Let’s face it, the trailer for Marvel’s Daredevil shown at New York Comic Con this past weekend was sort of underwhelming. A minute-thirty of stuff we’d already seen. Then, thirty seconds of quick cuts showing a few scenes; Matt, Karen, and Foggy in church, Daredevil in costume descending some stairs, Elektra putting on a face mask, Claire Temple working at a hospital, and what we must assume is Frank Castle, The Punisher, skulking about that hospital’s hallways armed and dangerous.
And “bang”, it’s over. And… eh. Maybe it wasn’t enough for me. Maybe I just didn’t care because I’m already determined to marathon all of Daredevil Season 2 as soon as Netflix puts it up. But people! This season is supposed to be all “Punisher vs Daredevil”, right? If you’re really fixing to see that, let me give you a little comic-booky-somethin’-somethin’ to keep that hype train moving into 2016. Let’s hope the show starts with a story as cool as Matt and Frank’s first meeting over thirty years ago.
The year is 1982. That means Frank Miller is smack in the middle of his landmark Daredevil run. Our hero has just been put through the ringer: dealing with the return of his archenemy Bullseye, the death of his past love Elektra, and the certainty that she isn’t going to come back with ninja magic. (Again, this is 1982… so Jean Grey’s the only one to shrug off death so far.) All while this is happening, The Punisher has been enjoying his time at Ryker’s Island getting up close and personal with some prisoners. He’s been offered a shot by a federal agent to stop a big narcotics move, and has used the opportunity to also escape from prison.
Frank Castle is back on the streets. His one-man war on crime has brought him to Hell’s Kitchen. And he’s going to leave one big impression on Daredevil.
This is all you need to know before DAREDEVIL #183, “Child’s Play”, begins. PCP has hit a local school in a big way, claiming the life of twelve-year-old Elizabeth O’Koren. Matt Murdock is on the scene when it happens, and even his acrobatic agility of Daredevil isn’t enough to get her to the hospital in time to save her. Her brother Billy is distraught, outraged, that his sister is dead and the two drug dealers responsible are still out there. He’s determined to take the law into his own hands, and Daredevil is just as determined to stop the criminals involved before Billy ends up hurting himself or others.
Much like a reporter doing old fashioned legwork, Daredevil hits the streets in a civilian-clothed disguise to uncover more about this “Hogman” chaaracter and any of his associates. His search ends up running him afoul of some kids, using and looking for a fix. In his hesitance to pummel them as he would any unsavory character in his neighborhood, he takes a few hits before being saved by… you guessed it… THE PUNISHER! Frank had been following Hogman’s drug dealing partner, Flapper, and despite Daredevil throwing a garbage can to prevent him from killing some punks, doesn’t appear hostile to our hero. This meeting is cut short by Flapper’s assassination by a rooftop shooter, and the discovery of Billy O’Koren armed with a smoking gun where Daredevil expected to find the shooter.
Things come to a head– Billy is adamant that he choked, failing in the moment and firing a bullet into the air. His heartbeat tells Daredevil that he isn’t lying, and now it falls to Matt Murdock to prevent any misgivings about Billy’s innocence in a court of law, whether he’s a minor or not. Daredevil gets a brief rundown about The Punisher from Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, and gives the crime scene one more look with his Radar Sense to determine the presence of a second shooter, a sniper, on a higher rooftop behind where Billy stood. Just as he finds a bullet casing, evidence enough for the case to no longer be a dead end, The Punisher is shaking down a junkie on an adjacent rooftop, apparently having had the same idea the very next night.
There’s a lot of convience in this story, Punisher showing up in Daredevil’s investigation twice, but the next part of the comic is worth the price of admission. Now, I like a lot of things about comics that are often unnecessarily complicated, as big as multiverses and as small as character relationships charts. But when it comes to sheer simplicity there’s one thing I’ll always love, and that’s when authors can emphasize exactly what you need to know in a single page. As an attorney, Daredevil believes in the law. He believes that his own methods as a vigilante are a means to that end, so that even criminals have their day in court before being put away fairly and justly. The Punisher does not share that sentiment. He is a man so consumed by the death of his family and his war against crime, the mercy of a jury is undeserved. Of course, this is still Marvel Comics, ideologies severely contrasted or no. Surely what we have here is just a classic Marvel team-up, where two heroes meet for the first time and beat the crap out of each other before reconciling a misunderstanding and fighting the real bad guy. Right? Right?
Reading this in 2015. it is a little astonishing to see The Punisher outright discard a weapon and try to make peace with another costumed hero. I’m going to tack this one up to him being early in his criminal-killing career, and having very scarce superhero exposure outside of gunning after Spider-Man a few times and another time he also met Nightcrawler. Daredevil makes a bold, if foolishly Lawful Good kind of move to try and bring the Punisher in for his own crimes, and gets a tranquilizer bullet to the gut for his trouble. The Punisher gets so wrapped up slapping this junkie around, his victim has a heart attack. Frank moves on, and Daredevil manages to get the heart beating again, picking up a lead on Hogman’s location. Events skip forward to the courtroom, where the junkie’s witness testimony exonerates Billy O’Koren and instead fingers Hogman for the crime of killing his own associate.
But the turnabout doesn’t stop there… Hogman’s declaration of innocence before the judge leads Daredevil to believe that he, despite his obvious career as a criminal, was not responsible for the death of Flapper. Be it Catholic guilt or something else entirely, Matt feels responsible for the events that have transpired, and goes so far as to defend Hogman as well, hopefully to finally determine who the true culprit was. The Punisher, exercising and watching the story unfold on TV at the time, is steeled into action, armoring up and preparing to end this once and for all.
But what happens next? The story continues in DAREDEVIL #184, of course!