The other “mask”

One of these days, I’m going to try to catch up on reviews of the current ongoing Daredevil book (it’ll probably be as a video). And, when I get some time this weekend, I want to do a post detailing Daredevil’s many encounters with Bullseye. However, in search of a topic for a slightly less ambitious post to start the week, I turned to Facebook to ask TOMP’s followers for ideas. One idea was put forth about a science post on Matt’s kinesthetic abilities. Of course, this is a great idea, but one I’ll be covering in the book. When I get to that chapter (I’m currently busy writing about the “radar”), I’d be happy to put together a digest for the site.

The other suggestion, endorsed by two people, was to write a little something about Matt’s (pretty obvious) insecurities about showing his eyes to people. I actually touched on this subject when I did a post about the various looks of Matt’s sunglasses over the years, But 1) that was six years ago (pre-Netflix), and 2) psychoanalyzing the shit out of Matt Murdock can usually be done on short notice and with a minimum of preparation. So, perfect for a slightly shorter post.

Matt and Dakota North having a heart to heart while working out, as seen in Daredevil #111 (vol 2), by Ed Brubaker and Clay Mann

Perhaps the handful of panels you see above, from Daredevil #111 (vol 2), by Ed Brubaker and Clay Mann, is really all that needs to be said on the topic. Aside from the rather odd segue between what Matt says in panels three and four (which I think has to do with Matt’s recent loss of his wife Milla to villain-induced insanity and relating this to his own father’s inability to protect him), much of what I think this boils down to is: “So much of my life… It’s been about how people see me. Not wanting to let them see too much.”

What I like about this line is that there are so many facets to it. There are at least three ways to read it that all say something about Matt. We have the literal interpretation that reminds us that Matt has to pay very close attention to his outward behavior so that he doesn’t rouse suspicion. In his civilian life, no one except a select few can know he has heightened senses, and as Daredevil, no one can know he’s blind. This, in and of itself, would inspire a certain amount of paranoia and hyper-vigilance about how he’s perceived.

The second way to read this reminds me of what Elektra said to Matt at the end of the second season of Daredevil, when she suggests to him that he hides from the world, and refuses to let people in. In so doing she calls out a character trait shaped by a lonely childhood and some pretty major abandonment issues. Of course, the Netflix show takes this to extremes, in that Matt is actually raised in an orphanage. Add to that the thoughts that Stick put in his head, and you can begin to make sense of other reasons Matt may not want people to “see too much” of his inner thoughts and wants.

More to the point here is the third way to look at this: Heightened senses or not, Matt obviously knows he is perceived differently than the average person, and that he risks standing out. I also think it’s very much in line with his basic personality to try to manage people’s perceptions as much as he can. I think it boils down to a control thing with him, and in this context the shades make sense and become a different kind of mask. If he can’t look people in the eye, making sure that no one can look him in the eye either evens out the playing field.

Matt and Foggy working in the office while Karen is out, as seen in Marvel's Daredevil, episode three of season one

Because Matt’s behavior in the comics surrounding when and to whom he will reveal this side of himself (see that post from six years ago) has been carried over more or less intact to the Netflix show, you would have to assume that the writers and directors of the show have done so very deliberately. As in the comic, it kind of becomes a proxy for trust and intimacy, and perhaps says even more about Matt’s level of trust in Foggy than anything he says or does.

In that first episode scene with Karen, he makes what we can assume is a big exception for her. But he does so in a situation where she’s feeling exceptionally vulnerable and he’s willing to go to great lengths to put her at ease. In the third episode, Matt and Foggy are working in the office (see above). When Karen comes back from lunch, Matt is very quick to put his glasses back on (see the featured image). He continues to do this more often than not throughout the show. It is hard to interpret it as anything other than a physical manifestation of him raising his guard.

Of course, there’s a slight difference between “managing others’ perceptions” and a genuine insecurity about one’s appearance. In Matt’s case, and this goes for the comic as well as the show, you definitely get the sense that the latter cannot be completely disregarded. I actually find this incredibly humanizing. Even people who seem to have everything in life sorted out probably have a complex about something. Things we experience in childhood seems to have a particular power over us, and a stupid comment by the school bully can linger for years. For all we know, hearing something insensitive said about him at just the right (wrong) age might have planted an idea in Matt’s head that he can’t quite shake, despite knowing better on a rational level.

Considering Daredevil’s near-complete mastery of his body and remaining senses, his eyes become that one part of his anatomy that will never behave as expected, and can never be fully reigned in. Effectively covering his eyes is the only way Matt has of addressing this, and I suppose his need to do this is yet another one of those quirks that makes him interesting.

The 50+ ways in which Marvel’s Daredevil reminds you that Matt is blind (for real)

Matt talking to Foggy and Karen, as seen in episode eight of Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix

Since this post was originally published, I have also written a follow-up piece featuring details from season two and The Defenders

I did not set out to write a manifesto, but I don’t really know what else to call this post. A plea perhaps? I suppose what makes it a “manifesto” is the amount of heartfelt emotion that I’ve put into this post. For as long as I’ve been a Daredevil fan, I’ve always been very protective of his “blind side.” Regular readers of this blog (which passed 800 posts just last week) know this. I know quite a few of you agree with me. Others are probably tired of my occasional rants on the subject, but thanks for sticking around anyway.

This is me pouring my heart out. Again. And my end goal is this: I want to elevate the way “we” (fans, creators, and critics) speak about this character so that it truly reflects his full complexity. Most people have no trouble doing this when it comes to his “lawyer who breaks the law” state of moral shadiness. But when it comes to his physiology, far too many people accept the creed of “my other senses more than compensate” (see, for instance, Daredevil #168, by Frank Miller, below) without a second thought. The problem is that this has always been, and always will be, a logical fallacy. It’s a tagline, a shorthand for describing the character’s powers in one brief statement. And, it’s inaccurate. We can do better.

Scene from Daredevil #168, by Frank Miller. Matt meets Elektra for the first time and comes clean about his powers, saying. "I'm blind, but I have other abilities that more than compensate."

This post is the result of the copious amounts of notes I took on various trends and patterns during season one, which is why I’ve been able to throw something this lengthy together in one evening. Most of what you’ll read below has been living in an Excel sheet that I put together two years ago. This is the reason it only covers season one, though much of this obviously holds true for season two as well. The reason I’m getting this out now has to do with some of the ways Daredevil actor Charlie Cox has been talking about the character he plays so well in several recent interviews, where Matt Murdock is described as a lie, Daredevil is the true identity, and Matt is only pretending to be blind (in some cases, “blind” is even exchanged for the much broader term “visually impaired” which makes the statement even more questionable).

But there’s also a reason I’ve been hesitant to put this down in writing as boldly as I’m doing here, and that boils down to the fact that I don’t wish to “shame” anyone, least of all someone who seems as genuinely nice and caring as Charlie Cox. Who, I should add, does a fantastic job in the role, and who I know has shown an incredible amount of dedication to making all aspects of Matt Murdock’s life as real as anyone could hope for (and he’s also said plenty of things that actually run completely counter to the bits I’m giving him a hard time about here). I’m actually quite dismayed by the current “outrage culture” that sees people being shamed for using slightly outdated terms, not expressing themselves “just right,” or for not being “woke” enough. I think it’s sad when we expect the worst of each other, scrutinize every word someone says and don’t give people the benefit of the doubt. I am not going to be a part of that. In fact, I even suspect that some of the wording that I’m reacting to may actually have come about as a result of not wanting to offend.

Stan Lee has talked about how worried he was, back when Daredevil made his debut, that blind people would find him offensive, that they would say “We can’t do that!” And I’m sure there are droves of blind and visually impaired people who do find the mere concept of Daredevil offensive, just as there are many that feel just the opposite. (What people actually find offensive obviously varies greatly from person to person.) Still, I would imagine that people associated with this show may actually feel that underscoring that Matt only “pretends” to be blind is the best way to shield Daredevil from criticism. Add to this that Cox’s description of Matt hasn’t surfaced in a vacuum but actually reflects how many of Daredevil’s fans and past creators would talk about him as well. I happen to disagree with this decision, and feel that a chance is being missed to highlight the fact that, for many people, vision impairment is more complicated than the simple blind-sighted dichotomy suggests, and that Daredevil is actually an interesting example of this.

So, what gives? What is this “more elevated” way of talking about Daredevil that I’m suggesting gives a better and more complete understanding of the character? Certainly, I can’t be suggesting that Matt doesn’t live a life where there isn’t a lot of pretense? And no, I’m not suggesting that. I quite agree with Cox and many others who would point to the many ways in which Matt Murdock’s civilian life is a façade. It very obviously is, and I agree that Matt likely feels very conflicted about this. But I wouldn’t call “Matt Murdock” a lie. I would call him a necessary half-truth. Matt’s heightened senses allow him to be Daredevil, and to do a number of other things that you would not expect of someone who is totally blind, but they don’t – and here’s the kicker – actually make him sighted. Part of the irony of Matt’s peculiar condition is that if his senses actually did compensate for his blindness in any and all situations, he wouldn’t have to “pretend to be blind” in the first place. The reason I’m saying that “my other senses more than compensate” is a logical fallacy is that it is true in some situations, not quite true in others, and not even a little bit true in others still.

