It could easily be argued that Matt Murdock’s longest running relationship, at least on panel, is the one he has had, and continues to have, with his best friend and law partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. They have had periods of separation and disagreement, but they always seem to find their way back to each other, and we know that Foggy will continue to be a central member of the cast with the July relaunch in the hands of Mark Waid.
When I say relationship I don’t exactly mean that in a “bromantic” sort of way, but one can’t underestimate the role that each of them plays in the other’s life, both personal and professional. With Foggy finally learning about Matt’s secret life as Daredevil fifteen years ago, an additional dimension was added to their friendship and I can’t even imagine going back to the days when Foggy didn’t know about Matt’s other life or his heightened senses. As is always the case when the reader knows something about a character that is kept from said character’s closest friends and family members, there is a level of deception at play that one can never be 100% comfortable with.
This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while. Foggy is a great character, and has grown to be a very complex one which successive writers have managed to treat with ever more genuine respect. In the early days, he was often depicted as the hapless fool who never quite managed to live up to the purported genius of his partner (something of which he was always painfully aware). However, later writers have elevated Foggy to being an intelligent man and a skillful lawyer, someone who might be considered Matt’s equal in most ways except the purely physical.
The young Foggy Nelson
In an effort to dissect one of comicdom’s most enduring friendships, we’ll have to go back to the very beginning of how these men came to know each other in the first place, a meeting which, according to every available source, happened quite accidentally when the two were freshmen in college and were assigned to be room mates. Aside from an apparent interest in the law and both being fairly likeable people, they had little in common.
Not much is known about Foggy’s upbringing except that he was raised by his father and step-mother (who may or may not have actually adopted him) and has a younger sister named Candace, who we learn is something of a wild child. Foggy’s biological mother Rosalind Sharpe was introduced during the Kesel run and revealed to be a cut-throat and very successful attorney and a woman Foggy is helpless to try to impress in any way. When Foggy finally marries his on again, off again girlfriend Debbie Harris during Frank Miller’s run, we learn that his family has flown in from Akron, Ohio, but whether this was were Foggy was actually raised has never been revealed. Personally, I prefer to think of him as a native New Yorker.
What little we do know about Foggy, such as his father lending them the cash to set up their own law firm (see Daredevil #1) suggests that his family is not without financial means, but probably not wealthy in the real sense of the word. The “flashback” issue Daredevil #-1, which was written by Joe Kelly in the mid-90s, suggested an upper-class background for Foggy (he’s dropped off at the school by the family chauffeur while his parents are vacationing in Europe), but I for one question the idea that Foggy comes from old money. On the contrary, I’d say that one of the best adjectives to describe Foggy is “average.” While there is much more to him as a character than initially meets the reader’s eye, he doesn’t really stand out from the crowd much. As a young man entering adulthood, my guess is that he’s the kind of person who might view himself as painfully unremarkable. This is when he meets Matt who is anything but.
Meeting Matt Murdock
If you’ll allow me to speculate freely (if you’re still reading this, I guess you’re already along for the ride), we might see young Foggy as the product of a life that’s been neither too challenging nor too sheltered. He was likely never one of the popular kids at school, nor too much of a geek; a good student though maybe not a brilliant one; eager for new adventures though maybe a bit too much on the shy side for his own good.
In Matt Murdock, Foggy meets someone who is, in every sense of the word, a survivor. He has survived the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen, he has survived years of taunting and he has survived a life-altering accident. Not only has Matt already faced a long list of challenges, any one of which would have been enough to bring many people to their knees, he has managed to make something of himself that would have been remarkable even without the many obstacles placed in his path. Matt Murdock has never been described as a genius, unlike many other Marvel heroes such as Peter Parker, Reed Richards and Tony Stark, but he’s always been portrayed as intelligent, hard-working and a very successful student. Compared to Foggy, he’s more of everything. It’s not a great stretch of the imagination to assume that Matt must have been one of those students who never had to suffer a lack of attention, in no small part due to his blindness which would of course make his already impressive achievements even more so in the eyes of those around him.
The question then becomes what it is Matt gets out of Foggy. Foggy must have been as impressed with Matt as everyone else, but by virtue of being thrown together in close quarters, it’s inevitable that the two would get to know each other as more than inspirational poster boy and chubby geek, respectively. The “ordinariness” that Foggy might struggle with would not be something for Matt to look down on. It could even be a potential source of envy. Matt can never be ordinary in the strict sense of the word and will not readily be regarded as such by people who aren’t family or close friends. Given his history, Matt isn’t likely to care that Foggy isn’t “cool” enough. What likely matters more are the very qualities that Foggy can offer: respect and a similar willingness to look past the superficial. In return, Foggy earns Matt’s trust as well as a sense of being needed, or at least valued. There may have been some co-dependency issues at play here, but whatever the case may be this quickly grows into something deeper.
For all their differences, Matt and Foggy do have overlapping academic interests as well as similar values. As many runs on the book show (Kesel and Bendis come to mind), they also share a sense of humor and never miss the opportunity to poke some gentle fun at each other. What also stands out even in the early issues of Daredevil, long before Foggy learns about Matt’s abilities and in the midst of many otherwise cringeworthy moments, is Foggy’s completely unsentimental approach to his friend’s blindness. Very rarely is there any sense that Foggy regards Matt as anything less than perfectly capable and one would assume that this is a conclusion he would have reached very early on in their relationship.
