The Children are Watching You by Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr
One Sentence Overview: When the Kingpin tells Typhoid that her Mary persona is becoming too dominant, Typhoid recruits a deadly gang to kill Daredevil to spite her
I think Ann Nocenti's writing is at its most compelling when she's writing about the bleakness of the lives of those living in Hell's Kitchen. Since her debut on the book and especially since the arrival of Typhoid Mary and the success of the legal clinic, she's toned down on the pessimism. But here she turns her focus on to how, on one hand, the most vulnerable are treated and, on the other, how hope can be fragile and snatched away.
We readers have been aware, as part of the ongoing Typhoid Mary narrative, of the war between Mary's two psyches and how dominant Typhoid can be. It's also been highlighted that Typhoid is 'playing' the Kingpin. But when you play power games with Wilson Fisk, don't think you're taking on an amateur. Here, the previously powerful Typhoid is cunningly outmanoeuvred by Wilson, who traps her in a weights machine, tells her, rather amusingly, to "never call me fatman" and then moves in for a sneaky smooch.
Typhoid is hardly a victim (and Wilson goes no further than a kiss on this occasion). However, outplayed by the Kingpin, Typhoid takes her revenge out on someone much weaker and more vulnerable than she is - Mary. "I hate her!" she seethes. "If I can't have Daredevil, no one can!" As such she sets in motion a plan that will have a devastating impact on Matt - though not in this issue. This plan once again involves her using her own seductive powers to take control over a bunch of men, who aren't on Matt's Christmas card list - namely, the guys Ann has introduced in the book over the last dozen issues or so.
One such character is Bullet, though its Bullet's troubled young lad, Lance, who Typhoid alights on initially. As the story title reveals, it's the children, in particular, in this story who are the focus and who come in for the most grief. Being the absent father that he is, Bullet is not around to prevent Typhoid from twisting Lance's already fragile psyche into near breakdown. Seeing that the kid has a fixation on global nuclear meltdown, Typhoid's method of reassurance leaves a lot to be desired. "Lotsa crazies out there with bombs," she tells him. "It's all gonna blow, violently too." It's a revelation to Lance, who suddenly feels that the adults in his life have been lying to him.
Bullet turns up to try to rescue his son. But instead of doing the right thing, seconds after admonishing Typhoid, she's calling him a "sexy lady" and getting saucy with her... in front of Lance, naturally.
Lance isn't the old kid suffering this issue. The story starts with Fatboy alumnus, Butch, catching a prostitute selling a child to her pimp for a heroin hit. It's implicit but the story focuses heavily on a child prostitution video ring - boy, we're moving into some dark territory here.
Later, Karen Page goes undercover to try to get to the bottom of who it is preying on the vulnerable in such an awful way. As one might expect, her initial enquiries are met with suspicions. However, cleverly (and amusingly) when someone realises she's the former 'film star' Karen Page, she's suddenly allowed access to the dark world. It's not explicitly mentioned that Karen's been in the porn industry but the implication's pretty strong.
Good old Butch dashes off to see Matt to alert him of the problem and seeks reassurance from him. What follows is a terrific piece of writing. Butch shows how he's worried about the missing kids in the city - will they end up the same way as the girl? Will he end up this way? He thinks his mum won't even notice should he disappear. Matt pulls him to him and says, "I'd notice."
It's a lovely moment that is stunningly undermined by what happens next. Matt turns to leave but Butch has one more question. Dashing after him, he follows Matt into an alley where he catches him in a close embrace with Mary. Mary, not Karen. He's devastated. He had finally found an adult who he could look up to, who he could depend upon but he's trampled all over his trust by showing his own human frailty and his desire for Mary. "Poor Karen," Butch muses and then adds, "I hate him!"
It's a small but breathtaking moment. Where will Butch go to from here?
There's some terrific artwork in this issue from John jr. There's some lovely late 80s fashion moments, especially in a park scene early on. However, best of all is a terrific scene that invokes Superman where DD swoops over the city with the mistreated Karen in his arms.
At his best, John's stuff can be just wonderful.
Rating: 9 out of 10