Today: a Daily Double! A Double DD!
Daredevil (1998) #61
By Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, August 2004
Appearing seventeen years ago, this issue of Bendis and Maleev’s rotoscoped noir Daredevil finds Matt Murdock and Natasha suddenly crashing back into each other after a long hiatus. The Widow has just been called off an assignment and told to disappear—by Nick Fury himself. Global politics is at play, and Nat is pissed, so she shows up at Matt’s brownstone for some comfort, and maybe some action. Meanwhile, Matt is moping (shocker) because his wife Milla has filed for divorce.
Each dumped in their own way, the former lovers reconnect. Bendis’s Daredevil discovers, as he enters his Hell’s Kitchen block, that someone is there, and then identifies Natasha by her heartbeat: “that thick rhythmic pounding that never varies. That never skips or jumps or accelerates. … The heartbeat that never tells me when she is excited or lying. ….”
I like this detail about Natasha’s heartbeat in the ears (“ears”) of Matt Murdock. And here’s your Double DD: It reminds me of Mark Waid’s description of how Matt interprets Captain America’s heartbeat as the latter waits in ambush: “It beats like a Sousa march” (Daredevil (2011) #2 (September 2011–ten years ago!). If we take Matt at his word, Natasha’s “entire body is a self-crafted instrument of deception.” She has trained her heart itself never to fluctuate, a detail that lets us enjoy even more her expression on receiving Fury’s texts to abort mission and disappear. What that might mean in the bigger picture of the many, many brainwashings and body switchings and such that the character has experienced–that’s something that will have to wait for now.
I’m not including the more cheesecake panels as Natasha surprises Matt as he enters. The brief conversation that follows, Maleev’s representation of what seems a PVC version of a Black Widow costume, holding Daredevil’s duds suggestively, suggest that Natasha’s real motive is to seduce Matt into a nostalgic superhero duo night on the roofs of Hell’s Kitchen, slipping into a different routine than what happens between Matt Murdock’s silk sheets. (Yes, Bendis specifies the material.)
But, just as her heartbeat conceals excitement and deception, her proposition conceals her real motive: to get some press from Ben Urich. Why? Just to tick Nick Fury off.
The sense of aborted missions, failed marriages, ambivalence or dread surrounding every obligation and role, their need to hide from a reality that has hunted them down, seeking the comfort of an older time and relationship that Matt and Natasha both know could never have succeeded: if we reconstruct what the rotoscope was capturing of the 2004 zeitgeist, it reveals a standoff in American ideological conflicts: foreign policy; the culture wars; actual wars that are just now just kind of ending, as Kabul is falling this week in 2021. Coming out of the Cold War and the tepid but secretly roiling Clinton years, the early 2000s were like a rebound relationship with unbridled patriotism, but without the pleasure of being long settled in it, and also without as clear and evident an enemy as the USSR after decades of anti-red propaganda had primed it for that role. Also: a sense of lawlessness, exceptionalism, and poisoned morality abound in this book and in the years of George W. Bush’s wars.