Hopeful Realism and The Trick Ending
This column has spoilers for last Wednesday's Daredevil #10. If you haven't read the issue and don't want to know what happens, go buy it, read it, and then come back here.
Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Daredevil is so good that I end up forgetting about it every month. I know that doesn't make any sense, but it just means I kind of take it for granted. It's like how I never go out of my way to watch a San Antonio Spurs game, then I catch one on TV and I'm just amazed by the ball movement and their execution each time. This past week's issue of Daredevil tackled the issue of depression, always a tough nut to crack because mental illness is difficult to understand, and in the eyes of some people, tough to even accept it exists. But Waid does a good job of explaining it in the first few pages, explaining that it's a physical illness that prevents sufferers from reaching back out to people, despite the fact that they desperately want to.
At the end of the issue, Matt puts on a happy face, sends his girlfriend Kristen McDuffie away, and then curls up in his bed.
And that's it. A powerful, true-to-life, realistic ending. After that, the letters page is run.
I was going to put the book down after that, then decided to see if there was an interesting ad left on the final page, and like a post-credits scene, Matt picks up his phone, reaches out to Kristen, who turns out to have stayed behind, waiting for Matt to let her in.
That's a beautiful ending, and it wouldn't have worked so well as it did if they didn't pretend that the second-to-last page was the actual ending. It works because the heavy subject matter validates the heavy ending. Like I said, it's realistic. It's hard for people with depression to reach back out to the people who reach out to them. But the real ending is realistic too, and hopeful — the ones who understand won't leave.
The only time I've ever seen a similar trick ending is with Scott McCloud's Zot! in an issue entitled "Normal." In it, supporting cast member Terry is confronting the fact that she may be a lesbian.
This particular scene between her and Zot really gets to me.
Anyway, at the very end there, Terry runs into Pammy, the girl she has a crush on. Pammy says hi, and Terry just walks away.
After that, McCloud ran the letters page. He actually got readers coming up to him years later complaining about the ending. Apparently, those readers never turned to the final page, which involved Terry turning around.
Again, the "misdirection" is a realistic enough ending as it is. Many people hide who they are, especially in high school. But the actual ending is realistic, too, because, well, some people do take that first step to self-acceptance.
What's more, both true endings are appropriate to the superhero genre, as they highlight hope and show that there is light even in dark moments.
Still, it's probably telling that the trick ending works so well when it comes to issues based in reality, such as depression or coming out, Are we so conditioned to think that the bad stuff is what's real that ending at the down notes is what's expected? Probably so. And that in itself is a sad commentary on how we view reality.