Assistive technology in Daredevil

We all know that Matt Murdock has an arsenal of abilities and tricks up his sleeve which make it possible for him to do things us mere mortals cannot. Because of his heightened senses, he not only functions believably (well, sort of) as a superhero, but manages to compensate for his lack of sight in many ways. However, in the absence of normal vision – which the colorless and generally enigmatic radar sense does not provide – there are certain tasks which Matt would approach in about the same way as a non-powered blind person. If you’ve read this far and find yourself thinking “Wait just a minute now, Daredevil can see better than all of us!” you need to go read my old post “My other senses more than compensate” where you will be proven wrong. 😉

At the end of the day, most fans would probably agree that Matt would (and should) have problems with all kinds of screens, displays or exclusively visual indicators. In fact, any and all information rendered exclusively visually and in two-dimensions (with the exception of print, provided he is close enough to touch it) lie beyond what his senses can decipher. In the real world, the blind use a wide range of assistive technology to access information or accomplish tasks for which eyesight is otherwise necessary. Many of these tools and gadgets would probably just gather dust in Matt Murdock’s closet since he gets by without them. However, there are many devices that would be useful to him and which should have a place in the Daredevil comic, if only as background elements to create a better sense of realism in the book.

In this post, I will be looking at the few instances of any kind of assistive device being featured in the Daredevil comic, and use them as examples of how to do it right. Most of these examples are from volume two, hopefully a sign that including pieces of technology that most readers would probably think of as being pretty cool, is increasingly being viewed a positive addition to how Daredevil stories are told rather than the sign of weakness many writers seemed to have feared in decades past.

The braille watch

Fairly low-tech, the braille watch is the oldest and, by far, the most common example of technology for the blind that you’ll see in Daredevil. A braille watch is more of an adaptive device than an assistive device (i.e. it’s an example of an altered version of a product everyone uses, not a novel device created specifically to meet a need only the blind would have). The example below is taken from Daredevil #173, by Frank Miller, but panels showing Matt using a braille watch go back to the first decade of publication. The term “braille watch” is something of a misnomer since the tactile dots that exist on the face of the watch are not standard braille. A person checks the time by opening the glass top and feeling the position of the hands. Follow this link for a look at a real-life braille watch.

Matt checks his braille watch, from Daredevil #173 by Frank Miller

Daredevil #173, volume 1 by Frank Miller. Description available.

Alternative graphics

It says something about the scarcity of good examples of assistive technology when I feel compelled to include the panel below, from Daredevil #314, by D.G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel. I’m not sure a tactile subway map counts as technology per se, but I suppose it’s an example of something Matt might have lying around the house (though Frank Miller would have us believe that he stays out of the subway as much as possible). However, it does address Matt’s weakness in the general pictures and graphics area. Even when drawing, charts and maps are rendered in a way that would make them discernable under his hyper-sensitive fingertips, this makes for a very inefficient way of taking in that kind of information. When you look at a map or a complicated diagram, one of the keys to understanding it is being able to scan the whole thing at once rather than looking at it through a tube as narrow as the width of a couple of fingertips. I totally buy that Matt would be able to make sense of simple line drawings and diagrams, so long as the link layer is high enough, but when graphic content is adapted for the blind, it often comes with instructions for how to make sense of it, which would absolutely be useful even for Mr. Daredevil.

Panel from Daredevil #314, volume 2, by D.G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel

Daredevil #314, volume 1, by D.G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel. Description available.

Braille labels

Moving on to the very first issue of the second volume of Daredevil, by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada, we see Matt using a phone that I can’t quite make sense of. Where are the number buttons on it? Off panel somewhere? Either way, he seems to have the speed dial buttons labeled in braille, which makes sense. I guess this is another example of my really having to stretch my imagination to find any decent use of assistive technology at all, but it does bring up the subject of using braille labels generally. These can be made on the fly using a braille label maker (they come in various makes and models), which is sort of the braille version of those DYMO label makers I remember from my childhood. It would make perfect sense for Matt to slap one of these puppies on files and folders around the law office. If he ever bothered showing up for work, that is. I’m going to leave it up to fellow fan Alice “the Darediva,” braille transcriber in training, to figure out if any of the markings below make sense.

panel from Daredevil #1, volume 2 by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada

Daredevil #1, volume 2 by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada

Computers! (Yes, the blind use them…)

In the following issue, by the same team, we see a very rare occurrence in the Daredvil comic, that is Matt using a computer. And while Matt looks as ugly as sin in these panels (I thought Quesada did a much better job drawing him in the Parts of a Hole arc), this scene is much better than the last time Matt was portrayed as a regular computer user back during Chichester’s run. If you’re not familiar with my dislike of the nonsensical idea that computer screens can be read by touch – which Chichester introduced – you can read about it in my post “Wacky power #11 – Reading computer screens… by touch.” In the panels below, the content on the screen is read out loud, which makes about a million times more sense.

