Fall from Grace Part 2: Transgression by DG Chichester and Scott McDaniel
One Sentence Overview: His old costume destroyed, Daredevil designs a new outfit and, with Eddie Passim, tackles Hellspawn whilst looking for Harry Kenkoy, who appears to have been attacked by Matt Murdock's ex-lover, Elektra
It's clear from the letters page over the last few issues that Daredevil's mooted costume change was out in the ether. I'm not sure where everyone got their comic book preview news before the internet made the whole idea of reading a comic spoiler free redundant* - I guess Wizard was the most popular source - but it's not only clear that the concept of a new costume was known but was being regarded with suspicion.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and, therefore, I can say with some authority that it's somewhat apposite that the new duds should turn up in a story entitled 'Transgression' (wonder if Dan later regretted that). Like Daredevil's shift from yellow to red in DD7, there isn't a longwinded portion detailing the reasons for the change (see this post) though his usual outfit was falling apart at the seams in the last edition. Rather, we're treated to a panel with Matt wordlessly feeling a new costume in his hands, scissors and other accoutrements on the table at his side. I guess from this, we're to gather that Matt designed his costume all by himself (no surprise, I suppose, he's had practice in the past) but this costume is a little more sophisticated and one wonders where he's had the time between his law practice and his gallivanting as a superhero to become such a skilled designer.
(Strangely, the first page of the comic contains passages from a technical manual implying that Matt has used state of art design methods to create his new outfit, especially those wacky little metallic looking wings.)
It's always hard for comic book fans to accept a change so drastic and sometimes change is okay. Objectively, the costume isn't terrible, though it's much more angular than the smooth red we're used to and the colour contrast isn't that pleasing. It wouldn't look bad on a new hero/villain. The difficulty is that Daredevil had a great costume before this one and so to ditch it is an act that crosses from brave to foolhardy.
Daredevil's first encounter in his new threads is with the Devil Ge Rouge or Hellspawn as he now being referred to. Dan does something quite odd with this character, giving what intially appeared as a more animalistic, demonic creature, a heart and intelligent. Hellspawn thinks and talks and seems to want a kind of redemption. Before, the creature was a force of (super)nature, malevolent, frightening and this change softens the character and not, I think, in a good way. Also, he's given a thick Louisana accent which doesn't really help.
Given that he's a distorted representation of Daredevil, the character he perhaps resembles most in the Marvel Universe is Venom, Spider-man's sinister alter ego. How weird would it be if that character were to turn up here, huh? Wait a minute!!!
There's a long six page scrap between Daredevil and Hellspawn, the dominant reason for this giving opportunity for Scott to play around with the page layout. These six pages all have a large circle in the middle around which other panels gravitate. Once again, like the Gene Colan years, the artist's chops are well catered for, perhaps at the expense of narrative.
Whilst this confrontation is the main focus of the issue, there are other subplots still bubbling. Sara Harrington, the new Bugle reporter who has discovered Daredevil's identity, becomes creepier by the moment. Here, she bizarrely spends a night on the fire escape outside the Urichs' apartment, looking very stalker-y. No doubt poor old Doris would be horrified to catch her (and presumably get the wrong idea).
In my last review, I indicated that I thought the Chaste were on the hunt for Elektra. I wasn't right in that regard. Stone has taken Ms Natchios' weapon of choice - the sai - to take down Harry Kenkoy. (You remember Kenkoy, don't you? He's the guy after Eddie Passim. Who's Eddie? He's the guy around whom the whole 'Fall from Grace' narrative gravitates. I think.) Anyway, finding sai marks in Harry's apartment leads Daredevil to think that Elektra's back on the scene and after Kenkoy - a nice narrative twist.
Speaking of Elektra, there are some eerie scenes with cyborg John Garrett being experimented on by another gang of unsavoury characters. Oh, and Nick Fury turns up with someone else who I think's being lined up to punch DD on the nose. Is there quite a lot going on? Yes, dear reader, there's quite a lot going on.
Meanwhile on the letters page Last issue marked a drastic change to the layout of the correspondence section. 'Devil's Advocate' has been dropped and 'Redlines' (somewhat ironically given our hero's new costume) is the new title for this section. The title I could care less about but the really truly horrible thing they'be done to the page is print the letters in a white font against a red and black background, thus rendering the whole thing practically unreadable.
And, actually, that's a shame because this selection of letters are the most intriguing part of the issue. I have to say hats off to Marvel for including them because they are actually full of anxiety and trepidation about the proposed changes that are being mooted. C Jason says he sees no need to make any drastic changes to the book, whilst long time reader J Randall Morris (who has nearly every issue) regrets the notion of destroying Matt's life again is missing the essence of the book and character. Scott Eiler notes that he's heard Daredevil's to get an armour costume and asks the creators to change their minds whilst Shannon Hill writes (very articulately and convincingly) about why Elektra shouldn't return to the book.
Whilst I'm surprised to see the inclusion of so many negative texts, they appear to be there to pinpoint the editoral replies - a kind of 'wait and see' approach about how original things are going to be. Perhaps most insightful is the fact that the replies indicate that this new change to Daredevil isn't just something DG Chichester has dreamed up but has been discussed extensively and agreed by his employers. I just thought it was interesting to bear all that in mind, given what happens over the next dozen or so issues.
Anyway, I have to conclude that many long term fans reading this book would have felt crestfallen by the end of the story - the letters seem to be an acknowledgement about how difficult this transition is. A strong story can make up for a myriad of changes. Fall from Grace feels ambitious but also unfocused - it's asking a lot from the readership. Changes are adventurous and risky - the pay offs can be great when they come off. But when they fail, they can have horrendous consequences. It's easy to recognise in retrospect what's going on here but, even with that knowledge, this still doesn't read particuarly well.
J Jonah Jameson
Devil Ge Rouge/Hellspawn
General Harry 'TNT' Kenkoy
Col Strang/Lt Garotte
Rating: 4 out of 10
* Unless, like me, you actively choose not to read the pitches for upcoming issues, though I am a sucker for checking out new covers in the solicitations.