What if Daredevil actually got to be happy?

Bloggified by Jake on Monday, January 16, 2006

What would be a week of all things good in comics without mention of Daredevil #181? For all the praise that issue get--and rightfully so--very seldom do you hear about Frank Miller's supplemental reading to his masterpiece, What If...? #35.

What If...? books are traditionally the home to stories where everyone gets killed and everything that went right goes wrong. For example, in one we learn if anyone other than Peter Parker had been bitten by the radioactive spider, they all would have died because they weren't smart enough to build Spidey's web shooters or because they never learned through Uncle Ben's death the lesson about great power and it's relationship to great responsibility. In another, when Uncle Ben doesn't die, Aunt May gets snuffed instead.

What made this issue different was that the original story had already been a downer. A significant character had already died. How could you top that? If Bullseye didn't kill Elektra, was she going get elected president and get American and her allies into a war with Iraq on false intelligence losing us the respect of pretty much every foreign nation?

Instead of following the traditional What If...? route, Miller decided to run a reverse.

And on that note, let me stress Miller decided to run a reverse. Frank Miller provided the script and the pencils, not Peter B. Gillis and George Tuska. Not Don Glut and Rick Hoberg. The Goddamned Frank Miller.

The first difference in this story is that the Watcher isn't speaking to us while narrating the tale from his observatory on the moon. Instead, the story begins with Matt Murdock alone, mourning at Elektra's grave when a stranger approaches. His face is hidden behind a fedora, darkness, and rain, but we still recognize the Watcher. Instead of telling us the story, though, he speaks to Matt.Obviously, Matt's wondering things like what could have happened to save Elektra or whether he and Elektra ever could have been happy together and he gets his questions answered.

One benefit of having Miller pencilling this story is the art looks exactly the same as it did in #181, begining with an homage to Bullseye's fantasy about shooting Daredevil through the head with a rifle.The story hinges on the moment in the original when a prison guard had Bullseye in his sights during the escape, but hesitated for half a second before pulling the trigger. That half-second made a huge difference, as Matt Murdock is about to learn.

As in #181, Elektra kidnaps Foggy, but decides not to kill him. The art for these two pages is lifted almost directly from the original issue, but now we reach another turning point from the original. When Kingpin learns Elektra has failed, he can't send Bullseye to kill her, so instead he sends about a two dozen goons to her safehouse, like lambs to the slaughter.Elektra manages to take down the 20 or so thugs, but gets shot in the shoulder. Knowing Kingpin is out to get her and knew of her safehouse, she hides out at Matt's place. Matt has spent the night--having heardhis ex-girlfriend tried to kill his law partner--scouring the city trying to find Elektra and have her arrested. When he returns home to find her bleeding, he announces he's taking her in. She explains that Kingpin has put out a hit on her and if she goes to prison, she'll be killed there.Three days later, Foggy gets concerned that he hasn't heard from Mattand goes to his brownstone to make sure he's okay. Instead, he meets a real estate agent and the place is empty. Meanwhile, Matt and Elektra have gone off to a tropical island paradise to live happily ever after.Granted, it's sappy, but that sappiness is helping build up to the big finish. The Watcher pretty much admits Matt would be happy if only Elektra's lived, and keep in mind he's not telling the readers, he's saying it to a quiet man staring longingly at a headstone who hasn't said one word this whole time. "Yup, you're miserable, but you were thiiiiiiissss close to lifelong happiness." You're a cold muthafucka, Watcher.

He wraps it up by pointing out the silver lining that doesn't seem like much to Matt at the moment, but knowing Matt the way we do it has to be one of those truths he can't deny, much as he'd like to ignore it right now.So the moral is: "You might have been happy, but you're not. Now get on with your life."

Truly one of the few What if...? stories that actually compliments its source material.

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