Monday, June 12, 2017

DAREDEVIL #181

"LAST HAND”
Story & Art : Frank Miller | Finished Art & Colors: Klaus Janson
Letters: Joe Rosen | Editor: Denny O’Neil | Supervisor : Jim Shooter

The Plot: In prison, Bullseye fantasizes about revenge on Daredevil. Upon learning that Elektra has replaced him as the Kingpin’s assassin, Bullseye accepts an offer for a TV interview and uses the event to stage a daring escape. He learns from Eric Slaughter that Elektra has been assigned the task of killing Foggy Nelson, so Bullseye tails Nelson the next day until Elektra makes her move. When she ultimately lets Foggy go, Bullseye attacks and kills her.

As he spies on Nelson & Murdock identifying Elektra's body in the morgue, Bullseye suspects Matt Murdock is actually his arch-enemy. He goes to Matt’s brownstone and attacks, but Daredevil appears to fight him off. Ultimately DD wins, and this time, rather than saving Bullseye’s life, he lets the assassin drop several stories, crippling him.

Later, as Bullseye lays in traction, unable to move or speak, he fantasizes about revenge on Daredevil.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Bullseye is incarcerated under the name Benjamin Pondexter, which dates back to the Roger McKenzie days, though here he identifies it as one of many aliases he's used and refuses to disclose his true name.

Bullseye recalls Daredevil saving his life in issue 172, though there is no footnote. Also, even though his tumor was removed in issue 169, he still suffers agonizing headaches as a side effect. He feigns one of these headaches to facilitate his escape.


Bullseye is told about Elektra by the Punisher, recently arrived in prison. This is setup for a storyline coming a couple issues from now (and also a reminder of a time when the mass-murdering Punisher was absolutely not a protagonist!).


Bullseye is interviewed by Tom Snyde, apparently a parody of late night TV host Tom Snyder, who first appeared in issue 169 interviewing Matt on television — which was also a Bullseye-centric story, strangely enough.

Eric Slaughter makes his first showing since issue 168, and his physical appearance has changed somewhat. He used to have a distinctive look all his own; now he sort of resembles IRON MAN’s Justin Hammer (who was himself based visually on Peter Cushing).


Foggy recognizes Elektra from college as “Matt’s girl,” prompting her to let him go rather than kill him.


My Thoughts: It's another first person narrated issue, this time from Bullseye (interesting we've had two of these so far, but neither from the series’ title character). Miller does some fun stuff with the technique, having Bullseye imagine things while the artwork depicts those things happening — sometimes correctly and other times differently from what Bullseye imagines.

But there are a few things far more important about this one than who narrates it. First is the fact that Bullseye correctly deduces Daredevil’s secret identity and brings that information before the Kingpin, who laughs it off despite mountains of evidence in its favor. Of course Bullseye himself is soon convinced he was wrong, but it seems like a bit of a stretch that he'd back off so easily. It feels more likely to me that, rather than deciding his initial idea was wrong and the incident at the morgue was a hoax, he would more likely look at it the other way around and continue to believe his theory, convinced that DD’s coverup at Matt’s home was the deception. This could've been an interesting way to go: Bullseye, the only criminal around who knows for sure that Daredevil and Matt Murdock are one and the same, is unable to prove it to anyone else.


But it seems Bullseye is easily convinced he was wrong and writes off his idea immediately. Interestingly, a few years later during Miller’s brief second run on DAREDEVIL for the “Born Again” serial, Kingpin will once again be presented with the idea that Daredevil and Murdock are one and the same, but this time he will believe the it and act upon the information.

And then of course we have the death of Elektra. Miller introduced her in his very first issue as writer, #168. He followed this up with an occasional sub-plot page before her next major appearance in issue 174, at which point she essentially became a regular supporting cast member. Now, a mere thirteen issues after he brought her in, Miller kills her off. Certainly this is not the end of Elektra's story, and Miller will get great mileage out of her in death over the final year of his run, but it still feels almost like a waste. She was a promising character with an interesting backstory, but at this point it almost seems she was created merely to die — eventually.