Panels from Daredevil #2, volume 2, by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada

Daredevil #2, volume 2, by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada

From my own brief experience of working with accessibility issues, I know that lots of people, even in the web design field, are unaware that even people who are totally blind can and do use computers. In fact, I was baffled that so many people would have instinctively believed Matt’s words below, from Daredevil #44 (vol 2), by Bendis and Maleev: “You detectives seem to have a hard time grasping the concept that I’m a blind man. It makes it hard to see the screen.”

Panel from Daredevil #44, volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. 1 of 2

Daredevil #44, volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev


Panel from Daredevil #44, volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. 2 of 2

Daredevil #44, volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

Matt certainly has a point; it does make it hard to see the screen. However, the officer in this case has a point too: They do make computers for the blind (or at least software to install), and this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, we’ve cloned sheep and put people on the moon. How hard can it be to render digital content in ways you don’t have to see to be able to access?

In the real world, as in the case of the Smith/Quesada panel above, blind people use so-called screen-reading software, which sends the content to either a braille display or, more commonly, produces audio in the form of synthesized speech. The computer itself is controlled using only the keyboard, without a mouse. Even if one were to go along with the notion that Matt would be able to get anything from touching the screen, screen-reading software still has him beat. Screen-readers can take a page and make sense of it at a completely different level, such as listing all links on a page in a web browser or list all the headings. It’s a whole lot more rational than to, not so figuratively, fumble around in the dark.

If you’ve never seen this kind of software in action, I recommend the following YouTube clip made by a blind web surfer. The speaking rate can be turned up or down and most users can understand the content at several hundred words per minute (a pace at which the untrained ear would understand nothing). As this guy explains in the comments, the near insane speed of the voice in this video is set to less than half of what he’d normally use.

In the Daredevil comic, computers have been conspicuously absent from Matt’s office since the Playing to the Camera arc by Bob Gale (which I’ll get to below). As in never even drawn into the background of a panel depicting Matt’s desk. I can’t imagine why this would be since no lawyer would be able to do his job properly these days without one. I guess this is another one of those things we can chalk up to Matt rarely actually working. 😉

Things that talk!

The Playing to the Camera arc, by Bob Gale, in which Matt takes a case which involves suing himself(!), has never been collected. If you don’t own these issues and don’t feel like tracking them down, you should know that they are available digitally at Marvel.com. You can buy a one-month subscription, with no need to commit to more, for less than five bucks, if you’re curious about checking out this arc.

Aside from some crazy stuff, the arc also features a very logical use of a talking pager, which speaks the number which would otherwise simply be shown on a display. This is just one of many examples of “talking” products for the blind, at least some of which would seem logical around the Murdock household (and we’ll get to two more below). In the panels below, from Daredevil #24 (vol 2), with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington, we see Matt explain how he uses a pager and, a few pages later, we get to see it in action.

Panel from Daredevil #24, volume 2, by Bob Gale, with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington

Daredevil #24, volume 2, by Bob Gale, with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington

Panel from Daredevil #24, volume 2, by Bob Gale, with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington

Daredevil #24, volume 2, by Bob Gale, with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington

There were a couple of instances of “talking” products during the Brubaker/Lark run as well, and the panels below are perfect examples of how assistive technology can be inserted in natural and subtle ways without any need for further comment. In the first panel, from Daredevil #95 (vol 2), we see the use of a talking caller ID. Of course, Matt was sharing his home with a non-powered blind person at the time, but his odds of being able to read a display are about as good as hers. In the second panel, from Daredevil #110, Matt comes home to a very talkative answering machine. I may have seen something similar being used by people who aren’t blind, but most standard answering machines don’t say anything until after you push the button.

Panel from Daredevil #95, volume 2, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark

Daredevil #95, volume 2, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark

Panel from Daredevil #110, volume 2, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark

Daredevil #110, volume 2, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark

Conclusion

I would love to see more assistive technology featured in Daredevil, when and if it makes sense to include it. I don’t think the Daredevil comic should ever forget that it is first and foremost a superhero comic, albeit it both modern and mature with a commendable amount of depth, and I don’t advocate writers forcing developments and features into stories where they don’t belong. However, there are plenty of situations where doing something along the lines of what we’ve seen in this post is perfectly appropriate, and that adds to making Daredevil more believable. For right now, I’d settle for Diggle giving him a computer (even if it does nothing aside from sitting on his desk). I guess leaving the Hand to read his email just seems like a terrible idea.

And, speaking of the Hand, I’ll see you back here tomorrow for the review of Dark Reign – The List: Daredevil, which is due out in North America today!

Daredevil’s new status quo

If you read my review of Daredevil #500, you know that I enjoyed it a great deal, and as a whole, I’m very excited about where the new direction might lead. Before I get to that part, however (hidden under a cut for those who haven’t read the issue yet), I’d just like to talk a little bit about the old status quo. You know, the one that has Matt Murdock being your good old-fashioned low-powered superhero next door with a somewhat normal professional life and ordinary friends. It is oftentimes a very shitty life, but still fairly grounded in the “real world.”

