A year into quarantine, for most of us at least, and some haven’t necessarily had someone there to ask, “are you okay?” For those that have, what are you really supposed to say to such a question at this point? Is it a resounding “yes,” or is it something more complex than a one-word answer? Odds are you’re feeling a lot of things right now, and it’s likely that very few of them being okay. And that is what this issue sets out to deal with.
The people of Hell’s Kitchen have been through something a bit different than what we’ve been experiencing in the real world. They’re recovering from the King In Black, which frankly, I do not care about and doesn’t especially matter here. It’s kind of fitting though, having to deal with the fallout from something that was out of your hands, causing you to adapt your plans. That’s something to relate to.
Sometimes (read as “often”) books suffer due to events and needing to fall in-line with them. Clever creators know how to make it work for them, and this is one such instance. Aliens, hammers, helicarriers, etc all come falling out of the sky…pretty frequently, but how often do people address the psychological toll that that takes? I can’t imagine it’s possible to be so desensitized in the Marvel Universe that you’re able to just shirk it off every time. That seems unlikely at best, problematic at least. It hits on all sides too, not just the heroes, not just the civilians, but the villains as well. It’s a lesson in empathy here, showing how relatable each side can be.
We get three points of focus: Matt in prison, Elektra babysitting, and Fisk at the hospital with Mary. Matt gets the lion’s share, being his book and all, but Fisk’s and Elektra’s page-time is no less significant. I’m not really interested in recapping what lead us to this point so go read the rest of this arc if you haven’t already, but I doubt you’re reading this if you aren’t caught up as well. So let’s start with Matt.
The Devil You Know In A Place He Doesn’t
Matt Murdock feels consumed by guilt. Not unusual for our resident Catholic superhero, but he’s having something of a crisis with his place in the world. Not hard to imagine right now, struggling to find a place for yourself where you feel like you’re contributing to society. Or even just the idea of not feeling like yourself right now. I’ve been there, still am, and have seen plenty of people around who feel similarly lost, adrift, and listless. Matt is in some ways far from himself and also the same as always, feeding into his own guilt and putting himself in a place where he shouldn’t be.
As for where he shouldn’t be, prison. There’s a quote here levied against Matt by his therapist that I’ve never heard before, “inequality tourist,” and damn that’s good. The American prison system is not a joke, and frankly, really fucking sucks. That much is made perfectly clear across these pages. There are multiple levels of privilege that Matt’s coming in here with, being a superhero and a white man. For fucks’ sake, he gets to keep his mask on, which tells you everything you need to know about how uneven a playing field it is. And still, that’s only a part of it. Even in prison, white men still aren’t treated nearly the same as marginalized folks, still feeding off the system that they made. Matt’s under the impression he’s just like anyone else in prison, by virtue of simply being there. He’s informed otherwise by basically every person he comes across, thankfully. He thinks he’s bound to the same laws as the rest of society, as if every time he knocks someone out with his baton, he’s not breaking a law. For such a smart guy, Matt’s an impeccable dumb-ass.
Calling into question the close relationship that capes like Spider-Man and Daredevil have with police is something I feel doesn’t happen nearly enough. What happens in this comic is more like a scathing indictment of the prison system at-large, which is more than fine with me. We’ve seen Daredevil in prison before, it’s not that crazy of a concept, but being told point-blank that the prison system is “for show” by Kirsten just hits different, and feels great. Fuck it, Alexa, play “Prison Song.”
Matt’s stubborn refusal to admit that he’s not okay, again far too relatable, finally abandons him only when things take a darker turn. A realization sweeps over him when Nervous Neil kills himself in his cell, feeling like he was unable to escape from his problems. Finally, the difference between Matt and the other inmates is made perfectly clear to him. It hits him like a punch in the stomach, keeling him over and putting him in the arms of his therapist, at last. Alexa, play “I’m Not Okay(I Promise).”
There’s Something (Troubling) About Mary
Moving onto Fisk and Mary, I am alarmed at how much I enjoy these two together at this point. Not in a romantic way mind you, but giving Wilson a “friend” who is on the same power level as him, so to speak, is fascinating. Fisk is someone you imagine as being steadfast at all times, no break in his stride, a rock. But it’s so much more interesting when you dig deeper than that, and here we get to see it. Fisk is compelled by Mary, stays by her side, and comforts her in her bed. He has some sort of emotional attachment to her that’s hard to quantify, but totally works.
