Friday, October 21, 2016
MYTHCOMICS: DAREDEVIL: LOVE AND WAR (1986)
A comment from fellow blogger A. Sherman Barros reminded me of this interesting Miller/Sienkiewicz collaboration, completed during the same year that they began their collaboration on the 1986-87 limited series ELEKTRA ASSASSIN. LOVE AND WAR is paced like a longish short story, while ASSASSIN is structured more like a novelette. I'll henceforth abbreviate the first title to LOVE, for the symbolic discourse of the story has much more to do with love than with war.
To be sure, the story is rooted in the ongoing conflict between Daredevil and his crime-lord nemesis the Kingpin. However, though the hero swashes a few buckles here and there, this is more of a dramatic tale than an adventure-story. Certainly it has little in common with the comic irony of ELEKTRA ASSASSIN, where the heroine's credo was that "no one is innocent." In LOVE, all of the action centers upon an innocent "damsel in distress," though there's a certain irony about the way her damsel-ness registers upon many of the males in the narrative.
Love is the cause of the Kingpin's lastest crime. His wife Vanessa-- whom, according to Miller, he rescued from an obscure low-wage life-- was injured during the events of Miller's first run on the DAREDEVIL series. Vanessa had been up to a point successful in getting the Kingpin of Crime to retire from criminal activity, but her injury-- which came about indirectly because of her husband's involvement in criminal affairs-- also had psychological consequences. At the beginning of LOVE, she's entered a neurotic state of regression. The Kingpin decides to engage the services of Doctor Paul Mondat, a noted psychotherapist. But being a manipulative SOB, Kingpin wants to make sure the physician brings all of his resources to bear. Thus the crime-lord gives his thugs orders to abduct Cheryl Mondat, the significantly younger wife of Paul, who is also blind and has implicltly married the doctor after having been his patient at some point in time.
So far as getting Paul Mondat to co-operate, Kingpin's scheme is successful. However, the kidnapper selected to abduct Cheryl Mondat is a dangerously unhinged junkie named Victor. Whenever Victor appears, Miller treats the reader to the lunatic's never-ending mental ramblings-- among which is a line of thought in which he convinces himself that he and his kidnap-victim are in love. That Cheryl remains sedated during her abduction is no barrier to Victor. In fact the woman's utter helplessness spurs the kidnapper-- whom Siekiewicz renders as if the man were some weird human-mandrill hybrid, put through some Picasso-like fragmentation process-- to think of Cheryl as a princess, and he Victor as "her most loyal knight."
Daredevil learns about the snatch, and gets on the trail. He succeeds in finding Cheryl, though Victor escapes. The hero takes the unconscious blind woman back to Matt Murdock's brownstone, and assumes his civilian identity in order to talk to her when she wakes. As Murdock he convinces Cheryl to stay hidden, without telling her that he plans, as Daredevil, to liberate her husband from Kingpin's grip. He also manages not to tell her that he's almost as besotted with her helpless beauty as Victor is.
As it happens, though, Paul Mondat has found his own weapon to gain leverage against the crime-boss. As Vanessa begins to regain some of her normal responsiveness, she becomes dependent on Paul, and experiences only fear at the nearness of her husband. Paul, for his part, begins to feel a protective instinct toward Vanessa, and is perhaps a little tempted by her as well: "When [Vanessa] wakes and sees me-- I can only think of Cheryl-- She is much like Cheryl was-- before Cheryl became-- so capable."
During Paul's mental rehabilitation of Vanessa, he succeeds in making her become dependent on him. Then Paul challenges Kingpin to retaliate. As "beauty killed the beast" in KING KONG, Kingpin is utterly unable to deny his beloved wife anything. Thus, by the time Daredevil successfully breaks into the villain's stronghold, his mission is made irrelevant. Kingpin has given both Paul and Vanessa their freedom, and the wherewithal, to leave the country.
As for the damsel in distress, she does get some agency in the end. The demented Victor, using more luck than skill, tracks Cheryl to Murdock's brownstone and tries to kill her in the delusion that he's saving her. Instead, against all probability she manages to kill Victor. Daredevil's only function in the "happy ending" is that at some point he manages to return Cheryl to her husband. On the next-to-last page, Paul and Cheryl, along with the recuperating Vanessa in a wheelchair, prepare to board an airplane and return to Europe, where Vanessa will receive further treatment. The story's last image is that of the Kingpin, his bulk filling the panel, as he contemplates the temporal power he enjoys, even as he tries to forget the loss of the wife who now hates and fears him.
There can't be much doubt that Miller wanted to make a comment about the tendency of men to feel the "Sir Walter Reflex." However, Miller isn't explicitly condemning the reflex, as an ultraliberal feminist would prate about men not giving women agency. Miller seems to suggest that the protective instinct is hardwired into the male genome. (However, if there is a feminine "nurturance instinct" in women, it seems not to manifest in most of Miller's females.) It's significant that Cheryl, despite her being blind and inadvertently attracting almost every male character in the story, does prove, as her husband says, "capable." This trope was also seen in the character of Becky Blake of the DAREDEVIL series, and though Miller did not create her, arguably he gave her as much or more agency than did her writer-creator Roger McKenzie.