Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Marco Checchetto and Mattia Iacono
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Hell’s Kitchen rallies around Matt Murdock in the soaring Daredevil #20. Everything is at stake and everyone is at risk when the Stromwyn crime family unleashes their ”nuclear option” on Hell’s Kitchen — in this case, a gaggle of supervillains, led by the redesigned Bullseye. Standing in the path of total destruction is Matt, his improvised billy clubs and a few intensely unlikely allies.
But what could have been just another rote fight comic becomes something much more cathartic and emotional in the hands of Chip Zdarsky. Serving as the finale of his “Inferno” arc, Zdarsky’s sweeping action and reorientation of Matt in his vigilante persona provides the title a thrilling climax, tied with a bow thanks to a momentous cliffhanger. Coupled with purposeful scripting with the muscular and stylish artwork of Marco Checchetto and Mattia Iacono, and Daredevil #20 is a standout issue of an already standout series.
Opening with a bleak text page, Chip Zdarsky sets the pace and tone early and then just keeps building on it. Hell’s Kitchen has become a dead zone. Cell phones and the Internet have been cut, but a scared citizen with a landline gets a word to Foggy Nelson and Ben Urich. War has come to Hell’s Kitchen, and it comes in the form of a supervillain team-up.
From there Zdarsky throws readers headlong into the pitched battle. Matt and Detective Cole North are barely holding their own against Bullet and Bullseye. But then things go from bad to even worse when the Rhino, Silt-Man, the Owl, Typhoid Mary, and Crossbones join the fray, wreaking havoc across the neighborhood in cinematically garish displays of destruction by Checchetto and Iacono. We have seen this kind of multi-baddie pile-up a few times now in the pages of Daredevil, but Zdarsky’s version carries so much more weight here.
For one thing, he uses the fights to frame a very real new self-actualization for Matt. Everything that has happened so far in this run has led to this moment. His latest bout of depression, his cold war with Detective North, and his very public struggle with the “fake” Daredevils have gotten Matt to this point, facing down these villains for the fate of the Kitchen. In the larger picture, this is a fight for Matt’s soul as Daredevil as well and Zdarsky doesn’t shy away from it. Instead it makes it explicit text, talking us the reader through Matt’s thought process with more of his tersely poetic narration.
In the even more macro sense, Zdarsky uses the finale as staging for some true development for the title overall. As Matt starts to atone for his actions in costume, the neighborhood overall starts to stand up for itself. It starts small, as various Daredevil-masked citizens protect Daredevil and North in a real pitched moment, echoing shades of the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie. Later it becomes even more explicit, as the Owl’s henchmen abandon him and stand with the vigilante, citing that Owsley as “lost sight of what matters.” Even Mayor Wilson Fisk stands with Daredevil, trading blows alongside his bitter rival and the chaotic Typhoid Mary in some momentary face-turns from both villains. It all just feels and reads so rich, and signals some very interesting places Daredevil could go next as a title.
And if the multi-villain chaos sounds too jumbled, Marco Checchetto and Mattia Iacono keep the action clear and crisply rendered throughout. The most obvious example of this is Matt systematically and methodically bringing down each of the villains with their own momentum and equipment. It starts as a fairly static establishing scene, highlighting the geography of the street and what Matt is focusing on (called out in the panel by deep red “radar vision” balloons). But then when Matt springs, Checchetto and Iacono slot together the panels like intricate puzzles, highlighting where Matt is going next, what he is grabbing next, and where it is precisely going in a bravia, bone-crunching set piece.
The pair even display a keen sense of scale in the opening pages as well, as Daredevil takes on Stilt-Man and Rhino attempting to protect a historic church. Boosted by Stilt-Man’s impossible telescoping limbs, Matt springs and leaps high into the air, the POV of the panels twisting and turning with him as they ascend and fight above the rooftops. It isn’t as showstopping as the later sequences, but it’s a fun bit of scaling from an already impressive art team.
Another chapter closes for Matt Murdock in Daredevil #20 and it does so in a grand, highly effective fashion. But while this finale is a showy one, Daredevil #20 also brings to the table some great development, both for Matt Murdock and the title as a whole as it prepares to enter its next arc.