Back Issues [Dare-DAY-vil]: Daredevil #181

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-received big-screen adaptation in 2003 and a critically-successful Netflix series. Still, he’s one of my favourite Marvel characters so today is a great excuse to pay homage to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”.

Story Title: “Last Hand”
Published: 29 December 1981 (cover-dated April 1982)
Writer: Frank Miller
Artists: Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

The Background:
The 1960s were a golden age for Marvel Comics as Stan Lee teamed with legendary names like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby to create some of comicdoms most iconic superheroes. Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett created their most challenging hero yet when Matt Murdock/Daredevil debuted on 1 April 1964, and the Man Without Fear would go on to be one of Marvel’s most popular and enduring characters thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of writer/artist Frank Miller. The then up-and-coming Miller joined the book in 1979 with issue 159 and soon took over writing duties as well as pencils; responsible not just for the creation of Elektra Natchios but penning some of Daredevil’s most influential stories. Easily one of his most memorable stories was told in this special, double-sized issue in which he made the shocking decision to kill off Elektra at the hands of Marv Wolfman and John Romita Sr’s Bullseye. Although Elektra would be resurrected (and killed again) in later years, this doesn’t change the impact of her first death and Miller’s storyline was so pivotal to Daredevil’s character that this storyline was adapted in both the live-action film and the Netflix series.

The Review:
“Last Hand” opens with Benjamin Pondexter, the assassin known as Bullseye, stewing in a prison sell on Ryker’s Island and fantasising about blowing Daredevil’s brains out; after being humiliated by the Man Without Fear time and again, Bullseye is no longer satisfied with a clean, simple kill and desires to make him suffer, to break him, to hear him scream in agony. Bullseye’s hatred is palpable and made only worse by the fact that Daredevil could have left him to die in a subway but actually saved his life, demeaning him even further in his own eyes and those of his fellow inmates. While training his body in anticipation for his eventually rematch with Daredevil, Bullseye is crippled by one of his agonising headaches; although the brain tumour he once suffered with has been fixed, he suffers from debilitating migraines and is dependent upon pills to stave off the pain, which is just one more thing he blames ol’ hornhead for. During one of his few moments of reprieve out in the yard, the shackled Bullseye has a tense confrontation with Frank Castle/The Punisher, who is currently locked up as well, who delights in taunting Bullseye with the knowledge that Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin has replaced him with a new assassin-for-hire.

Bullseye, driven by hatred for Daredevil, escapes from Ryker’s after learning he’s been replaced by Elektra!

Enraged by this, and driven to have his revenge against Daredevil, he accepts an effort to appear as a guest on Good Evening, New York; however, when he feigns a headache, he temporarily blinds an armed police officer by spitting the pill in his face and causes the cop to shoot his shackles with an errant shot, thus freeing him from his shackles. Bullseye wastes no time grabbing the downed officer’s gun, gunning down his guards, and taking host Thomas Snyde as a hostage. Bullseye shoots his way out into the yard and, incredibly, is able to throw off a sniper and commander their helicopter using little more than a pistol and a microphone cord! Although he’s eager to track down Daredevil and get his revenge, Bullseye first heads over the Eric Slaughter’s hideout for a lead on the assassin who replaced him; there, he learns that the old man’s freelance organisation is preferable to Bullseye’s more erratic and dangerous ways, and promptly beats the crap out of two of Slaughter’s men. Impressed, the old man willingly gives information the name he requires: former ninja Elektra, who has been instructed to assassinate Matt Murdock’s best friend, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. Bullseye’s reputation is such that Slaughter fears him almost as much as, if not more than, the Kingpin and lends him the services of his men. They put together a file on Murdock and Nelson for Bullseye and he is amused to the point of hysterics at the similarities between Murdock’s pictures and Daredevil, finding the idea of a blind superhero to be hilarious.

Bullseye and Elektra’s brutal fight ends with her skewered on her own sai!