There is a reason that Matt Murdock the college student, if he wishes to keep his heightened senses hidden, has no choice but to go “full blind guy.” His advantages over any other blind student in a setting like a college classroom is pretty much nil. He can’t see the blackboard (whiteboard these days), the slides, or whatever movie is being shown. He may know what the professor ate last night, but that’s probably not particularly relevant to next week’s homework. If he wants to type up a paper, he needs to use a computer with a screenreader. (This bit, almost all fans seem to get intuitively, just going by the number of rather inane “how are you tweeting this?!” comments directed at the official Daredevil Twitter account. Sadly, these people seem to have missed the part where Matt owns and operates a computer on the actual show…).

Even Matt Murdock, the lawyer, would find himself in a situation where he, if he were to unwisely try to use his heightened senses to pass for sighted, would find himself severely limited. Many pieces of evidence are highly visual in nature. If he didn’t exercise his right to have photographic or video evidence described and transcribed to him, he would be less effective at his job.

The civilian identity places physical and behavioral restrictions on Matt, there’s no doubt about that. It makes sense that Matt would, at times, find these restrictions limiting and tiresome. And yes, they would often make him feel like a phony. I would point out though, that the Daredevil identity also comes with restrictions. I understand and empathize with Matt’s need to be Daredevil, I understand the immense freedom it gives him. But the thing is, Daredevil can only exist in Daredevil’s world, where the need to be able to see and interpret strictly visual information is minimal, and most situations can be solved by doing exactly those things Daredevil does best.

The mundane truth, however, is that “Daredevil” has to eat, make a living, find a place to live, go to the store, and transport himself over greater distances than his billy club can take him. He has to interact with regular people he is not beating up for information, and generally exist in a society where there is a truckload of incidental visual information that he is not able to see and that his other senses really don’t make up for. The reason people rarely think of these situations is because they are generally not something you would see featured in the comic. You see more of them in the show, but even then we have to live with the fact that following Matt to Barney’s so he can shop for a new suit does not make for riveting entertainment. This means that there is a natural bias in most Daredevil stories against featuring the more mundane situations where his blindness might be an issue.

Panel from Daredevil #301, by D.G. Chichester and M.C. Wyman. Daredevil, in battle, thinks to himself: "My head swivels up at the voice, partly for appearances, partly reflex from when I could still see."

So far in the Netflix show, Daredevil has rarely found himself in situations where he awkwardly has to pretend to be able to see in the traditional fashion – his meetings with Melvin Potter are an interesting exception – but these situations do exist in the comic (see a couple of my favorites here, and here). Where Matt can really be his true self is around people who know about his senses, but these situations too do not suggest that he can see in the traditional sense. He does have his own unique way of interacting with the world that is unlike that of a (totally) blind person, but also unlike that of a sighted person. Even something as simple as communicating with the eyes, through eye contact and almost imperceptible glances, is a big part of how (sighted) people communicate. Matt conducts himself differently. Having to pretend to be more functionally blind than he is, is not Matt’s natural state of being, but neither is having to pretend to see things he cannot or conduct himself in ways identical to someone who can see. Perhaps Frank Miller put it best: “The hidden identity can be a relief, Bullseye. When I’m Murdock, I don’t have to use my amplified senses to pretend I’m not blind.” (From Daredevil #191, Roulette)

Matt goes to visit Chuckie, in Daredevil #191 by Frank Miller, quoted above

In many ways, Matt is more typical of a visually impaired person – in the broader sense of the world – than most people realize. Of all the people who find themselves in this category, the totally blind (or nearly so) are the minority. Most exist in a gray area and are perhaps best described as partially sighted. Someone with retinitis pigmentosa, who has lost most of his peripheral vision, might need a cane but can read a regular book with his sharp central vision. Someone with macular degeneration might have a fuzzy central blindspot and need screenreader software, but be able to get around quite easily without a cane, reach for objects with no trouble and not be pegged as blind by the casual observer, even when classified as legally blind. They can see some things, but not others. Kind of like a certain someone we know. To deny this is to sell him short.

With this longish preamble out of the way, let’s get to the many ways that the Netflix show actually proves my point. Overall, the show really does an excellent job of handling Matt Murdock’s strange blend of blindness and heightened senses. In fact, all things taken together, I can’t think of a single run of the comic – with the possible exception of the recent Waid/Samnee/Rivera/Martín run – that has been more successful in this regard. Which is why it’s ironic that these things aren’t talked about more accurately by the people who do everything right to make this work on screen.

“The List”

  1. Episode 1 (at 08:45) – The phone swipe

    Matt’s phone announces that he’s receiving an incoming call from Foggy. He responds by using gestures on his smart phone. Pretty much exactly as any other totally blind person would, and in this particular situation, his heightened senses completely fail to compensate in any way.

  2. Episode 1 (at 10:45) – The view

    “You can flip a coin with your partner for it,” says the real estate agent. “He can have the view,” Matt responds when he and Foggy are looking at offices for their firm. It makes sense that Matt would offer Foggy the room with the view, if he wants to hide his senses. It also makes sense because he legitimately can’t see the view or derive any esthetic pleasure from it. Does not being able to see the view detract from his crime fighting? Not in the least. But, enjoying the view of the Hudson river is clearly something Foggy can do that Matt can’t. Because he cannot visually detect any light. It’s that simple.

  3. Episode 1 (at 15:05) – The braille watch

    Matt and Foggy check the time while interrogating Karen, this in response to her asking how long they’ve been practicing law. Matt has a braille watch. Which makes perfect sense since he wouldn’t be able to see the face of a regular watch. Because he’s blind. Incidentally, the braille watch is perhaps the earliest adaptive device featured consistently in the Daredevil comic.

  4. Episode 1 (at 15:45) – The notepad

    Matt subtly indicates to Foggy to take down what Karen is saying on his notepad. Matt could write if he wanted to, as can many other blind people, though he would be subject to the same difficulties in that he can’t monitor what he’s writing while he’s doing it (in a way that is analogous to how a deaf person can’t hear his or her own speech). He could use a notetaker device for the blind. Either way, the act of taking handwritten notes would not be something he would approach much differently than any other blind person. As for reading them, he’s got a leg up, if we’re going by traditional canon.

  5. Episode 1 (at 19:45) – The dictaphone

    Matt's dictaphone, as seen in season one, episode one of Marvel's Daredevil

    Matt is double-checking the dictaphone on his table by running his hand over it, possibly to verify that the braille labels that are revealed on a later close-up are still there. I will absolutely go along with his playing up the blind guy bit here, but the case I’m making is that it’s completely logical that he would label buttons on various things, either by using braille labels or little plastic “bumpers”. If he had a TV, one such item would be the remote control (I challenge anyone with a semi-complicated remote to know what all the buttons are without looking at the often tiny numbers and symbols on or near them). Another such item would the microwave or oven in his house. It just makes sense. This information is simply less accessible to him than it is to someone who sees with visible light.

  6. Episode 1 (at 25:15) – The signs around town

    “I’ve seen their signs all over Hell’s Kitchen,” Foggy says when Karen tells them about Union Allied leading the reconstructions of the city. Included here simply because Matt wouldn’t have. Because he can’t see signs.

  7. Episode 1 (at 29:30) – The billboard

    Matt talks about how he got the apartment cheap because he’s not bothered by the giant billboard outside. Which he wouldn’t be because he can’t see it (for the same reason that he usually leaves the lights off in his apartment). This is certainly a good thing in this situation (hey, cheap NYC apartment!), but logic dictates that this isn’t the only billboard in town which the vast majority of people can draw information from that he can’t.

  8. Episode 1 (at 30:20) – The styling of hair

    Karen asks if she can ask a personal question. Matt quickly responds with how he hasn’t always been blind. Karen realizes that that’s probably what everyone wants to know and Matt jokingly answers: “That, and how do you comb your hair?” This is, of course, a silly question to ask a blind person as we can assume that the vast majority have no problems combing their hair. It’s included here for the simple reason that while Matt obviously can comb his hair, he would be no better at it than anyone else who is blind since he can’t use mirrors. By extension, anything that falls into the category of personal grooming of the kind that sighted people would do by sight – aided by a mirror – are things that Matt would have to approach the same as any other person with little to no sight.

  9. Episode 1 (at 31:30) – The sky

    “It doesn’t change the fact that I’d give anything to see the sky one more time.” While I question the sincerity in what Matt is saying here (see my review of episode one), there’s no denying that he, in fact, used to be able to see the sky and no longer can. Because he’s blind. Are there other esthetic pleasures of a visual nature that he cannot appreciate that other people can and that he might miss, ever so occasionally? Of course. This doesn’t affect his ninja moves at all, but does point to there being a legitimate sensory deficit.

  10. Episode 1 (at 47:50) – The folding of bills

    Matt hands a folded bill over to the guy at Fogwell’s gym. This is something that regular blind people often do. There is no reason to assume that Matt wouldn’t do the same for reasons that have nothing to do with keeping up appearances. Even if we make allowances for the print reading of the comics, it would be more efficient for him to have a folding system when quickly trying to go through his wallet.

