184 pgs., full color; $19.99
(W: Charles Soule; A: Goran Sudžuka, Alec Morgan, and Ron Garney; C: Matt Milla)
Charles Soule is an attorney. This, of course, makes him a natural choice for writing the adventures of Marvel Comics’ most famous lawyer/superhero, Daredevil. (He did already have a run on Marvel’s other prominent lawyer/superhero She-Hulk, after all.) In his current run on the character, which kicked off in early 2016 with a new #1, Soule has used his past experience to add verisimilitude to Daredevil’s civilian adventures as blind lawyer Matt Murdock who, in the interlude between this series and the previous Mark Waid/Chris Samnee run, has returned to New York City and joined the District Attorney’s office to work for the first time as a prosecutor. In Supreme, the fifth collected volume in Soule’s run, Murdock takes on perhaps his greatest challenge yet: the Supreme Court.
The setup: after a session of confession, Murdock’s Catholic guilt pushes him toward a bold plan for penance to “end crime once and for all” by making it legal for superheroes to testify—anonymously, in costume—in criminal proceedings. To accomplish this, he sets up a sting on a group of also-ran supervillains going by the name of the Munition Militia, listening to their planning session via his superhearing powers and then sending in fellow heroes Echo and Luke Cage to make the bust. When one of the villains, Slug, goes to trial, the prosecution calls Daredevil to the stand to testify. Crazily enough, the plan works in lower court, an earth-shattering verdict that draws the attention of the Kingpin, who starts a two-prong attack to ensure Murdock’s plan doesn’t survive an appeal. First, he hires Legal, a former attorney for Tony Stark who has never lost a case, to kill the case in appeals court. Second, he hires Tombstone, a nigh invincible mob enforcer, to kill the attorney himself. Will Matt even make it to the next trial? And if he does, how can he possibly win?
Soule’s expertise as an attorney lends credibility to what could have easily been a fairly preposterous scenario. Building off of the basic legal tenet that the law accepts confidential testimony from certain informants already, expanding that protection to superheroes makes a certain amount of sense, and while there is also a certain amount of “comic book-y” theatricality to some of the twists and turns to the legal plot, it never quite passes over the line into unbelievability. It’s a fine line between striving for realism in the courtroom aspects and writing a dull legal treatise, but Soule manages the mix well by setting up the two sides to Kingpin’s plot, regularly injecting the story with enough action to keep the story from becoming just a talking head legal drama while the legal drama amplifies the excitement in its own way.
The majority of Soule’s Daredevil run has been illustrated by Ron Garney, whose bold layouts, skill with action, and impeccable use of blacks made him an excellent choice for the pulpy stories found elsewhere in Soule’s run. Since Garney doesn’t quite work at the speed required for a monthly book, it made sense to have him work ahead on the next, more action-oriented arc (also included in this collection, and discussed later). Filling in on the first two issues of the five-issue “Supreme” arc is Goran Sudžuka, a Croatian artist who filled in ably for Pia Guerra on Y: The Last Man and Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman. Sudžuka is not a particularly showy artist, but he is well suited to this material, drawing realistic people in a variety of settings with backgrounds that set the scene and camera choices that keep even the talkiest of talking heads scenes interesting visually. His art is consistent and appealing, realistic yet appropriate for the action sequences as well, a mixture of Ron Frenz’s ‘80s Marvel action-oriented style with the clean line of Jamie McKelvie’s work on The Wicked + The Divine.
Not faring quite as well is Alec Morgan, a relative newcomer (his first comics credits were in 2015, mostly fill-in work plus the five-issue miniseries Battlestar Galactica: Gods and Monsters) who takes over for the latter three issues of the arc. Where Sudžuka goes for realism, Morgan is highly stylized, his characters sporting line-covered faces often twisted into grimaces (and looking oddly devoid of emotion when they’re not). Naturally, he does his best work on the most freakish characters: Legal, with his scrawny body, bald head, and blank face that channels both malevolence and a robot-like coolness; Tombstone, with his ghoulish face and mookish attitude; and (in a special cameo) She-Hulk, in all her fully-Hulked-out brutality. Where Morgan struggles more is in the kind of artistic skills that don’t grab attention but are evident in their absence, things like scene-setting—his backgrounds are generally minimalist to nonexistent, leaving colorist Matt Milla to establish changes in scene with changes in color scheme, a technique that works until Morgan draws a large panel with inexplicably small characters that draws attention to the lack of detail. Another weakness is in the subtle acting of the talking head legal scenes, although this fortunately improves over time—a three-page conversation between Legal and Murdock before their Supreme Court appearance nails the subtle game of one-upmanship that Soule was going for. Still, given predilection for action, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the final showdown in the Supreme Court is illustrated metaphorically as an actual fight scene. It’s kind of preposterous, but it at least plays to the artist’s strengths. When concentrating on his strengths, one could easily envision Morgan excelling on a title in, say, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe, but for this particular story, he’s an odd fit.
Also included in the Supreme collected edition (side note: this review is based on the individual monthly issues, published in Daredevil #21-28, not the actual collected edition) is the three-part “Land of the Blind,” which sees Garney returning for a tale that sends Daredevil to China in search of Blindspot, his student/sidekick who had previously been blinded by supervillain Muse. These three issues return the book to the ‘70s kung-fu flick atmosphere Soule and Garney channeled so well in their run’s earlier arcs. With the arrival of the Hand as villains, comparisons to Frank Miller’s storied run on the title are inevitable, although to my eye Garney seems to be taking more cues from inker Klaus Janson with his gestural, scratchy ink lines. As with everything Garney draws, the arc is a feast for the eyes, as well as an interesting next chapter in the developing mentorship between Daredevil and this junior hero.
Soule, Garney, and company had their work cut out for them, both by following Waid and Samnee’s impeccable run and by incorporating Asian elements sure to draw comparisons to Miller and Janson. Yet this deep in their run, the team has managed to make the book their own. The “Supreme” arc, with its believable legal drama, is an interesting and unique animal, while “Land of the Blind” gets by on its pulpy writing, dark atmosphere, and visually stunning illustrations. There’s certainly enough action and excitement in each issue to keep you coming back for more the next month. | Jason Green
Click here for an interview with Charles Soule about the “Supreme” arc, courtesy of Marvel.com.