Between Brian Michael Bendis's risk-taking plots and pitch perfect, Mamet-like dialogue, and the heightened realism of Alex Maleev's virtuoso artwork, which is inspired by equal parts cinema, television, and police photography, the duo's 2001-2006 run on DAREDEVIL produced the finest hardboiled crime comic of the new millennium, and issued a formidable challenge to successive writer/artist teams on that book. (I'm still waiting for a post-Bendis DD story arc that doesn't feel anticlimactic.) The third volume in this series wraps up the Bendis/Maleev run with three major stories and two bonus features, all of them packing a nasty punch.
"The Golden Age" shuttles between three time periods to tell the story of Alexander Bont, a brutal mobster who made himself the first Kingpin of crime in the 1940s. Released after decades of imprisonment, the elderly killer returns to Hell's Kitchen, obsessed with his former attorney Matt Murdock and hellbent on revenge.
"Decalogue", set largely in a church basement, is a superb mash-up of Boccaccio, film noir, and Japanese horror movies, with a significant nod to art-house director Krzysztof Kieslowski's exquisite character studies. In a set of oblique meditations on five of the Ten Commandments (the first, fifth, sixth, eighth, and ninth, if you're wondering), a group of Kitchen residents discuss the impact of Daredevil on their lives, and in the process reveal their own most painful and frightening secrets.
In "The Murdock Papers" the imprisoned Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) and the FBI are locked in a ruthless battle of wits, with Matt Murdock's freedom as the prize. Like a classical tragedy, it's a story, accelerating in speed and horror, about characters who embody the causes of their own destruction; by the end, only two characters have anything to be happy about, and we despise both of them.
"What if Karen Page had Lived?" (a WHAT IF... one shot), narrated in a diner by a talkative customer who looks remarkably like Brian Michael Bendis, is one of the saddest comic book stories I've ever read. It implies that we really don't want to know what might've happened if Karen Page had survived Bullseye's attack. The ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP three-parter is a gruesome little quodlibet about the first time Daredevil, the Punisher, and Spider-Man crossed paths, and its blend of comedy and horror is a welcome contrast to the thoroughly downbeat content of the rest of the book. It's a treat, also, to see Bill Sienkiewicz drawing comics again; the old master's kinetic, scratch-and-spatter style makes even the quietest scenes bristle with nervous energy.