Interview with Chip Zdarsky (August 2023)

The conclusion of the Chip Zdarsky & Marco Checchetto run on the title, is here. The final issue #14 has shipped today and there are many surprising revelations.

Last week, Zdarsky reached out to me with an early look of the issue and we talked about those revelations... but also what the past few years have been like for him on DAREDEVIL. Many thanks to him for the interview.

This interview took place August 8-9, 2023.

SPOILERS for today's issue #14, please do not read further if you haven't read the conclusion (or even the past few issues)

Kuljit Mithra: We're just over a week away from the final issue of your run on DAREDEVIL. You've mentioned in interviews that for the most part this story has been planned out right from the start to get Matt to this destination, in essence a literal journey To Heaven Through Hell. How has that journey been for you? A lot has happened personally and professionally for you in these four years.

Chip Zdarsky: Yeah, wow, no kidding. It’s been a wild few years that’s for sure.

Having Daredevil as my constant has been a life saver in a lot of ways. Through so many different projects, a pandemic, life stuff, I always had Matt Murdock to look forward to every month. It’s been incredibly weird to have that no longer be the case.

This has been the job of a lifetime, truly. Getting to tell a long-form story in North American comics is a really hard thing to pull off, and I’m so glad Marvel supported me to do so.

Mithra: You touched on a lot of heavy topics. When you say Marvel supported you, what do you mean by that? They allowed you to touch on things that would otherwise get steered in a different direction in another title?

Chip Zdarsky: The Daredevil title by its nature tends to be left alone by the company, and whenever there was pushback on my story beats, the people above me almost always just let me put it on the page to see if it worked. So I’m grateful for that level of trust. Honestly, the cancellation of the Netflix series just before I was starting made my life a lot easier. There were more company eyeballs on my initial pitch when that show was running, for good reason. As a fan I hated seeing that show end, but as a writer I was relieved!

The fact that we got, what, almost sixty issues when you add it all up? That’s down to Marvel letting me see this through to the story’s natural end, instead of doing a splashy reboot every year or so with a new creative team, which would maybe have made them more money in the moment. They understand that Daredevil can sell well down the line in the collections, more so than other Marvel titles, I think.

Also, I have to say that I was not the easiest guy to work with, especially in the early issues. I had such a clear vision of what I wanted to do that I was definitely prickly to my poor, long-suffering editor Devin. I shot down so many artists that were pitched, so many colourists. I had too many notes on everything and I remember very clearly leaving a heated phone message in public over a single word. In short, I was a control freak monster and, while I’m extremely proud of the book, I’m also very surprised I wasn’t fired after one arc just because of the headaches I caused.

It’s why, when they asked me to expand my story into the Devil’s Reign event, I said yes. They supported me, I supported them. Same with my King In Black tie-in. I’d never done a tie-in before that point, but I was more than happy to give back to Editorial and support my friends’ event. I’m also really proud of what we accomplished with those issues. It felt good to remind readers that we’re part of the Marvel universe.

Mithra: Before we talk about issue #14, I wanted to first ask some questions about The Red Fist Saga and what has come before. Matt has been in conflict with himself and God, and he's been asking if violence is justified if it's for the greater good. Even in your first issue, Matt argues with Father Cathal that he wants to be "The Hands of God", to use violence when required. But we also got a hint of what was to come, as Father Cathal also says "The mind controls the hands. Is it truly God controlling your hands?" As we found out a few months ago, Matt has been manipulated by The Wild in her efforts to defeat The Beast. And Matt becomes "The Hand of God" during his battle in Hell. So, has The Wild been instrumental in shaping Matt's activities as a hero for the past ten years? And was Goldy also playing a part in this scheme, or was he really a guardian angel? On Makanrushi, Goldy says he thinks he's linked to the Book of the Fist.

Zdarsky: Yeah, I never wanted to make it explicit in the text, but once you start making those connections it seems evident that Goldy has been a pawn of The Wild this whole time. Like most false prophets, Goldy thought he was doing God’s work, even when it created horrible results for people. That realization he had on the mountain about the Book of The Fist really puts it all in a different light, especially after the reveals in Hell.

