With a Little Help from my Friends by Joe Kelly, Chris Claremont, Ariel Olivetti, Cary Nord, John Paul Leon, Rick Leonardi, Tom Lyle, Brian Denham, Chris Carlson, Scott Hanna, Pier Brito, Robert Jones and Mark Lipka
One Sentence Overview: Matt defends Karen, who has been charged with the murder of Charlie Borroughs
That title! Not just a great Beatles track, apparently, but a rather literal summation of the talent that Joe Kelly has gathered round him for his final issue on the book, as well as a hint that it's not just DD here grabbing the limelight in this double sized, entertaining tale. I find it slightly odd that, given theer are only six issues (including this one) left in the volume that Marvel have pulled out the stops to celebrate the 375th edition of Daredevil. One would have thought they knew the end times were on the card, though I know, certainly in British comics, that the axe can fall very swiftly indeed and perhaps this reflects the fact that the whole renumbering deal had not yet been decided upon at this stage. [Indeed, Kuljit Mithra's interview with Jonathan Barron on the Man Without Fear website, referenced in my last review, seems to indicate that Jonathan was being considered as the next writer on DD at this point.]
The other thing that seems to reflect Marvel's desire to see this as a big moment is to rather swift resolution to the 'Triple Threat' killer scenario. Again Jonathan Barron's thoughts on this reveal that Joe originally intended to extend the storyline for a few issues more - and it's not hard to see the disjoin. DD374 ended with Matt and Karen's landlady being killed by Charlie Borroughs and Karen screaming out in terror. DD375 then opens with Karen in court, being charged with the murder of - not Mrs Banks the landlady - but our favourite psychotic wannabe poet cop, Mr Borroughs.
Huh? These days a reader might conclude that they'd forgotten to pick up the point one issue between the two stories. Charlie Borroughs had been introduced as a rather intriguing threatening figure so to have him shot off page is a rather peculiar decision which, I think, does the story a disservice. Still, Charlie's 'death'* propels our story along, leading to a rather unusual scenario in a Daredevil comic - Matt officiating a court case for most of the issue!
A casual reader of Daredevil might assume, particularly in more recent times that our crimson clad hero does have a day jobb but it's obviously not very important as so little time is spent upon it. Indeed, Matt's reputation as a somewhat charismatic lawyer has to be take on trust most of the time. Not here, however. Rather splendidly, Joe ends his run not with a dynamic battle between Daredevil and Mr Fear but with Matt trying to prevent his girlfriend going down for murder. And despite the unsatisfactory set-up outlined above, the tale works very well.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the time spent in court is not perfunctory but built upon well by Joe and his co-scripter here, the one and only Chris Claremont. (Perhaps the mid to late 90s appeal of John Grisham helped greenlight such a superhero light scenario?) A phalanx of characters from recent times take the stand but it seems early on, as one might expect in a courtroom drama, that Karen's in deep trouble.
One of the reasons for this is down to another appealing aspect of the tale. As noted above, there are a lot of returning characters here, the most surprising perhaps being the prosecutor here - the return of the none more debonair District Attorney Blake Tower. As one might expect, Blake fulfils his role well here, standing up for the NYPD (Borroughs was a cop, remember), though it's a little odd to see him really sticking it to Karen, given his sympathetic portayal in earlier DD comics. Though, I suppose, that's a realistic reflection of what a prosecutor does.
Other guest stars include Elektra and the Kingpin, both of whom play key roles in the case, though I most confess these moments were the ones that I found most contrived and unsatisfactory. Like Dan Chichester, Joe and Chris (whose writing style is perhaps well evidenced in this scene) present the usually ruthless Elektra as suddenly weak willed in the presence of Matt Murdock. I don't have a problem with Matt being Elektra's one true love but would she really be so anaemic?
Nevertheless there are some fine moments of drama here. It was nice to see Mr Fear's alias, Larry Cranston, escape his costume for a while. Larry's professional career appears to be on the up, having become a professor of law. Not only that but he's been picked up as an expert commentator by a local network covering the case (I was surprised how high profile this case was, but then the States, I think, have greater interest in covering such matters on TV than on this side of the pond). Inserts of Larry's thoughts on the case become ever more entertaining as the initially composed professor becomes increasingly rattled as he begins to see things go awry. These little scenes are some of the most fun aspects of the book.
Outside the court room, there are good scenes of Karen in prison, being threatened by guards and befriended by the mysterious Nina (see cast below if you want to know who she really is). Even better than these are a couple of panels of Karen smoking!
Treasure a panel like this because there is no way such a sympathetic character would be allowed to do such a thing in today's books but a nice detail reflecting how stressed Ms Page is (she's started again to deal with the case).
This story veers between some highly entertaining scenes and uneasy contrivances. One peculiar faux pas I spotted though is that the previously monikered Marissa McTaggert has suddenly become Marissa Dwyer here. Perhaps editorial were concerned that Marissa's name was too close sounding to Professor X's ex-girlfriend? Or maybe they'd just forgotten she had a surname. Incidentally, a character I had assumed had been killed by Borroughs turns up alive and well. Hmmm. Well might be an overstatement considering she arrives in court naked and tattooed having been hurtled through a window.
Good scene though, reflecting some of the great art in this issue. John Paul Leon, who painted this particular section, stands out perhaps due to his dynamic expressionist style, that seems to pretell the kind of art that will dominate volume two. Nice to see the likes of Cary Nord and Rick Leonardi back here though the best scene of all is illustrated by current artist, Ariel Olivetti. Summing up the case, Matt appeals to the jury to acquit Karen. The subtle smile on Karen's profile that acommpanies this piece is a quite wonderful small moment that, for me, stands out above all the other drama in the story.
Despite its inconsistencies and the appalling decision to dispose of an intriguing villain off page, this is a very fine story, thanks to the myriad cast and Matt's legal skills, for once, trumping his costumed alter ego. All in all, a good end, Mr Kelly.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff
Battling Jack Murdock
Mr Fear/Larry Cranston
Rating: 7 out of 10
* Not untypically in the world of comics, the very last frame of the comic appears to undermine this and, indeed, the whole blamed court case that has taken up nearly 40 pages.