by Andy Diggle & Antony Johnston (writers), Marco Checchetto (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Matt’s conflict with Bakuto comes to a head while the Hand continues to pull the strings.

What’s Good: I’ve really come to love Marco Checchetto’s artwork, particularly as it works in tandem with Hollingsworth’s colors.  The book looks unique in Marvel’s line, equal turns gritty and polished.  I especially enjoyed Daredevil’s fight with hand ninja in the snow; it’s always interesting to see a darker style forced to work with a mostly white palette.  Seeing Daredevil’s red stand out against a white background and a horde of white adversaries works out great and is something different from the usual red on black.  The snowy, feudal Japanese landscape has been a nice change from Hell’s Kitchen and it has made the story feel fresh as a result.

Diggle and Johnston use this vibe to work their way towards telling another story where Matt finds himself in an impossible situation, only faintly aware of the danger surrounding him, manipulated on all sides.  Great Daredevil writers have often found success in putting Matt under tremendous strain and Diggle and Johnston are certainly moving in that direction.  We’re just heading into Shadowland, so it’s just yet a full-on pressure cooker, but already it’s beginning to feel suffocating.  Partially because of his being on alien, unfriendly territory and even moreso because of White Tiger’s betrayal, which he’s still unaware of, Matt Murdock seems completely isolated.

This is especially the case because Diggle and Johnston seem intent on delivering a clear message with this issue:  the most crippling, dangerous, and threatening enemies are those you can only ever, at best, suspect.  Even if they have yet to make their move, their planning and bad intentions alone make for something of a crushing narrative.  At issue’s end, there’s no doubt that the headfirst animosity of Bakuto is nothing compared the greater machinations of his peers.  Hell, Bakuto’s such a lesser evil that he’s almost a sympathetic character by comparison.

What’s Not So Good: Speaking of Bakuto, I was really disappointed with his fate this month.  I was already beginning to have regrets over how Diggle and Johnston used him last month and, with this month’s issue, it doesn’t look like I can hope for any improvement in the near future.  The character has a lot of potential, possibly as an anti-hero of sorts, but Diggle and Johnston have chosen to go for an utterly two-dimensional character despite the fact that the character is practically screaming to be something more.  It’s a shame to see all of this potential essentially ignored and the character instead being used almost as a plot device more than anything else.

This dismissal of Bakuto and the extended action scene with Hand goons also gives the issue something of a more insubstantial feel.  It’s one of those frustrating situations where you can’t particularly say that Diggle and Johnston did anything terribly wrong, but you also get the sense that they’re at times just filling pages on the way to Shadowland.  Basically, Diggle and Johnston are moving the pieces to where they need to be heading into Shadowland, and filling in any empty spaces with action sequences.    This results in an unfortunate lack of genuine emotion or gut-wrenches despite the book’s certainly having moments that could’ve elicited this: a character death, a torn and distrusting protagonist, and a manipulative “friend.”  All these scenes felt a little more concerned with overall plot than characterization and emotion.

Conclusion: It’s hard not to look forward to Shadowland.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans