Saturday, July 13, 2019

Guardian Devil Part Seven: The Devil's Demon (Marvel)
Daredevil #7 When: May 1999
Why: Kevin Smith How: Joe Quesada

The Story So Far...
Matt Murdock has found himself caught in a struggle between heaven and hell - or so he's been told.

It all began when a frightened teenager entrusted him with her child. The infant is purported to be the second-coming of The Redeemer, announced by angels -- but the demon Mephisto says it's all a lie!

Struggling through ominous scripture, demonic visitation, and the death of Karen Page, Daredevil is at last ready to discover the truth: He has been the private audience for an illusion created by Mysterio!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Daredevil 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Mysterio 5 (Professor)
Speed: Daredevil 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Daredevil 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Daredevil 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Daredevil 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Mysterio 4 (Arsenal)
Total: Daredevil 26 (Metahuman)

Matt Murdock was robbed of sight when he was doused with toxic chemicals as a boy, but his other senses were also greatly enhanced by the same accident! As a result: Daredevil observes the world better than most thanks to his unique bat-like radar sense -- but can he see through Mysterio's illusions?

DD is certainly no stranger to battling the deadly foes of Spider-Man! So far we've seen him take down Tombstone in Daredevil #90 & #91, mix it up with old Spidey frenemy The Punisher in Daredevil #257 and Daredevil (Vol.2) #55, and even kick Scorpion's symbiote-enhanced tail as part of a superhero team-up against The Sinister Twelve in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #11!

Those battles showcase Daredevil's fighting prowess and agility, but the primary weapons of Mysterio are misdirection and subterfuge. This was succinctly demonstrated during his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #13 when he was able to disappear into a cloud of smoke while also obscuring Spidey's ability to sense danger! Can he beat the human lie-detector that is Daredevil, though?

When DD fought The Jester in Daredevil #75, he was able to sense something not immediately apparent to the world -- the vague shift of demonic possession.

Yet these same razor-sharp senses were able to be subverted by Typhoid Mary's low level telepathic influence in Daredevil #255. Most damningly, he was duped by Deadpool during a chaotic clash in Contest of Champions II #4, using only a simple tape recorder, props, and the façade of a perilous scenario for an infant -- a playful reference to today's featured fight.

The battle comes at the end of a steady campaign of psychological torment orchestrated by Mysterio. DD's been visited by "devils", witnessed the murder of Karen Page by his worst enemy, and been compelled to kill a baby he was led to believe might grow up to be the Anti-Christ. He's clearly off his game.

Will it be enough to give Mysterio his grand sendoff? Let's find out!

The Tape: Daredevil Ranking: Daredevil (#14)

What Went Down...
With the veil of horror at last breached, Daredevil comes face to face with his tormentor -- or at least face to dome. Mysterio promises more talking than action for his grand denouement, but Daredevil doesn't plan to comply...

A straight red fist knocks against Mysterio's tempered dome, knocking him off balance. A wild backhanded fist sends him stumbling to hands and knees. The vengeful devil looms through smoke as a billy club into his hand, but Mysterio stays his beating with a reminder of the imperiled youth DD has come to save.
The pause allows Mysterio time to engage the super-strength of his enhanced suit. He channels it into an uppercut that launches Daredevil off his feet!

Trading the floor to his target, Mysterio reveals the soundproof vacuum that is the baby's predicament. An airless deathtrap completely hidden from Daredevil's heightened senses, which were trained on beating Mysterio for five of the twenty-five minutes the child will have to live.

Daredevil is forced into compliance as Mysterio leads him deeper into his sanctum and the hidden truths of his recent nightmare.

Mysterio laments a career overshadowed by filmmaking greats, past defeats at the hands of Spider-Man, and the apparent replacement of his arch-rival with a mere clone. He revisits a diagnosis of brain tumor and lung cancer, and the affordability of Matt Murdock's entire history courtesy of a fallen Kingpin.

Revealing the intricacies of his grand plan, Mysterio then turns to executing the failed accomplices already bruised and battered during Daredevil's incursion. The hero cannot act quick enough to save their lives, but time has afforded him the gentle sound of Mysterio's wrist-mounted suit battery. He breaks it!

A well targeted billy club smashes the power source. An equally placed boot heel does the same to Mysterio's protective dome! When the smoke clears, the shattered façade reveals Quentin Beck - bald and sickly, breathing tube in nose.

The villain compels Daredevil to end his life, but the hero refuses. He rejects the delusion of Mysterio's grand finale. Knocks back his attempt to drive him to madness. Scoffs the lack of originality of his so-presumed creative vision. Words that cut far deeper into Quentin Beck than any mortal wound.

Removing his head from his hands, the defeated Mysterio presses a button on his gauntlet that reveals a hidden chamber. Air floods into the room as the sliding panel reveals itself. Super-enhanced senses immediately detect an infant's heart beat and breathing. The child is alive and unharmed.

Mysterio beckons to Daredevil's attention as the hero takes the child into his arms. Through the smoke filled haze is a gun barrel trained right on Daredevil. He can hear Mysterio's heart racing - but he remains stoic, knowing exactly what that means. The villain has one final borrowed act...

Like Kraven the Hunter before him, Mysterio turns the pistol on himself. Fin.

The Hammer...
So we move from Mysterio's very first triumph - to his ultimate defeat. Sort of...

By now we know Mysterio is back amongst the living. He's been causing trouble for Spider-Man for quite a while again, with a particular 2010 appearance (during The Gauntlet) coming to mind as a recent favourite. For almost a decade prior, his status wasn't nearly so clear, shared between supernatural ambiguities, vengeful successors, and complicated doppelgangers.

A faked death always seemed right in Mysterio's wheelhouse, but the tone in comics was changing at the turn of the millennium. The frivolous excess of the nineties was being walked back in favour of a more grounded, character-driven approach. Perhaps there were plans for Mysterio's comeback right from the outset, but they didn't eventuate. As unfashionable as Mysterio had become, respect for his death created an unlikely standard-bearer.

Guardian Devil had turned out to be a top selling jewel in the crown for Marvel Knights. The gritty imprint could be seen as a proving ground for an approach Joe Quesada would soon apply more broadly when he became Marvel Editor in Chief in 2000.

Today we know "Joe Q" as the overseer of some of comics' most meaningless deaths, but this one at least seemed considered, weighing the status of the character, and the impact of the story. Quesada's hands-on role, and relationship with its writer, likely helped it stick beyond a fleeting year or two.

Geek guru Kevin Smith has often spoke of his appreciation for Mysterio, repping the villain as a fan, as well as in his work. There are fun references peppered into Daredevil #7, including a direct throwback to Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4! Even when he became synonymous with terminally delayed comics projects, Quesada often reserved key elements for his friend and top talent, and Smith eventually restored Mysterio to the Marvel pantheon through the creation of a short-lived mutant successor.

Smith's story continues to be a touchstone for the character, who's in the process of being bigger than ever. With his arrival on the big screen (in Spider-Man: Far From Home -- now in theatres), you've probably read many references to Guardian Devil. Yet, its acid-tinged conclusion of humiliating defeat and apparent suicide clearly participates in some amount of understanding that the character was, at the time, an object of ridicule.

The greatest tragedy ultimately wasn't that one of Marvel's long-running icons was killed off -- but that a filmmaker was responsible for writing it!

The late nineties saw a massive increase in the mainstream interest and understanding of movie special effects. The proliferation of DVD special features, and effects-heavy blockbusters like The Matrix and Star Wars, brought the inner workings and innovations of the industry to the common man. Instead of being an era that ended Mysterio's relevance -- it arguably should've been a time of great renaissance!

The Matrix, with its futurist approach to connected networks and artificial realities, was ripe to be a major influence on a character who specialized in state-of-the-art special effects. Even the dubious invention of giant robotic apes was becoming increasingly convincing with the advances of animatronics and practical effects in tandem with computer-generated digital images.

Of course, Mysterio had dabbled in the realm of virtual reality and commentary on popular media consumption before Guardian Devil and The Matrix. With any luck we'll get a chance to explore a curious aside that comes to mind. One indirectly referenced during Mysterio's unravelling of his plot, which is a fun, non-combat scene not quite captured in today's fight recap.

For now, it's time to close the book on one of the modern classics. There's a lot to enjoy about the story! Quesada was a gifted artist, and worked well with an unconventional script from Smith, who was then unpracticed in the medium of comics. I wish Quesada could've continued to draw more, but we still got a lot of top shelf DD.

If you'd like to explore Guardian Devil for yourself, you can find the complete story printed in various collected trade editions.

Use one of the Amazon links provided to make a purchase and you'll help support Secret Wars on Infinite Earths at no extra cost!

You can find more Daredevil and friends by following links included throughout this post. Or dive into the Secret Archive for a complete index of featured fights by publisher and series. Follow on Twitter and Facebook for daily links to battles inspired by the topics of the day - be sure to subscribe and share!

Winner: Daredevil
#12 (+2) Daredevil
#382 (-5) Mysterio (Quentin Beck)

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