Chris Samnee and Daredevil’s evolving radar

Daredevil against the mob, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee

I wrestled a bit with the name of this post. First, I was going to call it “Chris Samnee under the radar.” You know, like the term “under the microscope” but with a radar instead (hey, they’re both optical devices, sort of). But then that would suggest someone flying under the radar, so I couldn’t have that. Then I thought maybe I should call it “Chris Samnee on Daredevil’s radar.” Which works, but that would suggest he’d made some kind of statement. Which he does all the time, through the art on the page, but that’s not what people would read into it. So, I landed on the title above, which is kind of boring, but apt, I think. Daredevil’s radar, as it’s appeared for the last year, is based on the the revamped radar that Paolo Rivera introduced in Daredevil #1, but Samnee has succeeded in putting his own spin on it as well. It has, in a word, evolved. And, a great deal of the evolution is seen in the coloring of the radar sense as well, so major kudos to colorist Javier Rodríguez!

Before reading on, I suggest you check out the post I wrote a little over a year ago on Paolo Rivera’s radar. My initial reason for writing it was to answer a question from a commenter regarding an apparent conflict between the art and the writing. I started by offering my two cents on the limits of any two-dimensional rendition of the radar sense in showing us what Daredevil “sees.” (I suspect that if Matt Murdock were real and we could inject ourselves into his brain for a day, not much would actually “look” like anything we’d recognize.) Then, I went on to talk about certain aspects we would expect from a radar sense and how those compare to what we see in the comic.

Now that we are more than a year into Chris Samnee’s stint as Daredevil artist, I figured this would be a good time to check back in with the radar and see if there are any trends that might be fun to comment on. At the very bottom of this post is a gallery featuring twenty-five Chris Samnee radar panels (all colored by Javier Rodríguez, of course), in chronological order. Just click them to zoom in, and click anywhere on the screen to pop them back down (this works for all in-post images on this site, if you didn’t know). Some of them, I’ll use as examples too.

Faceless faces

Matt confronts the office staff, as seen in Daredevil #16, art by Chris Samnee

The question that spurred last year’s post had to do with Daredevil and his impression of faces (specifically, Mole Man’s). Since Samnee took over, however, the faces have become much less distinct. This may just be a natural consequence of a difference in art style, but I have to say that I really like the subtle change. The most prominent feature of any face seems to be the nose, which makes sense, but aside from that faces appear indistinct.

One of the reasons I prefer less distinct faces is not just that I think it’s slightly more realistic, but because it forces the reader to shift from their normal way of thinking about things. One constant in Daredevil history has been the natural inclination on behalf of creators to overestimate Matt’s visual nature while underestimating just how much he could do with his other senses. The sense of smell was all but neglected more or less until Frank Miller came along. As “microsmatic” primates with very good vision, we naturally have a hard time imagining a different ordering of the senses where things like faces just aren’t that important, and other impressions take priority.

People versus backgrounds

Daredevil against the mob, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee

One thing that has caught my attention lately is that people are colored a little differently than the background. As seen above, and in many other panels, the people in the panel seem a little brighter than the background, and the radar lines are a little more blurred. This is pretty neat from an artistic angle since it makes people, often in motion, stand out a little better. I don’t have anything interesting to say about this from a science perspective though. 😉

Near and far

Daredevil versus Superior Spider Man, from Daredevil #22, art by Chris Samnee

Like i mentioned in last year’s post, one thing to keep in mind with the radar is that it behaves differently close up than it does for things that are far away, which may appear much more faint. Normal vision, on the other hand, doesn’t really have any such restraints. As long as there’s a light source, we can see things that are very far away, even when they obviously appear much smaller.

In all three panels I’ve used as examples so far, we see that the radar lines fade away into completely black areas of the panels or (as seen above) that the buildings in the background are just hinted at. This may be because it saves time or because it gives the radar panels a nice amount of added depth and texture, but it also has the distinct advantage of making sense. Isn’t it nice when that happens?

Dialing down the details

Radar fades out, as seen in Daredevil #14, art by Chris Samnee

In the last year, we’ve seen a lot of interesting things happen to Daredevil’s senses. In Daredevil #14 (above), Matt loses his radar sense, which Samnee illustrates by making the radar lines thinner and farther apart, to suggest that it’s fading out. In a scene from Daredevil #16, we instead see the radar come into focus, in a flashback sequence of sorts showing young Matt in the hospital. I really dig that whole scene. One of the nice things about the whole wireframe radar model is that there are so many paramaters to play with: spacing, line width, intensity and so on. Another great example of this are the radar panels from Daredevil’s big fight with Ikari.

Final thoughts

Not much to say except that I’m really digging what the art team is currently doing, and their take on the radar is certainly no exception. The only property I haven’t seen explored yet is the transparency setting! (Which might be a another cool way of fading things out.) I’m looking forward to seeing what else might appear on Daredevil’s radar in the coming months!

Radar panel of a crowd, from Daredevil #12, art by Chris Samnee
Radar panel of a crowd, from Daredevil #12
Radar shot of Latverian street, from Daredevil #14, art by Chris Samnee
Radar shot of Latverian street, from Daredevil #14
Radar fades out, as seen in Daredevil #14, art by Chris Samnee
Radar fades out, as seen in Daredevil #14
Hank Pym versus nanobots, from Daredevil #16, art by Chris Samnee
Hank Pym versus nanobots, from Daredevil #16
Young Matt's radar comes into focus, as seen in Daredevil #16, art by Chris Samnee
Young Matt’s radar comes into focus, as seen in Daredevil #16
Matt confronts the office staff, as seen in Daredevil #16, art by Chris Samnee
Matt confronts the office staff, as seen in Daredevil #16
Matt finds Milla in his bed, as seen in Daredevil #18, art by Chris Samnee
Matt finds Milla in his bed, as seen in Daredevil #18
Daredevil sees Coyote shoot a mobster, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil sees Coyote shoot a mobster, as seen in Daredevil #19
Radar image of the street below, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee
Radar image of the street below, as seen in Daredevil #19
Daredevil against the mob, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil against the mob, as seen in Daredevil #19
Daredevil facing his own headless body, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil facing his own headless body, as seen in Daredevil #19
Radar image of Coyote, from Daredevil #20, art by Chris Samnee
Radar image of Coyote, from Daredevil #20
The Spot strung up, from Daredevil #21, art by Chris Samnee
The Spot strung up, from Daredevil #21
Daredevil versus Superior Spider Man, from Daredevil #22, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil versus Superior Spider Man, from Daredevil #22
Superior Spider-Man, as seen in Daredevil #22, art by Chris Samnee
Superior Spider-Man, as seen in Daredevil #22
Daredevil faces chaos, as seen in Daredevil #23, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil faces chaos, as seen in Daredevil #23
Matt inspects Larry, from Daredevil #25, art by Chris Samnee
Matt inspects Larry, from Daredevil #25
Sensory split screen, from Daredevil #25, art by Chris Samnee
Sensory split screen, from Daredevil #25
Blurred panel of Ikari, as seen in Daredevil #25, art by Chris Samnee
Blurred panel of Ikari, as seen in Daredevil #25
Daredevil's radar is dampened by the water from the sprinklers, as seen in Daredevil #25, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil’s radar is dampened by the water from the sprinklers, as seen in Daredevil #25
Matt interviews a sweaty Mr. Benson, from Daredevil #26, art by Chris Samnee
Matt interviews a sweaty Mr. Benson, from Daredevil #26
Matt in a subway tunnel, from Daredevil #26, art by Chris Samnee
Matt in a subway tunnel, from Daredevil #26
Matt on the ground, from Daredevil #26, art by Chris Samnee
Matt on the ground, from Daredevil #26
Daredevil versus the two Bullseyes, as seen in Daredevil #27, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil versus the two Bullseyes, as seen in Daredevil #27
Static radar, Daredevil #27, art by Chris Samnee
Static radar, Daredevil #27

The philosophy of Paolo Rivera’s radar

Daredevil "sees" Mole Man with his radar sense, from Daredevil #10, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

Yes, the title of this post is deliberately ambiguous, somewhat pretentious and possible misleading. First of all, Paolo Rivera doesn’t actually have a radar sense, at least none that I know of (even though he does frequently use himself and various household object as reference material, as often seen in his always entertaining Wacky Reference Wednesdays series of posts). Joking aside, I’m obviously talking about Rivera’s rendering of Daredevil’s radar sense which has become the gold standard of the series’ third volume. But, I’m not really just talking about that either. To explain what the heck I’m getting at, I’ll refer you to this comment, that Daniel D left in response to my review of Daredevil #10:

“[…] there was one part of the issue which threw me a little: The part early on where Mole Man asks; can’t Daredevil see how ugly he is? Matt replies that no, he can’t. Yet we’re shown a panel of DD’s radar mapping the contours of Mole Man’s face, showing us that actually DD could ‘see’ how ugly Mole Man was.”

My response to Daniel was that I’d get back to this topic in a separate post, which pretty much brings us here. And this is also where we get into something of a philosophical domain that is, of course, not just limited to how Paolo Rivera draws the radar sense, but how it’s been done historically as well. However, while we’re on the topic, I realized that there are a couple of properties of the radar sense that I’ve never really touched on despite the fact that they are pretty central to the understanding of Matt’s “vision,” and despite the number of posts I’ve specifically devoted to the radar sense on this site already. For this, I also wanted to use a couple of panels from the current run on Daredevil, but I’ll return to that in the second half of this post.

Getting back on track (before I have everyone so confused that you guys are ready to head over to some other comics blog where things make sense), let’s look at Daniel’s comment quoted above. And, just so we’re all on the same page, below is the panel he’s referring to, from Daredevil #10.

Daredevil "sees" Mole Man with his radar sense, from Daredevil #10, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

The Mole Man dilemma

The question we need to ask ourselves here is what purpose the radar panel of Mole Man’s face serves in this story, and what it really says about Daredevil. I’d say that its main purpose is to remind the reader that Matt’s perspective is different from that of the average person; that his way of “seeing” is unlike our way of seeing. Whenever a non-radar panel is used in the comic, that represents the viewpoint of the majority (whether we’re talking about the reader or the average Marvel Universe inhabitant). When a radar panel is used, it reminds the reader of this other way of seeing, but it can’t fully recreate it in a way that perfectly mimics the real deal. The topographic wireframe rendition that Paolo Rivera introduced is a great model, but it’s really just that: a model.

What can be done on the page is not only limited by the fact that the artist is trying to transfer a three-dimensional, yet colorless, image to the two-dimensional page, but also by what the reader is able to comprehend. While the “silhouette interpretation” of the radar (see Frank Miller and others) has been much more common, Rivera is not the first Daredevil artist to attempt something a little more three-dimensional. Another example is Scott McDaniel, who provided the art seen in the panel below, from Daredevil #306 (Vol 1), written by D. G. Chichester. His approach is different from Rivera’s wireframe, but seems to try to capture some of the same aspects of the radar image. The only problem with it that it’s quite difficult to figure out what Matt is “seeing” in these instances.

Radar image from Daredevil #307, by D. G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel

I happen to like the exotic nature of McDaniel’s radar. The fact that it makes the reader work a little harder is a good way of underscoring the difference between Daredevil’s impressions and everyone else’s. However, Rivera’s wireframe is probably the better compromise. His radar images are clear enough to allow the reader to understand what Daredevil is seeing, while at the same time capturing the colorless and “depth-based” properties of the radar. This allows us to understand where the main differences between the two perspectives lie without slowing down the story.

However, if we require that readers be able to understand what it is Daredevil is looking at, that also means that Mole Man’s face (in this instance) be drawn in a way that makes him recognizable to us readers. My take on all of this is that in trying to balance the demands of drawing the radar as different with the need to create a recognizable image, the art may actually be exaggerating Daredevil’s ability to recognize both faces and certain other objects. Matt may not be lying at all when he tells Mole Man that he’s unable to see his face. However, the Mole Man panel highlights a conflict between the art and writing that has popped up from time to time for the book’s nearly five decades of publication.

Can Daredevil “see” faces?

My main reasons for arguing that Matt Murdock would have a problem with faces really stem from two sources. The first one is the writing, as handled by Mark Waid currently, and also by past writers. Looking only at what is said about the radar sense and what is expressed by the main character, without bringing the art into the picture, it is clear that the notion that Matt can’t see faces (at least not well enough to use as a basis for recognizing people) is much more widespread than the notion that he can. Even the most obvious of facial expressions, such as a smile, is more often referred to as something that can be heard, or otherwise inferred, than “seen” by means of the radar sense. Looking at what Mark Waid has had to say on the topic, it’s pretty clear that he imagines the finer details of the human face to be beyond Matt’s grasp.

Aside from what writers have had to say on the subject, it is also a well-known observation that being able to recognize faces is one of the first things to go when someone’s sight deteriorates. People whose vision is at or even below the 20/200 mark (the legal blindless limit, and the equivalent of having only one tenth of normal visual acuity) commonly have no problems with mobility and don’t need to use a white cane. Facial recognition, on the other hand, is an ability that starts to drop off as early as around the 20/30 – 20/40 mark. This is not surprising considering the number of people who have fully correctable vision but will attest to failing to recognize people when not wearing their glasses. If you consider how much the color of people’s eyes, skin, lips, hair, eyebrows etc help in recognizing people, that’s obviously another disadvantage that Matt would have.

