As any longtime reader will know, I love scrutinizing Daredevil’s senses, both from a scientific and conceptual perspective. That is to say that I enjoy looking at 1) the conflict between what the limitations of physics and biology allow in the real world and what Daredevil is able to do in the comic and 2) how the nature and extent of Darededevil’s heightened senses – combined with his lack of sight – has been explored and interpreted by writers and artists.
The enigmatic radar sense has been particularly interesting to pick apart, and that’s the reason this post and the ones that have preceded it in the series have even been given their own category on this site. So far, I’ve only reached Denny O’Neil’s run as Daredevil writer in the “History of the Radar Sense” series proper, but I’ve decided to make a big leap forward in time to the present for this post. Yes, the Waid/Rivera/Martín run only has four issues to its credit so far, but given the fact that the entire team has shown an unusual dedication to exploring the sensory angle of Matt Murdock’s world – enhancements and deficits alike – this seemed like a good enough opportunity to return to the topic I never seem to be able to stay away from very long. I can’t say I’ve reached any definitive conclusion yet, but maybe this post will at least make for an interesting discussion.
Starting with the very first interviews with Mark Waid, long before Daredevil #1 came out, it seemed clear that this creative team was really going to spend time getting into Matt’s head and I was quite curious to see what they would make of the Matt’s radar sense. As early as the back-up story in Daredevil #1, with art by Marcos Martín, we see Matt himself offer the following explanation:
So, apparently it’s “like echolocation.” Without actually being echolocation? To tell you the truth, this exchange – while enlightening in some ways – didn’t make me much wiser in terms of figuring out what exactly Mark Waid imagines the radar sense to be. Worth noting, however, is that the “touching everything at once” line, which was first uttered by a young Matt when explaining his powers to Elektra in the hands of Frank Miller. Regardless of the source of Matt’s pseudo-visual perceptions, it makes sense for there to be a tactile component to the experience. In fact, many real life blind people will claim to be sensing objects by tactile means – as opposed to hearing them – to the extent that one of the participants in early experiments on what was known at the time as “facial vision” refused to believe that his experiences were based on hearing. Only after he repeatedly failed to detect objects when his ears were covered would he accept this idea.
Like I said, I was none the wiser in terms of whether Waid considered the “radar” to be hearing-based, a literal radar sense (i.e. electromagnetic waves) or something in between – or entirely different – from reading the back-up story. The final few pages of the main story of the first issue didn’t make things any clearer. During this part of the story, Daredevil is targeted by Captain America and sprayed with radar chaff. Chaff is used as a radar countermeasure and consists of small pieces of plastic or metal. This would clearly indicate that we’re talking about actual radar if it weren’t for the fact that it seems reasonable that radar chaff would also affect someone’s ability to “hear” nearby object (particularly if that someone is relying primarily on relatively low intensity ambient sound), given that even the leaves of a tree reflect sound. We also see Daredevil trying to get a handle on the situation by actively generating sound, as seen in the panel below in which he taps his billy club against a chimney.
In his interview with Insight Radio, from the beginning of September, Mark Waid gives us a little more to go on, especially in terms of the functional aspects of Daredevil’s radar sense, as he sees them:
“He also has, on top of [his other heightened senses], what they call radar sense – a sort of second sight if you will. He can’t see faces, he can’t see details, but essentially it’s a form of radar that travels 360 degrees and kind of gives him a vague, almost outline, sense to the things that are around him at all times. It sounds a lot more helpful than it is, it’s really just a sort of aid to make sure he, as he crusades and fights crime, knows where the edge of the buildings are and where the oncoming cars are coming from, but that’s his shtick, that’s his power-set.”
This leads me to assume that Mark Waid does see the radar sense as a separate sense that may or may not be actual radar. The above explanation is followed, later in the interview, by:
“What he sees around him is sort of a jumble of shapes and fuzzy outlines, just enough to sort of get a sense of the lay of the room around him, but he can’t really tell a table from a chair from a person. He can’t really tell, unless things are very still and he is able to concentrate a great deal, who’s who in a room, just by their sillhouettes. It’s really just a matter of silhouettes.”
While suggesting that Matt can’t tell the difference between a person and a chair sounds a little far-fetched, even for me, it does make sense for Waid to point out that there are limitations to just how much information you can get from knowing only the shape (and possibly the density) of objects. It’s easy to forget that the ability to see fine detail is a luxury afforded only the very center of the visual field of us average humans and, more importantly, relies to a great extent on the ability to see color without which many details cannot be perceived.
(For those who might worry that “seeing” so much less than people with regular vision would render our hero too ineffective for his own good, it might be some comfort to know that cats, for instance, only have roughly 10% of our visual acuity yet are capable of being both skilled acrobats and predators. Add to that the fact that perhaps the main mobility obstacle facing people with low vision is being unable to accurately determine distance, a problem Matt – whose “visual” perception consists almost entirely of relative distances – simply wouldn’t have. ;))
While the above interview, and the current four issues themselves, have failed to completely satisfy my need to know what exactly we’re supposed to make of the radar sense under the current regime, I will take this opportunity to give two big thumbs up to both artists for their work so far in putting their own spin on the ever enigmatic “radar.” So, before offering you guys the floor, that is the comment section, I’ll end with two radar panels by Paolo Rivera (top, from Daredevil #2) and Marcos Martín (bottom, from Daredevil #4):
I’m sorry for getting this post up so late, by the way. I’ve had a nasty cold for the past week and been low on energy, but hope to be back on track very soon! And, for those of you keeping track, this is post #499. 😉