Special Ingredient: The Daredevil Spider-Man Friendship in Daredevil #23

Hello everyone, and welcome back to COMFORT FOOD COMICS PRESENTS: SPECIAL INGREDIENT.

In every column, we look at a newer comic and the “Special Ingredient” that made it extra delicious. It could be a character, a location, a plot device, a callback to a previous issue… basically anything that jumped out to me and made me think “mmm, that really improved the taste of this comic.”

In this week’s column, I will be discussing the friendship between Daredevil and Spider-Man – the special ingredient from Daredevil #23 by Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checchetto, Marcio Menyz, and Clayton Cowles, and edited by Danny Khazem and Devin Lewis.

In Daredevil (volume 6) #23, Matt recruits Spider-Man’s help to intimidate the Kingpin and other crime lords during one of their meetings. Charges have been brought against Daredevil for the death of a criminal during a liquor-store robbery, and he knows there is a real chance he may be going to prison (again), but he doesn’t want the criminals of the city to feel safe.

Spider-Man plays his part well, mostly by staying quiet, but after the time for “dark and menacing” is over, he and Daredevil get to talking. Matt, for his part, opens up about wanting to make things right between he and Spider-Man, while Peter apologizes for not giving Matt the benefit of the doubt and admits he had been projecting his own self-doubts and fears onto Matt. And they hug it out.

It’s a great moment in their relationship – probably one of the best – and as such it inspired me to read all of the past instances of Daredevil and Spider-Man team-ups to see how their relationship has grown.

Despite almost 60 years and thousands of comics about the two characters individually, I could only find about 90 instances of team-ups or crossovers between the two (outside of larger events that they may both appear in but aren’t really “together” in).

The two first met in Amazing Spider-Man #16, back when Peter was still in high school and Matt was still wearing the yellow Daredevil costume. As Spider-Man, Peter saves Matt from some muggers, and later, Matt goes to see Spider-Man perform at a circus. Of course, this being a Marvel comic, the circus is the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime, and they hypnotize Spider-Man to help them do the crime. Matt changes to Daredevil and fights Spider-Man, eventually freeing him from the hypnosis, and then they both do their part to stop the bad guys. Right from the start, they get along well, shaking hands and paying each other compliments. It would be presumptuous to call them fast-friends, but an amicable relationship has been formed.

The relationship is put to the test as they meet again in Daredevil #16 and #17. The Masked Marauder manages to trick them into fighting each other, making both of them think the other may be working with the Marauder’s gang. By the end of the story Matt has realized the truth as it relates to Spider-Man, but Spidey still has doubts about Daredevil.

Their next several meetings, through Daredevil #27, #54, and #77 are contentious, as they ask “who invited you?” and say “keep out of it,” refusing to accept help from each other. This pattern seems to break in Daredevil #103, as DD needs Spider-Man’s help to keep important papers away from, and ultimately defeat, Ramrod. Of course, Peter is distracted by the recent death of Gwen Stacy, and envious of Daredevil’s apparent happiness with Black Widow, and they don’t get a lot of time to talk, but it seems like a step in the right direction.

Over their next few meetings, in Marvel Team-Up #25, #56, and #73, their relationship is better, although still moderately confrontational. Even though they get in each other’s way and fight briefly in each issue, they always end up working together to stop the villains of the issue. Then, in Spectacular Spider-Man #26-28, we get a 3-part team-up story wherein Spider-Man is struck blind by the returned Masked Marauder. This story expands on their friendship nicely, as Peter needs to rely on Matt’s help to survive while blinded, and to defeat and capture the Masked Marauder and his gang, but Matt also gains more respect for Spider-Man as he continues to fight on bravely and disarms a nuclear missile whilst still blind. They even come close to revealing their secret identities to one another – Peter nearly removing his mask and sharing his name, and Matt brining the blinded Spider-Man back to his apartment. This story is also the first time Frank Miller works on Daredevil, as he penciled these issues before becoming the regular artist, and later writer, of the Daredevil series.

After a few more one-off team-ups, Matt and Peter would ultimately reveal their identities to each other at the end of “The Death of Jean DeWolff” storyline, in Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110. This is also (along with Marvel Team-Up #141) the real beginning of Matt and Peter’s moral debates around the “right way” to be a vigilante superhero – something Zdarsky is doing an excellent job of digging into in his current run.

In the case of “The Death of Jean DeWolff” (by Peter David and Rich Buckler), Daredevil has to stop Spider-Man from beating the Sin-Eater to death, and Spider-Man protests that he’s tired of Daredevil’s “holier-than-thou attitude.” After they finish their fight, Daredevil again tries to save the Sin-Eater’s life so that he can stand for a fair trial, while Spider-Man looks on, willing to let the Sin-Eater die out of anger and grief over the death of his friend. It is only when Matt reveals he has deduced Spider-Man’s secret identity that Peter snaps out of his rage and helps.

