Okay, let’s take that second look at Daredevil #32, shall we? Specifically, at the “sensory aspects” I mentioned in my review. You see, I found the scene of Matt entering the Jester’s house and finding the fake Foggy to be so well done from a senses perspective that I wanted to revisit the scene and tell you what I found so impressive about it.
Let’s start off with this first couple of panels that shows Matt face to face with fake Foggy. His reaction is clearly not what the Jester expects…
“The Jester’s lured me into a trap. That’s obvious. I’m not stupid. But no whirring machinery, no sniper’s heartbeat, no whiff go knockout gas… what does he expect me to find? Wait…”
Now, what is interesting about this scene is that not only that Matt doesn’t quite recognize what it is he’s “looking” at, he doesn’t even fully register that he’s looking at anything at all, or at least not anything interesting or attention-grabbing. Not at first.
I can see some readers potentially reacting to this, wondering what Daredevil’s senses are good for if he can’t “see” something that’s right in front of him. I will get back to why and how this makes sense (at least to me) in my treatment of the following panels, but for now I will say this: The “delayed reaction” interpretation of the radar sense has actually been quite common throughout Daredevil history. The list of scenes in which Matt assesses a situation by sort of peeling back the layers, and finally commenting to himself that “now, my radar sense is picking it up!” is definitely a long one, and it spans every decade of Daredevil publication.
One of the more recent cases of this phenomenon that come to mind is a scene that is somewhat similar to this one, from Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s run. In Daredevil #104 (vol. 2), Matt comes home to find that his wife Milla (driven insane by Mister Fear) has left her nurse beaten on the stairs in front of him.. When Matt enters, he at first doesn’t notice the unconscious woman. It is only after he smells the blood and focuses his attention in that direction that all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
This example is relatively recent, but as mentioned, it has been common for Matt to pay more (and more immediate) attention to information gained from his other senses. This is evident in these panels from Daredevil #32 as well. Matt is clearly listening and smelling for threats before doing anything else.
“And what is this? A Jaycees haunted house? Who are you supposed to represent? Real dead bodies have a distinct odor, Jester. This smells like foam rubber and latex.”
Only after Matt has dismissed any immediate threats coming through his heightened senses of hearing and smell, does he appear to pay much attention to the dangling body shape in front of him. This may seem odd, but it need not be. The fact is that all of us generally “sense” more than we “perceive” and are able to consciously pay attention to even less. More and more research supports the idea that our own sense of feeling as if we see, hear and take in almost everything around us is largely an illusion. Just google “inattentional blindness” and “change blindness,” or better yet, look them up on YouTube, and you’ll be amazed at how much all of us actually miss without even knowing it.
When you look at Matt Murdock’s senses (and lack thereof), there is the further complication that many of the things that usually grab our visual attention, such as colors, details, the distinctive features of things we recognize, are not available to him. More than likely, his idea of Foggy probably includes an expectation of a certain “Foggyesque” shape, but far more distinctive are things like scent, his voice and other bodily sounds (heartbeat, breath sounds, the intestines moving around), footsteps, a general movement pattern. All of those characteristics that scream Foggy to him, as opposed to someone who may just be of the same general body type, have been removed from this lifeless dummy who, to Matt, could be anybody.
Of course, even just any body hanging from the ceiling, might be expected to grab someone’s attention, but again, that’s if we assume the same hierarchical ordering of the senses that exist in people with the usual five. The radar sense (regardless of what it is, for these purposes just thinking of it as an ability will suffice), is absolutely necessary in order to explain how Daredevil can do the things he does as a superhero, no doubt about it. However, in the larger scheme of things, the radar sense, when seen as a vision analogue, isn’t really a very good source of high-resolution information for him the way his other senses are.
The radar sense lets him navigate safely through the world, and makes it possible for him to recognize objects with distinctive enough shapes, but I find it highly doubtful that Matt expects to “visually” be able to make sense of everything he encounters, especially right away. A stationary scene like the one in Daredevil #32 likely requires some active sampling of it before the pieces that make it up can be properly categorized and understood. He also reaches out to touch the dummy, which is obviously another way to gather more information about objects in the absence of 20/20 color vision. In this kind of context, a body (or other object) hanging from the ceiling might seem to gradually reveal itself. Matt recognizes what it is, to an extent, but not in the immediate way that the Jester expected.