By Matt Tuck
Get ready to look at Daredevil #181 in a new light as Frankie's Reviews kicks off with a fresh perspective that reminds us why this is one of the greatest single issues ever published.
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN A+ COMIC
When it comes to the new reviews, those A+ grades will be few and far between.
To reach this level, it takes a mastery of both the pen and the pencil. This is reserved for a truly great comic that combines an engaging and emotional narrative with gripping dialogue along with being a true masterpiece of comic book art. Only a select few will reach this pinnacle.
In other words, to be an A+ comic, it has to be on par with Frank Miller and Klaus Janson's Daredevil #181.
Why am I beginning the reviews with this one? Simply put, this is comic excellence. This is what a great comic should be, and it is the standard to which all others can be measured. Anything less than DD #181 does not deserve an A+.
DD #181 is equal parts short story and samurai movie with cinematic and nuanced art that sometimes venture into the abstract. This issue expertly utilizes the comic medium to tell the story of Bullseye's homicidal obsession and Elektra’s death. While she is famously resurrected in future issues, this is not an issue that is easily forgotten as “death of” comics tend to be.
Relatively unusual for the time, Miller told the story from the villain’s point of view as Bullseye narrates his deeds to Daredevil. Miller then takes the reader into Bullseye’s psychotic and obsessive mind as he breaks out of prison, stalks his prey, and murders the hero’s lover.
What makes his revenge plot unique is his motivation. Rather than embracing the silver age cliché of, say, scheming to take over the world, Bullseye seeks vengeance for being alive.
After their last encounter, Bullseye’s beaten carcass lay on the train tracks, waiting for death to rid him of the shame of defeat, like a mythical samurai reclaiming honor by taking his own life. He would not be allowed this redemption, and he is pulled from the tracks. Daredevil has saved him, and Bullseye hates him for it.
While Miller does not push his readers to feel sympathy for Bullseye, he does give us the inner workings of a single-minded vendetta that we, as readers, don’t want to break from. More so than the hero, Miller is clearly at home delving into the mind of the marquee villain. At times, Bullseye’s narration feels as though Miller himself is speaking directly to us.
THE ART OF STORYTELLING
The legendary combination of Miller and Janson’s artwork is on full display here.
They use the white space of the page as a storytelling tool, accentuating Bullseye’s violence with bare, negative-space frames so there are no distractions from the action. There are moments of abstract art without dialogue that become eerily silent as your eyes follow the panels, likely taking inspiration from Jim Steranko’s psychedelic take on Nick Fury.
Each page could be framed as a work of art, but it is the subtleties in the single panels that add doses of visual psychology to the story. This is on display in the brilliance of a splash of pink used only twice - once for Daredevil’s imagined death on the first page, and a second and final time as Bullseye impales Elektra on her own sai. The pink splash, like a blood splatter at a crime scene, comes to represent Bullseye's rage and the pang of death.
That subtlety is also captured in Miller’s focus on expressive eyes scattered about the comic. In one of the more understated moments, we see close-ups of Bullseye’s uncovered eyes that parallel Matt Murdoch’s reflective sunglasses.
Miller is clearly drawing us to the importance of eyes in this issue from the name Bullseye and having the reader take the journey through his eyes, not to mention the importance of sight in a comic starring a blind hero. The story fittingly concludes on a single panel of our narrator’s eyes.
In the end, then, "Last Hand" is a story about perceptions and seeing the world through someone else's eyes.
A COMIC THAT IS WORTHY OF NOT BEING GRADED
Daredevil #181 is a comic that defies you to have it graded. This issue is better left out of the slab because it is a story worthy of being read simply for the pleasure of reading a comic. It is so layered in symbolism that one read isn't enough. This is what a comic should be, and it is meant to be lovingly tarnished from handling.