I love it when you guys comment on my posts. Having people engage with the content I put out on this blog is rewarding in and of itself, but it’s even more fun when the comments turn into a conversation or, as is the case here, spawn entire new posts.
So, this entry is sort of a continuation of the conversation between Aaron and myself in the comment section of A history of the radar sense #6. Before getting to that, I thought I’d also reply to a related comment of Aaron’s (go Aaron!), coming out of an exchange in the comment section of “Because I can’t just kill him” – part 7. We got to talking about comic book science, and I remarked that I thought Daredevil was the most realistic superhero. Aaron was immediately, and appropriately, on my case:
@Christine: The “most believable superhero”? Let’s not get carried away. 🙂 I think someone like the Punisher is a little more believable: he’s a guy with lots of guns who keeps himself in peak physical condition and has trained extensively in martial arts and weaponry. Really, any of the depowered heroes fall into this camp, e.g., Hawkeye or Black Widow (unless you think whatever age-defying serum she took is a super-power).
I never did get back to him on that one, but here is what I’d like to say, in a nutshell: In a world where superheroes do exist, someone like Hawkeye, i.e. Clint Barton, makes little sense, within the context where he usually operates. Don’t get me wrong, I like him a lot (I guess I’ve got a soft spot for the low-powered guys), but let’s just just say he looks a little naked next to Iron Man and downright ineffective next to someone like Ms Marvel or even Spider-Man. He’s one of the reasons I’m glad Daredevil has never been an avenger, because Barton often strikes me as woefully out-powered, and Daredevil would too in the same situation. However, I will gladly admit that the Punisher is more realistic, though I’m not sure he’s technically a superhero. 😉
So, allowing for the existence of super-powers, that is making what The Physics of Superheroes author James Kakalios calls a “miracle exception,” the reason I think Daredevil ranks so high on the believability scale is that, even though he is often put in absurd situations where his senses are pushed to the max and beyond, he actually can be written in a way that stays within the laws of physics. And because of his “extremely fit but human” level of strength and physical prowess writers rarely put him into situations he shouldn’t reasonably be able to get out of. True, he did go up against the Hulk. But it did nearly kill him.
This brings me back to the basic anatomy of Daredevil’s power set, and the more recent exchange between Aaron and yours truly. While discussing Daredevil’s radar sense, the topic quickly turned to how his powers have changed over the years. Aaron suggested that that Daredevil has gradually become more powerful. I agreed, but felt that this more recent “power boost” was largely restricted to the Bendis run, and went on one of my usual rants in support of the laws of physics. The particular scene I invoked in support of my argument was the one from Trial of the Century in which Matt listens to his client cry in the basement while seated comfortably on the roof many floors above. True to form, Aaron gave me food for thought:
So, I’m guessing you’re not a fan of the infrequent occasions when DD has sat on a tall building and somehow searched all of Hell’s Kitchen until he found that particular person/thing/smell/whatever that he was searching for, eh? How else is Matt going to keep his kidnapped girlfriends alive? […] Off the top of my head, Brubaker had DD do this at least twice (kind of). Once, during the Mr. Fear story, DD sat back and listened for Fear’s metallic voice somewhere in the Kitchen. At the very end of Brubaker’s run, Master Izo found Milla by finding her scent in the city, something he claims Matt could’ve done if he had simply focused hard enough. […] It doesn’t look like our modern writers are going to be abandoning DD’s one super power any time soon.
This takes us to the present and the (long overdue) point of this post. The first thing I’d say here is that I take no issue whatsoever with his finding people by smell. I figure that if a dog can do it, Matt can do it. In fact, I think his sense of smell is generally underused and that he should be able to track people better (which I think I mentioned in a previous post). Of course, that would mean that he’d need a trail to follow, but I would much rather see him smell out the bad guys than listening for them.
I’m familiar with the old Miller scene in which DD seeks out Bullseye by listening for him from the top of a roof, and am not a fan of it (though the issue as a whole was quite good, I thought). I’m not suggesting that Bendis introduced the concept of having Matt do things he shouldn’t be able to do – and I’m also going to assume that writers have only a vague idea, at best, of what the difference would be between only “humanly impossible” (and thus explainable by giving someone special abilities) and physically impossible (i.e. things that clearly defy the laws of physics and not explainable by super-powers alone). On the other hand, most super-powered characters in the Marvel U are regularly doing things that fall into both of the chategories.
What I will say about Bendis, though, is that I felt like he wasn’t even trying sometimes, and that he would often include details that were meant to be cool, but made no sense. Another couple of examples come to mind, aside from the scene I mentioned earlier. One is when Matt wakes up to the reporters outside his door after his outing, and he comments that he can smell the saline in their eyes. Things like that seem to be included only for the reader to be impressed with his mind-blowing powers.
Another scene that comes to mind is the fairly simple one, where Matt is standing outside his apartment and, in his own words, looking for a reason not to change to Daredevil (this was also from the Out arc, I believe) and more or less scans the area for anyone looking out his window. In order to do this he would have to be aware of what everyone within a block radius is doing, simultaneously. He would have to be aware of the positions of hundreds of people and their respective location relative to both himself and any windows or doors. This ability to simply “know things” in ways that cannot easily be explained by his heightened senses was common during Bendis’s time at the helm.
It is also the case that the scene I mentioned initially (Matt hearing something through many layers of cement at the top of a building) goes quite a bit beyond hearing something at great distance in open air and/or through a single wall. Sound can travel quite far, and super-hearing would allow for something of an edge here. This makes Brubaker’s scene with Mr Fear (who was presumably relatively close by, and somewhat out in the open) a little more believable. I agree that it’s a stretch though, and this is another one of those situations where I would have preferred that Matt just use his nose.
In general, and in closing, I think the reason that blatant violations of both the laws of physics and basic common sense annoy me as much as they do when it comes to Daredevil is because we are dealing with a character that really could be written well while maintaining some amount of respect for the impossible. As with any other superhero, we accept the “miracle exception,” but it’s great when the reader doesn’t have to suspend disbelief more than necessary. Okay, Aaron (and everyone else), let’s hear it! 😉