Arts and Entertainment

Chip Zdarsky’s Daredevil: To Hell and Back

The Devil We Know.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“But he was the son of God…you are just a man.” 

These lines, spoken to Daredevil by a priest in the very first issue of the Daredevil series, set up the psychological and moral questions that would plague the Marvel superhero in subsequent issues. Adapted in 2019 by writer Chip Zdarsky and head artist Marco Chechetto, Daredevil was first created in 1964 by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. By day, he is lawyer Matt Murdock, and by night, he is a blind street-level superhero who had gained superhuman senses after losing his sight as a child. Comic artist Frank Miller transforms the character by embracing Murdock’s Catholic roots and introducing unbridled tragedy into Murdock’s life. In 2019, Zdarsky took on the horns of the devil after a mixed-reviewed publishing period for the character under Charles Soule. Zdarsky went on to write 50 issues of Daredevil alongside Checchetto, making this the longest period of writing and publication for the series. Zdarsky’s run ended in August, with the final installment marking the culmination of Matthew Murdock’s four-year journey. 

Zdarsky and Chechetto’s Daredevil term is the sum of three separate books: To Heaven Through Hell (2019-2021), Devil’s Reign (2021-2022), and The Red Fist Saga (2022-2023). To Heaven Through Hell lasted 36 issues, and followed Jed Mackay’s Man Without Fear (1993-1994). In this first book, Murdock returns to being Daredevil after suffering a car accident. On his first night back, however, he indirectly commits manslaughter. The next 35 issues and the events of Devil’s Reign are built upon this moment. Murdock reassesses his relationship with God and his work as Daredevil, eventually pleading guilty to the crimes he had committed. The book also assesses prison culture and criticizes the prison system for its inability to truly reform prisoners in preparation for return to society, which suggests that incarceration is a vicious cycle that is nearly impossible to overcome once you have served time.

The final book is The Red Fist Saga. After the end of Devil’s Reign, Daredevil restarted from Issue One under a new title and went on for 14 issues. The story follows Daredevil’s life after Matthew Murdock is presumed dead by the public. Daredevil leaves the city behind after Devil’s Reign in order to fight The Hand, a secret ninja organization that has existed for thousands of years, with Elektra and his mentor Stick. On his way there, Daredevil becomes disillusioned with destiny once again and questions God for all the tragedy he has faced in his life. He then grows impulsive and self-destructive, entering Hell to attempt to save his friends. He returns with his memories of Daredevil erased and becomes Matthew Murdock once more.

In a Daredevil story, there are always two main leads: one is Matt Murdock, and the other is God. Murdock was raised in a Catholic orphanage for the majority of his childhood and found reconciliation in “God’s Plan.” However, once Murdock becomes Daredevil, he begins to question God for all the misfortunes he has faced, including the deaths of his lovers and constant torment from enemies like Bullseye. He blames God for giving him the ability to hear this torment but punishing him for trying to do something about it. This is the recurring theme throughout Daredevil: a man dealing with his powerlessness. Zdarsky masterfully portrays the nuanced relationship between faith and follower through the character, therefore speaking for not only Murdock, but readers who experience similar struggles as well. 

Zdarsky’s greatest accomplishment is the depth he has added to the characters in Daredevil lore. He masterfully manages to articulate the faults of each character through dialogue and story beats that satisfy readers. Zdarsky embraces the character of Matthew Murdock, a man addicted to violence who detests himself for wearing the skin of the devil. Aside from Murdock, Zdarsky was able to adjust the characters’ stories to honor their legacies. For example, Zdarsky developed superhero-assassin Elektra and assigned her the moniker of Daredevil after Murdock’s imprisonment. He moralizes Fisk instead of making him the cartoonish villain other series make Fisk  out to be. Zdarsky gives characters purpose and identities beyond being pawns in Daredevil’s story.

This depth is paired perfectly with Chechetto’s evocative imagery and character design. When assessing the legacy of comic books and characters, the superhero’s appearance is one of the biggest factors in achieving icon status. All of Chechetto’s characters have unique physical characteristics that set them apart from previous versions of the characters. Chechetto accomplishes this by imbuing them with a furthered sense of realism. Elektra is drawn with symbiotic-like hair that fills pages due to its size and depth, distinguishing her from every other character. Checchetto gives Murdock a far more ragged-look, with messy ginger hair and an unkempt beard, which points to Murdock’s deteriorating state throughout the series. The action in Checchetto’s art is superb, which is a diversion from the norm of fast-paced, spotfest action, and instead basks in the impact of each dynamic hit with facial expressions and bodily imagery.

The central issue with The Red Fist Saga, however, is its excessive focus on The Hand. The Hand uses the powers of demons and the dead under the control of Frank Castle, also known as The Punisher. All of these features are not only overwhelming to a reader, but to the story itself; the action raises the stakes far too high in a story about a street-level character.

Writer Saladin Ahmed will continue a new Daredevil series, restarting from Issue One with Father Matt Murdock of the Saint Nicholas Youth Home. Chip Zdarsky and Marco Chechetto’s work on Daredevil has reshaped the identity and future of the character, which has forced a change in Matthew Murdock’s morals and role in society. Daredevil is a timeless character that represents the struggle of guilt in all people. The Zdarsky-Checchetto run of the series was far from perfect, but it established one of the greatest storylines for Marvel’s “Man Without Fear.”