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Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark's run on "Daredevil" (ah, how unusual it has become to speak of a run by both a writer and an artist) concludes with this second Omnibus volume, collecting issues 105 to 119 and 500 (thanks to renumbering) of the ongoing series, as well as a one-shot comic spotlighting supporting character Black Tarantula. It is rather slimmer than the first volume, but then, Brubaker's run ended, so there isn't anything to be done about that, and the writing and art remain at the same level of quality as in the first volume, though they venture into some markedly different aspects of the Daredevil mythos. The contents of this omnibus were previously collected into the trades "Cruel and Unusual", "Lady Bullseye", and "The Return of the King". Some spoilers follow.
The collection begins, fittingly enough, with an issue bringing the reader up to date on Matt Murdock's recent emotional state, which could be succinctly described as terrible. More elaborately, in the events of the preceding volume he spent time in prison, attempted to get his life back, and in the end a supervillain drove his wife Milla irretrievably insane and avoided any real punishment for his crimes. The series then begins an arc with Brubaker's old "Gotham Central" partner on hand to co-write once again, which gives Matt something of a normal case for the first time in a while, and lays the groundwork for some major developments in Matt's life with the private investigator Dakota North (Greg Rucka's involvement no doubt helped with this; he loves him some tough chicks).
With that done and Rucka departed, Brubaker continues on into the final year-long story arc of his run on the series, the arcs "Lady Bullseye" and "The Return of the King", which are essentially one story in two parts. Having used a number of street-level villains in the past, Brubaker now turns to the Hand, the deadly ninja cult first introduced in Frank Miller's iconic run. And he introduces the titular Lady Bullseye, a legacy villain (drafted, in part one imagines, because of how frequently Bullseye himself has been unavailable to the writers of the title), and, for my money, a very interesting one. You might be tempted to groan at the concept, but Brubaker does some very interesting things with her. And all this leads into the return to the stage of the Kingpin, Daredevil's archnemesis, and largely absent from Brubaker's run after the first arc. Brubaker brings Fisk's latest journey to a powerful, tragic conclusion, and while doing so sets up Daredevil on a really different path from anything done by previous writers. And he creates Master Izo, a delightful addition to the mythos. I'll say no more, but that it is very good stuff indeed.
Overall, I've tended to regard Brubaker's run as something of a treatise on why Matt Murdock's life is impossible when people know that he is indeed Daredevil. Unlike the billionaire heroes like Tony Stark who live in the clouds and have security, Murdock is on the streets, and exposed to ruthless enemies. Gradually, over the course of Brubaker's run, we see all of this stripped away from him, and #500 ends with him perhaps poised to abandon civilian life altogether. This is more of Brubaker's customary terrific work. He's aided by Lark, who brings his usual quality art to most of the issues collected here (with occasional contributions by other artists who largely mimic Lark's style).
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The always sarcastic Master Izo, gazing at a swinging away Daredevil: "And there goes the whiniest super hero I ever met..."
Warning: If you haven't been keeping up with current DAREDEVIL issues, this is a SPOILER ALERT for the following paragraph. You just may want to skip it.
As Marvel hypes its Shadowland arc - which is supposed to establish the Man Without Fear as a leading supervillain - we at last get our grubby hands on the DAREDEVIL OMNIBUS Vol. 2, this mammoth edition reprinting issues #106-119, #500 and also DAREDEVIL ANNUAL #1 and the one-shot DAREDEVIL: BLOOD OF THE TARANTULA. As we take a look back to not that long ago, we note the sense of foreboding. We track the events which culminate in Daredevil's turning ruthless heel.
Okay, the massive SPOILER ALERT ENDS.
Daredevil's world had progressively gotten so bleak and dark that even the Crow has taken to dropping by to tell him to cheer up (but I kid). Matt Murdock and that peace of mind continue their icy relationship. Some time ago, when Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli were running things, the Kingpin sussed out Daredevil's secret identity and went about methodically destroying his life. A few years ago, the public itself learned that Daredevil is Matt Murdock. And then dude went to prison.