  11. Episode 2 (at 03:20) – The unresponsive pupils

    Claire checks Matt’s pupils for a reaction. They are unresponsive to light. As they should be.

  12. Episode 2 (at 04:10) – The missed light

    Matt gets up to leave and heads straight for Claire’s brightly lit kitchen instead. True, he’s very disoriented, but the sheepish look on his face pretty much confirms that this is not a mistake that a sighted person would have made quite as readily.

  13. Episode 2 (at 11:20) – The missing mask

    Claire is taking care of Matt who is on her couch, as seen in the second episode of Marvel's Daredevil

    Matt wakes on Claire’s couch, disoriented. His first question is: “Where am I?” Not “Who are you?”, that comes next. The order of the questions Matt asks, along with not readily realizing that he’s not wearing his mask (he actually tries to feel for it on his face) clearly indicate that he’s not taking in the scene in the same way and with the same priorities as he probably would if he were sighted. Yes, there’s a massive amount of disorientation involved here, but the subtle differences remain. I’m not suggesting that Matt is necessarily at a disadvantage compared to a sighted person in this scenario, only that his behavior overall is not what we would expect from a sighted person.

  14. Episode 2 (at 18:15) – The facial expression

    Matt to Claire: “You’re looking at me like I’m crazy, right?” Matt has never really been able to detect subtle – or even not-so-subte – facial expressions in the comic, and the same seems to be true here.

  15. Episode 2 (at 22:20) – The searching hand

    Matt finds a knife in Claire’s drawer. How quickly he finds it is certainly impressive for a blind guy, but he does actually briefly explore the drawer with his hand.

  16. Episode 2 (at 29:25) – The inaccessible phone

    Up on Claire’s roof, Matt is hoisting the fake Detective Foster up by a rope, asking Claire – who has the man’s phone – whether she found anything on it. The reason he has to ask? He legitimately can’t see what’s on it and has no way of operating it. Because he’s blind.

  17. Episode 2 (at 32:55) – The feeling of silk robes

    Young Matt runs his hands over his father’s new robe. While this is a young Matt who has yet to learn how to use his senses fully, it would make sense that this kind of exploration would have to happen by tactile means even as he grows up. As a general rule, I can see no reason why Matt would approach something like shopping for clothes or getting the sense of a fabric any differently from anyone else who has a pretty severe visual impairment.

  18. Episode 2 (at 39:40) – The trigeminal nerve

    Claire suggests that Matt try stabbing their captive Russian in his trigeminal nerve, and she shows Matt where it’s located by tracing its path on Matt’s face, near the eye. I’m sure Matt could have made sense out of her gesture even if she had shown him by pointing to her own face, but there’s not doubt in my mind that he would get a less detailed sense of it that way.

  19. Episode 3 (at 12:30) – The big check

    Wesley slides a piece of paper over to Foggy, with an monetary offer printed on it. Later, after Wesley has left, Foggy says of Matt’s doubts that if he could see the number of zeroes on his offer he wouldn’t care. This situation is a minor one, but highlights the fact that Matt can’t casually glance at any kinds of documents strewn about on a table, or posted on a wall, the way a sighted person could. In fact, Matt’s lack of access to incidental and potentially useful visual information (in writing or presented as a graphic), is perhaps the most significant issue not addressed by his heightened senses. With the way the character works, in and out of the comics, he could miss an enormous amount of information available to other people, and never even know it. The reverse is, of course, also true. Matt detects things others don’t, but the two don’t automatically cancel or balance each other out.

  20. Episode 3 (at 14:40) – The sound of a watch

    Matt follows Wesley and listen as he walks to his car, from episode three of Marvel's Daredevil

    Matt follows Wesley by the sound of his watch, then stops at the curb and follows the latter’s moves. By listening to them. This is clearly a case of Matt putting his heightened senses to great use, but let’s not pretend that a sighted person couldn’t have visually tracked Wesley’s movements just as easily, and possibly even more so. This is a classic case of Matt’s senses just compensating, by means that are mostly non-visual in nature, but quite honestly do little more. Matt’s ability to sense the shapes of things in a way that resembles vision also has a limited range.

  21. Episode 3 (at 30:30) – The screenreader

    This scene shows the first real look at Matt’s computer set-up, which includes a braille display. It’s on Foggy to look up the right section of the penal law and read it to Matt, in this particular scene. As a general rule, this is clearly the area of Matt’s life where his heightened senses benefit him the least. As has been comic lore for at least some twenty-five years (I’m counting back to those weird couple of issues in the early nineties where Matt could read computer screens by touch), Matt cannot access screens. He would need to use the same kind of assistive technology as any other person with little to no useful vision. This is not pretense – not part of “the act.”

  22. Episode 4 (at 05:05) – The voice

    Matt to Claire: “Maybe I just like the sound of your voice.” This is probably meant to indicate that non-visual qualities are particularly important to him. As they would be.

  23. Episode 4 (at 05:30) – The burner phone

    Matt hands Claire a burner phone. He asks her to enter her number into it. Which makes sense. And, if this is just a regular phone with no special features on it, he might run into some problems doing it himself. Though dialing shouldn’t be a problem if there’s only one or a few phone book listings as the right sequence of key presses could be learned easily.

  24. Episode 4 (at 28:30) – The Veles taxi cab

    Matt asks Santino if he heard or saw anything that can help him locate Claire. Santino mentions that he saw them get into a cab, Veles Taxi. Incidentally, this specific nugget of information is one that Matt could never have come by on his own, save for someone mentioning it in passing.

  25. Episode 5 (at 00:50) – The breakfast

    Matt is cooking. Which is not at all strange. There is absolutely nothing that says that even completely blind people cannot be great cooks, and I’d like to think that Matt’s heightened sense of smell, in particular, might make him quite adept at it. This scene is included here for the simple reason that Matt’s approach to cooking would probably have more in common with that of a blind person than that of a sighted person. He would determine whether the food is properly cooked by smell or by how it responds to being poked with kitchen utensils. Also, some kitchen equipment, to the extent that he uses it, would probably be of the talking variety.

  26. Episode 5 (at 02:50) – The “world on fire”

    “I can’t see. Not like everyone else, but I can feel. Things like balance and direction, micro-changes in the air density, vibrations, blankets of temperature variations. Mix all that with what I hear, subtle smells… All the fragments form sort of an impressionistic painting.” I take issue with some of Matt is saying here, in particular the bits about balance and direction being quite so high on the list. These are things that clearly help with the acrobatics and the ninja fighting, as they have to do with body awareness, but these are not the kinds of impressions that are vital to the detection of objects in space. With a radarless interpretation of the senses, the hearing of echoes should account for the overwhelming majority of what feeds into Matt’s awareness of space. However, that’s a topic covered elsewhere. The reason I include this scene here, is that at least Matt is clearly stating that he can’t see like everyone else. Which should be obvious to everyone.

  27. Episode 5 (at 03:45) – The actual “world on fire”

    Matt’s world on fire, while a far from ideal way of picturing Matt’s senses, at least brings home the point that he does not “see” particularly well. Well enough to move about freely and make out decent-sized objects? Certainly. As he should. 20/20 color vision? Nope, not even close.

  28. Episode 5 (at 06:00) – The crooked tie

    Matt’s tie is adorably askew. Maybe if he could actually use a mirror, it wouldn’t be… 😉

  29. Episode 5 (at 36:35) – The inaccessible phone, part two

    Claire helps Matt check what's in the phone he found on the crooked cop, as seen in Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix, episode five

    Matt found Detective Blake’s phone while he was roughing him up. Back in his apartment, Claire is going through it to look for clues. She finds a text message that gives the addresses to the locations which will be bombed later. Matt could not have gotten this information on his own. Clearly one of many situations where he doesn’t “operate better than a sighted person”.

  30. Episode 6 (at 12:20) – The movies

    “It’s not as easy as it looks in the movies, you know.” “I don’t really go to the movies. I like records though.” I saw this scene referenced a couple of times in the push to get Netflix to add audio descriptions, because it hightlighted the irony of a show that the main protagonist, if he were a real person, would not be able to access fully. When it comes to visual entertainment, and visual arts in general, Matt is in the same boat as every other totally blind person. This tends to get handwaved away by some fans as inconsequential, and it certainly doesn’t affect Matt’s prowess as a crime fighter (much), but movies and television are not only a major source of information but are a big part of popular culture. It does surprise me that he doesn’t have a TV though. There’s the news, which he might legitimately be interested in, and many shows can be enjoyed by blind people even without audio description.

  31. Episode 7 (at 03:40) – The braille

    Matt is reading braille. Kind of like a blind person who can’t read print. Of course, in the comics, Matt can read print (though this ability has been somewhat downplayed over the years), but regardless of whether this is a real ability in the Netflix show or not – it appears to have been scrapped, for which I’m grateful (though Charlie Cox has mentioned that they did tape a scene for the first season, that was later cut, of him reading newsprint) – I could never find any good reason why Matt would actively choose to read anything but braille when given the option. Preferring print would be like saying “Oh, I’m fine reading six point faded type under poor lighting, in fact I prefer it to reading things comfortably!” In the Born Again story arc, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Matt actually talks about reading print as an occasional strain.

