Treachery by Alan Smithee and Alexander Jubran
One Sentence Overview: When Daredevil rescues a man being beaten up in an alleyway, he is impressed by the mugger's quick reflexes, unaware that this man's intentions are to target his loved ones
Waitaminute. Wasn't this meant to be the first issue of DG Chichester's new saga, 'Wages of Sin' or 'Mark of Cain'? Instead, Marvel have only gone and employed a genuine Hollywood director to write a story - who'd have thought that was actually possible? Hmmm. I've just checked this Alan Smithee out on IMDb and, whilst he appears to be fairly prolific, his films are almost universally awful. I can't help wondering how he keeps getting a chance behind the cameras when most of his output is so poorly regarded...
Of course this isn't a Hollywood director (as if!). As I am sure most of you readers know, Alan Smithee (or Allen Smithee) is used as a pseudonym by movie directors who are unhappy with how the film they have made has panned out or been re-edited by the company in charge of the product. It's also used by established directors who have to make an 'airline' cut of their movie and thus tone down its content. Perhaps the most notorious instant of the usage was 'Burn Hollywood Burn: An Alan Smithee Movie', a film that satirised the whole concept but, during the filming, director Arthur Hiller and writer/produce Joe Esterhas apparently fell out and this led to - you've guessed it - the directing credit going to 'Alan Smithee'.
Anyway, a couple of years before that movie, Alan Smithee wrote this six part Daredevil story. Alan is, of course, DG Chichester, who had just been informed that he had been dismissed as the writer (see the excellent interview with Kuljit Mithra on Man Without Fear here for more details on Dan's side of the story) and was understandably miffed. Though, given Smithee's notoriety, I'm a little surprised Marvel agreed to the credit (as opposed to making another pseudonym up) - perhaps it's very indicative of the bad feeling around the time.
Indeed, the change of personnel is perhaps not that surprising. In another interview with Kuljit, Dan reveals that Tom deFalco, the editor-in-chief at the time of 'Fall from Grace' was not exactly behind the changes he was introducing. And actually there is new personnel on the book here, moving away from Ralph Macchio, who had supported Dan (though Dan also reports the new editor on the book, Marie Javins, was actually an old friend who broke ranks to inform DG of the oncoming change).
It's not just the Smithee tag that reveals Dan's smarting here. Check out the title of this and the following four issues: 'Treachery' is followed by 'Betrayal', 'Subversion', 'Duplicity' and 'Malignancy'. I can't help feeling the titles are about more than just the story.
So the omens aren't exactly promising but there are some positives here. Firstly, Alexander Jubran's art is unfussy and uncluttered, much simpler than Scott McDaniel's and he provides a not exactly original but still rather lovely opening splash page.
I also liked how this story is told partially in flashback with bits and pieces of the major supporting cast found at the scene of an out of town, abandoned diner. It gives a sense of doom facing the stalwarts in Matt's life - and, given Dan's own position, who's to say what he's going to do with those guys?
There's someone seeking out revenge - and that's not revealed 'til near the story's end, so we'll come back to that next issue. However, whilst this is all being set up, there are various other strands being examined. The Kingpin is beginning his rise again and isn't too keen on those who think he's a hasbeen. Here he's shown dealing with a mouthy mechanic in a way not atypcial to Dan's earlier, gorier writing on the book.
Karen, meanwhile, in one of the subplots left over from'Tree of Knowledge' is smarting about pornographers, Jim & Artie O'Farell, who she suspects of using underage models in their work. Incidentally, I'm not sure how much notice Alexander had about being on the book, but he doesn't appear to have checked out how the O'Farells looked. In Scott McDaniel's hands, the brothers looked old and wretched, here they're comparatively handsome and well heeled.
Finally Matt's new alter ego, Jack Batlin, is having fun extracting info from ground level sources by being a card shark - who knew a blind guy'd be so good at these kind of illusions? The scenario allows its own illusion - as Matt turns a couple of cards in his hands, we see the more conservative Matt contrasted with the cool. 'street' Jack.
It's a little hilarious - I think I prefer the square lawyer, myself. This issue ends for Matt with his 'landlord', Stithy, introducing him to Ernie 'Whack 'em' Wagner. Ernie tries to come over all sweetness and light but, heck, with that middle name, it's hard to conceal that fella's true intentions...
I was bracing myself for something awful but this isn't really bad - it's just a little mediocre, a strange contrast with the highly ambitious writing in both Fall from Grace and Tree of Knowledge. I guess Dan's heart just isn't in it.
Oh, nearly forgot. Great cover by Bill Sienkiewicz!
Ernie 'Whack 'em' Wagner
Rating: 5 out of 10