Foggy Nelson – Attorney at Law
Matt can tell when someone is lying. Foggy is not so fortunate. This leaves less opportunity for Foggy to be the kind of noble attorney that we like Matt to be. While only representing the wrongfully accused is a luxury only those with superpowers can enjoy, you really couldn’t uphold the justice system with this kind of approach. As despised as the lawyer profession might be in many circles, allowing everyone – regardless of guilt – the right to a legal defense is an important principle of modern civilized society. Differently put, representing potentially guilty clients is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
This still hasn’t prevented the occasional portrayal of Foggy as the more unscrupulous law partner (see for example the Daredevil movie, or Ann Nocenti’s portrayal of Foggy as a corporate lawyer in the Kingpin’s employ) in spite of the fact that he lives his life within the confines of the law whereas Matt most certainly does not. Then again, one of the conflicts at the heart of the Daredevil comic is that between what is moral and what is legal. The two are often, but not always the same. Breaking the law might occasionally be morally justified, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the law that was broken was unjust.
The odd example aside, Matt and Foggy usually find themselves on the same side of the courtroom and with time, we’ve come to know Foggy to be just as accomplished as Matt is. In the early Stan Lee issues, Foggy was described almost as a Matt’s sidekick, content to stand in the shadow of his more talented partner. In Daredevil #2, we even see Foggy send Matt off to inspect the Baxter building for the Fantastic Four in preparation for a renegotiation of their lease. I can’t think of a worse assignment for a blind lawyer, powers or no powers, and it makes you wonder just what Foggy’s own specialty is. He quite obviously doesn’t think very highly of his own abilities.
With time, especially during volume 2 and in the hands of Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker, Foggy has come into his own, as a man and as a serious legal professional. This kind of development makes sense in light of Foggy learning Matt’s secret – and thus no longer being the butt of an ongoing joke – and his having to cover for Matt’s absence on more occasions than anyone should be willing to put up with. Foggy is the one who holds the law firm together makes sure that it even stays afloat. Matt is usually too busy feeling guilty about everyone who’s died on his watch to care, but the reality is that he owes Foggy big.
Finding out your best friend is secretly a superhero
In issue #347, by J.M. DeMatteis and Ron Wagner, Foggy finally finds out that Matt is Daredevil. To make matters worse, this discovery is combined with the realization that Matt is even still alive after having faked his death many issues earlier. Really, nothing tests friendships quite as much as faking your own death. Matt is in a catatonic state at the time, playing out an inner conflict that lasts a few issues and the two friends don’t start dealing with the repercussions of what Foggy has found out until Daredevil #353, by Karl Kesel.
As obnoxious as ever, Matt simply decides to show up for work one day, but Foggy isn’t willing to forgive quite so easily. First of all, he’s come to the rather logical conclusion that for Matt to be Daredevil, he can’t possibly be blind and so has to deal with the idea that Matt has gone to the extreme lengths of faking a major disability for the entire duration of their friendship. The truth, of course, is more complicated than that and is better described as an exaggeration than an outright lie (in Matt’s defense, he’d have a hard time faking sightedness for any real amount of time in a university setting).
When you add this, as well as the faked death, to the standard coming out as a superhero scenario, it’s understandable that Foggy would feel deeply betrayed. At the end of the day, Matt’s transgressions are forgiven, as we all know they would be, but to Kesel’s credit he has Foggy make some very bitter comments throughout many of the following issues. Foggy’s capacity for forgiveness may be great, but he’s still human.
The trials of being best friend with Daredevil
What we’ve seen in recent years is Matt’s life becoming more and more insane. It started with the outing of his secret identity, his time in jail, the destruction of his marriage and personal life and has culminated with Matt completely losing his marbles in Shadowland (there’s only so much you can blame on demonic possession). This has put a lot of pressure on Foggy who was himself the victim of a near-fatal stabbing at the beginning of Brubaker’s run, a direct consequence of his and Matt’s friendship.
While Foggy’s support through most of this has been admirable, we’re finally beginning to see him buckle under the emotional wear and tear. Particularly since Matt’s wife Milla was committed, Matt started becoming prone to violent outbursts and skipping work (seriously, let’s hope Foggy makes more money than Matt because I can’t imagine the latter having logged that many hours in the last few years). When Matt made a deal with the devil – or, more accurately, the Kingpin – Foggy went so far as to more or less end their friendship.
At the end of the day, Foggy always ends up forgiving Matt. To a great extent, we would have to assume that this is due to the depth of their friendship, but there’s also a sense that Foggy feels responsible for Matt and what happens to him in the same way someone might care for a mentally ill relative. Given Matt’s history with mental health problems, this concern doesn’t appear to be unwarranted.
When we meet Foggy again, after the events of Shadowland and all of the events that preceded it, I’d like to see the new creative team spend whatever time they need to mend Foggy’s and Matt’s relationship which has probably never been more strained. And it is my sincere hope that Matt won’t be let off the hook easily this time.
Over the last 45+ years, Foggy Nelson has grown from kind but timid second stringer to a man secure in his role as a lawyer and with enough integrity to put his foot down and tell his troubled best friend exactly the kind of truths he needs to hear. And that is exactly what best friends do. Now, let’s see where this intriguing duo take it from here.