  32. Episode 7 (at 47:10) – The clean up

    Matt is cleaning up his floor after his fight with Stick, lightly brushing his fingers over the carpet in a way that looks remarkably like what we’d expect from someone with impaired vision. How about that? He then finds the ice cream wrapper bracelet that he made for Stick as a child. It’s his fingers, not his other senses, that recognize it. He knows it by touch.

  33. Episode 8 (at 04:40) – The talking alarm clock

    Matt's talking alarm clock, as seen in episode eight of Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix

    Matt wakes up to his talking alarm clock. Which makes sense since he can’t see digital displays. Not part of “the act.” (Interestingly, there was another alarm clock on his night stand at the beginning of the series. I guess someone figured that this made more sense.)

  34. Episode 8 (at 16:40) – The screenreader, part two

    Close-up of Matt's braille display, as seen in the eighth episode of Marvel's Daredevil

    Matt is reading something from his computer on a braille display. He’s also got an earpiece for the audio output. Part of his regular blind guy cover or actually useful thing because he really can’t see the screen? Well, both. No pretense involved. Matt would realistically have to “blind guy” his way through the vast majority of his office work, which anyone who has spent more than five seconds thinking about this knows, including everyone involved in this project.

  35. Episode 8 (at 49:50) – The Fisk speech

    Matt is listening to Wilson Fisk give his speech over his computer at home. Emphasis on listening.

  36. Episode 9 (at 19:30) – The newspaper

    Karen shoves the newspaper in Matt’s face, and Foggy says “You know he can’t see that.” As Foggy is about to learn, there’s a lot he didn’t know about Matt Murdock, but on this point, he is absolutely right. Matt is not pretending he can’t see what’s printed on the front page of the newspapers, because he really can’t see what’s on the front page of the newspaper.

  37. Episode 9 (at 22:10) – The art gallery

    Matt meets Vanessa at the art gallery. Where he really literally can’t see any of the paintings. When Vanessa says that “You don’t need sight to appreciate art,” Matt replies that “sight helps.” If we’re talking strictly about visual art, then he’s certainly right. And he would know.

  38. Episode 9 (at 21:00) – The painting

    Matt and Vanessa, admiring her favorite painting, as seen in Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix

    Vanessa shows Matt one of her “favorite pieces” and, in a rather humorous misstep, seems to have completely forgotten that her customer can’t see the painting in question. Matt asks her to describe it to him, which she does. There is a lot of pretense going on here: Matt pretends to be a customer, and he pretends to need to use a white cane. There is no doubt about this. He does not, however, have to pretend to not be able to see the painting.

  39. Episode 9 (at 27:05) – The caller ID

    Foggy calls, and Matt dismisses the call, though not before the talking caller ID has announced to both Matt and Father Lantom who the call is from. Clearly, Matt would have no other way of knowing who the caller is.

  40. Episode 9 (at 29:50) – The task better handled by the sighted staff

    Karen tells Matt about how she and Foggy identified the men who attacked her from the photos on their contractor’s licences. Incidentally something Matt would not be able to do. With his being blind and all that.

  41. Episode 9 (at 30:45) – The Nelson & Murdock sign

    Foggy gives Matt their new sign to “look at” and he runs his fingers over it. Despite the embossing and large features, it is unlikely that Matt can get any detailed sense of the sign using his other senses, so it makes sense to examine it by touch. Kind of like a blind guy.

  42. Episode 9 (at 35:25) – The muted TV

    Foggy draws everyone’s attention to Wilson Fisk on the muted television screen behind them. Matt asks Josie to turn up the volume, something he would not have known to do if it were not for the sighted people in his company.

  43. Episode 9 (at 43:35) – The limited “view”

    Matt examines the building plans with his hand, from episode nine of Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix

    Matt enters the warehouse down at the docks and examines the large prints on the table next to him. He takes his glove off and runs his hand over the building plans. It is unclear how much information he’s getting from this, going by the comic book version of Matt’s powers, he should be able to feel the printed lines under his fingertips, provided the layer of ink is thick enough. However, a sighted person could take in the entire “scene” of what’s on the table in the fraction of a second. There has never been an incarnation of the character that can match or compensate for the effeciency that ordinary vision provides for cases like this.

  44. Episode 10 (at 07:35) – The caller ID, part two

    Karen calls while Matt and Foggy are having their big confrontation. Again, the talking caller ID lets us know it’s from her.

  45. Episode 10 (at 17:50) – The unseen footage

    Foggy mentions “that news footage of you, in the alley after bombings” and then adds – perhaps because he feels the need to elaborate – “the way you were flipping around…” Which is apt because while Matt obviously experienced the scene first hand, he can’t know anything about how he appears in the footage.

  46. Episode 11 (at 05:30) – The task better handled by the sighted staff, part two

    Karen talks about the misfiled piece of papers she found at the county clerk’s office. Incidentally, not the kind of investigation Matt could undertake unassisted with any kind of efficiency.

  47. Episode 11 (at 07:55) – The balloon

    Karen gives Matt a balloon. She tells him there’s a monkey on it. Which he really wouldn’t know if she didn’t tell him.

  48. Episode 11 (at 34:10) – The workshop

    Matt examines the materials in Melvin’s workshop. It’s all very hands on.

  49. Episode 12 (at 37:50) – The blind workers

    Matt inspects the blind workers, as seen in season one, episode 12 of Marvel's Daredevil

    Matt discovers the blind workers. His different way of taking things in is clearly on display in this scene, and here it takes him quite a bit longer to figure out that the workers are blind than it probably would for a sighted person. This is one of those situations where an inability to monitor subtle eye movements comes into play.

  50. Episode 13 (at 05:55) – The people known from their photos

    Karen talks about Ellison being at the funeral, hinting at his disposition. It is unclear whether Karen has ever met him before (probably not), but she could have recognized him from a picture, his byline in the paper, etc. Matt couldn’t have. Matt can, of course, recognize someone’s voice from a previously heard audio feed though.

  51. Episode 13 (at 20:00) – The screenreader, part three

    Matt, Foggy and Karen working in the conference room, as seen in episode thirteen of Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix

    More office work for Matt. In this scene, we even see him use the computer keyboard, searching for the right key with his fingers. As he would since he can’t see the symbols on them. Meanwhile, Foggy and Karen are searching through a bunch of printed documents that Matt presumably can’t read (though he could potentially scan them and have them transcribed with OCR software). Even though comic book Matt can read print (to varying degrees), the task of scanning entire pages and looking for irregularities is much better suited for vision.

  52. Episode 13 (at 39:50) – The costume

    Matt goes to pick up his new costume and gets an explanation from Melvin what the different colored pieces are for (I guess he’s going to have to find out about which are the better protected areas some other way), and then touches the garment to examine it.

  53. Episode 13 (at 49:55) – The newspaper, part two

    Karen reads about Daredevil in the newspaper. Which, by the way, Matt can’t see. Too bad, ’cause that is one cool first page!

  54. Episode 13 (at 50:35) – The Nelson & Murdock sign, part two

    For the second time this season, Matt feels the Nelson and Murdock sign. It’s impossible to know what is other senses might tell him about that sign (something sqaure and metallic with a surface irregularity where the letters are?), but his sense of touch is still his best bet for getting the detail that others can get visually.

Okay, that’s it. I’ve made my case. Please share this with anyone who needs to read it. At this point, I don’t care if I ruffle a few feathers.

A world of touch and motion

Matt asks to have a large robot described to him, in Daredevil #5

I’m going to state right off the bat that, as I’m sitting down to write this, I don’t have a proper title yet for this post. Which is rare for me, since I usually have an idea for the main theme of every post (even when it’s not just as straight-forward as “Review of…”) and always type in the title before I do anything else. If you’re reading this, I obviously must have settled on something eventually, but suffice it to say that things might get a little philosophical – more so than scientific, thought there is a little of that too – and I’m just hoping I can string this line of reasoning together. And then give my thinking-out-loud-in-writing an appropriate name. Randomness ahead; you’ve been warned!

Let’s start at the top. Or rather, the starting point of this particular line of though: Matt’s new public life. One thing I wanted to return to after my Daredevil #4 review (before I found myself drowning in work) were some of the consequences of Matt’s recent decision to come out of the superhero closet, once and for all. In Daredevil #4, we saw Matt and Kirsten draw stares from curious onlookers on their date, and Matt was even asked by two teenage girls if they could take a picture with him. On the next page, he has his picture taken by a paparazzo. Instant fame is an obvious consequence of the new status quo (even though Matt Murdock would have been a reasonably well-known local celebrity in his own right for years, back in New York), and in the scene below, you can almost hear the gears turning in his head as he wraps his brain around the demands of the Instagram era while trying to be a good sport.

Matt poses for a wefie, in Daredevil #4 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

There are things that are more threatening than teenage girls and ending up in the gossip columns, however, and we get a riveting taste of that in Daredevil #5. And of course, the threat to the hero himself and the people in his life (because supervillains are generally insane and incredibly vindictive by design) is the most obvious consequence at the top of everyone’s list when a superhero exposes himself. It’s the main reason these characters bother to keep a secret identity in the first place.

