I’m just getting back on my feet after being knocked down by a nasty bug that had me do nothing but lie in bed for four days. It may be the case that I’m ill in more ways than one though, because at the height of my fever, I was thinking: “Hey, I should write a post on Matt Murdock battling a cold!” While I assure you that I do have interests other than Daredevil (quite a few of them too), I clearly spend way too much time thinking about the Man Without Fear.
While the timing was the result of the circumstances described above, the original idea for this post is not new. Because, according to the one instance I can think of that depicts Matt having a cold in the comics, it really messes up his senses, and that alone makes it worthy a brief mention. Below are some panels from the 2007 Daredevil Annual, by Ed Brubaker, Ande Parks and Leandro Fernandez, in which Matt being sick with the flu is a major plot point. Have a look at these, and let’s reconvene at end.
So, Daredevil complains of radar congestion (!) and diminshed hearing because of the flu. Anyone who has ever had a cold (and that would be everyone) can empathize with Daredevil in this situation. Being sick doesn’t just drain us of energy – the kind you need to successfully survive a fist fight – but gives rise to that distinctive stuffy feeling.
The reason we can’t smell normally when we have a cold is that the increased build-up of mucus in the nasal cavity prevents odor molecules from reaching the odor receptors and signaling their presence to the brain. This would affect someone like Matt Murdock the same as anyone else. He would likely still be more sensitive to scents than someone without a heightened sense of smell that also has the flu (my thinking being that he either has more sensitive receptors or more of them), but the effects of a cold can be pretty dramatic, as we all know.
What about hearing? Well, a bad cold or flu causes swelling around the eustachian tubes which connect the middle ear to the nasal cavity. This disturbs the air pressure in the ear and dampens the movements of the tympanic membrane and the ossicles which relay sound to the inner ear. Simply put, when you notice your hearing worsening during a cold, you’re experiencing the equivalent of a temporary conductive hearing loss. Faint sounds become harder to hear.
Given the ways real life colds affects the senses (I almost didn’t eat for four days because my sense of smell was so bad everything tasted like sawdust), it makes senses that Daredevil – who probably needs that extra edge more than the rest of us – would be wise to stay off the streets. Exactly how a cold would affect the radar sense, however, depends on our understanding of what the radar sense is. If it is indeed a separate sense, anything goes. Nothing in the real world has anything to offer when it comes to understanding how a completely novel sense is affected by the common cold. If the radar sense is based on hearing and/or a more advanced combination of senses then it’s easy to imagine why a cold would constitute a minor disaster.
The cold scenario also reminds us that throughout Daredevil history, Daredevil’s power set has been written as relatively fragile. Matt’s senses – or his ability to use them to their full extent – have been shown to be affected by everything from excessive noise and strong odors to fatigue and blood loss. An infection clearly fits this overall picture, with the added bonus of making sense in terms of the specific symptoms.