Monday, June 9, 2014

Opening Contract - Daredevil #233

With this last edition of the column I wanted to try and bring it full circle somewhat. So I thought about that first column with Ryan. There we covered the start of Ed Brubaker’s run on Daredevil. That panel was a moody, evocative shot of the Hell’s Kitchen skyline at night.

The final panel I’ve chosen takes place on that same skyline, but in a vastly different context. Where that panel was tight, moody and noir-ish, this one is huge, bombastic and infused with action. It also happens to be from one of my favourite issues of all time, Daredevil #233 by Frank Miller, David Mazzuccheli, Max Scheele and Joe Rosen.
The issue, of course, forms part of the infamous Born Again storyline. At this point in the story Matt Murdock’s life has been systematically destroyed by Wilson Fisk (AKA The Kingpin).

Homeless, and suffering from bouts of paranoia, Matt is almost killed by Kingpin’s men before he goes into hiding at a nunnery. At this point Kingpin uses his military connections to buy the services of Nuke, a funhouse mirror version of Captain America, to lure Matt out of hiding. Nuke is set loose on Hell’s Kitchen, spurring Matt to don the Daredevil costume once again. This issue opens as the battle for Hell’s Kitchen begins.

The panel is a full page splash, the top taken up by the title ‘Armageddon’ in a jagged, jarring black and white style. An explosion rips through a Hell’s Kitchen rooftop, sending one of its iconic water towers toppling towards us. In the bottom right of the image Matt, in Daredevil costume, leaps away from the explosion.

The panel is a great example of an opener, capturing the reader’s attention with dynamic and colourful action. Even the water tower’s angle makes it almost loom out of the page at the reader.

But the page is symbolic of something beneath the surface, touching on the reasons why I love superhero comics. Coupled with the last page of the previous issue, this panel signifies Matt’s struggle and redemption.

Superhero narratives are often considered modern myths. They allow creators to tell stories of everyday struggles, amplifying them to the Nth degree. They’re the problems we face every day but on a scale that affects cities, countries, planets, or existence itself.

My favourite comic book panel of all time is from Amazing Spider-Man #33 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. It depicts Spidey lifting a mass of machinery above his head, saving himself from a flooding room. This is preceded by several panels of Spidey doubting his ability to get through the situation. He curses himself, chews himself out and lets his insecurities and doubts get a foothold in his mind.

But he stows these thoughts away and makes a final, emphatic effort to free himself. This is the character in a nutshell to me, dogged persistence, willpower and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds. The panel tells us there may be moments of darkness and doubt, but if you stick it out, you can beat whatever it is that’s ails you.

The opening panel for Daredevil #233 presents something similar. Sure, there’s an exploding water tower and a man in a costume looking cool as heck as he leaps away from it. But it’s also the turning point for a man clawing himself out of the dark hole he’s found himself in. A man leaping from the brink, dodging elemental forces and coming through it stronger.

It’s the culmination of a game between two foes played across the streets and rooftops as sirens wail and explosions erupt. One man has shown his hand, going for the kill, when the other has just found his strength once more.

When Matt dodges Nuke’s bullets in the next panel, it’s not just a display of agility and skill, but Matt reclaiming his identity.

This is what superhero comics do so well, and it’s why I chose this panel to play me out. Comics take the struggles and trials we face every day and distill them to sequential words and pictures.

If I took anything away from writing this column, it’s that opening panels, and comics, are windows and we’re all looking in.

Sometimes we catch a glimpse or reflection of something recognisable behind the fantastical. We see the death of a loved one, old conflicts, or nostalgia.

Faced with the obstacles of everyday life the odds often seem insurmountable. Sometimes we lose our way. But there’s always a way back. There’s always the first panel marking a new beginning. We can take the debris around us, the threads of the fictional worlds on the page in front of us, wrap them around ourselves, and leap.


So, that was my final Opening Contract. There are many reasons I could give for ending it, and many others on why I could carry on. But, when it boils down to it, I want to write comics, and something had to go as I cleared the decks.

The column has been nothing but a positive experience for me. It has given me a newfound joy and perspective on a medium I was already head over heels for. Consistent writing will keep you honest, and iron out hints of pretension or perfectionism. I’ll be taking these lessons, and others, into future ventures.

Speaking of future ventures, Opening Contract will be returning in an altered form at some point soon. I’ll be putting together an eBook of the first years of the columns, expanding some in length and depth. I’ve also employed the help and contributions of several of the creators whose work I’ve covered in my time doing the column. So far Ales Kot, Curt Pires, Riley Rossmo, Dave Gibbons, Matt Kindt, Tim Gibson, Simon Oliver, Jonathan Hickman, Peter Snejberg, John Higgins, Goran Parlov, and JM DeMatteis have all answered questions or offered thoughts and feelings on the pages and projects discussed.

So this is the end. But also not. Circles!

Thanks to Ryan for giving me a soapbox, and a hearty thanks to those who’ve complimented and shared the column whilst it was running. You’re all bright, shining stars.

Be seeing you.

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American Zombie (R. A. Wonsowski) said...

This has been an excellent column. Hate to see it go. But I am excited to see where you go next. Ride easy and good luck in your next venture...

Dan Hill said...

Thanks for the kind words, R.A. It's been a blast to write! :D

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