With Matt Murdock/Daredevil there are other interesting things that are exposed, which I touched on in this recent post, namely: With the final decisive outing, his peculiar physiology also becomes common knowledge. At least to a certain extent. While his medical history may be floating around (though not likely as a matter of public record), I doubt he’s ever had an audiogram made describing the extent of his super-hearing, and – apologies to Brian Michael Bendis – the notion that someone, unbeknownst to Matt, has measured the extent of his radar sense seems a little flaky. What is known, however, is that the famous protector of Hell’s Kitchen is indeed blind, and that he has a set of other abilities that allows him to be a superhero.

This makes Daredevil more vulnerable (see Daredevil #6!), but it also raises potential questions about Matt Murdock. One thing I was curious about was whether Matt would continue to use a white cane, even after people know that he clearly has other means of sensing his surroundings. Six issues into volume four, and a move across the country, and it’s clear that he has no intention of giving it up. I have no way of knowing if this was ever even a consideration, and thus not something anyone on the creative team actively made a decision on, but in my book, keeping things the way they are makes perfect sense. Both in terms of pure character recognizability and for in-story reasons. Here’s why:

  1. Matt and his cane go together like Daredevil and his billy club

    Okay, so the cane is his billy club (I’ll return to that below), but that’s not really what I mean. The cane – along with the dark glasses, the head of red hair and a nice-looking business suit – is what makes Matt Murdock recognizable as Matt Murdock to someone who might pull a random issue of a Marvel comic off the rack and flip through it. It also reminds potential new readers who may know very little about the character, or even the Marvel Universe in general, that this is a blind character. While the heightened remaining senses complicate matters, this is no less true than it was before Matt’s courtroom confession. And, since people in general seem to have a hard time making sense of even real life people who fall in between categories (i.e. are hard of hearing or have low vision, as opposed to being totally deaf or blind), keeping the cane in the comic may be necessary to get the whole “blind superhero” point across.

  2. The cane is a billy club in disguise

    The most obvious in-story reason for Matt being so attached to his cane is that it’s obviously also his billy club in disguise. And since he could be called upon to perform his Daredevil duties at any time (and in fact appears to always wear his costume underneath his civilian clothes), the billy club needs to come along for the ride. On the other hand, he could easily keep it concealed and strapped to his body the way he does in costume. One has to wonder what the police might think of his carrying a bludgeoning tool around (though I suppose there are no laws against it), but it’s hard to argue with his right to carry a white cane. In many states, it is illegal for someone who doesn’t have a visual impairment to carry a white cane (though if you own one for the sole reason of cosplaying as Matt Murdock, you don’t have to worry), but Matt certainly has every right to it.

  3. Matt complains about having his cane taken from him at the Owl's mansion, as seen in Daredevil #3
    From Daredevil #3, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

  4. A white cane has uses besides mobility

    A person obviously doesn’t have to be totally blind to use a white cane, and there are points to using a cane aside from making sure the user doesn’t step into a manhole or get himself in serious trouble. Canes used by blind people have a particular look to them for a reason, and that is to signal to other people that the person carrying them has limited (or no) vision. White cane users have the right of way in traffic situations, for instance. And, in the case of someone like Matt, it probably takes a lot of explaining out of situations like asking the person next to him at a bus stop which particular bus is approaching, or stopping someone on the street to double-check an unfamiliar address (to name just a couple of situations that his heightened senses don’t really cover). Even with Matt’s recent fame, far from everyone would know who he is. You will always find plenty of people who can’t identify a photo of the president. Or Lindsey Lohan.

    Another thing that would actually be useful to the normally crowd-averse Daredevil is that people tend to step to the side if they spot someone with a a white cane. Being able to clear a path to give himself some space during rush hour is something I’d imagine would make it easier for him to concentrate on other things happening around him, and not feel like he’s drowning in heartbeats or offensive body odors. And who really wants to drown in offensive body odors?

  5. For when the radar gets a little sketchy

    There has been no dearth of situations that have been known to mess with Matt’s senses, the radar sense in particular, over the last fifty years. I already mentioned crowds, and another well-known complications writers like to throw at Daredevil is excessive noise. Then there’s pain, the common cold, and a long list of other major and minor threats to Matt’s ability to use his senses fully.

    Interestingly, except for big battle scenes like the one we saw Daredevil engage in – and complain about – in Daredevil #6, it almost seems easier for Matt to avoid general commotion in his Daredevil guise. After all, he prefers to operate at night, away from the streets and when he’s up against a dozen goons, he at least knows they’re all bad guys, and doesn’t have to make an extra effort distinguishing one from the other. Allowing for the highly probable scenario that occasional disorientation or general radar crap-out is as much a part of civilian Matt Murdock’s life, the cane might actually be legitimately useful every now and then.

    I’m not suggesting he can’t safely walk past an active construction site in pouring rain, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that doing so might require an extra dose of concentration that he would rather spend elsewhere. In fact, one nice thing about the cane generally is that it might allow a more sensible allocation of attention. Maybe he’s concentrating very closely on someone suspicious behind him, and not having to “look” where he’s going actually makes that easier.

    Just because the radar is 360 degrees doesn’t mean that he can actively and fully attend to every location in space at the same time, because that’s not how the human brain works (something Waid & Co. actually touch on in the scene below). Imagine that you’re walking while checking your phone a little too closely at the same time. In this case the cane would be Matt’s equivalent of having a little signal that goes off when you’re about to step off a curb that you missed because you were paying too much attention to your Twitter feed. Or something like that. 😉

  6. From Daredevil #3, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

  7. As a poking device

    This will bring me back to a more fundamental point about Matt Murdock’s sensory world that I wanted to make (this list is by no means the main feature of this post, I warned you it would be a meandering mess). Anyway, in Daredevil #5, when the upgraded Leap-Frog suddenly pops out of the water, Matt calls out to Foggy to “Be my eyes!” This might strike some readers as weird. After all, Matt “saw” this one coming before Foggy did, before the big robot had even surfaced, and we would expect him to have a pretty good sense of the massive thing in front of him. Or would he?

    Matt asks to have a large robot described to him, in Daredevil #5
    From Daredevil #5, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

    One thing that the creators manage to capture here is that Matt may not be spectacular at actually recognizing what he’s “seeing” when that something is either completely novel or has an ambiguous shape. I’ll get back to the details when I’m done with this list; for now, let’s just agree that the world is full of ambiguous shapes. Matt doesn’t have access to any real color or texture information and the radar sense does not have the same ability to discern fine detail as vision does, even when controlling for the absence of color vision. This would logically drive Matt to rely on touch more than the average person in order to learn more about an object. In this kind of scenario, the white cane can be an extension of the hand. Not necessary to avoid random object on the street, but possibly helpful in learning at least something more about it.

    He could even pair it with his sense of hearing. A light tap against a big garbage can, and he might learn whether it’s empty or not. The pavement changing texture (though this can also to some extent be felt underfoot), might be an interesting piece of sensory information to associate with a particular location. It would be like just another device for gathering information that might otherwise, literally, be out of reach. Is this information strictly necessary then? Probably not. But for a character who is all about attention to detail, and being in tune with his surroundings, one can at least see the psychological satisfaction this might bring to someone so naturally meticulous.

What this sort of brings me to are some related general thoughts on the key differences between how Daredevil experiences the world and how (most of) the rest of us do. This is something I’ve tackled in a myriad ways since I started this blog, and I’ll try not to cover too much ground that’s already been covered. It’s just that I obviously spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about Daredevil’s senses and, hey, where else would I share these thoughts? 😉

As evidenced by that scene from Daredevil #5 I’ve already mentioned, one thing Matt is likely to fail miserably at is to size things up with a “glance,” they way sighted people do. Note, I didn’t say size up situations. That’s something our hero is obviously quite adept at, often noticing things beyond the realm of the average senses (although this too would depend on the circumstances). When I say things, I mean just that: static objects.

The way we humans have built the world around us caters perfectly to the way our senses work. We, along with our closest primate relatives, have better color vision than most other mammals (we are “trichromatic” rather than “dichromatic”), and we see in fine detail. Our visual acuity doesn’t rival that of birds of prey, but is far better than that of a cat or a dog. We also have a massive amount of neural real estate devoted to vision, which the visual areas of the brain accounting for around 30 percent of the cortex. And this is where it all happens. To quote a 1993 Discovery article on visual perception (emphasis mine):

“Vision, of course, is more than recording what meets the eye: it’s the ability to understand, almost instantaneously, what we see. And that happens in the brain. The brain, explains neurobiologist Semir Zeki of the University of London, has to actively construct or invent our visual world. Confronted with an overwhelming barrage of visual information, it must sort out relevant features and make snap judgments about what they mean. It has to guess at the true nature of reality by interpreting a series of clues written in visual shorthand; these clues help distinguish near from far, objects from background, motion in the outside world from motion created by the turn of the head.”

It naturally follows that removing a number of features of all the objects around us, leaving only shape (and possibly some sense of differences in density), would greatly interfere with this ability to make snap judgements about unfamiliar objects, or objects that cannot be discerned based on shape alone. Daredevil obviously has access to sound and scent information (and touch, if he’s in a position to touch the object), but not all objects can easily be identified by sound and scent alone. And, to make a sound, an object has to be in motion.

