By: Mark Waid (story), Javier Rodriguez (art), Alvaro Lopez (inks)

The Story: Remember, kids—bullying only gets you shot by your own judge.

The Review: As someone who doesn’t read as many Marvel comics as he should, I don’t have the right to opine too broadly about their style and purpose.  I think it’s safe to say, however, that Marvel likes to emphasize the humanity of its characters, portraying them as deeply flawed and frequently petty people.  It might not fit the noble, saintly profile you might expect from DC superheroes, but if anything, it makes their virtues even more admirable.

That seems most clear in Matt’s care for Foggy as he finally undergoes cancer treatment.  In a brilliant use of Matt’s powers to develop story, Waid opens on our fearless hero nauseated and heaving from the enhanced smell of Foggy’s treatments.  “I know he needs me, but I can’t go back in that room.  I just can’t,” he thinks.

From inside, Foggy’s weakened voice calls out, “Matty…you there?”

Slowly, Matt straightens his back, puts on a big grin, and strides right back in.  “Where else, buddy boy?  Turn on the TV.  I wanna know how Hulk is doing on ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’”  It’s a joke, of course, but it’s also a commitment to stay in there, enduring his aural torment for as long as it takes.  In that scene, we get a moment that’s at once funny, but also heartbreakingly tender, such that you might chuckle through your tears.

The opening is so powerful that you remain intent on the issue even as it reaches its more complicated later stages.  Confronted by a figure from his distant past, Matt must not only relive one of the most painful periods of his life, but also grapple with the idea that some of his pain wasn’t entirely undeserved.  Matt as a young boy may have had his problems, but some of them were his and his alone, like the total, even mean, arrogance he had in regards to his dad and his own intellect.  Even as he tries to defend himself, there’s a hesitation in his voice that suggests he realizes the truth of his childhood jerkiness.

Still, a little youthful boasting and lack of socialization doesn’t mean he deserved the treatment he received at the hands of Nate Hackett, ex-bully and now seeking legal aid from his former victim.  Despite his rambling life story, Nate is really a very unsympathetic figure, owning up to his poor choices, but not entirely taking responsibility for them.  Waid better have a plan in place for introducing this character in the first place, forcing us to endure some rather windy exposition and butchered legal jargon* only to leave us at the start of a whodunit.

Rodriguez definitely emulates Samnee’s retro-classical style, particularly in his very sequential, storyboard manner of moving the story forward.  In most instances, the linework is smooth and fleet enough to almost trick you into thinking Samnee drew it, but there are a number of panels that get a little scruffy around the edges, almost in the way microscopic bumps and jags would mar the work of Tony Akins on Wonder Woman.  Overall, though, Rodriguez can draw a pretty picture when he puts his mind to it, like the cover-worthy splash of Daredevil bounding across rooftops on his way to work from his night activities, a tie flapping in the wind.

Conclusion: The issue starts off strong, but gets a tad sluggish in its second act due to a questionable amount of exposition.  Still, a site better than most of the other mainstream books out there.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * As a budding law student, I somewhat enjoyed the courtroom drama, but was more often than not puzzled by Matt’s theory of the case.  Much hinges on whether the Serpents could be considered a criminal group at the time Nate joined and when he got arrested, as well as how and why Nate got arrested in the first place—which Nate conveniently leaves vague.  The holding of NAACP v. Alabama is also not entirely persuasive here, because it depends on how the cops got hold of the Serpents’ membership list in the first place.

– Matt describes Nate as a child this way: “Snarling, unthinking, numb to everything but his own cruel delight.”  Sounds a bit like Dr. Phil, doesn’t it?