In essence, since it’s highly unlikely that Daredevil’s radar sense comes even close to normal visual acuity (see, for instance, the “radar” subheading in this post) and since we know for a fact that he can’t “see” in color, it seems reasonable to assume the fine details of the human face elude him. So, in response to Daniel, it seems that Daredevil wasn’t lying to Mole Man after all, despite what that panel would suggest. 😉

Silhouettes versus 3-D

With Daniel’s comment dealt with to the best of my ability, I thought I’d take the opportunity to address a couple of other radar-related things that might provide some food for thought, the first being whether the three-dimensional take on the radar makes more sense than the silhouettes that have been a common artist’s choice historically. I would argue that both are equally valid, but at different ranges. I’ll get to why below this beautiful panel from Daredevil #1 (Vol 3), that actually shows Paolo Rivera drawing people as silhouettes (in order to emphasize their heart beats, I suspect).

Silhouettes of people, from Daredevil #1, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

Historically, the above take on the radar sense has been much more common, and is also seen in at least one scene from Marcos Martín’s issues. For close-ups, the wireframe approach which reveals more depth and follows the contours of objects more closely makes more sense to me given that whatever the radar sense really is, it relies on the relative distances between Daredevil and various points in space around him. This is key to understanding one of the main differences between normal vision and the radar sense: The first creates depth from two flat images (one presented to each eye), the other creates an image – or understanding, rather – from only relative depths.

However, at greater distances, the “shadow” cast by the reflection of some signal (sound, or something else) should appear relatively flatter. Think about it this way: If you take a large object, like a car, and imagine that you’re standing right in front of if (say 5 ft away), then the windshield will be approximately twice as far away from you as the bumper, making the relative distances of the two parts of the car large. The farther away from you the car is, however, the smaller the relative distance between the windshield and the bumper compared to the distance between yourself and either surface. If you’re relying on sound (whether ambient of self-produced), or some other kind of energy with a frequency pattern to it, you will eventually reach the point where you can’t resolve the difference between the signal that bounces back from the windshield and the one that bounces back from the bumper and your overall impression of the object will be dominated by the “silhouette” given by its two-dimensional form.

Of course, I have no idea of how Daredevil’s radar sense would work if he were a real person (who does?) so I don’t have the faintest clue at which point common everyday objects would start to appear flat to him, I’m just saying that they would appear flatter at greater distances. Then again, our own stereoscopic vision stops working when viewing objects at distances greater than 150-170 meters, at which point we start using only monocular cues (inferences that can be made about perspective and relative size in the absence of binocular vision) to understand depth. However, we can see all the way to the horizon, something Matt Murdock most certainly cannot, which brings us to the second thought experiment of this post. 😉

The range of the radar sense

This name of this blog is a play on the title of Brian Bendis’s and Alex Maleev’s last story arc on Daredevil: The Murdock Papers. I think most people would agree that that arc was not Bendis’s best work on the title (for one, it had Elektra confessing to helping the Kingpin gather documents that didn’t actually exist…). It also introduced the questionable notion that S.H.I.E.L.D. has information about the range of Daredevil’s radar sense. I’m mentioning it here, however, because while I may have disagreed with much of what Bendis did in the senses department, there’s definitely a great deal of logic to the radar having a finite range. Again, this assumption holds regardless of what we imagine the radar to be.

I mentioned above that one big difference between the radar perspective and normal vision is how the former constructs image from depths while the latter constructs depth from images. Another key difference is the “light source” factor. Those of us who can see light rarely have to bring our own light source to the party. With indoor lighting and, more importantly for greater distances, that big yellow disk up in the sky that makes sure everything we need to see is clearly illuminated, we can see as far as we need to. Literally for miles.

The Daredevil experience is more like walking into a pitch black cave with a 360 degree headlight on your head. How far you can see depends on the intensity of the signal, of course. However, it’s not infinite. The inverse square law dictates that the intensity of an electromagnetic signal (such as light or radiowaves) emanating in all directions from a point source diminishes by a factor of four for each doubling of the distance from the source. If we’re talking about sound, the law dictates that the intensity is halved with each doubling of the distance from the source. So, whether Daredevil’s head actually emits some kind of sound or radiowave, the signal will die off pretty quickly. The situation is obviously similar if he relies on ambient sound (my own favorite interpretation).

This actually matches what we’ve seen in the daredevil comic pretty well, with many writers emphasizing that the radar allows Daredevil to get an idea of his immediate surroundings. The interpretation of “immediate” probably varies quite a bit by writer though. Either way, at greater distances, things won’t just appear flatter, but fainter as well. Eventually, no signal will bounce back and anything at the far end of the range will disappear into a void. For this reason, I’m a much bigger fan of how the “far away” is handled in the panel below on the left (nothing is bounced back from the “far away” position beyond the shooter) than the one on the right (where even distant skyscrapers are visible). Both are from Daredevil #1.

Radar show object near, but nothing from far away, from Daredevil #1, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera Radar reveals even distant objects, from Daredevil #1, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

With the notion that Daredevil really can’t “see” very far, it’s really not so silly for him to be using that “If I could see what I was doing…” line. Jumping off the top of a skyscraper, it actually makes sense that he can’t perceive the street below. 😉

So, there’s one more geek-out for you, all thanks to Daniel and his comment. So, thanks Daniel (and Paolo Rivera, of course) for inspiring this post!

What’s wrong with this picture?

In all the excitment I felt after seeing the preview for Daredevil #9, I completely forgot to look for that other book Daredevil appears in, namely New Avengers. Issue #21 of New Avengers, by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato, also hits the stands on Wednesday and I want to thank Mark for bringing my attention to the panel below.

If you’ve read my series on the history of the radar sense, you know that few things excite me more than trying to make sense of Daredevil’s radar sense (in spite of this sad fact, I manage to lead a fairly exciting life). Now, we’ve seen Daredevil’s radar sense overwhelmed by loud noise (happens frequently), a blanket thrown over his head (Daredevil vol.1 #3) and various other more or less odd scenarios, but this has to be the first time I’ve seen him complain about the wind screwing up his radar sense. Unless we’re talking about the sound of the wind in which case I’m willing to give Bendis a pass on this one.

But that’s not the only problem here. One of the keys to writing Daredevil really well is to try as hard as possible to divorce oneself from the percpetions of the average person. The question I think Bendis should have asked himself here is this: Does Daredevil primarily rely on his radar sense to recognize people? Generally speaking, the answer is no. Even if we count the radar sense as a form of vision, “vision” is still by far his weakest sense compared to his senses of hearing, smell etc. If Daredevil has met Thor – as we know he has – the keys to recognizing Thor the next time he encounters him should have more to do with what Thor sounds and smells like than his physical shape even while that might also – in this case – be distinctive.

Okay, glad I got that one out of my system! 😉

A history of the radar sense – present time

Daredevil taps his club against a chimney, from Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

As any longtime reader will know, I love scrutinizing Daredevil’s senses, both from a scientific and conceptual perspective. That is to say that I enjoy looking at 1) the conflict between what the limitations of physics and biology allow in the real world and what Daredevil is able to do in the comic and 2) how the nature and extent of Darededevil’s heightened senses – combined with his lack of sight – has been explored and interpreted by writers and artists.

The enigmatic radar sense has been particularly interesting to pick apart, and that’s the reason this post and the ones that have preceded it in the series have even been given their own category on this site. So far, I’ve only reached Denny O’Neil’s run as Daredevil writer in the “History of the Radar Sense” series proper, but I’ve decided to make a big leap forward in time to the present for this post. Yes, the Waid/Rivera/Martín run only has four issues to its credit so far, but given the fact that the entire team has shown an unusual dedication to exploring the sensory angle of Matt Murdock’s world – enhancements and deficits alike – this seemed like a good enough opportunity to return to the topic I never seem to be able to stay away from very long. I can’t say I’ve reached any definitive conclusion yet, but maybe this post will at least make for an interesting discussion.

Starting with the very first interviews with Mark Waid, long before Daredevil #1 came out, it seemed clear that this creative team was really going to spend time getting into Matt’s head and I was quite curious to see what they would make of the Matt’s radar sense. As early as the back-up story in Daredevil #1, with art by Marcos Martín, we see Matt himself offer the following explanation:

Matt explains how his radar sense works, from Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martín

So, apparently it’s “like echolocation.” Without actually being echolocation? To tell you the truth, this exchange – while enlightening in some ways – didn’t make me much wiser in terms of figuring out what exactly Mark Waid imagines the radar sense to be. Worth noting, however, is that the “touching everything at once” line, which was first uttered by a young Matt when explaining his powers to Elektra in the hands of Frank Miller. Regardless of the source of Matt’s pseudo-visual perceptions, it makes sense for there to be a tactile component to the experience. In fact, many real life blind people will claim to be sensing objects by tactile means – as opposed to hearing them – to the extent that one of the participants in early experiments on what was known at the time as “facial vision” refused to believe that his experiences were based on hearing. Only after he repeatedly failed to detect objects when his ears were covered would he accept this idea.

Like I said, I was none the wiser in terms of whether Waid considered the “radar” to be hearing-based, a literal radar sense (i.e. electromagnetic waves) or something in between – or entirely different – from reading the back-up story. The final few pages of the main story of the first issue didn’t make things any clearer. During this part of the story, Daredevil is targeted by Captain America and sprayed with radar chaff. Chaff is used as a radar countermeasure and consists of small pieces of plastic or metal. This would clearly indicate that we’re talking about actual radar if it weren’t for the fact that it seems reasonable that radar chaff would also affect someone’s ability to “hear” nearby object (particularly if that someone is relying primarily on relatively low intensity ambient sound), given that even the leaves of a tree reflect sound. We also see Daredevil trying to get a handle on the situation by actively generating sound, as seen in the panel below in which he taps his billy club against a chimney.

Daredevil taps his club against a chimney, from Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

In his interview with Insight Radio, from the beginning of September, Mark Waid gives us a little more to go on, especially in terms of the functional aspects of Daredevil’s radar sense, as he sees them:

“He also has, on top of [his other heightened senses], what they call radar sense – a sort of second sight if you will. He can’t see faces, he can’t see details, but essentially it’s a form of radar that travels 360 degrees and kind of gives him a vague, almost outline, sense to the things that are around him at all times. It sounds a lot more helpful than it is, it’s really just a sort of aid to make sure he, as he crusades and fights crime, knows where the edge of the buildings are and where the oncoming cars are coming from, but that’s his shtick, that’s his power-set.”

This leads me to assume that Mark Waid does see the radar sense as a separate sense that may or may not be actual radar. The above explanation is followed, later in the interview, by:

“What he sees around him is sort of a jumble of shapes and fuzzy outlines, just enough to sort of get a sense of the lay of the room around him, but he can’t really tell a table from a chair from a person. He can’t really tell, unless things are very still and he is able to concentrate a great deal, who’s who in a room, just by their sillhouettes. It’s really just a matter of silhouettes.”

While suggesting that Matt can’t tell the difference between a person and a chair sounds a little far-fetched, even for me, it does make sense for Waid to point out that there are limitations to just how much information you can get from knowing only the shape (and possibly the density) of objects. It’s easy to forget that the ability to see fine detail is a luxury afforded only the very center of the visual field of us average humans and, more importantly, relies to a great extent on the ability to see color without which many details cannot be perceived.

(For those who might worry that “seeing” so much less than people with regular vision would render our hero too ineffective for his own good, it might be some comfort to know that cats, for instance, only have roughly 10% of our visual acuity yet are capable of being both skilled acrobats and predators. Add to that the fact that perhaps the main mobility obstacle facing people with low vision is being unable to accurately determine distance, a problem Matt – whose “visual” perception consists almost entirely of relative distances – simply wouldn’t have. ;))

While the above interview, and the current four issues themselves, have failed to completely satisfy my need to know what exactly we’re supposed to make of the radar sense under the current regime, I will take this opportunity to give two big thumbs up to both artists for their work so far in putting their own spin on the ever enigmatic “radar.” So, before offering you guys the floor, that is the comment section, I’ll end with two radar panels by Paolo Rivera (top, from Daredevil #2) and Marcos Martín (bottom, from Daredevil #4):

Radar image, from Daredevil #2, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera.
Radar image, as drawn by Marcos Martín in Daredevil #4

I’m sorry for getting this post up so late, by the way. I’ve had a nasty cold for the past week and been low on energy, but hope to be back on track very soon! And, for those of you keeping track, this is post #499. 😉

It’s radar magic! (You don’t have to explain it)

Matt talking to Luke, from Daredevil #43

Before we get to my review of Daredevil: Reborn #1 later today (see also Newsarama’s brand new interview with Andy Diggle), I’m going to treat you guys to a good old-fashioned rant. You see, when I went through all of those old Bendis issues, chasing down examples of the occasional Daredevil joke (see my previous post), it reminded me of everything I liked about the Bendis run. It also reminded me of one of the things that really bugged me about it: the occasionally hyperbolic “senses writing” and particularly Bendis’s unusually incoherent and downright odd use of the radar sense.

Yes, we’re making yet another journey into the pseudo-science of Daredevil’s senses and we’re skipping many chapters in my old series on the history of the radar sense to do so, but this topic has been begging for my attention since last week so I decided to tackle it here and now.

Ditching the radar – Well-conceived but poorly executed

It seems pretty clear, to me anyway, that it was a deliberate decision on Marvel’s part to do something about Daredevil’s radar sense around the time Bendis took over the book. It’s certainly possible that Bendis himself provided the driving force for this change, but it must at least have reached the editorial level at some point as there was a deliberate change to the character introduction on the recap page, starting with Daredevil (vol 2) #27. For the first time, there’s no mention of a radar sense:

“Attorney Matt Murdock is blind, but his other senses function with superhuman sharpness. He stalks the streets at night. A relentless avenger of justice.”

The first issue of Bendis’s run, Daredevil #26, was first published in December of 2001, fourteen months before the February 2003 release of the Daredevil movie which also featured a “radar-less” Daredevil (at least in the traditional sense, with the radar being a separate entity). Because of the time gap, I have to assume that this slight change in the comic had little to do with the movie and any effort there might have been to have the two mediums be more similar in this regard, though I may be wrong.

Either way, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m actually in favor of looking at the radar sense as more of a skill, developed out the enhanced echolocation abilities super-hearing might confer, than as a separate sense, particularly if we’re are to assume that the “radar” functions as actual radar, as opposed to just being a euphemism. Not only is the idea that Matt actually emits radio waves through his skull very “silver age,” it would be pretty useless since radio waves actually pass right through many objects that easily reflect visible light, such as wood or even people.

However, I know that some Daredevil fans are quite attached to the radar being a separate sense (whatever that sense might be), and I guess enough of those people sent angry letters to Marvel, because as of Daredevil #41, the text on the recap page reads as follows (emphasis mine):

“Attorney Matt Murdock is blind, but his other senses function with superhuman sharpness and a radar sense. With amazing fighting skills he stalks the streets at night. A relentless avenger of justice. The man without fear!

Whatever the case might be, Bendis could have gotten away with not handling things all that differently from what had been the case during, say, the Miller days, and initially it seems like he might have gotten some inspiration from Matt’s training with Stick in the Man Without Fear mini-series. In the “silent issue,” Daredevil #28, we see Matt extend his hand as if to feel the air.

Matt using his radar sense, Daredevil #28

In the parts of the script that was printed in along with this issue, published during ‘Nuff Said month, Bendis himself describes the scene as follows.


(TIME FOR ME TO STOP TAKING SHIT (the word is completely blacked out, my note) FROM PEOPLE FOR NEVER USING HIS RADAR : ) )

Okay, the radar as air you can touch with your hand is fine, I guess, if a little odd. But how does this interpretation match other instances of Matt’s radar at work later during the Bendis run? Well, I have to admit that I can’t quite make sense of it.

How is this supposed to work exactly?

In the scene below, from Daredevil #43 Matt pays a visit to Luke Cage. Now, I don’t know much Luke knows about what Matt can and can’t do and how he does it, but the description of the radar as something that can be “flicked” on and off doesn’t exactly make it sound like the organic ability to utilize his four remaining heightened senses that it’s been described as.

The other problem with this whole scene is what exactly Bendis thinks Matt can do with this “radar.” How would he use his radar to look for people doing drugs? Anywhere in the building no less. What is it this radar sense does that gives him this ability to presumably know exactly (and not solely through smelling or listening – even though that would be something of a stretch too) what every person in the building is doing? Is the radar suddenly not the crude – albeit useful – ability to sense the presence of objects relatively close by, but instead a form of transcendent knowledge for which there is little explanation?

Matt talking to Luke, from Daredevil #43

I’ve highlighted this particular scene because it strikes me as particularly questionable, but Bendis’s tendency to, in my opinion, exaggerate the type and amount of information that could be accessed via this “non-sense” (remember that this particular interpretation requires that it be based on the other four senses) was something that occurred to me on multiple occassions. I get why having metaphorical eyes in the back of one’s head is powerful, but knowing what everyone in a city block is doing simultaneously (as he does in another scene during the Out arc when determining that it’s safe to change into his Daredevil costume) strikes me as much more than that. The point of changing the interpretation of the radar sense was probably to make the character more grounded in the real world, not less so.

In Bendis’s last story arc, The Murdock Papers, the radar sense even plays into the plot of the story in a couple of ways, which makes things even more confusing. Personally, I think that The Murdock Papers was a complete mess of a story with some pretty glaring plot holes, the most important being that Elektra presumably helped gather intelligence for a set of documents that ended up never having existed (huh?). Among the things Elektra was supposedly keeping tabs on was how Daredevil’s radar sense works, see the scene below (remember that all images on this site “pop” to full scale when clicked, click again to close).

Daredevil talking to Elektra, from Daredevil #78

I have several problems with this scene:

  1. Daredevil talks about his radar as if it were some kind of military defense scheme that requires a particular procedure or password to bypass, rather than something that has a more grounded basis in human (albeit enhanced) biology.

  2. The sweeping statement that he can detect all kinds of recording devices is illogical. If he can detect a particular recording device, it’s not by virtue of it being a recording device, it’s because it makes a sound of some kind that gives away it’s location. If you can make a recording device that is close to perfectly silent, then how would he detect it? Daredevil here gives the explanation that he has “sensory radar,” but I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, especially in light of the interpretation that his other senses together form the radar sense. If he means that he can pick up radio signals because he’s got a radar, then that’s the kind of throw-back to the Stan Lee era I could have done without.

  3. While not featured in this particular scene, this story arc also sees Matt being shot by a sniper. The decision to use a sniper who can fire from a great distance is presumable based on the knowledge that this was a great enough distance in order to bypass Daredevil’s radar sense. This brings us again back to the questionable notion that the radar is very well-defined and has properties that can be mapped, tested and then bypassed. How do all these people know the extent of Matt’s senses when I find it hard to believe he’d even know for sure himself? And what about the radar sense would give anyone the idea that Matt can’t be shot from close range? Yes, I know Daredevil has been known to be able to avoid bullets, and he’s done so repeatedly throughout the history of the comic, but, as with recording devices, he doesn’t actually have a built-in gun detector. Knowing when someone is about to fire and the trajectory of the bullet has always been described as a rather complex and analytical task, based on different types of information, such as a spike in the shooter’s heartbeat. All it would take to get the better of him would be to create a sufficiently tumultuos situation.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there was way too much “pure fucking magic” (pardon my French) in Bendis’s writing of the radar, and not enough of a sense that this is an ability grounded in how our real senses actually work. There are too many cases of Matt simply knowing stuff with little explanation of how he would actually know them. With a character like Daredevil, you have to be very careful in balancing between giving him powers that are impressive, and going too far and making him nearly omniscient with an ill-defined radar as the ultimate alibi.