Most recently his wife Milla became maddened, thanks to Mr. Fear's ministrations, and now she's instituted in an insane asylum, a stranger to her right mind. And so for Matt Murdock it's a case of "Hello, old friend." He unravels again, and even his friends find it tough going as they try to pull him out of the abyss. Except Matt doesn't want their help. He'd rather subliminate all the crapdoodle that's festooned his life, would rather cling to his not-so-secret identity. But the Man Without Fear has become more brutal. The Man Without Much Mercy.
He's still a crusading attorney, though. Matt emerges from his cloud of doom and gloom far enough to defend a convicted felon on death row who may just be innocent of his crime. In so doing, he and his associates unearth a shady government conspiracy.
Then it's on for this collection's main arc, which is Daredevil versus the Hand. It's been uncertain times for the depraved cult of ninja assassins ever since its leader Elektra was revealed to be a Skrull infiltrator. Seeking solid footing and a new direction, the Hand sets into motion a plot which involves the targeting of Matt Murdock's friends and allies. As if Daredevil isn't guilt-ridden enough. The Hand's front operative is the deadly and deceptive Lady Bullseye, although, unfolding shenanigans suggest that Lady Bullseye is fostering her own nasty agenda. And on her heels comes Owlman. He wants his fingers back in all the pies. He wants to regain control of the New York underworld.
Writer Ed Brubaker gives the readers what they want. DAREDEVIL stories are traditionally gritty and grimy and told from a street level sensibility. And Hell's Kitchen, the crime-infested neighborhood relentlessly safeguarded by Daredevil, tends to play a crucial role. Often, our hero is put thru the wringer, is rendered emotionally, psychologically shattered. Occasionally, we get ninjas. This particular run of issues covers the gamut. Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano abet Brubaker in torturing our blind vigilante. Their clean art hearkens to David Mazzucchelli's elegant and yet deceptively simple lines. I truly can't think of higher praise for the artwork.
It's great to see model-turned-private eye Dakota North appearing regularly in a series, since I've dug her ever since her own limited series many years ago. As an added thrill and being a fan of the concept of a shared universe, Brubaker ushers in plenty of superhero guest stars, and I love that these guest stars make total sense in Daredevil's world, all of them being close pals of his and all of them stepping in to offer a hand up to Matt. These guys enter with no fanfare; this makes their appearance feel convincing and natural. This run also introduces the reformed supervillain Black Tarantula, and he gradually becomes Daredevil's ally. In fact, Black Tarantula makes a stauncher ally to Daredevil than the Kingpin. Oh, yeah, that happens...
"Me? I'm Master Izo... and you, Matt Murdock, are going to help me destroy the Hand... at least... after you find me a beer." This is how my new favorite character in DAREDEVIL introduces himself and he straight away won me over. Master Izo, a wizened and cackling and hard drinking blind old man, reminds me of none other than the haughty yet endearing Master Chiun of the House of Sinanju. Master Izo is far from a pushover. In fact, he's been chronicled in the Book of the Iron Fist... several hundred years ago. And, again, I'm loving the crossover continuity being developed here. Matt doesn't have a clue who this old dude is, but Danny Rand, the current Iron Fist, he's well aware of the legendary Master Izo. Master Izo - who gleefully slices and dices assassin ninjas like no other - means to mentor Matt Murdock and means to foil the Hand's dark scheme. Matt really has no say about this, that's how much of a b@dass this old man is.
And, regarding the Hand's dark scheme, I have to admit to a rush of anticipation when Brubaker finally parts the curtain on the Hand's unsavory end goal. And it hinges on Matt Murdock.
Lastly, this trade collection also has 27 pages of bonus stuff as various artists provide variant covers (Gabriele Dell'Otto's and Alex Ross's are striking!), pin-ups (including ones from Brian Michael Bendis and Lark's inker Stefano Gaudiano), a few preliminary sketches, and David Aja's process of creating pages #1 & 2 from issue #116. We see Aja's progression from the color palette page to the rough pencil composition, from the inked draft to the finished product.