Catholic guilt? Think again

Matt touching Maggie's cross

Matt touching Maggie's cross

A few months ago, I wrote a post called “My other senses more than compensate” in which I attempted to poke some holes in the claim made by some Daredevil fans (and even the odd writer) that Matt’s preternaturally heightened senses render him completely “non-disabled.” In that post, I also briefly touched on what I perceive to be two other pervasive Daredevil myths, namely “Matt the Man-Whore” and “Matt the Devout Catholic.”

While Matt’s recent indiscretion under Brubaker’s pen may have somewhat tainted my view of Matt Murdock as a serial monogamist, it still doesn’t change the fact that only the most sexually inexperienced of male comic book fans would consider a man in his mid-thirties with fewer than ten proven sexual partners under his belt to be even remotely promiscuous. And yes, I’m looking at you Kevin Smith… ;-) For those who care to count Matt’s former sexual partners, I already did it for you in Matt’s love life by the numbers.

Now the time has come to take a closer look at Matt’s religious faith or, as I would see it, his lack thereof. I realize that this is a touchy subject, and if people out there, whether Catholic or not, enjoy this take on the character I’m certainly not going to claim that they are wrong to view Daredevil from a religious perspective. In fact, the great thing about fiction is that we, as readers, are co-creators of the reading experience. All I’m saying is that this is one aspect of the character where the reader must add a lot of input themselves since there is very little in terms of “scripture” (i.e. Daredevil canon) to support it.

At this point, I can almost hear one or two of you out there go “Wait a second, everyone knows Daredevil is Catholic, heck Joe Quesada talks about it all the time!” First of all, I completely agree that it’s indisputable that the character of Matt Murdock is a “cultural Catholic,” i.e. someone who has been born and raised in a Catholic context, might observe Catholic rituals on occasion and would certainly check the Catholic box on one of those census forms that the U.S. government likes to send out. What I take issue with is the notion that he’s an overtly religious practicing Christian. I base my own views on the simple fact that I’ve never really gotten that vibe from actually reading the comic. (Well, until Kevin Smith wrote a wildly out of character Matt threatening Karen with hell if she didn’t go to church with him.) And there was about as much active church attendance in the Daredevil movie as there has been in all of comics canon combined, though the movie has certainly served to skew perceptions on this issue.

There has been plenty of religious imagery in Daredevil, particularly in stories like Born Again. Religious imagery doesn’t make the main character a regular church-goer, however. Neither does the fact that his mother is a nun, especially since he didn’t grow up with her. What about quotes like the one below, made by Joe Quesada (Newsarama, December 2006)?:

“The characters that have religion play into their stories are that way because their religion played an important part in who they are as a character and it effects their decisions and their stories, no one more so than Matt Murdock. In direct contrast, one would have to assume that due to Peter Parker’s Irish heritage (Parker/Fitzgerald), he’s most likely of Christian Protestant beliefs, yet while there have been rare instances when he’s reached out to God, it’s not an important makeup of his character.

In the case of Matt Murdock, it’s come to define him. It also adds an interesting juxtaposition and wonderful irony between a man who worships a Catholic god yet wears a devil suit to fight crime. There have also been numerous scenes depicting Matt gaining an incredible amount of comfort from his religion. The scenes of him in the confessional stand out most to me as one of many moments when organized religion has been shown in a positive light.”

As someone who has read virtually everything Matt Murdock has ever appeared in, I have no idea what Quesada is talking about here. The only confessional scene I can think of off the top of my head is the one in Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller, and that’s not even considered to be in continuity. The only other one that comes to mind is Matt in costume collapsing inside a confessional stand because he had the flu and needed a rest in the 2007 annual. Surely, Quesada can’t be talking about the Daredevil movie? I also can’t immediately think of any instances of Matt drawing “an incredible amount of comfort” from his religion. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but to say that religion, in the real sense and not merely as metaphor, figures heavily in the life of Matt Murdock, as depicted in the comic, just doesn’t ring true to me.

Catholicism is an important aspect of the character because Joe Quesada, Kevin Smith and others have said so, not because that is how the character has actually been portrayed for the vast majority of his existence. If anything, I’d say he’s been portrayed as a lapsed Catholic with a very secular lifestyle. Belief in God or a higher power is one thing, but Matt has never seemed to think twice about engaging in extramarital sex and appears very much to be a typical liberal New Yorker. He even lead something of a sexual revolution in mainstream comics by living with the Black Widow in San Francisco in what would have to be a presumed sexual relationship without the required nuptials.

So where does “Catholic guilt” come in? The supposed driving force behind so much of what Daredevil does? Until I finally decided to look this up a few days ago, I never really took issue with this. I wasn’t even 100% clear on what Catholic guilt was so I just assumed that it was an acquired cultural trait which predisposed people with this background to go around thinking that they weren’t trying hard enough. That would certainly be a spot on description of Matt Murdock and very much in line with the relatively greater emphasis on doing good deeds traditionally associated with Catholicism (as opposed to Protestantism’s heavier focus on faith as an act of conscience). Boy was I wrong.