But perhaps that's Miller’s point here — death is random and comes for everyone at some point, and no one, regardless of talent or promise, can stop it.

Lastly, a minor note: I've always found it fascinating that the “Special Double-Size Issue!” blurb at the top of the cover is nearly identical to the one that adorned the classic UNCANNY X-MEN #137. It's not precisely the same, but it's a very close match — so it seems someone actually grabbed a copy of the X-MEN issue and more-or-less reproduced that blurb specifically for DAREDEVIL 181 as well, for some peculiar reason. Marvel didn't have any sort of standardized paste-up for this sort of thing at the time; most such issues had their own unique blurbs — so it seems odd to me that anyone went to this much trouble rather than just laying out a newly-lettered one.

4 comments:

  1. For a lot of my time reading comics as a younger man, I had a few comics that I considered favorites that were somewhat predictable. The first comic I considered my favorite, one I read cover to cover constantly, absorbing every detail, until I could quote it without the comic near me, was, of course, X-Men 137.

    The next one?

    "You're pretty good, toots. But me? I'm magic."

    Everything Miller had done to date on Daredevil, every single issue, most every subplot, was building to this. It was an exquisitely done piece of comics plotting, details being laid seamlessly together across four characters-Daredevil, Elektra, Bullseye and the Kingpin-to produce a story where no detail was wasted, not a single panel, not a single line.

    At the time, Elektra's death (and yeah, even then I knew that wasn't a permanent state) was shocking and startling, but if you read the whole arc leading to it, it was inevitable. Matt has always been an emotional weakness to Elektra, even as she grew more towards outright villainy by trying to kill Ben Urich, and it is her weakness towards Matt that sets her up to be vulnerable just as Bullseye attacks.It might seem like a waste of a character, but Miller set up her demise here so perfectly that it hardly matters (and makes her eventual return that much more satisfying, though it's arguable she never achieved these heights again, even by Miller.)

    Bullseye's story is all pay offs too, brilliantly done; his escape from custody is a masterpiece of planning and execution, the joking character he was long forgotten. He handles Elektra almost with ease, and I did like the part where he figures out who Daredevil is, and wish more had come out of it.

    And then, of course, the pay off for yet another long simmering story, where Bullseye's desire for revenge collides with Daredevil finally deciding to act on stopping Bullseye once and for all, in a flat out amazing fight scene. You mentioned how Miller had learned over the run to let the visuals tell the story, and here he does it perfectly. He lets the narration fade away until the climax, where the stories of Daredevil and Bullseye reach their apothesis, and Daredevil says his sole line (as DD) in the story.

    The ending, where Bullseye is trapped in an even worse prison than he started in, still wanting revenge, while we see a haunted Matt Murdock, is perfect. Everything about this comic is perfect. It's still an all time favorite, even if it was knocked out of being my favorite a few years later.

    Masterpiece doesn't do it just. It's the best thing Frank Miller did, regardless of the stature of his work to come. It's amazing.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with this issue! For me personally, having read neither when they first hit the stands, I place UNCANNY 137 above this one -- but that's probably just because I'm more an X-Men fan than a Daredevil fan. That said, I'm certainly with you on this issue being a certifiable masterpiece. For me, it's probably the best single Miller DD issue, and the way in which it pays off so much of what came before is outstanding. I stand by my assessment that it seems a waste to kill of Elektra so soon, but if one looks at Miller's run in a vacuum -- as sort of a single "novel" -- then it comes at just about the right time.

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  2. It's impossible to not notice the parallel to Miller's later THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and how Bullseye, like Joker later on, escapes from their incarceration by the means of a television interview.

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    1. Good catch! I admit I've never been a huge fan of DKR and I've really only read it one time, so I had forgotten about that parallel.

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