Recommended: Brian Michael Bendis, “Daredevil: Lowlife” (Marvel Knights 6)

Spoilers galore ahead

Not a graphic novel. These are 4 issues which are part of a much larger story arc where the Kingpin loses everything and nearly gets it back. Daredevil stops him, but at a curious cost. Prior to stopping him, Matt Murdock’s secret is exposed to the tabloids and he is eager to embrace a new love. At the end of the next 4 issues (“Hardcore”), Daredevil presents a battered and bloody Kingpin to the hoods that want him back and unmasks himself, proclaiming himself – Murdock – the new “Kingpin.” Except, of course, he wants all crime out of his neighborhood. Bendis’ characters start wondering, in still later issues, about the necessity of organized crime. Superheroes make too effective rulers, displacing all the problems of their area elsewhere. As completely public figures, they will of course make a shambles of their personal life.

Quite honestly, the story gets well out of hand with the end of “Hardcore.” Still, the latter should be read. Kingpin’s all-too-sudden reascent is bloody and brutal. Bendis specializes in giving his stories a cinematic feel and Maleev’s art conveys just how much Kingpin needs to be stopped. There’s no denying it: Daredevil is by far Marvel’s best superhero. It is impossible to not cheer him on; his mistakes are our mistakes.

What made my hair stand on end with “Lowlife” was how Hell’s Kitchen – Daredevil’s neighborhood – came to life in every detail. The way this happens is by having the characters tell where they are by being themselves. The comic starts with two women discussing whether an old building is a “historical landmark” or a “fleabag motel that used to be a brothel.” If the latter, why not convert it to a homeless shelter? The visuals are striking and contain important information. The two are walking in front of a health food store. A “Vintage Thrift Shop” is nearby. Hell’s Kitchen is undergoing gentrification. A series of panels not too long after visually establish that criminals are scared to death of Daredevil. Is he the cause of Hell’s Kitchen bringing in more money? Or would hipsters find some new place to spread like vermin? There’s no way to tell, but the question isn’t merely left lingering. One of the women from the conversation falls for Daredevil.

And that makes the heart of the story. Daredevil’s date imagines a time when Hell’s Kitchen had gangs which protected various little communities that lived in a dangerous, unstable America. Daredevil himself is thinking about what will make a permanent change where he lives. The cops, thinking Murdock a suspect in a crime, then pick on a blind man and his date.

There aren’t many writers of anything who hone in this well on questions of class, dignity and whether things were better before. (And I have to say, if I had conversation on a date as good as that Matt Murdock had, I’d be married already.) What’s funny is the depth of irony. Daredevil’s date – Milla Donovan – discusses the history of Hell’s Kitchen with passion while literally being romanced. However, she’s the one who starts the comic saying “Nostalgia is a state of inarticulate contempt to the present and a fear of the future.” Articulate contempt and a want of a better future have to arise from somewhere. You can’t help but feel the real reason superheroes wear silly costumes is their lack of shame. Life’s too short to think about the ironic consequences of thinking and doing one’s best.

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