s main antagonist; however, without spoiling anything, we learn that he is just a pawn to a grander scheme for Blindspot who, by the end of the series, is so changed that he and Matt have yet to speak.
Another character (and my personal favorite of the run) is Muse. A psychotic serial killer with powers that dull Matt’s radar sense and an M.O. that would make the Joker feel uncomfortable. As a character, Muse is what happens when artistic obsession is taken too far. After Blindspot and DD find a huge painting made with the blood of over 100 people, the threat of Muse looms larger and larger. The character has no qualms with causing pain for his art and even attacks inhumans, forcing DD to ask Medusa for aid after a brief fight with the master combatant Karnak. Sidenote: This is my FAVORITE moment in the run because it shows just how skilled Matt is as a fighter. Muse ends up sticking around for a few issues after his arc, impacting the characters in horrifying ways and even playing a part in the run’s main antagonist, Wilson Fisk, AKA Kingpin, AKA Mayor of New York.
What Soule does with Fisk not only pushes Matt into unknown waters but also allows the readers to connect to the story authentically. Matt, in the final arcs of the series, fights a war on two fronts. On one end, he fights as Matt Murdock, a man who is trying to keep Fisk in line by first allowing masks to testify in court; a decision that ultimately places him as Fisk’s official attorney and in the front seat of how a man like Fisk works and thinks (spoilers, it’s not pretty).
On the other end, he fights as Daredevil, a hero trying to make sure that street level heroes not only get a fair shot but also get respect in the community for their acts, something that would ultimately undermine Fisk’s attempts to outlaw heroes.Soule brings his knowledge of the law to the forefront and creates some of the best courtroom drama in comics, matching daring heroism with the back and forth of legal jargon that anyone would expect from a hit film.
As readers of DD know, Matt has his fair share of small victories melded into his shortcomings. As a whole, heroes being able to testify (or at least one) was a small victory, and of course, that ended up getting a little to his head, ultimately leading him to become the emergency mayor of New York. Matt has always been known to make outrageous last-minute decisions, and with an invasion of the hand suddenly filling the streets of New York and Fisk out of commission, Matt decided to take the fight to them as both mayor and Daredevil. With the help of the heroes of New York, the Hand was pushed back; however, Matt’s last-minute executive decision cost him his position with Fisk (who was less than pleased to see his seat filled), like I said, small victories. What comes next is the most personal conclusion the character has potentially ever had.
The final three issues, “The Death of Daredevil,” see Matt take the Kingpin head-on, legally, and face off against some of his most classic rogues. With art by Phil Noto, the book takes on an almost dreamy atmosphere as a mysterious character attacks Matt until the last issue. At its conclusion, Matt discovers that his victory against Fisk in court and his strange assailant were all manifestations of a more present battle, a battle for his life.
When Matt received his powers, he had saved an old man from being hit by a truck. In a similar situation, Matt was again struck by a vehicle while saving another, that put him in the hospital. Fighting for his life, he learns that even though his dreams are not a reality, it doesn’t mean he should stop fighting, “I am Daredevil. I am not afraid.” The last words of Soule’s run ring true in ways that will resonate even into its following volume. But what makes the message of this last chapter so important to its readers?
Well, in short, it’s about never giving up, a theme that has never left the character. But as a whole, I think it means that even if the cycle is endless and we get put through hell, it isn’t an excuse to give up or be afraid. Soule utilized this character to the best of his abilities, and the decisions he made for the character have resonated with every street-level hero in Marvel. Fisk may be Mayor, but heroes and civilians alike saw how Matt and Daredevil stood up to the adversity he faced and acted as a beacon to those fighting the good fight. Charles Soule’s Daredevil is a must-read for anyone who wants a story that keeps the core values of a classic character but isn’t afraid to push them in new and exciting directions.