It turns out that the most common meaning of the term has to do with the conflict people feel when trying to reconcile traditional Catholic tenets with Western values, particularly when it comes to abortion, pre-marital sex and masturbation. Does this mean Matt fights crime because he feels guilty about pleasuring himself? Holy cow, I never considered that angle before… I suspect that people throw the Catholic guilt explanation around because they, like me, simply aren’t clear on what it means.

To me, Matt Murdock is a fascinating and, yes, conflicted character who carries a lot of things on his shoulders. His background and upbringing influence him a great deal and his morals and aspirations suggest a spiritually inspired quest to do right in the world, as well as a belief in God. But is he a poster boy for organized religion or even a practicing Catholic? Joe Quesada might say yes. The vast majority of the written record says no.

While my own views on this matter are quite firm, I would love some input on this post. If you feel differently, let me know by commenting. Keep it civil, though. I know the topic might be a little controversial.

Daredevil sales holding steady

No single comic book sold over 100,000 copies in the direct sales market in March, according to Sales for periodical comics was down by 7% for the month of March and by 5% for the first quarter of 2009, both figures compared to last year. Because many books have gone up in price, the drop in units sold is even greater. Still, these numbers are not bad considering the serious financial crisis and the fact that the sales of most other consumer goods have dropped much more.

In light of this, it’s nice to see Daredevil sales holding steady or even gaining slightly. Since Dardevil #116 was delayed one week, both #116 and #117 shipped in March, selling 41,261 and 41,046 copies respectively, gaining slightly from 40,214 for Daredevil #115 in January. Compared to the first quarter of last year, that’s a drop by just over 3%, which is a modest dip in numbers considering overall sales and the current economic climate. The relatively smaller drop for Daredevil also translates into a climb in the rankings from around 50th to 34th for both #115 and #116.

Over the last year, sales via Diamond have hovered between 39,258 and 46,305 (for Daredevil #111, the debut of Lady Bullseye). Bendis’s last issue, Daredevil #81, sold 44,252 copies which was down considerably from the height of his run. These sales numbers are always estimates and reflect direct sales to comic book stores.

If you’re like me, and like crunching numbers, have a look at the sales charts for March (ICv2) and January (ICv2 via The Beat). Kuljit Mithra also has Daredevil sales numbers posted on ManWithoutFear going back all the way to 1996.

Another happy number I’d like to report is that this blog passed the 10,000 visitor mark today. I’d also like to take the opportunity to mention that the Hell’s Kitchen strips can now be found in a more easily accessible format in their own post. Just click the thumbnails to see the full-size strip. Later, my friends!

When fanboys pout

I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled Daredevil posting to offer a complaint. Ironically, I’m complaining about people complaining. I know that makes me a hypocrite, but bear with me.

The topic for this entry started brewing in the back of my mind, when I read a post on one of the CBR blogs about a week ago. The post in question was about the X-Men Origins: Wolverine leak that made the movie, or an incomplete version of it, available for download online. What struck me were all the negative comments below the post, most not really debating the morality or legitimacy of illegal downloading but whether or not the movie was any good. The vast majority of commentors had not seen the movie, but they seemed to agree: “It will suck.”

It certainly wasn’t the first time I had seen this sort of overwhelming negativity online, most comic book message boards seem full of it. For every joyfully enthusiastic fan, there seem to be two more who get a kick out of bitching and moaning, almost regardless of the topic or the point of complaint. If so many fans keep getting disappointed over and over again by what they perceive as a lack of quality and ideas, then why do they keep up the habit? It can’t be that they’re hoping to be pleasantly surprised, because half the time they seem to anticipate the inevitable let-down.

Generally, I’ve found that most of the positive quality content about comics comes from blogs where lazy two word reviews along the lines of “It sucked” simply will not be sufficient to sustain any readership for any amount of time. Bloggers are expected to at least be able to form and communicate fully realized ideas about the content they’re reviewing, something the more bitter fans probably can’t even work up the energy to do.

Not everything out there is good, and my own opinions on what I like and dislike are as firm as everybody else’s. I think Kevin Smith’s run on Daredevil is wildly overrated, I think Brand New Day was a misstep (though I generally think that Joey Q is pretty good at his job), and I think the end to Secret Invasion was a contrived mess. But those are opinions and not a symptom of a sweeping and negative attitude to life and comics. And I will even admit to sometimes enjoying seeing an issue torn to shreds – when it’s well-deserved – but I at least expect it to be done with a tongue-in-cheek approach.