Matt was manipulated, but in the end he broke free of all of it in his final battle with The Beast and The Wild, which was very satisfying to write after all these years.

Mithra: With the Fist army in Makanrushi, I was surprised to learn that the island is a real place in Asia (sounds like a "Marvel" fictional place). Did you have some previous knowledge or interest in its history with Russia and Japan?

Zdarsky: Yes! I knew there were disputed islands between the nations, but didn’t know specifics before I started plotting and doing the research. Having a place that was near Japan but not populated just made sense. I could have just made up an island, but it felt more satisfying to use a real-world location.

Mithra: For the white costume, were you making an homage to when Elektra climbed the mountain and she purged her "dark essence"? If that was the case, what happened when Matt reached Hell? What had Matt finally let go, or was he being born again, so to speak?

Zdarsky: That’s exactly it. And it wasn’t even my idea! I run a lot of bits by friends of mine, and Matt Fraction reminded me of that Elektra beat with the white costume. It was a perfect suggestion and nicely reflected the moment when Matt gave himself over to his faith, to God and the purity of his mission, stripped free of the plotting and planning and moral sacrifices that came with leading The Fist. He was just doing what Daredevil does: saving people. Born again in death.

Mithra: So let's dive into DAREDEVIL #14. After issue #13's cliffhanger, I was expecting to see a battle in Hell... but the story picks up six months later. Had this always been planned, or had you worked something out with incoming writer Saladin Ahmed once he learned about where you were leaving Matt?

Zdarsky: Yeah, that was figured out pretty early on in the plan. I had ideas as I was coming up with the larger narrative about how Matt would escape Hell, but that didn’t feel like the interesting part of the story. He rose up, defeated his enemies, saved his best friend, and made that ultimate sacrifice. In a lot of ways issue 13 was the end of his story.

I wanted the final issue to be about the friends left behind, how Matt’s world moves on without him, with his presence still being an inspiration. I laid it all out for Saladin a while ago as a proper end to my run and, hopefully, an interesting prelude to his. He’s been so great through all of this, really supportive, and he picked that ball up and ran with it in a really cool direction. Ultimately it’s up to him whether or not he wants to answer the question of “how did Matt come back” or if we just see it as God saving him and giving him this fresh start. Personally, I’m much more interested in what happens next.

Mithra: How did that feel, providing guidance on DD's new adventures but ultimately not being in control of the direction anymore?

Zdarsky: My guidance has been minimal! I’ve really just been a sounding board for Saladin when he needs me. But he’s an incredibly strong writer so I’ve just been enjoying reading his outlines and first scripts. I laid out what my final few issues were going to look like so he could get underway, and then showed him my final script when it was ready, just to make sure he was okay with all of it, or needed tweaks. I was able to write it after reading his first script, which meant I could slip in nods to what’s coming up, which was nice.

I’ve heard other writers say that they can’t read a book after they’ve left it, that it feels like seeing an ex with someone new, but I haven’t had that feeling at all. Or maybe I just like seeing my ex with someone who’s better for them? I don’t know, but I do know that I’ll be reading the book as a fan, which is a pretty great feeling.

Mithra: The first thing we learn in the issue is that Foggy and Cole have started their own legal services firm in those six months, and it appears the Stromwyns are still very much in the picture. Foggy is constantly reminded of Matt, catching glimpses of people who look like him. There's a nice line from Cole where he says "I keep seeing him too, reminds us to keep doing what we're doing to help people." Cole has been a constant presence throughout the run, and he's been dealing with his own conflicts. Since he was an original character you introduced, I wanted to ask if he surprised you with where you took him in the overall story?

Zdarsky: Cole has been a really satisfying foil through this run. His black & white outlook at the start was a joy to write against Matt’s eternal self doubt, and the plan was always to have him soften that stance, to move away from the strict “law and order” view, but to be there to keep Matt in check in case he lost himself outside the law.

