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Daredevil swings through NYC as Wilson Fisk monologues about how much he hates him in Devil’s Reign #1 (2021).

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Marvel’s Daredevil crossover is everything event comics should be, but rarely are

Devil’s Reign brings the best of Daredevil to the rest of the universe

It’s beginning to look a lot like a Marvel Event Comic, with Devil’s Reign following the likes of War of the Realms and King in Black by spinning out of an ongoing storyline in a regular series. This time around, it’s Daredevil who gets to take over some other comics for a few months for the first time since the mostly-forgotten 2010 crossover Shadowland.

Can the Man Without Fear find more success being the anchor of a crossover event second time around? All signs point to yes.

Who is making Devil’s Reign #1?

Devil’s Reign doesn’t just spin out of the current Daredevil series, it comes from the entire Daredevil creative team from the past couple of years: Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto, with Marcio Menyz on colors and the reliable Clayton Cowles lettering. Considering how good their run on the regular DD title has been, this is definitely a good thing.

What is Devil’s Reign #1 about?

Armored police officers inform Captain America he is under arrest in accordance with the Powers Act. Steve looks on sternly as one of them starts to pull Miles Morales’ Spider-Man mask off, as the kid begs them not to for his family’s sake in Devil’s Reign #1 (2021).

On the face of it, Devil’s Reign returns to a question that Marvel has explored repeatedly over the years: What happens when superheroes find themselves on the other side of the law? Most obviously, 2006’s Civil War saw Captain America and Iron Man come to blows over the issue, but last year’s Outlawed event had teenage superheroes dealing with the same idea courtesy of “Kamala’s Law” and the shenanigans of the evil Roxxon Corporation. Now, it’s Wilson Fisk – former Kingpin, now Mayor of New York City – who’s banning superhumans from using their powers in the Big Apple.

Things are a little more complicated than they appear, though; Fisk has new outlook on life and power, as demonstrated in Zdarsky and Checchetto’s run; and a new extra special hatred for superheroes from his suspicion that Daredevil has altered his memories (a result of events in Charles Soule’s Daredevil series). Fisk’s actions don’t only affect costumed characters beyond Daredevil, but also New York City’s mundane criminal underworld, which is now being run by his bastard son – assisted by Daredevil’s ne’er-do-well brother, Mike. Behind the scenes, a couple of Point-Oh-One-Percenter ghouls called the Stromwyns are manipulating events, attempting to shape Fisk’s destiny for themselves.

In other words, what Devil’s Reign is really about, just like Zdarsky and Checchetto’s Daredevil, is the use and abuse of power — whether it’s the power of money, policing, criminal bosses, whiteness, or being a trained ninja assassin — and how that impacts those who have no power to stand against it. Only it’s got punching, people in costumes, and Luke Cage’s problems with police. Who doesn’t want to read that?

Why is Devil’s Reign #1 happening now?

The cynical answer is “because it’s December and Marvel hasn’t had a line wide crossover since… what, King in Black ended in April?” (Don’t worry, there have been mini-events, like Hellfire Gala and Death of Doctor Strange and The Last Annihilation in the meantime; it’s not as if there haven’t been any crossovers for the past eight months.)

The more reasonable answer is that events in Daredevil have been building to Fisk’s grand move for some time. Devil’s Reign is that rare thing: a storyline that feels like an organic crescendo from centering around one hero to many. Devil’s Reign #1 could be Daredevil #37 — but because Wilson Fisk has stepped things up, it feels entirely earned to make it an event in its own right.

The grudge match between Fisk and Matt Murdock might still be at the heart of things, but there are many, many other familiar faces caught in the crossfire, as this issue makes clear.

Is there any required reading?

Una and Quinn Stromwyn discuss their manipulations of Wilson Fisk in Devil’s Reign #1 (2021).

I mean, yes. While the “the Kingpin outlaws superheroes in New York” hook is broad enough – and new enough – to be easily grasped by any newcomer with a working knowledge of the Marvel Universe as it exists these days, a lot of the other threads in Devil’s Reign #1 are so rooted in the current Daredevil run that it’s difficult to imagine someone not reading that book fully appreciating what’s going on.

Charles Soule’s earlier Daredevil run might also be a good idea to revisit, considering the role it plays in upsetting Fisk so much that it sets the whole story in motion. If you don’t read those, then you’ll still likely get the main thrust of the story, but … some subplots are probably going to leave you a little cold.

Is Devil’s Reign #1 good?

There’s a scene in Zdarsky’s Daredevil where Matt Murdock is talking to Iron Man, and there’s a reference to the idea that Daredevil is a “street level” hero; Murdock demurs and suggests instead that he’s a “people level” hero. That feels like the key to what the writer is doing with the series as a whole – focusing on the human interactions, and the personal cost characters pay for their and others’ actions – and it’s something that carries over into this event comic, as well.

The central conceit of Devil’s Reign might look like a makeover of Marvel events past – Civil War meets the Norman-Osborn-is-in-charge Dark Reign – but it’s a redo that works better than what’s come before. This first issue keeps the stakes low (no Connecticut town has been destroyed to make this happen) and focuses on emotional responses to what’s happening as much, if not more, than action set pieces. It reads both more believably than the events it echoes, but also more enjoyably.

“This is wild,” says Spider-Man, “What set him off?” “...I did.” Daredevil says sadly, “This is my fault.” in Devil’s Reign #1 (2021).

We feel for these characters, and as a result, putting them in peril works better. There’s a Fantastic Four sequence in this issue that’s thrilling in large part because we care about what the Thing is feeling; we can sense his anger, his compassion. (Not unrelated — we need more Zdarsky’s Fantastic Four, Marvel.)

It’s not just Zdarsky’s writing that gets the credit for that. Marco Checchetto has been doing great work in Daredevil for the past couple of years, and that continues here – there’s a sense of weight and motion to his art, a dynamism filled with physicality. Combined with some neat character acting and dramatic staging of shots, it creates a comic that reads like a more realistic take on superheroes but, unusually, manages to not make the heroes look ridiculous in the process.

Together, Zdarsky and Checchetto have made Daredevil one of Marvel’s best books in recent years. By keeping things small (well, relatively, compared with other event comics) and recognizably human, they might just make Devil’s Reign one of Marvel’s best events in a long time, as well.

One panel that popped

Ben Grimm shields Franklin and Valeria Richards from a hail of gunfire. In the next panel he looks over his shoulder at the shooters with a beautiful and striking expression of pure righteous fury in Devil’s Reign #1 (2021).

Really, you don’t want to threaten Ben Grimm’s family.

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