Senses in over-drive

What added to this sense of Matt being more powerful than I would have liked, was also how his other senses – when looked at as separate senses – were written during the Bendis run. Take a look at the panel below – and one that I generally find to be beautifully written – and guess where exactly the writing crosses my personal line into ridiculousness. 😉

Matt waking up, from Daredevil #33

If you guessed the part where Matt smells the saline solution in the reporters’ eyes – through a brick wall no less – you’re absolutely right. I can’t even imagine why anyone would want to ruin the mood of this scene, already impressive enough (even being able to smell a croissant through a wall is pushing it, unless his building is a drafty hell hole), by suggesting that he can smell the saline solution in people’s eyes? Let us get this straight: Our bodies are mostly saline. Saline is essentially water with a particular concentration of sodium chloride. If he can even smell saline at all, it’s likely he’s smelling the saline from his own eyes before he smells anyone elses. Yes, I know I’m being picky, that it’s just a comic and that there should be some room for bending the laws of physics, but I can’t help it. It annoys the heck out of me.

My reaction to the scene below, from the last issue of Trial of the Century (Daredevil #40), is one which creates an equal, if not greater, level of annoyance. There are many, many cases where we can catch Matt hearing things that not even superhearing would allow (knowing that sounds physically can’t travel infinite distances or and that they can be annihilated by obstacles in their path), but this is one of the most extreme cases I’ve seen, simply because we’re not talking about sounds that are at least moving through open space.

Matt listening, from Daredevil #40

The problem with the scene above is not that Matt is hearing something through a wall, even a so-called soundproof one, it’s that he’s hearing entire conversations through multiple walls. I know he has superhearing and that this is a comic book, but one question every Daredevil writer should ask himself is: When does the handling of one of Daredevil’s senses stop being thought-provoking yet grounded and at what point does he essentially become Superman? In this case, he crossed the line into Superman territory about three walls ago. Then again, you’d think even the Man of Steel would be subject to the laws of physics…


I think this post probably lived up to the warning I offered at the very beginning, and turned into something of a rant. Well, sometimes it feels good to rant. I doubt that most other fans are as bothered by these and others examples as I am every time I read them, and I know Brubaker even took some heat for essentially taking Matt’s abilities down a notch after people had become used to Matt being able to magically know stuff for years under Bendis’s otherwise very competent stint as Daredevil writer.

But, I think putting a cap on what Matt can do and drawing the line at what seems reasonable for a so-called low-powered character is in the best interest of the character. I can understand why going a little crazy with the superpowers can be appealing to some writers, but something is lost in the process and makes the job of getting a character into trouble, when the story calls for it, that much harder.

A history of the radar sense #6

Yes, it’s time for one of those radar posts again, and we will finally be moving into post-Miller territory, and covering the Daredevil of Denny O’Neil. As we’ll see, there are a couple of noteworthy things about O’Neil’s interpretation of the radar, so let’s get on with the show and tell…

Radar image, from Daredevil #195, by Denny O'Neil and Klaus Janson
Radar image, from Daredevil #195, by Denny O'Neil and Klaus Janson

Continue reading “A history of the radar sense #6”

A history of the radar sense #5 – Frank Miller part 2

While I always tend to write about things I want to write about on this blog (with the odd exception of some mandatory news reporting), this series of posts – more so than others perhaps – is one I’m putting together knowing that many of you might find it a bit anal. Not all of you – judging by the decent number of people who land on this blog after searching for “Daredevil radar sense” on Google – but probably a majority. And yet, I keep at it. Call it self-indulgence or the simple curiosity to try to understand how writers and artists imagine Daredevil’s most exotic trait, his unique window on the world.

In the last post of this series, I quoted an excerpt from an old Miller interview where he was able to talk about his take on the radar sense, putting words to the ambiguity I know many fans, and presumably a fair share of writers, feel about the radar. I’ve seen some people refer to it as a cop-out, and I’ve seen others who have wanted to see it removed altogether and replaced with something more subtle. What I think Miller was striving for with his talk of a “proximity sense” was to portray the radar sense as something that performs some of the functions of vision, while also being something quite different. He also added his own take on the origin of the sense, seeing it as an innate ability that could be unleashed, or possibly enhanced, but a far cry from Stan Lee’s all-purpose radio-transmitter and antenna set-up. An ability brought out by radioactivity and mysticism while also being rooted in human biology.

Below, I’ll just post some panels that highlight Miller’s take on the radar sense, offering some brief comments when necessary. Feel fee to provide your own comments on how you view Miller’s work in this regard, and how you’d like to see Daredevil’s radar sense portrayed. All panels below are written and penciled by Frank Miller, except Daredevil #185 (penciled by Klaus Jansen) and Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1 (penciled by John Romita Jr).

Continue reading “A history of the radar sense #5 – Frank Miller part 2”

A history of the radar sense #4 – Frank Miller part 1

Well, there’s been a lot of things going on lately. Andy Diggle was announced as the next Daredevil writer, and I gave the site a big make-over. While the former is undeniably much more newsworthy, I must say I’m feeling good about the new look, which took a few hours to put together. The new background, as you may have noticed, is taken from Djurdjevic’s Daredevil #500 cover.

Alas, I thought we’d take a trip back in time again and continue our little exploration of Daredevil’s “uncanny” radar sense. We’ve now reached Frank Miller’s work on the title which means that there will be plenty to talk about. That’s why I’ve decided to divide this post into two parts. We won’t be looking at any panels this time, instead I will post what Frank Miller had to say about Daredevil’s radar and senses generally in an interview by Dwight Decker for issue #70 of The Comics Journal (January 1982). In my next radar post, we’ll look at how Franks intentions played out on the page.

Below is a small excerpt from a much longer interview, but if the copyright holder (hi there!) feels this goes beyond fair use, let me know and I’ll take it down.

TCJ:I’d like to discuss the extent of Daredevil’s powers. In one of the issues scripted by Roger McKenzie, Matt Murdock was shown hearing the Hulk’s heartbeat from four blocks away.