Bullseye begins following Murdock, watching him perform in court and being sickened by his good nature and humanitarianism; he literally slaps a bug on Nelson’s back so he can listen in on them and slices a taxi cab driver’s throat in order to obtain some wheels to follow Foggy’s cab. Quite conveniently, Foggy’s cab has been commandeered as well: by Elektra! Foggy just about pisses his pants when Elektra pulls over and prepares to execute him with her sai, but he saves himself when he realises that he recognises her as a girl Matt hooked up with when they were back in college. Although she falters in her duty because of her memories of her whirlwind romance with Matt, Elektra’s senses are attuned enough to hear Bullseye approach her with a pistol and she instantly springs into action: she disarms him with a leaping kick and catches him off-guard with her speed, strength, and skill. Their fight spills into a parking lot, and Bullseye uses his knowledge of ninja training to turn the tide against Elektra, matching her blow for blow but ultimately gaining the definitive upper hand when he tosses one of his razor sharp playing cards at Elektra’s throat, cutting her open and leaving her completely helpless as he grabs her and stabs her in the stomach with one of her own sais! Mortally wounded and bleeding out, Elektra staggers through the crowded streets to Matt’s flat, where she dies in his arms. Bullseye can’t help but be present when Matt and Foggy are called in to identify Elektra’s body and learn her cause of death; he heard Foggy mention that Elektra used to be “Matt’s girl” and is curious when Matt seems to stiffen up upon hearing his voice, as though he recognises him, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that his suspicion that Matt is secretly Daredevil is true by throwing a scalpel at Murdock’s head only for the blind lawyer to block it with his walking stick.

Bullseye ends up crippled but no less determined to one day further torment his foe.

Armed with this knowledge, Bullseye brings this revelation to the Kingpin, supporting his hypothesis with medical evidence, but Fisk finds the very idea of a blind man being Daredevil preposterous. He does, however, assign Bullseye the task of killing Daredevil and bringing him his body, so the assassin heads to Murdock’s apartment to finally have his revenge…only to be blindsided by Daredevil! Unbeknownst to Bullseye, Matt has set up a decoy of himself, which is enough to throw off Bullseye’s confidence in his hypothesis, but he’s no less eager to get into it with his hated rival. Bullseye lures Daredevil to the rooftop and adds a psychological edge to their fight by wielding Elektra’s sais; their brutal clash sees them plummet through a skylight, battle across an elevated train track, and finally come to blows on a precarious wire over the city street. Since he doesn’t have Daredevil’s superhuman balance, Bullseye slips and falls and is enraged when his foe catches him; determined not to suffer another humiliation at Daredevil’s hands, Bullseye prepares to stab his enemy with a sai but, surprisingly, Daredevil drops the assassin to the street below with the intention of ending his murderous ways. However, given that Bullseye has narrated the entire issue, you may have guessed that the fall doesn’t actually kill Bullseye; although even the Kingpin believes him to be dead, Bullseye lies fully bandage in a hotel room with a shattered spine and unable to move his limbs. However, he takes solace in having hurt Daredevil, both by killing Elektra and breaking his friend Matt Murdock’s heart, and in his hatred. Though he cannot move or speak, his hatred is as strong as ever, if not stronger, and he vows to find his way back and continue hurt Daredevil until he’s finally dead.

The Summary:
“Last Hand” is certainly a unique Daredevil tale for a few reasons: first and foremost, it’s told entirely from Bullseye’s perspective. Right from the first panel, we’re let in on the twisted, hate-filled internal monologue of one of Daredevil’s most notorious foes and he’s portrayed as a sick, remorseless, calculating villain throughout. Taking a perverse pleasure in toying with and killing his victims, Bullseye is dangerous and lethal with even the most harmless of everyday objects; while his hatred towards Daredevil is great, this never clouds his judgement or ability; instead, he’s surprisingly observant and conniving, able to deduce that Matt and Daredevil are one and the same to the point where he absolutely nails everything about the Man Without Fear’s origin to the smallest detail, only to be met with scorn from the Kingpin and successfully duped into disregarding his theory thanks to Matt’s trick. Interestingly, though, Bullseye’s crippling headaches don’t factor into the story at all once he’s out of Ryker’s; you’d think that maybe this is what would cause his downfall in the end, but this plot point is completely forgotten once he’s garbed in his familiar outfit and back on the streets, as though finally returning to action cured his debilitating pains.

