Friday, June 08, 2007

Devil May Care

My Justice League Unlimited post will have to wait. Last night and today, I’ve been keeping tabs on a couple of conversations that have hit a nerve.

Some people are up in arms about the preview of the upcoming Daredevil issue in which Daredevil’s wife Milla is attacked in their apartment by an enraged supervillain, the Gladiator.

Here’s the relevant portion of the text. You can see the preview here.

Karen Page. Elektra. All the women Matt Murdock has loved have been violently taken from him, victims of unspeakable tragedies and in Daredevil #98, his wife Milla Donovan may be next! The Gladiator has returned, more enraged and brutal than ever, with one purpose in mind: making Matt Murdock suffer! With the defender of Hell’s Kitchen in police custody and the Gladiator alone with a terrified Milla, things aren’t looking good for the wife of Daredevil…and history isn’t on her side either. The penultimate chapter of “To The Devil, His Due” will have huge ramifications for Daredevil as he races towards the milestone Daredevil #100.


With his wife’s life in peril and seemingly no way to reach her, Daredevil may be headed for the worst day in life. One thing’s for sure—by the end of this issue, no one’s going to be the same!

People are upset about this for two reasons:

1) The marketing is playing up on the old “this woman might die!” trope.
2) The preview shows that Milla is in her underwear while being stalked. (What’s probably the most relevant page of the preview is at right.)

All well and good. The marketing copy’s not particularly original, and a bit smug about the way it dangles Milla’s potential death in front of the customer. And, well, she is in her underwear. (Although I don’t think Michael Lark’s art is salacious in the least. It’s possibly a bit lurid… but if there’s a comic out there where a guy who dresses up like a devil fights a guy with buzzsaws on his wrists in the big bad city that isn’t lurid, I don’t want to see it. Lurid’s part of the show, and it belongs in Daredevil, just like it has no business in Superman.)

But what gets my goat – or as Ed Anger would say, what gets me pig-biting mad – is when people get angry that she’s put in that sort of jeopardy in the first place.

She’s a supporting character. That’s what she’s there for.

We know Daredevil can’t be that vulnerable. It’s his book, and he’s a Marvel franchise. Captain America, currently dead, isn’t that vulnerable. He’ll be back in one form or another, and it’s not just because Marvel needs to keep the trademark alive. It’s because he’s a hero, and if he’s dead for part of the story, that’s only because the story isn’t over yet. So it’s no use threatening Daredevil in the solicitation – he can’t die. He can only change, and even that doesn’t happen very often.

Which is why supporting characters exist. They’re the ones to threaten if you want to sell more issues. They can be killed, because their death doesn’t end the story, but if done well it could change the hero, and give the readers something new for a while. It’s not their only job – a good supporting character also brings exposition, story springboards, complications and character development to the table. But a heightened sense of danger is one of their most important functions, and here Brubaker and Lark are doing a top-notch job with her.

Here’s what Brubaker had to say on the Newsarama thread about the underwear choice.
Also, when I wrote the script, she was in a nightgown. But Michael thought, and rightly so, that being in her underwear was both more vulnerable, and reminisent of the scene where she first met Bullseye.
Both of those are good reasons to dress her that way. It can go horribly wrong. Her state of undress can distract from the telling and reading of the story, rather than heightening it. If she were drawn like Jim Lee’s Vicki Vale in All-Star Batman & Robin #1 (at left), it certainly would have detracted from the story. But Lark’s too good for that. His depiction of Milla doesn’t excite a male reader – it worries them. Her vulnerability comes across on the page, whereas Vicki just looks like a lingerie model. Yes, this sort of thing has been done poorly many times before – but that’s no reason to jump on someone who’s doing it well.

For the record, I don’t think Milla is going to die. She’s too good a supporting character to throw away like that, and Brubaker’s smart enough to know it. Daredevil has a small enough supporting cast as it is, and she pulls her weight. Here's how:

She’s a love interest, but interestingly, she’s not the love of Daredevil’s life. That distinction belongs to the deceased Karen Page, who Matt keeps getting reminded of despite his marriage. Brubaker clearly likes playing with that idea – so why would he throw that away when he can do more with it. There’s great guilt potential here.

She’s blind. Daredevil is also blind, but he uses his superpowers to “see,” which is something of a cheat. So Milla’s presence reminds us of Matt’s blindness – allowing for that crucial bit of exposition for new readers – as well as grounding his disability in reality. (This could be a plus or a minus, depending on how well it's handled, but I see it as a plus.)

We don’t know a whole lot about her, since they married in a year that former writer Brian Bendis fast-forwarded through. There’s a load of storytelling possibilities there waiting to be dreamed up.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. (I don’t even know what happened in the last few issues, since I read the book in trade paperback collections.) But I think a smart writer would consider the story possibilities in Milla. He’d weigh them against writing her death (which, as the solicitation notes, has been done before with other characters) and a Daredevil’s Revenge story (again, done before. Ho hum.) and go with the outcome that excited him most. I know which one I’d choose. And I'm confident a writer as good as Brubaker is has little interest in treading over the same old paths when there's new ground to be broken.

Have a little faith in the Devil.



Travis said...

To me there are way to many people worrying about what Milla is wearing over what is actually going to happen to her.

Rob S. said...

I think they're worried about both -- but most people, at least, seem to be foused on the marketing of the issue rather than the fact of the action.

Frankly, I think she's going to get through this ok -- although it may strain or break her relationship to Matt.

Travis said...

Truthfully, I have no problem with the way it is marketed. They simply chose the route they thought would sell the most copies, and with this much discussion I believe they succeeded.