MILLER: That’s pretty extreme. When I started writing the book, I sat down and defined for myself exactly the parameters of his powers. I think he has the potential of being very believable. The way to make him credible is to have his powers be extraordinary enough to be exciting, but not on par with Superman. One of the things I’ve done recently is revamp that radar sense of his to make the images he receives less distinct. I want it to resemble the “proximity” sense that some martial artists claim to have, where they can detect movement, form and location, but they don’t get pictures. I’m not fond of the radar sense in the first place. I haven’t given myself the opportunity to explore it very much.

TCJ: Something that has bothered me in rereading back issues is how Daredevil explains to himself how he senses things – for the readers benefit, naturally, since he shouldn’t have to do that any more than you or I explain to ourselves how we see. Some of the explanations make him sound almost horrifyingly limited in his senses. In one issue, the Unholy Three are carrying him over a rope stretched between buildings, and Daredevil thinks to himself, “I smell hemp – we must be on a rope!” He should know where he is almost instinctively, but this sort of explanation makes him sound … well, blind.

MILLER: Except that the appeal of the character in his earliest version was that we saw what was happening with our eyes, and he added dimension and depth to the panel by describing the sounds and smells. Also, because he’s blind, he’s just barely getting by. I find Superman to be a very boring character because I never believe he’s really in danger. Bullets bounce off of him. But somebody who could actually have trouble getting through rush-hour traffic interests me a great deal.

TCJ: Yes, but for him to be a superhero?

MILLER: Yeah! That makes him all the more heroic. Of course, the job is to make that believable.

TCJ: He can read because his fingers are super-sensitive and he can feel the ink impressions on a page – although I could never understand how he could do that through his glove.

MILLER: He doesn’t do it through his glove. Not when I do it. He takes his glove off now.

TCJ: He has a sense of space, of course. You spoke of a proximity sense; he would be able to sense objects around him.
MILLER: The way I see it, he’s aware of the general shape of things around him and how far away he is from other things. Particularly with people, he’s got a million ways of telling where they are: His hearing alone tells him not only where someone is, but how fast their heart is beating, how fast they’re breathing – which is a good indication of their emotional state.

Source: Page 19 of The Comics Journal Library, Volume 2: Frank Miller

A history of the radar sense #3

Well, it’s time for part three of my insane quest to chronicle the radar sense. Why the radar sense, one might ask? Well, it’s the only one of Daredevil’s senses which doesn’t have a real-world counterpart in human physiology. His other senses are just heightened, but the radar sense requires that writers and artists actually try to figure out what it is and what it does and how it does it. It’s also a challenge for artists to try to render Daredevil’s monochrome “shape world” in two dimensions.

In the first part of this series, we looked at the very first incarnation of the radar sense and what happened when Stan Lee & Co. tried to reimagine it as something a little more powerful. In the second part, we looked at the rest of the sixties through Roy Thomas’ run, and here we’ll be looking at the entire seventies up until Frank Miller came onboard. In the next installment, I’ll start with the issues where he was the pencillier and McKenzie was the writer so this post will only cover the beginning of Roger McKenzie’s run.

Early on, the radar seemed to be here there and everywhere, but it stabilizes somewhat during the 70’s. That’s not to say that it’s perfectly consistent or doesn’t occasionally defy logic, but there is something of a steady pattern emerging. Below you’ll see more than twenty samples of writers and artists doing various things with the radar sense while offering the rest of us some insight in to how they, as Daredevil creators, imagine it.

Below is an excerpt from Daredevil #76, by Gerry Conway, with art by Gene Colan. The nineteen-year-old Conway’s writing was often on the verbose and slightly pretentious side (if you ask me), and here he has Matt once again wallowing in whatever his problem was this particular issue. We also learn that he “sees” in the “dusk red mind-colors of [his] radar senses.” Note that Conway talks about radar senses in the plural, at practice that creeps up from time to time.

In Daredevil #80, by the same creators, we once again see red, as DD describes an approaching helicopter as a blotch of churning red. One has to wonder where this idea comes from, though I suspect that more than one writer has actually imagined the radar sense appearing as it would on a radar screen or something like that. And, yeah, this is some pretty strange inner monologue, if you ask me.

Below is an excerpt from the letters’ page of Daredvil #80. This was included here to 1) prove that I’m not the only radar geek and 2) show that the Marvel people seem a little sketchy on the whole idea of the radar sense. I’m imagining them just throwing their hands up in the air and going “heck, we don’t know, stop writing!”

“Dear Stan, Gerry and Gene,
I am writing this letter in reference to Daredevil’s superhuman powers. This is my second letter to Marvel, and I’m gonna keep doin’ it ’till I get it right! To be specific, this letter is about DD’s radar sense. I suspect that Daredevil is incorrect in assuming that it is truly radar. I have an idea that what he really has is sonar.
Reason #1: In many issues of DAREDEVIL, we find Matthew thinking (wishfully) about how a loud noise can temporarily “short out” his radar sense. I, for one, don’t see how a noise can interfere with radio waves (which, as if you didn’t know, is what radar depends upon). However, such a noise could interfere with a sonar system (which operates on sound), causing DD’s ears to send a warped picture to his brain.
Reason #2: If Daredevil really does have sonar, as I suspect, his highly developed hearing system would be branched from it, as it must be present to receive the sound waves necessary to sonar.
With the above statements in mind, I ask for my second no-prize, on the grounds that I have found a large mistake (see reason #1).
So, until John Romita returns to Daredevil, Make Mine Marvel (even when Johnny returns (if he returns), I’ll still hang around so don’t worry)!!!”

Below are panels from Daredevil #81, by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan. This scene is not only Daredevil and the Black Widow’s first encounter, it’s also a nice take on the radar sense from the artist’s point of view. What I like about this is that it gives a sense of three-dimensional perception, and is a step up from the contours – or outlines – we’ve been used to seeing. I’ll save my own thoughts on how I personally imagine the radar sense for when I sum up this series (probably about four or five installments from now), but this comes pretty close for me.
Daredevil #83, once again by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan. Here, we are definitely talking about advanced echolocation, and not radiowaves. Below this first panel is another example from the same issue, where movement is described as being perceived as touch.

In Daredevil #85, below, we’re back to a more boring rendition of the radar, though it’s probably easier to draw.

In Daredevil #86, below, we see a clear example that supports my argument that the radar sense has never been clearly defined. Or, if it has, that this is not the kind of information that gets passed down from editorial or from one writer to the next. Radiation doesn’t interfere with radiowaves. Nor does it interefere with sound waves (just a few issues ago, we were talking about echolocation, remember?). There is, of course, the half-baked idea that since the changes Matt’s body underwent at the time of his accident were caused by radiation, this should affect his future encounters with it. That idea is, as I mentioned, half-baked. Or not baked at all, really.