Despite knowing each other better, they carry the argumentative energy forward in their relationship from there, working against each other as much as they work together. In a Born Again tie-in (Amazing Spider-Man #277), Matt, recovering in the care of Sister Maggie, pleads with Peter to leave the Kingpin for him, but Peter ignores Matt’s wishes and goes after Fisk anyways, feeling that he needs to stand up for Daredevil in a show of friendship. Ironically, Kingpin makes the same arguments that Matt often does in his disagreements with Spider-Man about their methods – that Spider-Man has no legal grounds to arrest him, and there is a difference between aiding the law and blindly assaulting someone without evidence. This carries into the Amazing Spider-Man “Gang War” storyline, where Daredevil distracts and fights Spider-Man to allow the Kingpin back in to New York, arguing that Kingpin will be able to take control of the streets again and stop the ongoing gang war, saving lives, and that they should allow it because it will give them another chance to gather evidence and take Kingpin down legally.

Despite these consistent arguments, the two remain (somewhat) friends. Matt shows up to help when Spider-Man has been falsely accused of murder (Spectacular Spider-Man #128) and then he also shows up to help when Spider-Man gets falsely accused of mass murder (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22). Peter shows up to help when Daredevil is fighting Blackheart (Daredevil #270), and when he needs someone to wear a fake moustache and hit the clubs to track down the Surgeon General (Daredevil #305-306).

Even when Matt has faked his death, Peter goes to him for help and advice, saying outright “We may not have been best friends– but you’re the closest thing to a kindred spirit I’ve ever known!” Despite never admitting that he is still Matt Murdock outright, Matt does manage to help Peter with what he’s going through, while Peter manages to help Matt stop The Owl and seemingly feel a little better about his own identity (Amazing Spider-Man #396, Spectacular Spider-Man #219, Spider-Man: The Power of Terror #2-4).

Once Matt gets his identity issues sorted out, Spider-Man is going through a few of his own, and the next couple of Daredevil/Spider-Man team-ups take part while Ben Reilly, Peter’s clone, is Spider-Man (Daredevil #354, Spider-Man #74). This doesn’t last long, of course, and pretty soon we are back to stories of Matt helping when Spider-Man has been falsely accused of murder, again (Spider-Man/Kingpin – To The Death), and accurately accused of assault (Amazing Spider-Man #429, but the victim was Norman Osborn, so it’s not like he didn’t have a good reason).

Spidey is able to repay all the help he has received in Daredevil vol 2 #8, when Matt, in the wake of Karen Page’s death, is raging at the world and questioning the role people like he and Peter play in putting others, like Karen and Gwen Stacy, in danger. In his grief, Matt is ready to give it all up, asking if anything good comes out of anything they do. Spider-Man has a very simple, but helpful answer.

This leads right into their first joint series, Daredevil &Spider-Man (collected as “Unusual Suspects”). Matt and Peter both end up embroiled in one of the many attempts by the Owl to overthrow the Kingpin, which somehow turns into a story about Copperhead trying to capture souls for the Devil through a portal (it’s weird). Spider-Man once again takes issue with Daredevil’s attitude, but apologizes after the bad guys are stopped. Daredevil, for his part, takes Peter’s advice to “lighten up,” beginning with a classic “kick me” sign stuck on Spider-Man’s back. Then he sticks Peter with the bill for some food and drink at a local bar they meet at (Daredevil vol 2 #20), teasing that he’ll do it again the next time.

Sadly, the lighter attitude doesn’t last much longer, as after a couple of other brief team-ups (Spider-Man: The Mysterio Manifesto #1-3, Spider-Man/Daredevil #1) Matt’s secret identity gets leaked to the press and his life begins to fall apart. Spider-Man shows up to lend his support at first, helping Daredevil stop Mr. Hyde from destroying Matt Murdock’s home (Daredevil vol 2 #35, 65), but as Matt tries to take control of his life back by taking down the Kingpin and declaring himself the King of Hell’s Kitchen, Peter again finds himself disagreeing with Matt’s methods, this time joined by Luke Cage, Stephen Strange, and Reed Richards (Daredevil vol 2 #56, 65). It isn’t long before this, like so much else in Matt’s life, falls apart, and once again, Peter is there to support Matt and help him confront the Yakuza that had recently attempted to kill Matt and take over the criminal enterprise’s in New York. (Daredevil vol 2 #59, 60)

Peter is quick to call in the favor, pressuring Matt to help him when Black Cat is falsely accused of murder (Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do #4-6 (but honestly, maybe don’t read this one)). Once again, they disagree on methods and tactics, but in the end Peter is able to invoke the length of their friendship and number of times they have helped each other to convince Matt to help, in a humorous exchange.

That exchange comes at just the right time, as shortly afterwards, due to… stuff… everybody, including Matt, forgets they know Spider-Man’s secret identity. Despite re-inserting this secrecy in their friendship, Peter can still rely on Matt, borrowing a costume from him (Amazing Spider-Man #565 and 566) and getting his legal help when Spider-Man is falsely accused of murder (Amazing Spider-Man #587 – boy, that happens to him a lot!). Peter even trusts him enough that he plans to reveal his identity to Matt again, but Matt refuses because of the losses he has suffered due to being too cavalier with his own secrets (Amazing Spider-Man #600).

