Review: Daredevil #500 highlights Frank Miller at his best

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

The owner of this reviewer's local comic-book store calls Daredevil the saddest superhero comic book on the stands. He believes that poor Matt Murdock never gets a break, pointing out that the crime-fighting activities of the blind hero known as the Man Without Fear consistently destroy the lives of every woman he gets involved with and regularly wreck his friendships and his career as a defense attorney. This is true. Murdock's even spent long periods homeless.

And yet, for his first decade or so as a character, Matt Murdock's alter ego was sometimes referred to as "the happy-go-lucky" Daredevil; he fought crime with a smile on his face and cracked almost as many jokes as his occasional ally, Spider-Man. It was only after Frank Miller took over the book and built upon a darker direction initiated by Jim Shooter that Daredevil became a tragic figure, as driven by his own demons as he was by his dedication to justice.

Now we have the anniversary issue Daredevil #500 (Marvel, $4.99), which confirms that Murdock's life isn't going to get any sunnier in the near future. The lead story, by writer Ed Brubaker and artists Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudino, Klaus Janson, Chris Samnee and Paul Azaceta, concludes the serial "The Return of the King," with Matt reeling in the wake of the fresh destruction of his legal career and the castastrophic medical condition of his wife even as his old enemy the Kingpin returns to New York to take on the ninja society known as The Hand. With nothing to lose, Daredevil makes a drastic moral compromise that will change the direction of the book for some time to come.

This feeds into a preview of an upcoming storyline, "Dark Reign:The List—Daredevil" by writer Andy Diggle and Billy Tan, which reveals how this will tie in to the nefarious activities of vintage Spider-Man foe Norman Osborn, who's now running the Avengers.

A backup story, "3 Jacks," returns writer Ann Nocenti to the book and pits Daredevil against his perennial enemy, Bullseye. It's little more than a vignette, but it's a good one.

The last of the stories is a reprint of Daredevil #191, "Roulette," which was both written and penciled by Frank Miller. Another Daredevil/Bullseye encounter—even though Bullseye is confined to a hospital bed throughout—it's a reasonable nomination for the single best issue Miller ever did on the series, and it clearly illustrates that the Man Without Fear has long since recovered from being the "Happy-Go-Lucky" Daredevil by this point. We imagine a cross-company crossover where Batman wanders in and cheers him up.

A cover gallery with postage-stamp-sized reproductions of the comic's previous 499 issues (bring a magnifying glass) and a pinup gallery with art by Geof Darrow, Stefano Gaudiano, Rafael Grampa, David Mack, Alex Maleev, Joe Quesada, John Romita Sr. and Patrick Zircher round out the issue. Even Brian Michael Bendis, better known as a Daredevil writer, contributes a page.