I wasn’t entirely sure where I wanted Cole to land at the end of this, I just knew I didn’t want him to become a superhero. That just felt a little too obvious. But pairing him and Foggy at the end, where Foggy is the lawyer and Cole is the firm’s investigator, just made sense. He can still help people while navigating the law. Also, and this is a dumb thing, I know, but the NELSON NORTH logo with the intersecting N and N looking a little DD-ish felt too fun of an opportunity to pass up!

Mithra: We catch up with Elektra and Alice, trying to stop a gun shipment which leads to Elektra making a visit to Butch Pharris (who now wants to use Fisk as his last name). Elektra says Butch can be a new person, he can break this cycle, as Elektra has learned from being Daredevil. Throughout your run you've done some character studies on Matt, Wilson Fisk, Cole, and especially Elektra. As revealed in this issue, she's going to continue her role as Daredevil, continuing to protect Hell's Kitchen and work with the "Guardian Devils" as well. We see that the name Daredevil means something to the people, even if it's someone else behind the mask. What convinced Elektra finally that maybe Matt was onto something, even as he struggled, lost battles and ultimately gave his life?

Zdarsky: I think there was a a lot that convinced Elektra throughout the run, and through her life in relation to Matt, but ultimately it was the amount of good he did, and the peace he had as he died in her arms to go save Foggy and the rest. She spent a fair number of years as a killer for hire, but being responsible for the other members of The Fist, and the people of Hell’s Kitchen over this run, it just brought her closer to humanity, I think. And that closeness helps you want to protect people. It widens your sphere of empathy, y’know?

I wanted Alice to show us that not everyone has the same path in these comics, where they just need to dig in and they, too, can become superheroes and fighters. Even without that path they can still help. It was important to me to make sure she made it into this final issue as Elektra’s assistant from afar.

Mithra: There's a nice callback to your second arc, where Foggy and Reed Richards meet at the park to play chess, and they then talk about missing a loved one who has passed, but also being reminded of them constantly. And if there's anyone who could come back and fight the good fight... it's Matt Murdock. And then we see later that Elektra also sees someone familiar and follows him to a church, and we find out Matt is alive and is a priest... but he doesn't recognize Elektra (but seems to recognize her jasmine perfume). This whole conversation between the two is great, and Elektra's choice to leave him alone because he's content is nice. It's sad it appears he's come back but lost all memories of his life before. I think this choice to have him as a priest is a great idea. Was that always the plan from the start? Of course, it's comics, so we can't have Matt have a happy ending. It looks like Matt may have brought something else back with him when he wants to dish out some justice. I also like how you used "you can be a new person, you can break--", a variation of what Elektra said.

Zdarsky: Yeah, Matt ending as a priest was something locked in early on. I really wanted him to find a life of peace and non-violence, at least for a little bit. Just some calm before the eventual storm of the continuing Daredevil saga. It was heartbreaking writing that scene between him and Elektra, and it felt like a huge moment for her to just let Matt have this. She can be Daredevil now and help in her way and he can help others in his new way. I think she also recognizes in that moment that together they burn too brightly. There’s little peace with Matt and Elektra together.

Mithra: Now before we end the interview, we have to talk about Marco Checchetto. From his cinematic artwork, his designs, and the ability to make Elektra's hair style a character all its own, he's been with you this whole journey as well. I'm curious to see what's next for him. What will you miss the most about this collaboration?

Zdarsky: Oh my god, what a gift. I can’t stress how important Marco’s been to this run. We’ve been blessed with a lot of amazing guest artists, but Marco is the backbone, making every page beautiful and bold. He’s one of the best artists in comics and I really feel a massive amount of debt to him for staying with us for this long. He wanted to see the story through to the end, and I can’t imagine it any other way.

Mithra:Thank you for the interviews over the years, you've been very supportive of my site. I hope DAREDEVIL was something exciting to write every month.

Zdarsky:Thank you, Kuljit. You’ve been a tremendous help since I started.

The readers of this run meant so much to me, because I’ve been a Daredevil reader for decades now. It felt a little bit like I was writing for myself, so I’m really glad people out there seem to have dug it. I’ve got nothing but love for all these characters and I’m really looking forward to being able to read the title once again.

(c) 2023 Kuljit Mithra & Chip Zdarsky
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear

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