Before you start thinking that I’m suggesting that Daredevil makes for a pretty crappy superhero, I can assure you that’s not the case. Quite the contrary. As is so very typical of this unique character, what he lacks in one domain, may exist in abundance in another. The way I see it, it makes sense that Matt would be highly sensitive to the motion of objects. Vibrating objects make sound, but objects moving across a scene may also stand out more clearly to him. Research on visual processing has arrived at fairly well-established hypothesis that the brain deals with “what” and “where” information separately, along different processing streams (this logic may apply to other senses as well).

Since the radar sense, whatever it is, functions in ways that are analogous, at least in some respects, to vision, it makes sense that the Matt’s brain would handle this information as “vision-like” (and hey, he’s a fictional character, so we’re free to speculate), and process much of it in visual areas of the brain. While the “what” areas of Matt’s brain have relatively less to work with than in the average person, the areas which handle “where” information might be able to become more prominent. It’s easy to see why quick reflexes combined with being especially attuned to even slightly movement anywhere in an over-sized “visual” field would be extremely useful for someone whose hobby is fighting supervillains.

The very fact that Daredevil notices signals that few other people are quite so attuned to is really a huge strength when you think about it. It’s a little like being a southpaw boxer (and hey, he’s that too) except no one he fights has ever fought someone quite like him. He might be missing the obvious, the things that are right in front of him – and that might come at a high prize – but when no one knows to take care to eliminate the signals he is most attuned to, that’s a huge ace up his sleeve. Or at least it was, until he gave it away by coming clean…

That’s it for this long train of thought. Thanks for riding along! I’m just surprised I ended up reasonably close to where I started. 😉

Matt Murdock and the tax code

I will often joke about the fact that no aspect of Daredevil – the character, or the book and its cast – is too mundane to analyze in detail. So far, I’ve covered everything from Matt’s hair (and Foggy’s facial hair) to his love life (that post is probably due for an update), and what happens when he gets a cold.

Sometimes, I like to get a little more speculative, so for this post I’m going to write about something that has never actually been touched on in the comic, but which would – if the Marvel Universe is at all similar to our own – affect both Matt and the Nelson & Murdock law firm. Not in any major way, to be sure, but still. I am talking about the fact that Matt gets to make an extra deduction on his taxes, simply because he’s blind.

I’m sure this seems a little off-topic, but today is the first day of “tax season” in the U.S., and the special tax break for the blind is one of those things about the American tax code that I have been wondering about ever since that one year I actually paid taxes in the U.S. (you’re welcome) way back in 2005, and found it on line 39a of my 1040. While I can’t speak for other countries, there is nothing like this in my own country, in the sense that one particular disability gets singled out and people affected by it given special treatment, based solely on an arbitrary diagnosis, i.e. being on the “right” side of the legal blindness limit.

A shot of the relevant portion of a 1040 IRS tax form.

The best explanation of why the blind get a tax break can be found in this 2005 Slate article. It is worth reading in full, and it’s really not that long, but I’ll quote a portion of it here:

“Until the 1940s, personal exemptions from the income tax were so big that the tax burden was negligible for many Americans. But as the need for tax revenues increased during the war, the size of exemptions decreased; in 1942, a single filer could deduct just $500 from his or her income, as opposed to $1,000 in 1939 and $3,000 in 1916. The Revenue Act of 1943 relieved this growing burden in a number of ways; one was the creation of a $500 deduction for the blind—in gratitude, it was said, for work they’d done in the defense industries.”

“Why were the blind singled out for a special benefit? For one thing, blindness can be measured with relative ease. Federal guidelines are quite explicit: If you can’t see better than 20/200, or if your field of vision is less than 20 degrees, you can take the credit. Other conditions (like bad knees, for example) are more difficult to assess, although filers with such ailments can deduct “significant medical expenses”—currently defined as anything over 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income—from their income.”

The definition of legal blindness, as outlined about, becomes relevant for many purposes besides determining whether a person is eligible for a special tax deduction. It is used at both the state and federal level to determine access to various services. But the question one might ask is whether Matt would take advantage of it. I absolutely think he should. Not only does he “work” countless unpaid hours serving the people of New York, which would surely offset any guilt he might feel at paying a little less on what I assume is a pretty good income, there is also the fact that blindness can be very expensive. Matt may have super-senses, but even a few special gadgets can get really pricey, really fast. Something as simple as a desktop braille printer can cost thousands of dollars. Suddenly that tax break, $1,550 ($1,200 if he were married), seems like a minor consolation.

Of course, if Matt is smart, and we know he is, he would simply have Nelson and Murdock pay for the printer which, unlike certain other things, can be considered a business expense. Small businesses with thirty or fewer employees can make use of the Disabled Access Credit, by which they can be reimbursed for fifty percent of up to $10,000 per year for costs associated with making accommodations for a disabled employee. In practice though, it would also frequently fall to the courts, as public entities, to make sure that a blind lawyer in this case gets, say, a brailled copy of reports relevant to the case, or a description of some highly visual piece of evidence.

However, while blindness can be expensive, there’s also Matt’s “other” life to consider, and I suspect that’s where costs start to skyrocket. There are, for instance, the higher insurance premiums and co-pays associated with having the office attacked by supervillains on a semi-regular basis. On the other hand, in the Marvel Universe’s version of New York, this must a common problem. Just ask the people at the Daily Bugle, or really any place that Galactus would like to eat for breakfast. Then we have the medical expenses associated with regularly getting beat up. Add to that the cost of new Daredevil costumes (and office attire) which need to be replaced. I’m sure it adds up.

For a look at these and other legal matters that pertain to Daredevil, check out the always excellent Law and the Multiverse, a very ambitious blog run by real lawyers who love comic books. They even have a book out! Of special interest here is their post PS238: Superheroes and Tax Deductions, with part of the conclusion quoted below, but most of their stuff is both funny and thought-provoking and well worth reading.

“But he’s probably correct that the IRS would not consider his “vigilante detective” activity to be a business, and his office probably could not qualify as a home office if it were part of his house. The same is true of many other superheroes, including, most obviously, Batman.”

Well, this is it for now! This post was perhaps a little off-topic in pure Daredevil terms, but hey, it was educational, right? 😉 I shall be back in a few short days with my interview with Daredevil: Road Warrior artist Peter Krause. Stay tuned!

“There’s an app for that, Matt!”

Here’s the lettered preview for next week’s Daredevil #26! Are you as excited as I am?

In Daredevil #22, we saw Matt demonstrate a cool smart phone app for identifying money. Ever since, I’ve had an idea in the back of my mind to expand on that topic and see what other apps he might find useful. And yes, that money identification app has a real world counterpart, which we’ll get to below.

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of blind people using smart phones seemed like a pipe dream. Smart phones, as we know, rely on the user being able to visually identify objects on a screen and then interact with these objects by touch. Obviously, this is hard to do if you can’t see what your touching (and as far as Daredevil is concerned, this is one of those areas where his heightened senses are pretty useless). The iPhone 3GS and the mobile version of Apple’s built-in screenreader VoiceOver turned out to be a real game-changer, however. Since then, other operating systems and manufacturers have followed suit, and now it’s not just a matter of blind people being able to use a smart phone for its intended purpose, but of new technology being used to solve old dilemmas.

What follows below are some real world examples of apps that I think Matt might find useful. The list does not include apps that magnify objects for people with low vision (what would be the point?), and I’ve also skipped things like apps which detect light sources since his heightened senses have him covered in that regard.

Matt talks about how he handles money, from Daredevil #22 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Money-reading apps

The real-life app for identifying that unseen pile of cash is the LookTel Money Reader, which quickly identifies different denominations of U.S. dollars, British pounds, and Euros. It works even when only a part of the bill is in focus. Read more about it by following the link above (and see the accompanying YouTube video).

Text-reading apps

Even before Mark Waid decided to declare Matt’s print-reading-by-touch abilities virtually obsolete in the world of modern printing technology, the character must have found himself in many situations (between issues and panels) where a heightened sense of touch wouldn’t be enough to save the day. You have laminated menus (as seen in Andy Diggle’s and Davide Gianfelice’s Daredevil: Reborn #1, incidentally), signs and displays that are out of reach, and things you don’t want to leave your fingerprints on while Daredeviling around town etc.

Lucklily, with a smart phone, many of those scenarios can be covered with one of several available apps that recognize text through OCR technology. One such example is Text Detective. It does have its weaknesses, but would nevertheless be a handy tool.

Knowing where you are and where you want to go

This subheading might catch some of you off-guard. “Knowing where you are? This is Daredevil we’re talking about!” Allow me to explain, and let’s actually start the discussion by introducing a panel from last month’s issue:

Daredevil outside a sporting goods store, from Daredevil #25 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Daredevil is trying to stack the cards in his favor by taking the fight with Ikari inside. He thinks to himself, “I recall this being a sporting goods store. It’ll be empty.” The reader will see that Daredevil is correct (and a nice little Easter egg it is), but it also serves to highlight the fact that the only way Matt would know this is by remembering an old piece of information. He can’t read what’s written above the entrance, and the items inside (to the extent that he can perceive them through the glass) are a jumble of shapes.