This is Bullseye’s story, and he not only changes Matt’s life forever but almost figures out his dual identity!

Another way this story stands out is just how little Daredevil actually appears in it; when we do seem him, it’s either through Bullseye’s memories or as a quick flash over to Murdock’s daily routine as a parallel to Bullseye’s time in prison. Thanks to Bullseye’s constant narration, Daredevil is seen as a stoic and grim vigilante, a far cy from his wise-cracking debut, one who is as focused and formidable at fighting as Bullseye. When we do see Matt and Foggy, they’re painted as “saps”; the kind of do-gooders who sicken Bullseye and he only takes an interest in them because they can lead him to his replacement and when he suspects that Matt is Daredevil. We learn very little explicit information about how Elektra’s death impacts Matt; since we are never privy to Matt’s thoughts beyond the few words he says in the story, the entirety of his emotions is told through the artwork. This is strikingly effective, as entire fight sequences and panels pass without any text, and Matt’s morose pain and rage are expertly conveyed in his no-nonsense approach to engaging with Bullseye. It’s also quite interesting seeing the Kingpin outright dismiss the idea of blind Matt Murdock being Daredevil; in time, Fisk would learn that this was actually true and set in motion an aggressive campaign to physically and mentally destroy his foe, but it’s amusing to see just how close he (and Bullseye) came to the truth only for it to be sacked off as being patently ridiculous. Sadly, we don’t really get much insight into Elektra here; like Daredevil, she’s a person of few words, and all of her emotion and turmoil is told through her facial expressions and her fight sequences, which paint her not just as a conflicted and formidable individual but, ultimately, as a victim of Bullseye’s sadistic lusts.

Bullseye pushes Matt to the limit, and sets him on motion towards a dark and destruction path.

Finally, the issue stands out by having a major character being so brutally killed off. There’s a case to be made that Elektra, a trained ninja assassin from birth, should have been able to best Bullseye in their fight but I think the story does a decent job of putting them on equal ground thanks to the emotional blow of suddenly being reminded of Matt and Bullseye’s trick cards. The panel of Bullseye skewering Elektra will forever be iconic, no matter how many times she returns from the dead, and seeing he stumble across town to be with Matt in her final moments was truly heart-breaking. It’s clear from Matt’s stoic expressions that he’s in great pain at her loss, and seeing him launch into an all-out assault when Bullseye brandishes his former lover’s weapons conveys just how personal this fight is for Daredevil. Indeed, it drives him to critically injuring Bullseye; Daredevil’s promise that Bullseye’ll “kill no one – ever again!” could be taken two ways, I believe: either Matt intended for the fall to kill the assassin, or he aimed to cripple him as the final panels show him to be. Either way, it’s a pretty dark place for Daredevil to go and shows just how sour and morally questionable his life as Daredevil can be at times. Overall, this is definitely a pivotal story in Daredevil’s long history and well worth a read for fans of the character, or those who want to explore him further, but maybe it suffers a little from not seeing things form Matt’s perspective; obviously, subsequent issues would delve into this in great detail but it might have been interesting to switch back and forth between Bullseye and Daredevil’s inner thoughts just to get a sense of what’s going though Daredevil’s mind.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read “Last Hand”? Were you a fan of Elektra and, if so, what did you think to her death in this issue? What did you think of the story being told entirely from Bullseye’s perspective? Did you enjoy the fights in the story or do you think Elektra was given the shaft? Would have liked to see Daredevil’s thoughts in more detail? What do you think of Daredevil as a character and which storyline of his do you think is the best, or the worst? How are you celebrating Daredevil’s debut this year? Whatever you think about Daredevil, sign up to drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

One thought on “Back Issues [Dare-DAY-vil]: Daredevil #181

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s