I’m sad to see Brubaker and Lark leave Daredevil, but I’m expecting Andy Diggle to do a good job. I’m keeping an open mind, and that’s a policy that’s worked well for me for as long as I can remember. And as far as the Wolverine movie goes, I think I’ll wait to see it before I make up my mind.

(Blind) ninja links!

Remember a while back, when I said I was going to do a post on ninjas? Yeah, I really was going to until I realized that other people have written about this topic much more eloquently than I ever could, and with much more knowledge of Japanese history to their name. Instead, I’ll just link to some information I’ve found. You may call me lazy, but I call it making proper use of the Internet! (I’m actually looking forward to the day I have kids so I can tell them about how mommy grew up before the Internet, when you had to do research at the library and find the books you wanted on alphabetically organized index cards.)

The first thing I suggest you read is a post on ninjas in reality and popular culture from the blog The Illuminated Lantern. Good research – from the looks of it – and a fun read. Off course, Daredevil mythos doesn’t just feed off ninja legends in general but also the quite popular concept of the blind martial artist (we have Matt himself, Stick, and now Master Izo). This theme is thoroughly explored in the many movies about Zatoichi, a fictional blind swordsman active in Edo era Japan. A whopping 26 movies were made about Zatoichi from 1962 until 1989. One of his movies even inspired the 1989 American film Blind Fury, starring Rutger Hauer. We actually had Blind Fury on VHS when I was growing up. Ah, the 80’s were fun.

To learn more about Zatoichi, click on the Wikipedia link above or go to where there’s more information about these classic Japanese movies. A new version was made in 2003, and has been uploaded to YouTube in its entirety. For those who don’t find that practice to be somewhat questionable, here’s the link. You’ll also find the trailer embedded below. Just for the fun of it, there’s a Blind Fury trailer too. Man, that movie was so bad it was good. Enjoy and remember to read that entire ninja article too!

Daredevil eye candy, Maleev style

As I alluded to earlier, this is a look at some of the more sizzling images of Matt Murdock to come out of Maleev’s tenure as Daredevil artist. While Matt has always been portrayed as being at least moderately attractive, Alex Maleev’s realistic style managed to convey the kind of images that lets the reader imagine what the character would realistically look like. And some of the art he produced is of the kind that would literally make you drool. I’ll have to whip up some lady eye candy for the straight male readers too, but for now it’s all about the title character.

The first image below is perhaps my favorite. It’s the art from the cover to Daredevil #50 (vol 2), and I must admit to using this as the desktop background on my computer for a while. I removed it after doing some work-related stuff at my dad’s house. He caught a glimpse of it and, of course, asked me what it was. I answered truthfully by saying that it was Daredevil, my new favorite superhero. I left it at that, and to this day no one in my family has any idea about the extent of my involvement with this character. I suppose a girl should be allowed some secrets, right?

There is so much to like about this picture. Aside from the near-pornographic posing (not necessarily sure that’s a good thing, but it works here), it’s just a very attractive piece of art. We have Matt returning from a night on the town with cuts all over, almost passed out in a chair (or whatever that is he’s sitting on), but there’s also a hint of a smile on his lips. It’s like he’s exhausted, but content at the same time. Personally, I just want to run over and give him a shoulder rub or something. Maybe pour some iodine on those cuts… Is it just me or is it getting hot in here? ;)

Okay, moving on to a beautifully drawn sequence of panels from Daredevil #35, where Matt goes out in costume to defy the journalists camped out outside his home. I like the detail here, and how his emotions come through so clearly. Nice job, Maleev!

There aren’t enough good things I can say about this sequence. This is great work from Bendis, and Maleev captures what’s going on in Matt’s head perfectly. You can see how quickly defiance turns to fear. Modern Daredevil writers have done a pretty good job of debunking the “man without fear” myth to the point where fear has become a respectable and quite reasonable emotion for the most human of superheroes to experience. After all, you can’t really be brave if you don’t experience fear. But that’s a discussion for some other time. Let’s move on…

The next couple of panels are from the opening page of Daredevil #37 and shows a flashback to a younger Matt, lounging in bed with a certain college girlfriend turned assassin named Elektra Natchios. It’s a nicely drawn college-age version of the character, and I happen to know this is a favorite of a friend of mine.

Wait! Don’t turn that computer screen upside down or twist your neck trying to get a good look. Here’s the panel turned the “right” way…

Yeah, I can think of a couple of guys who would like to be in that position. At least before there was a risk of a sai to the chest. Speaking of bodily injuries, let’s turn our attention to another fan favorite. Below, from issue #48, we see Matt trying to heal from his close encounter with Typhoid Mary. Matt has the worst ex-girlfriends in comics.

Well, this journey into the smoking corners of the Daredevil archive isn’t really over, but I do need to get going, so you hungry (drooling?) readers are just going to have to be content with this for now. I might update this post later. I will see you then.