Guardian Devil Part 5: Devil's Despair by Kevin Smith & Joe Quesada
One Sentence Overview: Daredevil consults Dr Strange as to the mystical origins of the baby whilst Karen makes a fateful decision
If one were in any doubt of Matt's wavering faith that comes and goes like the tide, his visit to Dr Strange in order to divine if there is any mystical element in a cross given to him by Nicholas Macabes confirms that he is willing to resort to means rather frowned upon by the Catholic church should he be so inclined. Even here, Matt hesitates - murmuring in his confused state that he "should've known better than to trust a practitioner of the black arts".
At first, though, it appears he needn't have bothered Stephen - the problem isn't a mystical one, rather Strange detects a finely concealed hallucinogen that has sent Daredevil - and Karen - into overdrive. Which explains Matt's rather peculiar and very cruel behaviour in recent issues . Unsurprisingly, Nicholas Macabes or whoever he is -, a discarded newspaper elsewhere notes that his visage is identical to that of a recently murdered actor in Hollywood - has been leading Daredevil on a merry dance.
Strange, with a quick spell, brings Daredevil to his senses (in a side bar, Matt notes that he must apologise to Natasha - I should think so too).
Having popped in on the Master of Mystical Arts, though, it would be a shame if Daredevil didn't allow Dr Strange to summon his old pal, Mephisto, for a chat and maybe a slice of cake.
Mephisto passes on the cake but his reappearance does allow Kevin some space to tackle yet more theology. The creature from the underworld, indeed, is much surprised by Daredevil's angst over whether Gwyneth's baby (Remember her? The unintentional cause of all this grief in the first place?) is the resurrected Jesus. Mephisto, ironically noting that he appears to have been brought forth "to instruct as a Sunday School teacher", points out that the Book of Revelation(s) states that it's much more likely that Jesus would return in adult form rather than resort to infantilization. It's somewhat peculiar to see Mephisto admonishing Matt for not reading his Bible.
Before he leaves, however, he does inform Matt that something terrible is about to befall him, hinting that it might impact upon his mother. This leads Matt dashing to Sister Maggie's church, wherein he finds nearly a dozen dead at the hands of that old charmer, Bullseye. If ever one were to feel somehow sympathetic to that particular villain, the pictures of dead parishioners and Maggie's sickening recollection of "the things he did... to Sister Anne" should serve as a reminder that this is a man containing very little humanity. Never mind what happens next.
That involves Karen, who has turned up at the church at the worst possible time. Her return is precipitated by an excellent passage, reminiscent of the opening two pages of the first chapter of the saga, where we have a brief insight into the thoughts and feelings of Ms Page. Sitting in Central Park, we find Karen reflecting on her life, how she has performed many roles, more than a few of which have defined her as a victim rather than someone in control of her own destiny. But that's probably not what is most heartbreaking. She reflects on her yo-yo-ing relationship with Matt - how she has both sought him out and abandoned from time to time, also realizing that she too has been betrayed by him.
I once read somewhere that drama thrives on conflict. That means that when heroes that are part of ongoing long running dramas, whether that be through comic books, serials or soap operas, can never truly be afforded much happiness. If nature abhors a vacuum, then the comic book landscape abhors any sense of its characters being content. As such, one could argue that Karen and Matt's dysfunctional, often tragic relationship is compelled by meta-themes that are outside their control. In terms of the characters themselves, it reflects rather badly upon them. They both yearn for each other, seek each other out, despite the fact that inevitably they will hurt each other in some way. And frankly, for all Karen's lifestyle choices that Matt babbled about so bitterly in the previous issue, it seems to me that the failings in their relationship fall more squarely in Mr Murdock's court than Miss Page's.
There is a real tragedy then in Karen's final decision - to return to her lover, not, as she has done previously, to "collapse into your arms, hoping you'll fix it all" but as equals, sentimentally believing the notion: "Two broken souls that together can be whole". Finally, and probably truthfully, she concludes, "I need you now, yes... more than ever. But you need me... just as much." When she gets to the church and actually has the bottle to hold a gun to Bullseye's head and pull the trigger, the weight of those brave words ring true. Alas, the barrel is empty but what follows, for one final time, demonstrates how much Karen is willing to sacrifice for her ex-employer.
Just a word, before we finish, on Joe Quesada's great work thus far. Joe's backgrounds and borders of the pages in this storyline have often been excellent and, here, I love the Celtic knots that accompany the early scenes with Strange.
All in all, then, a terrific, gut wrenching issue - an epochal moment that is, thankfully, delivered with heartbreaking precision.
Dr Stephen Strange
Rating: 10 out of 10