No one said Daredevil ever had it easy.
By the early 1990s, ol' hornhead had been stripped of his law license, sanity and girlfriend in Frank Miller's classic "Born Again" arc, lost his love Elektra and possibly found her a few years previous and had literally been to hell and back under writer Ann Nocenti.
So when writer D.G. Chichester took the reins of the title along with penciller Lee Weeks and inker Al Williamson, you couldn't blame fans if they were thinking it'd all been done before when it came to Daredevil. Lucky for them, it hadn't.
The game plan for Chichester and Weeks was clear from the beginning: Bring Daredevil back to basics. No more wandering through the heartland, no more amnesia, no more eco-villains. Daredevil in New York, practicing law and fighting injustice.
The culmination of their run was the four-part "Last Rites" story arc, which ran from Daredevil #297 through #300 and answered a question fans had been asking since Daredevil and the Kingpin first crossed paths: Why doesn't Daredevil take down the crime boss?
Dealing with the Daredevil-Kingpin relationship was a major part of not only bringing Daredevil "back" but also part of having the character move forward, Chichester said.
"My whole 'pitch' to get the book was based on two things," Chichester said. "1) Let Daredevil finally take down the Kingpin. The 'You cross this line one more time and I'm gonna...' routine had gotten old and stale and needed a payoff. 2) Using NYC as a 'character' in the story, and giving the neighborhoods and locales and such real 'identity,' as opposed to just generic cityscapes."
"They always tell you 'write what you know,' and as I was living in NY at that time, what better chance to play off that?," the writer continued. " And it invariably worked out well. For example, the end game between Daredevil and Kingpin at the Port Authority Bus Terminal was choreographed by me walking through the real bus station and photo referencing stuff for Lee for every shot of the battle. After that, Lee naturally super-enhanced the whole thing with his visual style."
"Last Rites" and the bus terminal scene stand out in Weeks' mind as high points for the penciller.
"The Fall of the Kingpin storyline will always hold an important place for me in my career," Weeks said. "I am proud of the work Dan and I did there. There were some special 'moments' in that story. I think one of the most exciting moments was when Daredevil was chasing down Kingpin through Port Authority. The page just prior to the big splash/crash was a great use of time compression. Dan's scripting was reaching new heights in that, in my opinion. I remember the phone call where I was so giddy telling him how great a job I thought he did on that page.... 'A man filled with panic....and a man without fear.' It's still great."
"Last Rites" built on various plot threads the creators had been subtly weaving since first signing onto the book. Getting Matt Murdock back on his feet, while still providing interesting challenges and storylines in the wake of "Born Again" was the theme of not only "Last Rites," but the majority of the Chichester/Weeks run.
"Here was a relationship that had grown cold and old," Chichester said. "The Kingpin kept messing with Daredevil, Daredevil kept storming into his office and essentially saying, 'I've had it with you, fat man! You get in the way of justice one more time...no, I mean it, really, this time I'm serious...okay, so you crossed the line again but you do it just once more and...It made Daredevil look prissy and ineffectual, and also took a lot of the charge out of the Kingpin. There was no surprise in his next craftiness because you knew it was just going to keep going and going and…"
"So I thought it was time to turn it on its head. Let the hero do what he says he's going to do for a change, and with a raw character like Daredevil, that was a lot more natural than having a Captain America do it, for example."
"I also thought it opened a lot of more dramatic doors for the Kingpin, as well. His back history says he worked his way up from the docks, a real street level thug who ascended to his throne. That's something that had never really been seen. So in taking him down, we had an opportunity to build him up again in similar ways and see a new face/cunning to the character. We got to see a little of the background in the scene in the fabric warehouse fire."
"My mistake in all this was not beginning that rebuilding process sooner. Part of that was conscious -- I didn't want to jump right back in right away, thinking that it would keep readers more off guard if he just vanished. Not the typical thing, where normally the villain is back the next issue already on the rise again. However, in retrospect, I gave it too much time before I started to reintroduce his rise -- the price of hubris, thinking I actually had time on my side to continue to shepherd these characters!"
Though clearly similar to "Born Again" as far as the themes and characters used, Chichester is clear: He didn't set out to make Last Rites a response to the now-classic Miller piece.
"I wouldn't call it a response," Chichester notes. "It was a way of bringing Daredevil back to being Daredevil - or at least a particular grounded version of him. All together, my take was to drive home Daredevil as that city protector/avenger I suggested previously."
"I always thought Ann's stories were beautiful, evocative stories, but not necessarily always Daredevil stories. So - in my mind, and again what I based my pitch to get the book -- it was time to reel him back in from this Easy Rider, exploratory/introspective role, and give him more grit and gristle. A partnership with Lee also made that a natural, as his style just suggested such potential in exploring those kind of stories and themes."
Getting Murdock his law degree back was also critical for Chichester, who saw the "blind justice" aspect of the character as too important to let sit on the sideline.
"I wanted the law back into it because the dichotomy of the lawyer and the vigilante always struck me as a great contradiction, and great fodder for internal and external drama," Chichester said.
Also important was the character of Karen Page. Originally the secretary for the law office of Nelson and Murdock, Page had fallen into drugs and porn and was the cause of many of Daredevil's troubles with the Kingpin. It was in fact Page who sold Daredevil's secret identity to score drugs. Information which found its way to the Kingpin.
"Karen was an interesting character to explore, because I thought she had interesting things to say about pornography and its effect on her and society - a nice way to inject another layer into the stories as they moved forward," Chichester said.
"I wasn't so jazzed to simply get Matt back with Karen 'for the sake of' as I was in playing with the role reversal - at one point Karen had eyes for Matt and he was playing it cool. Now - okay, then! - was a good time to let it run in the other direction and see where it took him."
While Chichester isn't sure where the story stands in comparison to other great Daredevil tales, he knows he and Weeks succeeded with their goals for the series and hopes it shows in the work.
"Where does it stand?" Chichester said. "I know it's better than a lot of Daredevil stories - including some of my own. I don't know - I would never presume to say it's 'as good as' or 'better than' the 'Elektra Saga' or 'Born Again.' I don't know the Kevin Smith/Joe Quesada or Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev runs so I can't even try and compare there. I can only say that folks who read it really seemed to enjoy it, and for that I'm glad - and that seems to speak volumes about how well it stands up."
Editor's Note: This story originally ran on Newsarama December 4, 2002.