Mary is, well, she’s broken. She briefly felt whole, then had it ripped away from her unceremoniously. She knew peace for the briefest of moments, before being tossed into a hell worse than what she previously knew. It’s a dark, dark place to be, feeling like you’re no longer…right. Balanced. Fisk sees Mary drowning and it strikes him. Fisk’s idea of friendship isn’t quite the same as anyone else’s. It feels at times like he sees friends as an extension of his property, something that belongs to him. It’s a messy way of looking at it, but also he’s a bad guy so what can you expect? This compounds Wilson’s fury at his city being attacked, and stacks onto an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. In this, Wilson and Mary can relate. That loss of control is yet again, easy to relate to right now especially, and is now the driving force forward for these two characters. Now it becomes a question of taking their power back, in the messy form that comes in from a villain.
Finally, Elektra, who has the simpler story beats here, but still poignant. Elektra is honestly more rigid with her feelings than Fisk and lacks basic empathy skills for the most part. But what she does care about, is Matt, and by extension his crusade to keep Hell’s Kitchen safe. She cares so much, to the point of taking up his mantle while he’s in prison. She’s caught off-guard by the fact that she needs to be there for the weak, to pick them up when they’re down, but she still accepts the role that she’s chosen to take for now.
Alice, the little girl that Elektra is currently tasked with watching, comes from a similar place as Matt and Fisk. All three of them are feigning accountability for things that are well beyond their direct control, taking it out on themselves because it’s the only way they know. Self-destruction. Not uncommon, to me at least. “Why didn’t I do this?” or “I could’ve done that instead” are all too frequent thoughts that pop into my head, but the reality is that things are going to play out one way whether you like it or not. You can’t have control over everything, and it’s a lesson for me to learn just as well as these three characters.
Elektra pushes Alice, with little care for her current delicacy, and wants to forge her into something, someone, stronger. In Elektra’s eyes, the strong have less to fear and bounce back quicker. I’m not going to say that she’s wrong, but also, she’s not exactly right either. There is no altitude you can reach, in reality, where feelings can no longer get to you. The idea of refocusing your emotions, and putting your energies towards something more constructive though, that’s a good place to start, and there Elektra is spot-on.
Matt is getting the help he so desperately needs, albeit while still in prison. Fisk is moving to kill (both) Daredevil(s), which is pretty much the logical next step for him, sure. And Alice is potentially going to be trained by Elektra, to hone her anger and make it her strength. There’s good forward momentum here on all fronts, though in Fisk’s case it depends on your definition of good, it all stems from wanting to take your power back. Mary is in stasis for the time being, but she’s not alone. That’s going to have to be enough.
This is what Heroes In Crisis wishes it was, at least to a point. A thoughtful rumination on what therapy could be like for a superhero who so desperately needs it. Or at least the idea that mental health issues need to be tackled head-on, in some way, rather than be bottled up. There is careful consideration about the benefit of therapy, or even just talking to someone you know, and how it should be more widely attended and utilized. Bringing that idea into a world of superheroes is delicate work, but Chip handles it deftly. It’s okay to not be okay.
More than anything, it reminds me of the last arc of Sex Criminals, where the series was treading ground on identifying trauma, and understanding that it’s okay to not be okay. You can see some of those same themes here, and the message is just as positive. There’s a through-line in the lessons Chip took from that era of creating comics and is bringing into his big two work. A more personal touch.
At the beginning of this year, something happened to me that made me feel as if control over my own life had been rent from me. To say I felt lost would be an understatement. But the sheer act of talking things over with someone, especially a professional, is a step towards progress and an essential one at that when you feel you’ve lost your grip. There’s no shame in it, and should be more de-stigmatized than it currently is, so I offer up my own experience in relation to this comic for whoever reads. It kinda sucks at first, opening up and being vulnerable to this stranger you’re paying to talk to about your problems. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t easier to do what Matt does and just say “I’m fine” over and over. But that’s dismissive of your own feelings and gets you nowhere. I know, very mushy, but bear with me, we’re almost done.
The conversations between Matt and his therapist feel well-researched. Whether or not that is the case remains to be seen, but it comes across with an earnest authenticity that hits hard. I think it’s the best issue of the run so far, in what is already a stellar run. Because it’s so honest, it lays everything right on the page for you to see. This work is downright soulful and speaks to the trials and tribulations we all face in one way or another. It’s just a strong lesson in the power of comics, and how they can connect us.
Wholeheartedly, this comic touched me in many ways and feels like it couldn’t have come at a better time. People are hurt, they feel lost, and maybe need a push in the direction of talking to someone. I hope this book does that, for anyone, and gives them some sort of hope or solace they can take in knowing they too are not alone. Ask yourself and ask your friends (and take the time to listen if and when they answer), are you okay?
One final note that I would be remiss if I didn’t include, bless Marco Checchetto for Elektra’s glorious waves and Mary’s immaculate curls. I raise a glass to you, sir, these are the best these characters have ever looked and that’s one hell of a hill to climb.