Aside from “Who would win in a fight?” nothing gets comic fans more heated than the question of whether or not superheroes should marry. In this mini-feature, former Bride Rebecca Henely-Weiss and Bride-to-Be Kayleigh Hearn take a trip down memory lane to the most significant times comic companies took the plunge and got their characters hitched! Did we like the couple? Did we like the dress? And more importantly … why did (or didn’t) the marriage last? Today we look at the wedding of Daredevil and Milla Donovan…
Content Warning: Discussion of suicide.
The Couple: Milla Donovan and Matt Murdock
The Issue: Daredevil #74
Published: August 2005
Today: Milla nearly had the marriage annulled when she realized that Matt may have married her in the midst of a mental breakdown. Later, Mr. Fear posed as Milla’s therapist and induced an actual breakdown in her that sent her to a psychiatric hospital, leading her parents to demand Matt dissolve the marriage, so it’s ironic that this whole issue is set at a support group meeting.
Rebecca: We’ve covered a number of couples whose stories ended unhappily in this column, but this is the only one where the presumed end of the marriage came before the wedding. Unlike writer Brian Michael Bendis’ last wedding featuring stars of Netflix’s dying TV series, Milla Donovan and Matt Murdock’s doomed relationship played out not through years of buildup, but mostly behind the scenes and in flashbacks. The reveal that they’d been married came up in a conversation between Milla and Ben Urich in Daredevil #57, but fans didn’t see the ceremony until Daredevil #74—ten issues after they nearly had their marriage annulled! This made trying to research this couple a major headache, but I have to give Bendis at least points for originality here. He and Alex Maleev were clearly doing something different with the Daredevil series. Shame the ultimate conclusion to this couple is so retrograde.
Kayleigh: So, remember when Game of Thrones ended and everyone joked about how deadly Jon Snow’s dick was? Daredevil is worse. There are superheroes who have become infamous for their doomed romances, like Spider-Man or Cyclops, who could be Matt Murdock’s twin with the red shades. But the women who love Daredevil meet especially bleak fates. Karen Page survived drug addiction, sexual exploitation, and an AIDS diagnosis, only to be murdered by Daredevil’s nemesis Bullseye. Elektra was also killed by Bullseye, but while she came back from the dead, she was later brainwashed by the Hand and was replaced by a Skrull for a while. Heather Glen committed suicide after Matt essentially destroyed her life to make her dependent on him. (This may be the most fucked-up thing a superhero’s done that nobody ever talks about.) Even Typhoid Mary’s mental illness was retroactively blamed on Daredevil accidentally pushing her out a window. Black Widow escaped mostly unscathed, which can be attributed both to her status as a superhero in her own right and the fact that she met Matt before Frank Miller did. If you shouldn’t date Daredevil, you absolutely should not marry him, and that’s where Milla Donovan fits in. The thing is, while Daredevil #74 isn’t really about their wedding, it is a strong look at a love interest Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev were trying to present as a vital, independent match for Matt, and it’s really depressing that Milla is as doomed as the other women who have danced with the devil by the pale moonlight.Rebecca: TV and movie fans know about two of Daredevil’s love interests—the aforementioned secretary Karen Page and the Greek assassin Elektra. But even long-time comic fans may have to name search Milla Donovan—a blind Hell’s Kitchen Housing worker—or at least I did when Kayleigh suggested this pairing for our column. To catch you up, sometime after his secret identity was revealed to the public, Daredevil saved Milla Donovan from being hit by a truck (in a similar manner to the old man Matt rescued before being blinded/receiving his powers). To thank her rescuer, Milla went to Matt Murdock’s office and asked him out on a date. While the relationship progressed to the point where Milla and Matt eventually married, Ben Urich wondered if Karen Page’s death had left Matt not of sound mind when he married Milla, which sowed enough distrust in the couple that they both signed an annulment.
But readers didn’t know that Milla hadn’t actually filed the papers during the events of Daredevil #74. The issue, titled “Thou Shall Not Steal,” is actually the fourth of a five-part story called “The Decalogue.” It takes place shortly after Daredevil defeated Wilson Fisk and declared himself the de-facto Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen, and is told mostly through the first-person confessions of various members of a support group for people who have found their lives disrupted by the new status quo. This issue’s narrator, Lynn, met Milla through their job at the housing commission. Soon after they became friends, Milla told Lynn about her secret relationship with Matt and invited her to be a witness to their marriage (which opens the issue via flashback).
Unfortunately, Lynn found herself needing Matt’s help when Jonathan Powers/The Jester robbed the bank where her daughter was working. Daredevil rescued Lynn’s daughter, but as he brought her back he said something about the Jester seeming “different.” Shortly after he and Milla left, Lynn checked in on her daughter and found she had killed herself, leaving behind a picture of a hideous, baby-like creature. Lynn had come to the group looking for answers, and revealed the picture when another member of the group, Jennifer Norton, claimed she had seen a demonic baby whispering into her husband’s ear before he killed several women. When Lynn starts to break down, a belligerent group member named Lawrence starts talking about old religions and says the other members of the group should be scared of Matt Murdoch (spoiler alert: the next issue reveals this guy has been possessed by the demon baby), especially since Matt has been sitting among the support group members, unnoticed by them all.
