Posted by: Abhay Khosla on September 4, 2009
So, “3 Jacks”—pretty much the best Marvel comic of the year so far, right? Tim O’Neil agrees; I agree; I don’t know who else has weighed in.
“3 Jacks” is a 13-page back-up feature in DAREDEVIL #500, created by Ann Nocenti, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopoulos. The rest of the comic is inert; not worth anyone’s time. But: “3 Jacks,” everybody!
Where do we start? Well, let’s start with the first page.
The opening panel: buildings in silhouette, with the Coney Island Parachute Jump tower above the skyline. I don’t know much about the Parachute Jump tower, but: at the angle chosen, the way Aja draws it, does it resembles a cross to you?
Our metal-crucifix is located dead center on the page, not off to the side, not one detail of many—dead center. Flanking it, we have two panels: one, a woman praying in silhouette; the other, a man yelling “Keep ‘Im Close, Damn It” to the heavens. Both characters point in direct lines towards the cross; both are talking to God in their own way.
(Maybe that’s something representative of Nocenti’s run on DAREDEVIL in general– an absurdly straight-faced religious image on one end of a teeter-totter, with an almost-corny image straight out of Will Eisner keeping it in balance? Maybe; not for me to say: a handful of issues of her DAREDEVIL run made an impression on me, but I don’t think I’ve ever read that entire run tip-to-toe. I have no claims to being an expert on the Nocenti run, and this essay will unfortunately be limited as such).
The other panels? A small set of visual jokes: (i) a panel of a bullseye but with no way of telling if it’s from the villain’s mask or the poster with “Live Human Target” scrawled on it; (ii) a poster for the “Human Blockhead” a panel away from Daredevil being struck in the head; (iii) my favorite is the word “Clone” cut off from the window of what we’re later told is the “Cyclone Bar”—I don’t know if that’s a joke by David Aja & Chris Eliopoulos on Aja’s appropriation of Dave Mazzucchelli’s style circa 1980-whatever, but I’d like to think Aja & Eliopoulos were being self-deprecating.
* * *
So we open with a distant steel God towering over moments solemn, and silly, and empty, and violent, with a man in a devil costume as far from God on the page as can be (his arms also akimbo though). Fine; that’s nice. How does the comic end? Does Daredevil win the spiritual battle the first page sets out? Well: let’s skip to the end! Here’s the last panel:
Again, we see the Parachute Tower but the angle is different. The skyline is higher—and the man in the devil costume is now at the center of page, the city on one end of him, the crucifix on the other, restored to equilibrium, in balance with his environment … though there’s still a gap between him and that crucifix, still that gap. He’s almost a silhouette like the rest of his environment, but no, not quite—colorist Matt Hollingsworth makes sure there’s still just that tiniest hint of red. A little taint of sin that’s not washing off, a little bit of the devil costume peeking through.
Is that last panel a spoiler? No: because that panel in fact is shown on the page immediately preceding the story.
The story of 3 Jacks is there’s a fight between Bullseye and Daredevil at the Coney Island amusement park, and then that fight ends and Daredevil runs off into the night. The end.
But the way that story is structured is this: we start with the end of the fight, the story goes beyond the end of the fight as we watch Daredevil recover from the fight with two people who have witnessed the fight, Larry and Gina. Larry, Gina and Daredevil then talk about the middle of the fight which we see in flashback (we never see the beginning of the fight; the beginning of the fight doesn’t matter—Daredevil and Bullseye will always be fighting).
When we finally reach the ending? We wind up back where we started from– like I said: the last image of the story is the same image as on the page literally preceding the story itself. It’s like a spiral.
The comic is about a character trapped in a spiral of violence, not explicitly but in the form the story is presented. Daredevil has no way out of that spiral– the only thing his story can ever be about is the process of Daredevil picking himself up and running into battle again. Not just a spiral of violence: maybe one way to look at the story is it’s about how Daredevil is in a loop of constantly being knocked out of spiritual alignment and struggling to restore his relationship with his faith.