I fully expect Matt to have many parts of Manhattan memorized in great detail. Because the fact of the matter is that he really can’t rely on his heightened senses alone to identify many of the places that would remain anonymous to anyone who is literally blind to signage, branding and symbols, even if said person can clearly detect the building itself. Some places have distinctive scents (Starbucks), shapes (McDonald’s) or sounds (subway stations), but many don’t. If Matt finds himself trying to find an address or specific location outside of an area he knows well, he can’t be certain that his heightened senses will suffice. Add to this the “fact” (well more of a notion that I actually think is supported well by the record that is the Daredevil archives) that his radar sense doesn’t have a very long range compared to normal vision. Things close to him will appear to have more definition than things that are farther away. He can’t simply gaze down the street and spot something two or three blocks away.

This was a long way for me to simply state that I think he would absolutely appreciate the new generation of apps that combine GPS and other sources of information to identify locations and addresses, particularly when he’s away from his home turf. One such app is BlindSquare, which combines GPS positioning and information gathered from FourSquare. According to the app’s website:

“You can use BlindSquare for example to find the most popular café within a 200 meter radius or to find the nearest post office or the library. Shake your device to hear your current address, as well as information about the location of the nearest street intersection and venues around you.”

Pretty neat, huh?

Bar code scanners

Digit-Eyes is a bar code scanner app that not only identifies which item a particular bar code is attached to but the cost of the item, nutrition info and ingredients (in the case of food) and other information that may be printed on the can or box (such as cooking or other instructions).

Ears occupied? There’s an app for that too…

So, there are tons of nifty apps. But what about the problem that it keeps your ears occupied? True, Matt’s supersharp ears can probably hear most of what’s going on in the background anyway (and decide what’s important!), but in the event that he’s worried about missing anything while listening to Foggy’s latest email or something, there’s an app called Awareness that is set to feed sounds louder than the ambient noise lever directly through the earphones. This one is useful for sighted people as well.

In closing

That was just a short list. I should also add that there are several apps for things like color identification as well, but these may not be very reliable. Determining color is really much more complicated than one might think. The human eye excels at it, ably assisted by the human brain, allowing us to experience objects as the same color across a wide range of different lighting conditions, but it usually takes pretty expensive equipment to duplicate this natural ability with high quality.

And now I wish you all a fantastic weekend! As always, any and all comments are welcome. 🙂

Braille-iant Daredevil

Hey everyone! I’ve been busy lately, but did manage to record a new podcast last week that I hope to have edited and ready to go by the weekend (after my review of Daredevil #24, due out this week). For this podcast, I have a guest in the form of Daredevil fan extraordinaire Alice “Darediva” Lynch, and we talk about lots of things related to fandom in general. We also cover another area of expertise for Alice: Braille.

While I won’t go into any more details as far as the podcast is concerned – you’re just going to have to wait for me to post it! – I will say that the preview for Daredevil #24 did give me additional reason to think about braille. More specifically, I felt that I wanted to express my general appreciation for how the creators are seamlessly incorporating yet another aspect of Matt Murdock’s daily life that has never really received all that much attention.

To be clear, the examples below are certainly not the first to show Matt using braille (see for example this old post), and aside from early on in Stan Lee’s run, it has never really been suggested that braille doesn’t have a place in Matt’s life beyond helping him conceal that he’s really Daredevil. Even though Matt can read printed text – provided it has a discernable texture to it – logic dictates that braille would be much easier. It is, after all, a format which is specifically designed for being read by touch.

Matt reading a book about cancer, from Daredevil #24 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee
Close-up of Matt's hands, from Daredevil #24 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

What I particularly like about the panels above is that Matt is seen reading with both hands which is what people who are fluent braille readers usually do (it’s faster and makes it easier to find the next line). For an example of what this looks like in real life, check out the video at the bottom of this page. Pretty cool if you ask me.

A few issues earlier, in Daredevil #21, we also got to see a letter that he had written to Milla. In case you’re wondering, what’s on the braille embossed page does match the text in handwritten captions, though it’s an exact letter for letter equivalent (grade 1 braille) rather than the contracted version (grade 2) that is generally used by everyone who is not an absolute beginner. However, I do not expect Chris Samnee or anyone else on the creative team to spend the time on that level of detail. That really would be pushing it. 😉

A letter in braille, from Daredevil #21 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Oh well, that was just a brief post on something I wanted to highlight. Kudos to everyone working on Daredevil right now. These guys aren’t just putting out riveting and amazing-looking stories, they are nailing the details as well. I can’t wait to read the rest of Daredevil #24 on Wednesday. Though I have to admit that I’m kind of glad the preview was only three pages this time since that translates into more new pages to read when the issue comes out. 😀

Daredevil #22 revisited

I knew as soon as I was done writing my review of Daredevil #22 that I would have to go back and write about it some more. I don’t like to give away the ending of an issue so I had to leave out Foggy’s shocking reveal (if you still haven’t read the issue, stop reading now!) from the review despite the fact that it felt like something I/we/”Daredevil fandom” really needed to talk about. There were other things as well that I wanted to give some extra attention to that I didn’t feel were within the scope of a review.

First things first though. Specifically, this:

Foggy reveals to Matt the he might have cancer, Daredevil #22 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Wow. This is about as real-world as it can get. Of course, many real medical conditions present a problem when dealt with against the backdrop of the Marvel Universe for the simple reason that the readers know that geniuses and inventions (and magic!) exist in that world that should make many ailments a thing of the past. On the other hand, I think this is something you have to overlook in order to be able to enjoy stories that are more down to Earth. This is especially true of a title like Daredevil where the main character’s impairment goes unfixed while some of his fellow heroes are sporting spare parts that are better than the real thing (I’m looking at you, Misty Knight).

My guess is that Foggy’s cancer will not be treated by Doctor Strange, nor is it likely to be some kind of illusion or spell (remember when Karen Page had AIDS?), for the simple reason that I think Mark Waid is a much better writer than that. I am also quite certain that Foggy will not actually die. Maybe I should be more worried than I am and might end up having to eat my words in a few months time, but I just can’t see that happening. Not because characters don’t die in comics all the time (and those without superpowers even tend to stay dead), but because it has happened so often around Matt Murdock that it would seem cliché to do it again. There’s also the fact that because so many characters close to Matt have died over the years, there’s really only Foggy left. Daredevil doesn’t have a large supporting cast. Excluding other superheroes and acquaintances who have come and gone over the years, Foggy Nelson is the supporting cast. What I expect out of this development, though, is some character growth and exploration for both of these guys.

Before moving on the next topic, I wanted to talk a little bit about how this development probably struck many of us as coming out of left field. I went back to Daredevil #10.1 and flipped through it and all subsequent issues to see if there were any clues I might have missed. I can’t really say that I found any, except for a potentially significant cough in Daredevil #10.1 (though that may have been bone dust…) and something Foggy says in Daredevil #16:

“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t take care of you and myself and a law firm… you need to leave.”

Aside from that, I don’t think there’s been much to indicate that anything would be wrong with Foggy. Except, of course, his extreme anger in dealing with Matt and his problems. The fact that we now know that Foggy has had his own fears to deal with does let Waid off the hook for Foggy’s strange behavior lately.

Another thing that many people have pointed out is how great the Matt and Foggy scene leading up to this reveal is. Mark Waid presents us with a very sound and compelling reason for why Matt would have hidden his abilities for all those years before he even put on the Daredevil costume. This explanation pretty much boils down to his need for the empowerment that having a secret could provide at a time when he struggled with how others perceived him. This makes a ton of sense to me, and I really appreciate that Mark Waid is so in tune with this character that he is able to explore all of Daredevil’s behaviors and motivations and give them meaning.

This brings us to the beginning of the book and the revolutionary move to showcase Matt having a, let’s call it a blind moment. I mentioned in my review that I very much enjoyed and appreciated this decision on Waid’s part. And, the fact that Chris Samnee seemingly put a lot of effort and research into those first couple of beautiful pages is icing on the cake. What I’m also excited to see is how many other people, in their own reviews or message board comments, also seemed to appreciate this scene. While I’m guilty of more or less lobbying for this kind of treatment of the character for years, it’s nice to see it so well-received by readers who may not even have thought about Matt Murdock in this light before.

Matt tells us how he handles money, Daredevil #22 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

I really think that doing what Waid and the rest of the team are doing here, including realigning Matt’s print-reading abilities to match current technologies (as has been discussed here), actually strengthens the character and makes him more interesting to new readers. I did a survey of sorts a few years ago where I asked people who don’t read Daredevil what exactly didn’t appeal to them about the character. As many as five out of fifty respondents gave some version of “you can’t even tell he’s blind.” The same number of people (though these two groups may have partially overlapped) answered that Daredevil’s powers were insufficiently explained or explored. While this may not seem like a huge proportion (nor was my survey all that scientific), I do think that the people who appreciate an exploration of the intricacies of Matt’s world – its strengths and weaknesses – far outnumber the people will argue quite forcefully that Daredevil is absolutely not disabled, and resent any effort to examine blindness-related issues. If you doubt the existence of the latter group, let me assure you that I’ve done message board battle with their members on at least two occasions. 😉

Speaking of this first scene, I did want to take a closer look at the topic of smartphones and cool apps for the blind, but I think that might be best served by a separate post. Now, how do you guys feel about that last page reveal in particular? Many have commented on my initial review (thank you!), but feel free to discuss it in further detail, spoilers and all, right here!