Matt has left the default status quo before at various points in the history of the book, and usually with interesting results, but I would still say that the basic premise of Matt being a blind lawyer who fights crime at night is insanely interesting in and of itself. Where some people might consider that well to be completely dry, I’m going to go in the opposite direction and say that it’s under-explored and has never really been used to its full advantage. Television and movie action-dramas involving cops, lawyers and criminals are everywhere, and part of the reason they’re everywhere is because there is a demand for them. And why is there? Because there are tons of ways to make them interesting. This basic storytelling engine combined with a superhero element is even better, and while this well is visited on occasion (the Cruel and Unusual and Trial of the Century story arcs for instance), there really haven’t been that many stories that treat Matt’s job as more than just another job. I’m not advocating Daredevil going full legal drama, but I would like to see someone do more with the lawyer angle when Matt eventually returns to the default status quo. That might be a year from now, two years from now, or even further down the line, but it will happen eventually. And I would love to see it done right. Currently, with the new shake-up, we are possibly farther away from the default status quo than we’ve been in decades. It looks like it’s going to be a very interesting and exciting ride, but my reason for feeling that way has everything to do with the story itself and very little to do with any kind of notion that Daredevil really needed to be fixed.

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Brand New Amnesia

Amazing Spider-Man #600 came out last week (I doubt anyone missed it), and it had a lengthy guest appearance by Daredevil. I don’t usually read Spider-Man, and the headache of Brand New Day makes the thought of picking it up just slightly unappetizing, but I did actually enjoy the anniversary issue. It even casts some light on how the whole “I know who you are, but you don’t know who I am” situation. I’m not saying it makes a lot of sense, but apparently Matt is very much aware of the fact that he should know who Spider-Man is, but can’t remember and is apparently mystically prevented from figuring it out by his usual means. When Spider-Man offers to let him in on the secret, Daredevil stops him and reminds him of all the things it’s cost him to have his private life exposes. Still, the new setup is a little awkward as far as these two guys are concerned.

image from Amazing Spider-Man #600

“He wears the flag”

Last year this time, I decided to celebrate the 4th of July by posting a panel from one of Ann Nocenti’s issues (where the story was actually set on the date in question). I thought the idea of continuing to post something with a touch of Americana might be a fun tradition, so I hereby present these classic panels from the last issue of Born Again, Daredevil (vol 1) #233.

The man wearing the flag in this case is Nuke, the well-known pill-popping and crayon-wielding crazy whose affinity for red, white and blue naturally escapes Matt’s attention. There are, of course, many ways to interpret this particular exchange between Matt and Captain America, and I love the ambiguity of this panel. Also, nice dive off the building, Matt. You make the superhero biz look so effortless.


Happy Independence Day to all Americans out there and happy Saturday to the rest of us!

Review: "The Losers" by Andy Diggle, Jock et al

With Andy Diggle taking over the writing duties on Daredevil, starting with the Dark Reign: The List tie-in in September, I saw it as my duty to take a look at the writer’s previous and ongoing work and post some of my thoughts.

So far, I’ve been following Diggle’s Dark Reign: Hawkeye mini and his run on the Thunderbolts. I’ve also read the trade collecting the stand alone mini-series Hellblazer: Lady Constantine and his own creation, and the subject for this post, The Losers.

It’s been a very fun ride so far and I feel convinced that Diggle is perfectly capable of pulling off a Daredevil that might just be different enough to give the title the shot in the arm that even a sworn Brubaker fan like myself is beginning to feel that it needs, while staying in the familiar milieu that has made the character so successful. But this post isn’t about Daredevil specifically, but about The Losers. So, let’s get on with it, shall we?

I’m going to start by going off on a brief tangent and admit that I was a huge fan of the first couple of seasons of Prison Break. It had intrigue, action, and a smart plot that connected the little people to the big players with the big guns in unexpected ways. There were clever twists in every episode that managed to surprise the viewer without seeming too contrived. The show was a smash hit, so much so that its life span kept getting extended with one season after another while the plot began to suffer. Eventually, I gave up. Reading The Losers was, for me, an experience reminiscent of watching the first two seasons of Prison break, equipped with the timely ending the television show didn’t have (to those still watching it, did it ever get back on track?).

Starring an eclectic former black ops team who turns on their mysterious CIA handler when left for dead in Afghanistan while on a mission, the thirty-two issue series is smart action at its best. Diggle manages to pile layer after layer of intrigue without ever confusing the reader, and that’s quite a feat with a story this long and involving this many players. What impresses me the most, though, is how intelligent the writing is. It is all too often the case that, in order for the protagonists to seem appropriately cunning, their adversary by default comes across as completely incompetent. That is never the case here. Instead of leaving the “wait, that doesn’t work” bit to the scrutinizing reader, the writer in this case seems to have error-proofed every single scenario. That’s not to say that there aren’t fantastical elements to this tale, or improbable events and circumstances, but that’s in the nature of the genre, and this particular thrill-ride is free of contrived cop-outs and annoying plot holes. There’s an attention to detail at every juncture that keeps the story feeling real. Diggle also manages to keep the entire story very even-paced, and I can’t think of any passage where there is any noticeable dip in quality or tension.

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