It’s probably for the best that Matt does this, as soon after he is possessed by the Beast of the Hand and turns evil and Spider-Man has to join in the effort to defeat the evil Daredevil and his Hand Ninjas and Shadowland fortress. (Shadowland #1-5)

Matt recovers from this to have some of his best team-ups with Spidey – first a two-part crossover in Amazing Spider-Man #677 and Daredevil vol 3 #8, and then the 3-part “Omega Effect” crossover through Avenging Spider-Man #6, Punisher vol 9 #10, and Daredevil vol 3 #11.

Spidey embarrasses Matt in front of love-interest Kirsten McDuffie. They play a game of “chicken” jumping off the Chrysler Building. Matt almost hooks up with the Black Cat, much to Peter’s chagrin. Peter also agrees to working with The Punisher and even dresses up as a member of Black Spectre, all to help Matt. Mostly written by Mark Waid, with art by Emma Rios, Khoi Pham, and Marco Checchetto (the current Daredevil artist), it’s truly some of the best Daredevil/Spider-Man team-up material (if you can forgive the Greg Rucka military-fetish Punisher bits).

The fun continues, but the friendship doesn’t, as Daredevil senses something is off in his next couple of meetings with Spider-Man. His enhanced senses tell him the so-called Superior Spider-Man is still the same person, but he certainly doesn’t act like Matt’s old friend when they have a rather rough fight that fortunately gets interrupted by Stilt Man, or when Matt has to convince Spider-Man to destroy his own arsenal and island lair to keep it out of the hands of the Green Goblin. (Daredevil vol # #22, Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #9, 10)

Once Spider-Man is back to normal the world has forgotten Daredevil’s secret identity due to… let’s just say “stuff” again… and Spider-Man is questioning the depth of their friendship as he struggles with the holes in his memory. Matt calls on his help to steal a briefcase in Macau/Hong Kong, Peter goes along with the plan, but repetitively states he’s only doing so because Daredevil is “one of my oldest and most trusted colleagues in the super hero biz.” After Peter gets him to lighten up a little, Matt eventually tells him the truth about what he’s doing, and why he needs the briefcase they stole. “I’m still the man you trusted. The only difference is now you don’t know my name,” Matt tells him. And to be fair, he doesn’t know Peter’s secret anymore either. (Daredevil vol 5 #9 by Charles Soule and Goran Sudzuka)

I think this is really one of the unique things about Spider-Man and Daredevil’s friendship, is that it really never required them to know each other’s secret identities. When they did, we never got any stories of Peter Parker, photojournalist, hanging out with Matt Murdock, lawyer. It is specifically a superhero friendship born of mutual goals and respect. So, even though they no longer know each other’s identities, the friendship seems to be on solid ground again. Daredevil is able to call on Spider-Man for help with a plan to take down Kingpin – now Mayor Fisk – and Spidey sticks around to help with the giant war against The Hand that follows. (Daredevil #600)

Unfortunately for Matt, Spider-Man is not there to help when he gets hit by a truck. Perhaps even unaware that this has happened, Spider-Man is not in a friendly mood at all in his first encounter with Daredevil after this has happened, as Zdarsky and Checchetto have taken over the creative duties on Daredevil.

Daredevil has accidentally killed someone. Not falsely accused, like all of the times that has happened to Spider-Man. He actually did it. In the past, when things have gotten out of control, Luke Cage has been the one to confront Matt about his shortcomings, but this time Luke is understanding. Spider-Man isn’t. Even though he admits it has happened to him as well, he feels Matt isn’t taking his own actions seriously enough, and he needs to stop, or Spidey will implore their other friends to help stop him. Matt has come to feel the same way, and agrees to give up being Daredevil (Daredevil vol 6 #5).

Ignorant of this decision, the police continue to hunt for Daredevil. Spider-Man ends up involved in this as well, revealing that he hasn’t lost respect for Matt. Despite the tone of his earlier words, he tells Detective Cole North that Daredevil is a hero, and doesn’t deserve the persecution that Mayor Fisk is directing at him. (Daredevil vol 6 #11)

Which all brings us back to the comic this article was supposed to be about in the first place, Daredevil vol 6 #23. Daredevil’s head is on straight. He’s back in the costume. But he might still end up in jail for murder or manslaughter, so he calls on his friend, Spider-Man, to help make sure the Kingpin and other criminals stay scared, no matter what happens. And then they talk. And they hug. They remind each other they’re friends – “kindred spirits” as Spider-Man once said – who have lived through many similar experiences that other people wouldn’t understand, and who can count on one another.

It’s a wonderful moment that’s never been done before, and absolutely earned after years of back-and-forth, fighting and arguing just as much as they help each other.

It’s entirely possible that the next time Daredevil and Spider-Man meet up, they’ll have reason to fight again. It’s very possible that they’ll never learn each other’s secret identities again. But they’ll always have this, and they’ll always have each other. And I think that’s beautiful.

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