Kayleigh: Bendis hurries up and gets the whole wedding over with before we even hit the title page! There is a lot to process in this issue, but we can still glean a lot from the three pages we get. Matt’s vows appearing entirely in parentheses on the first page was a jarring choice at first, but since we already know their union is troubled, it suggests a reticence on his part that’s a contrast to Milla’s more enthusiastic, “Yes, I will!” Milla, you’re in danger, girl.
Rebecca: This issue is … different. Bendis has been knocked as a writer because a lot of his character voices sound the same. (And this comic has one of those infamous “Really?” “Yeah.” “Wow.” conversations for which Bendis is often clocked.) Still, Bendis can be innovative in his story structure, and I enjoyed watching this storyline unfold via conversations and flashbacks. It does get a lot of traction out of brutalized women, but I do like that this issue shows the wedding from the viewpoint of Milla’s friend, and we see that Milla is perceived as a kind person with an active life outside of Matt and Daredevil. Kayleigh and I have often complained about how these issues can seem indifferent to the bride’s perspective, so in that respect this issue is a welcome change. Lynn also acknowledges that she had some unconscious ableism toward Milla in talking about their time before their friendship, which I think is an important thing to acknowledge given that some people still think prejudice only comes in the form of active hate.
Kayleigh: This is probably the first wedding issue where the ordinary, civilian bride has more page time than her superhero husband! Again, Daredevil #74 isn’t really about the wedding, but Bendis and Maleev (who modeled Milla after his own wife, aww) give us a very clear portrait of who Milla is and why she’d propose to Daredevil. She’s kind, she wants to help *deep, Affleck-ian growl* “the city,” and appropriately enough for Matt, she’s a risk-taker. Though we only see Milla through Lynn’s perspective, Bendis plays to his strengths in depicting them as actual characters. We get a sense of who these women are, what they do, and how they relate to each other, and here it works well enough that I can look past some of the more irksome Bendis tics. (“I am seeing Matt Murdock. Do you know who that is?” “Do I know who that is?” …”I’m dating Matt Murdock.” ARGHHHHH!)
Rebecca: I wish it was a bit more personal, given that it’s mostly the priest reciting the standard vows. I don’t hate Milla’s dress (which looks pink in my copy given the lighting), but I don’t know what’s supposed to be going on with the ropy stuff along the waist. Matt’s suit jacket is pretty dull. It seems like something he’d wear every day to court. But Foggy looks fine in his tuxedo, and I like Lynn’s pantsuit with a boutonniere. She clearly came from work, but she’s keeping it stylish.
Kayleigh: Milla’s dress looks pink to me too. (Cue the smartass in the comments yelling, “No, it’s white and gold!“) I really wish I liked Maleev’s style more than I do here, but that grainy Photoshop texture over his art just doesn’t do it for me. Haven’t been to church in a while, but the ceremony looks appropriately Catholic as hell.
Rebecca: Even taking into account the dismal track record for superhero wives, Milla’s fate is particularly bleak. In this essay, fan Christine Hanefalk explains that Bendis’ successor, Ed Brubaker, was surprised Bendis had the characters reconcile, and Brubaker basically decided to have the character go crazy because he didn’t know what to do with her. I can see why writers may not have wanted to keep this relationship going. Milla doesn’t have the longevity of Karen Page or the intrigue of Elektra. Plus, her origin being an opportunity for Matt to repeat saving the old man the right way is a little too derivative in my book. (How many women has Spider-Man saved from being thrown off a bridge since Gwen died?) Still, I did like her in the issues I read, particularly issue #58 where she talks about how Matt has a different relationship to his blindness since he wasn’t born with it like her, and speculates on the horror of Matt realizing his father was dead through feeling his bloody, mutilated face. (“I bet he didn’t even know what he was touching at first.”) It’s a shame that a relationship that had something a bit unique to offer devolved into the same sad story of the writers disposing of and dismissing a woman.
Kayleigh: You know what, comics? You can spare me the sight of another male hero moaning, “I’m sorry I loved you,” as he hovers over the body of a woman who’s been hurt because of him. I’m not even particularly attached to Milla, but I do not accept the “uhhhh, she went incurably insane” method of getting rid of an inconvenient wife. (Am I in a Charlotte Perkins Gilman story?) Death isn’t incurable in the Marvel U, but Mr. Fear’s crap is? Even if this marriage wasn’t meant to last—and I think anybody could agree that she’s better off far, far away from him—it sucks to see Milla tossed onto the pile of dead, “damaged” women left in Daredevil’s wake. I’m Catholic, I get the whole “drenched in guilt and sin” thing, but looking at this pattern, it feels less like tragedy and more like misogyny.