And so marks the end of a glorious three year run of The Man Without Fear. I’ll always be appreciative of Charles Soule’s run on the series, as it marks a time when I got back into comics after a very long time period of inactivity. I’m talking at least a decade, and since this run on Daredevil was the first Marvel comic I decided to get back into, it will always hold a special place in my heart. The finale cemented its place in my heart as one of the most intelligent and divisive endings to a series that I’ve ever come across.
The entire series itself was full of twists and turns, continuity evolved during the three years of it’s run. Great writing for characters such as the pseudo side kick Blindspot and the court room drama that led to a change in superhero crime fighting all swirled together not just in his arc but in the two before it. For those needing a recap of events: since the commemorative 600th issue of Daredevil we’ve seen Kingpin run for Mayor and win. Of course, this plot is hardly original, the first season of the Netflix series used a similar story. We’ve encountered Matt’s twin Mike who was literally made from Matt’s imagination, and we’ve lived through Matt himself becoming acting Mayor of New York City as the hand lays siege.
Nothing could prepare us for what Soule had planned for his final outing with the red devil, however.
Lets get right into it. The major reason this ending was so divisive was because of how open ended the series was left. The positive outcome for this is that anyone taking up the mantle of writer for this comic has plenty of options to work with. In fact, it has been already announced that the series will start up again after the new year.
The arc in 609 began with Matt Murdock on a hospital gurney being prepped for surgery. Apparently, he had been struck by a truck saving a teen from the same fate. In the next four comics we see him trying to take down Wilson Fisk as Mayor by exposing the election to be a fraud. Of course, Fisk responds by unleashing his new assassin, Vigil, going as far as ordering a hit on his long time confidant, James Wesley, to keep him from spilling secrets.
By the final issue we see an all too perfect ending. Fisk is exposed in court by a team working closely with Matt for a while now. Daredevil himself takes the stand thanks to the law he helped passed as Matt that lets superheroes testify against villains. A handful of other famous heroes also act as witnesses. Happy ending, no? By the end of the comic, Daredevil again encounters Vigil, but this time he is seemingly ready. What neither he nor us see coming is the identity of the villain. As Daredevil pulls of the mask he sees only himself.
At first, we might want to jump to the conclusion that this was his evil twin. But why go through the trouble to save him earlier in the series if he was just going to kill Matt anyway? My mind rushed for explanation when his faced turned from Foggy, to Blindspot, Jack, Elektra, and Stick. The sequence ends back in the same hospital bed as the start of this arc. His sense of true justice heavily obscured and broken by a fight that no matter how many times he wins, will always return. Should he take this “win” and let it end with his life? Has he done enough? Then we are given a few emotional final panels, including a flash of Daredevil’s past costumes and Karen Page. Then a fade to black, signifying…death?
All until the flicker of hope before the end.
Now, several things about this ending ensure that it’s not a clear as one might be led to believe. First, the timeline is murky at best. In issue 609, it is clear to the reader that Matt recovered from his wounds and came back filled with a new sense of duty to take down Fisk. Yet at the end of issue 612, it isn’t clear whether this was actually after the events of the preceding comics. I think the answer lies in whether or not you believe what happened in the last arc actually happened or not. This is the genius Soule pours into this series. He leaves the reader searching for the answer, one he will not provide but instead leave up to the next writer to.
My opinion of events is that none of this happened. The fact that such a random event as getting hit by a truck forced Matt Murdock to literally and spiritually face his own mortality, questioning if what he did for so many was worth it, seems odd. As I mentioned before, he is struggling with the question of what it’s worthwhile to save the city he loves only for the bad guys to return again and again. What has he truly won? Has he ever really won?
In the same panels, we are given even more evidence that this was all in his mind. As he contemplates the will to live, he realizes that his end would not be as grand as he thought it would be. In Soule’s own words, “No grand unmasking to Frank Mcgee and the others. No last, tragic night with Elektra. No battle against incredible odds with Daredevil triumphant….No perfectly timed reveal of just the information I needed to bring Kingpin to trial. No outpouring of the support of the city’s heroes. No glorious take down of Wilson Fisk. No final, epic showdown with Vigil. Nothing. Just a man on a table, trying not to die.”
In short all the things that happened in the past few issues came straight from Matt’s mind rather than happening in the real world. Perhaps the fantasy was a coping mechanism, the wish of a dying man to give his final moments purpose. A last, final push to convince himself that fighting this unending battle was worth something and in the end, not being able to.
Whatever you believe happened, truly happened, in these final pages of this long running Daredevil series, two things are clear. One, Charles Soule has ultimately made his mark on the Daredevil history and brought him as low as we’ve seen him since Born Again. Second, no, The Man Without Fear, is not dead and we will see him again very soon…yet can he still truly go by that title any longer?