So, wait: I’m making “3 Jacks” sound like a totally boring bummer about, like, Jesus or something, aren’t I? It’s not that. You get to see Daredevil use his radar powers and his lie-detecting powers. Daredevil kicks Bullseye in the face. Daredevil fights Bullseye throughout the comic. The Marvel comics goods are delivered in those 13 pages, besides everything else that’s going on. And by David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopoulos, no less. Silent pages, silhouette flashbacks, heartbeat scrawls, graphic shapes, extreme close-ups on big-wide-open eyes, etc. Aaah, comics, everybody…
Plus: I just like Larry and Gina, the two witnesss I mentioned before, the praying girl and the yelling guy from the first page. They represent aspects of Daredevil’s father and mother. But besides that? They’re just funny characters in their own right. There’s comic business with a hammer; the 10 Commandments are re-written; Larry and Gina have interesting things to say for themselves. It’s not an extraordinary amount of characterization. It’s a Daredevil comic, and Larry & Gina are stock comic book characters—“precocious schoolgirl” and “washed-up boxer” don’t exactly break new ground. But, you know: they’re really not the worst company you could ask for from a Marvel comic. The lead story of the issue is about ninjas screaming at each other; I’m happy to stick with Larry and Gina instead.
* * *
The heart of the comic is Bullseye has thrown three photos into Daredevil’s chest, saying “Dead Center! You just don’t’ know it yet” as he did so.
Which: I mean, that’s kind of writing comics right there, isn’t it? You pick out still images, little bits of the past frozen in time, and you throw them into another person, hope they stick…? If Ann Nocenti is a character in this story, she’s not the old yelling-guy or the praying girl or the distant steel God; she’s Bullseye. She can’t kill Daredevil—all she can do is hurt him as much as she can. “Dead Center! You just don’t know it yet.” She’s sort of bragging about how good a job she’s doing in the story itself, man. Shit, I kind of dig that.
* * *
There’s more: Daredevil, Larry and Gina are all dealing with their relationships with their parents (which I’m thinking might possibly be metaphorical); Daredevil is “saved” by the prayers of a girl who “hates God” and Larry pleading to a cross to “Keep ‘Im Close“; that fantastic page of Gina lying to Daredevil (if I understood the concept of grace, let alone cared, maybe I’d have something to say there); the final images of Larry with a hammer in his hands, which… carpentry? Isn’t that something? You know: from the Bible or Jesus or one of those? Or wait: maybe I’m thinking of that show HOME IMPROVEMENT? Maybe “3 JACKS” is actually a metaphor for how men are pigs HARF HARF HARF (am I right, ladies?). It’s 13 pages, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a dense fucker.
Tim O’Neil concluded his review by stating “If Marvel publishes a better story this year I’ll eat my hat.” I’ll go one better: if Marvel publishes a better story this year, Tim O’Neil will eat every article of clothing in my closet, at gunpoint. It’s your move, MARVEL DIVAS. Winner takes O’Neil.
* * *
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES ABOUT THE REST OF THE ISSUE:
** Some crap about ninjas, again…?
** What’s the story with Billy Tan’s pages here? They’re not professional-quality comic pages. If I had to guess, I’d guess they’d lined up a real talent for this List comic, but the real talent blew it, something came up, Ashton Kutcher’s next movie needed a hovercraft designed, whatever; yaddah yaddah yaddah, some editor goes to Tan at the last minute and asked him to rush out pages. That would be my guess what happened, if I had to make a guess. That would be as nice a thing as I could say about Billy Tan’s work here: maybe an editor forced him to do that. Or an alternate theory: maybe someone lost a bet. You know, like one of those TRADING PLACES bets. Maybe someone bet Don Ameche $1 that if they gave Billy Tan a real comic book artist’s job, he would start to draw like a real comic book artist. Don Ameche won that one; Don Ameche’s the big winner. Except… except for the being dead part. Don Ameche: no longer with us. Great in HEAVEN CAN WAIT. But very, very dead. But dead and one U.S. dollar richer, so who’s laughing? Well, not Don Ameche. He’s dead. I mean, it’s kind of a bummer if you think about it, Don Ameche being dead, or just death in general. That’s nothing to laugh about. That’s sad, really. He was really great in HEAVEN CAN WAIT. It’s all just so temporary. We’ll never know how Don Ameche would have spent his Billy Tan dollar. You know, this all seemed like a very simple joke at first, but fucker sort of got away from me, I don’t know what to tell you…
** The Brubaker DAREDEVIL run ended in the issue. For me, and this is completely unfair, but: that run was like watching air rush out of a balloon. It started so well with that prison arc, but—and this is the unfair part: Mr. Fear…? NO, THANK YOU. As soon as Mr. Fear showed up, I split. How unfair is that? I’ll read all manners of crap, just the crappiest crap that ever crapped, without complaint, happy as can be, but: “Mr. Fear? No, no: fuck you. Daredevil was better back when he fought the guy who was like an Owl, but I am not putting up with this Mr. Fear horse-shit. Fuck you, God!” What a terrible job it is to write mainstream comics. How could Ed Brubaker or anyone conceivably see that I’d draw the line super-arbitrarily at Mr. Fear? There’s no earthly way Ed Brubaker could ever guess that in a million years. And yet: I blame him anyways.
** The last Ed Brubaker comic I read was that new Captain America thing where it was all “Hey, Captain America—we have to get you back to the island using the Constant Sawyer Hurley.” Which was a nice comic, but I remember thinking, “Hey, maybe Ed Brubaker watches that show LOST.” And then Daredevil #500—was it just me or did his story have an identical flashback structure to the season finale of LOST? It was probably written before the finale—or maybe, but…? Am I just seeing things? It’s probably just a coincidence. I’m probably just seeing things. Still: I hope the next issue of CRIMINAL explains what that crazy smoke monster is. Smoke monster is my favorite character.
** Or here’s a theory: maybe the night before his pages were due, Billy Tan was walking down a street when he saw a psychotic clown trying to rape a little kid. And he was like, “Get off that kid, Bozo! I’ll make you a sad clown. WITH MY BILLY TAN FISTS.” And then they fought, like bare-knuckles, all night long, man versus clown, and yeah, Billy Tan named his fists after himself, but I think that’s manly, why not. (The clown in this story symbolizes the Buddha on the road; I learned it from reading you, Ann Nocenti). And he wins in the end, Billy Tan wins and saves the kid from being clown-molested, but the price is DARK LIST pages you can look at without feeling sadness in your eyeballs. But that’s a small price to pay. Maybe we all owe Billy Tan an apology. He very well might be a hero to children everywhere, including the child inside all of us. The child inside all of us that is deathly afraid of a clown touching our peener without consent.
** Wait, wait: if Disney owns ABC, and ABC has LOST on it, does that mean Marvel comics kind of does own the Smoke Monster? Smoke Monster’s my favorite character.
** Why did Lynn Varley’s colors get destroyed in the reprint? What happened there? The issue I remember seeing had these dark, moody colors. The colors in the reprint—what a bright, shiny, happy comic about Russian Roulette. “It’s the feel good Russian Roulette comic book of the year.” Is that how it looked when it was originally printed? Maybe I’m so used to seeing the old, worn-out, grey, torn-up copies that I never imagined what it looked like when it was brand new. Same exact thing happens when I look at your mom, naked. When she’s having sex with Don Ameche’s ghost. Dammit. Goddammit. Oh, I shouldn’t have even tried; couldn’t let it go. Goddammit, I really thought I could save the whole Don Ameche thing, in the eleventh hour, and it’s just– where’s the goddamn Cocoon when you need it? Don Ameche Joke Cocoon, you have failed me for the last time!! This started out so earnestly, with the crucifix and the Jesus and the spirals, and … What happened, Internet? If only keyboards came with delete keys…