Ann Nocenti (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Joe Rosen (letterer), Al Williamson (inker), and Greg Wright (colourist)
Before I watched any of the Daredevil Netflix show, I knew two things about Matt Murdock from my comic friends. First, at one point in time he fights a vacuum cleaner, and second, he is the WORST! Despite delving into newer runs of Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage, I have never taken the plunge on any books about the fourth Defender. I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps since I started reading comics five or so years ago, there has never seemed an easy jumping on point? So I have been thrown into the deep end with issue #261.
It is hot in New York City, hotter than…hell! Daredevil has been missing and assumed dead for maybe 12 hours? However the law firm and Hell’s Kitchen have seemingly fallen apart, which seems pretty quick; I am sure that he must have gone missing for longer in the past, whilst kicking ninjas in a warehouse. So infamous Fantastic Four member (another series I have never read), Johnny Firestorm has come to Hell’s Kitchen to try to lift people’s spirits! But all he manages to do is singe some kids’ eyebrows and light a woman’s cigarette with his head. Ostensibly, Johnny “The Human Flame” Torchstorm is also going to help find Daredevil.
We are then introduced to Typhoid Mary as she visits Kingpin. Typhoid Mary is a character I have previously never encountered. She uses her sexuality as a weapon and a smokescreen so men view her in a particular manner, but she is intentionally luring them into a false sense of security, allowing them to think they have the upper hand whilst she retains control. It is revealed that Typhoid Mary was the one who has killed Daredevil, but she was only hired by Kingpin to seduce and distract him. Kingpin is not happy with her deviation and so they fight and eventually, and seemingly inevitably, they have sex.
We return to Johnny “The Fire Torch” Humanstorm and his valiant attempt at helping. The first step in his big plan was giving himself a makeover? Which absolutely no one has told him is necessary, but does create one of the most iconic images in comics history (it is at this point that I realised that I have seen 1 page from an issue of Daredevil). Because Johnny “Acid Reflux” Stormflame has outfitted himself in a shirt that lets the guys in this bar know that he is Bad! Real Bad! So bad, that he fights a very big man in the bar, then has a temper tantrum because the patrons didn’t help him out immediately (as is the expectation of the straight white cis-man) and accidentally burns the bar down. Stormy “The Human Johnny” Torch promises the Fantastic Four will pay to fix the bar then bails having not helped the situation at all. This is very frustrating, but it at least fits with the entitled nature of the character.
The issue ends with Mary, un-Typhoid-ed, standing on the bridge that Daredevil is lying beneath, contemplating what her alter ego has been up to and how to make her stop. I can imagine it being a big step in 1988 to have a character like Mary. One using men’s misogyny to her advantage, allowing them to objectify her as long as she could then use their behaviour as blackmail material, or luring Kingpin into believing he had “tamed” her, while using his power to work toward an agenda of her own. However looking back from 2019, there are still some issues. She is still being boxed in by her gender, overtly sexualised, having to accrue power by proxy through sleeping with a crime boss. It is important to look back at these landmark changes in the way people, particularly women, were allowed to write comics to see how far we have come, but also to see how deep some tropes run.
Additionally, Typhoid Mary is yet another example of mental health being used as an easy shorthand for villainy, which as a trend further adds to the stigma surrounding it. Dissociative Identity Disorder, which Mary appears to have symptoms of, is a comic book favourite and so could run the risk of being cliché and harmful. However I can see the potential for this to be a more useful and interesting exploration of it than normal; provided there is a link made between the socialisation of women to believe that only certain behaviours are correct, therefore the only way for Mary’s anger and sexual desires to be released is through alternate personality state, for example. As such I am tentatively curious to see how her mental health is represented and used in the rest of this run.
For a Daredevil comic that has three panels of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, unmoving and silent, it certainly was an interesting introduction. It posed an interesting challenge and I would say that I was pleasantly surprised with what the creative team achieved. There is enough seeding of prior plot points that it was easy enough for me to get the gist of what had been going on, even if the exact timings of DD’s disappearance was not clear. I like the world that DD moves in, there is a depth to it, from the law firm, the scrappy neighbourhood kids, the hooligans at the bar and the ever present Kingpin. By seeing the repercussions of his absence we get to see the true extent of his impact on the world he inhabits. Despite being dropped in the middle of a story arc, I could quite happily read on from this issue, to find out if DD really is dead or not!