Anyone who knows me in DD-related circles is well aware of my fascination with Matt’s senses. Understanding his heightened senses is one thing – these should work like the ordinary senses of hearing, smell, touch and taste (though no one really cares that much about taste) with the exception of being heightened to levels far beyond normal human capacity. The radar sense is quite another, however, since it’s a separate sense that is unlike anything seen in nature (although bat-like echolocation might be pretty close). Consequently, the radar sense is open to all kinds of interpretations, and writers and artists have imagined it many different ways throughout the history of the book.
Rendering a non-visual – or “pseudo-visual” – sense that is analogous to vision in some ways, and not in others, presents a unique challenge to comic book creators. Even more so because the comic book medium is a very visual one. Aside from the nearly ubiquitous presence of the iconic “radar rings” drawn to represent waves emanating from Daredevil’s head, artists have illustrated the images created by the radar echo in various ways. The challenge lies in using color and contrast in rendering a sense where these two properties are lacking. Writers have also approached this task differently. Some writers (such as Gerry Conway, D.G. Chichester and others) have emphasized the crudeness of the radar sense, whereas others (Ann Nocenti immediately comes to mind) have portrayed it as being highly accurate. Many of the early writers seemed to simply adjust the power of the radar sense depending on the need of the situation at hand. When Daredevil’s de facto blindness became too inconvenient for a given situation, his powers (including the radar) were simply rewritten to solve the problem at hand regardless of how his senses had been presented in a previous issue or whether the “solution” made much logical sense.
Rather than inserting my own opinions about what makes sense to me (and again, people who know me know that I like to do this…), I’ll devote a series of posts to just looking at some examples of the radar sense in action in the pages of Daredevil, from 1964 until today. The very first chapter will look at how the radar sense was imagined initially. Many current readers who have not sampled Stan Lee’s first issues might be surprised to learn that the radar sense was not originally portrayed as a “visual” sense at all. The radar sense was radically re-imagined after about issue #7, however, and this “power upgrade” will also be examined in the first post. Join me then!