A screen reader primer for Daredevil fans

Matt talks about his computer, from Daredevil #5 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martín

I was going to start this post by saying something along the lines of: “Usually, for White Cane Day (i.e. October 15 and also known as White Cane Safety Day or International White Cane Day), I post something educational and blindness-related.” Then I realized that would be a lie. Because apparently, I usually forget and have only actually gotten around to it twice. The first time was in 2008 when I wrote a post about the history of the white cane – in the Daredevil comic and the real world – and the year after, I wrote a brief primer on Braille history. And even then, I didn’t get to it until two days late (I suck, I know). I don’t know what the heck happened to all those years in between, but I’ll try not to dwell on how fast time passes without my even noticing.

Anyway, in this case, it’s not too late to make amends and get back on track. So, for this post in the “educational and blindness-related” category, I thought I’d talk a little bit about screen reader technology and its history. Mainly because it’s a pretty cool topic and also has the advantage of feeling somewhat current now that Matt finally has his own computer (see panel from Daredevil #5 below, art by Marcos Martín) and Mark Waid has expressed a general interest in dealing with the 21st century consequences of Matt’s blindness. As for the general lack of assistive technology in Daredevil historically, see my previous post on the topic.

Matt talks about his computer, from Daredevil #5 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martín

Screen reader basics

So, what are screen readers? Well, in a nutshell, a screen reader (usually a piece of software that runs on the user’s otherwise standard computer) extracts information from the data output that is sent to the screen (the so-called “standard output”), but which obviously exists whether there is a monitor connected to the hard drive or not. The information gathered is then interpreted and sent to some kind out output device. The user then interacts with the content presented to him through various keyboard commands (a mouse is pretty useless if you don’t know what you’re clicking on).

I would imagine that when most people think of screen readers, they think of the output being synthetic text-to-speech, but it could just as easily be something like a braille display. Having said that, speech is the more common form of output. Not only do relatively few blind people actually read braille fluently (though Matt Murdock would actually be a good representative of the particular demographic that does, in that he’s totally blind since childhood/adolescence), but synthetic speech can be understood at very high rates, which is obviously preferred if you’re dealing with large amounts of information. In fact, a recent study indicates that one of the few “superhuman” abilities even real blind people develop (under the right circumstances) is being able to understand synthetic speech at speeds much higher than sighted people. We’re talking about speeds as high as 25 syllables per second, which is pretty mind-blowing. Apparently, the visual cortex handles at least some of this enhanced ability. Cool, huh?

The most commonly used screen readers currently are JAWS (an acronym that stands for Job Access With Speech), Window-Eyes, the open source NVDA and VoiceOver (which is the native Apple screen reader pre-installed on all modern Macs). JAWS is by far the most popular one, with 49% of users according to WebAim’s most recent survey. On a side note, if you’re at all interested in accessible web design (I am), WebAim is a fantastic resource. The survey I linked to above also provides a good indication of which features commonly found online present the biggest challenges to blind users.

A (brief) screen reader history

Given how the personal computer has developed over the last decade, it should come as no surprise that blind computer users were likely on more equal footing relative to their sighted peers before the advent of the graphical user interface we’re familiar with today. I’m old enough (almost 35!) to remember not only a time before computers were everywhere – my elementary school library had its entire inventory on alphabetically organized index cards – but also a time when getting on a computer was much less exciting than it is now. In junior high, the only thrill offered by the computer lab at my school came courtesy of an MS-DOS command window. The text was green against a black screen and, apparently, entering “format C:” was a very, very bad thing to do. However, since everything was text-based, early screen readers had a much easier time relaying the exact information presented on the screen.

For most of us, the GUI (graphical user interface) was a welcome change, ushering in an era of nice and colorful clickable icons and pretty pictures. However, for blind people, having information presented in a fashion that was non-linear and non-textual, just added another layer of complexity. This required a new generation of screen readers. The first such software for the PC was IBM’s Screen Reader/2 which was released in 1994 (its non-GUI predecessor “Screen Reader” was introduced in 1986). Freedom Scientific, the company behind JAWS, released its first Windows-compatible version in 1995 (the first version of JAWS was introduced in 1989).

Since the 90’s, tons of things have happened. The Internet revolution happened and web content and web applications are becoming increasingly rich and not always as accessible as one would hope. New developments spur new and improved versions of screen reading software, even though they are not quite able to give their users the (near) equal access experience that simpler times allowed.

However, it seems that in some ways, the screen reader experience is also becoming a litte more portable in a sense. Not only does pre-packaged screen readers (such as Apple’s VoiceOver) make it easier for a blind person to borrow someone else’s computer without worrying about installing extra software, which is often expensive (unless you’re using an open source alternative), there are also examples of web-based screen readers that can be activated from virtually any computer with an Internet connection, provided the user can “fly blind,” so to speak through whatever key strokes are needed to activate it.

While this was in no way exhaustive, I hope that you’ve at least learned something by reading this post. Otherwise, I will have failed miserably. Hey, at least I remembered this year! 😉 And, if you want to get some sense of what kind of information is sent to a screen reader user – and how that information is presented – take a look at Fangs, an easy to use Firefox plug-in. It gives you a text-based screen reader simulation of any page you visit.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Matt talks about his computer, from Daredevil #5 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martín

I’ve been super busy for the last couple of weeks, so this post will have to be short and sweet (I’ll be back on track by the weekend), but wanted to take a few minutes to alert people to the fact that today is the first ever Global Accessibility Awareness Day. “GAAD” is an initiative started by web developer Joe Devon and accessibility specialist Jennison Asuncion and you can read all about it on the project’s website.

To spread awareness of some of the obstacles people with various disabilities face while surfing web, they posted a challenge for people to unplug their mouse for an hour, or try using a screen-reader. I dove right in by activating ChromeVox (a free screenreader for the Chrome browser), but my efforts were cut short by the fact that my browser has decided it’s Swedish and the very American synthetic voice kept mangling the Swedish menu items horribly. (It was pretty funny until I realized I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off and the voice just would not shut up!) 😉 I’ll give it another try when I have more time, especially since web accessibility is an area that interests me. Kudos to all the real screenreader virtuosos out there who do this every day!

For anyone curious to learn more about how people with little to no vision surf the web, I recommend this video, which I found to be pretty pedagogical (I may even have linked to it before). If you want to know why blind people are so freakishly good at understanding synthetic speech at extremely high speeds (hey, an actual superpower!), reading the abstract of this paper should have you set. And, for a Daredevil connection, I refer you to my 2009 post Assistive technology in Daredevil. That’s all for now!

“Sometimes in my dreams, I can see”

“Do blind people see in their dreams?” To be honest, I’ve never thought much about this question myself. Or rather, I’ve possibly thought about it once or twice, and simply decided that it makes sense for people who were born blind or lost their sight very early to not have anything like the kind of visual dreams sighted people have, whereas blind people who have memories of seeing would at least occasionally have dreams which contain visual images. It always struck me as being pretty obvious and straight-forward.

However, this appears to be a fairly commonly asked question on the topic of blindness (along with the stranger question of whether blind people dream at all). It’s also one of those things that have been touched on in the Daredevil title in the not too recent past, and that makes it a prime topic for at least a quick post. First, let’s take a look at two images from Daredevil #1 (vol 3), both with art by Marcos Martín, before briefly delving into the topic.

Matt has a vivid and disturbing dream, from Daredevil #1, by Mark Waid and Marcos Martín
Matt talks to Foggy about his dream, from Daredevil #1, by Mark Waid and Marcos Martín

To make a long story short, would Matt see in his dreams? The most likely answer is the one he gives above: “Sometimes, just sometimes.” Whether someone who’s blind sees in their dreams depends on two things*: 1) whether the person has any visual experiences to draw from and 2) how much time has passed since the person lost their sight. Since Matt has been blind for more than half of his life – i.e. a relatively long time – the vast majority of his dreams would mimic his experiences while awake. So, he might commonly have radar sense dreams (similar to what we see below, as he comes to after the bus crash in Daredevil #7, art by Paolo Rivera), but probably wouldn’t dream in technicolor very often.

Matt dreams about Kirsten MdDuffie, from Daredevil #7 by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

The cases above aren’t the only ones depicting Matt being in some kind of dream state. We also have the scene below, from Daredevil #502, by Andy Diggle and Roberto de la Torre. He also talks about seeing in his dreams in Daredevil #9 (vol 2), by David Mack and Joe Quesada.

Matt has a vivid dream in Daredevil #502, by Andy Diggle and Roberto de la Torre

So there you have it! In case anyone was wondering. 😉 Since I tweeted about this post while working on it, I also got sent this link to the YouTube page of “the blind film critic” Tommy Edison where he actually answers this question for himself (in under a minute and a half). I found that most of his videos are hilariously funny and also have to recommend the video “Shit sighted people say to blind people.” Thanks to Alice the “Darediva” for the tip!

*) For more information on some of the research done on blind people’s dreams, see
Hurovitz, C., Dunn, S., Domhoff, G. W., & Fiss, H. (1999). The dreams of blind men and women: A replication and extension of previous findings. Dreaming, 9, 183-193