Below is an interesting panel from Daredevil #87, featuring Matt getting some extra information by tapping his cane. Hmm, did I just exhonerate the movie radar? Oh, and that’s definitely getting it’s own post, by the way.

Here’s a leap forward to Daredevil #96 – still Gerry Conway – which offers another artistic rendition of the radar along with some narrative describing the radar impressions as “vague and ill-defined.”

In the next issue, the same artistic technique is still used. We also have the “too many figures jamming my radar sense” going on. This is a recurring factor throughout the history of the comic.

Strange things tend to happen when you have writers come onboard for one or two issues. This can be seen below in, issue #102, written by Chris Claremont and pencilled by Syd Shores, where we are back to Stan Lee-style x-ray vision. Note the cute concentrated rings coming from DD’s head.

Below, we’re back with Steve Gerber in issue #104, pencilled by Don Heck, and Matt is losing Natasha in the crowd due to noise. If you follow Francesco’s blog, you might recognize the “keep screaming!” set-up from a much earlier issue, though there wasn’t an unusual noise level to explain his difficulties that time.

Oh, come on! 😉 You know how DD’s radar can sometimes penetrate solid objects? While I find that a little silly, the idea that a gas cloud would present an obstacle is just as silly. Below is a panel from #109, by Steve Gerber. Bob Brown did the pencilling.

In the next issue, #110, Gene Colan is reunited with Steve Gerber. We also see Daredevil dealing with the nightmare combination of both too much noise and too many moving shapes. Once again, we have a very confused radar sense.

The panel below is included due to what I think is a very nicely drawn radar image of DD’s attacker. We also have a subtle example of what has become the standard “now I hear it, and NOW my radar is picking it up.” This is Steve Gerber and Bob Brown in Daredevil #111.

Below, in issue #119, we have another case of “guest-writeritis” in the radar department. One would be inclined to blame the artist for this odd take on the radar (some weird beam coming from his eyes?), if it weren’t for the fact that this is Bob Brown doing the pencilling and he was hardly that much of a newbie (it was his ninth issue). So, I’m pinning this on the writer, Tony Isabella.
In issue #123, below, Tony Isabella is getting warmed up, and maybe I shouldn’t be calling him a guest writer at all considering he did a five-issue stretch, ending with this issue. Bob Brown is the penciller here and gives us a nice coming to scene.

Below, we have Marv Wolfman on writing duties. The issue is Daredevil #127 and Bob Brown is doing the pencilling again. Included here, due to the odd art choice of having the radar rings circle around an incoming fist. There is also no mention of the radar sense here in DD’s monologue.

Marv Wolfman and Bob Brown team up again in Daredevil #132, below. Daredevil is confused, once again, and we see more smoke. Certainly, the crowd looks wild enough in and of itself, but I doubt the smoke would do much except maybe cover people’s scents. And DD appears to have grown a second head…

Later in the same issue, there’s more confusion. Although I think that maybe it’s Marv who’s confused since we have Matt hearing things with his radar sense. Unless it actually is based on hearing after all. We’re looking at more than ten years of publication history here and we’re no closer to any kind of definitive answer here, are we?

Below, in issue #141 (Marv Wolfman + Bob Brown), we have Daredevil getting caught in the rain, literally. This isn’t the only time he complains about the weather, but here he actually explains why in the panel following this one (click HERE to see it, the shape of it didn’t make for a seamless inclusion in this post), where he says: “I’m in for a fight! This drizzle is playing just enough havoc with my radar-sense and ultra-sensitive hearing so that the fact that he can see and I can’t could give him the edge!” What’s interesting is that we’re back to his hearing and radar being separate senses here. Writing the radar consistently obviously isn’t easy.

Here, in the same issue, Marv Wolfman tackles one of the mysteries of Daredevil’s radar sense, i.e. evading bullets. Of course, why radar should be better than vision at reading someone’s movements I’m not sure I get (though being able to do it without “looking” is a nice perk). I prefer to chalk this ability up to insanely fast reflexes, personally. 😉

The next issue sees Daredevil strapped to a huge arrow heading for the New Jersey Palisades. “Doesn’t take much to bounce my radar off whatever I’m rushing at.” Does this suggest that Marv Wolfman, at least, imagines the radar as a transmitter to actively be turned on? Who knows?

Roger McKenzie gives us an example of that third well-known radar disruptor: pain. The panels below are from issue #153 with art by Gene Colan. The blurring image in this case is shown as DD “seeing” double.

Well, I’ll get back to this issue, looking specifically at Frank Miller’s work, in the next installment. Thanks for reading!

A history of the radar sense #2

Well, it’s been a while since the first installment of this series, that looks at how Daredevil’s consistently hard to pin down radar sense has been imagined over the years. With this chapter, we cover issues from the early teens all the way through Roy Thomas’s run. We’ll be looking at relatively few panels because after the first year and a half of issues of the book, the radar sense seemed to more or less stabilize in how it was depicted, while also largely being absent from the art. There were, for instance, no “radar rings” for most of Gene Colan’s time as a penciller on the book.

Let’s start with Daredevil #13, which was penciled by Jack Kirby John Romita. Daredevil has just lost his powers for the first (though certainly not the last) time. Below, he feels his powers returning, something that is apparently accompanied by a tingling sensation. I decided to include this panel because the “tingling” here is an interesting nod to the original radar sense in Daredevil #1, where young Matt claims that: “I feel a strange tingling sensation when I approach any solid obstacle.”

Daredevil is being yelled at by the Plunderer in Daredevil #13. He notes to himself that he is experiencing the tingling of his senses returning.

A few pages later and the radar sense is back in full swing, as pictured below. There are no radar rings this time, but a faithfully rendered image of Ka-Zar, detailed enough to let DD think to himself “I can ‘see’ Ka-Zar rushing to attack me as clearly as if I were truly sighted!” The art below was, of course, yet another take by the artist trying to figure out how to draw the radar sense. In later issues, as we’ll see, the radar goes back do dealing mostly in rough outline.

In Daredevil #13, Daredevil senses the detailed outline, in red lines on black, Kazaar rushing toward him.

Below is a sequence from Daredevil #14 (art by John Romita) that demonstrates the radar’s “on again, off again” status as a power, and I’m not sure Stan Lee was really sure what to do with it at this point. As a contrast to the picture perfect image of Ka-Zar, above, DD here decides to just go by the sound of the engine of the car that is just below him.

I have to love his thoughts here: “Lucklily, the high-powered engine is roaring so loud that I wouldn’t be able to miss it even if I had normal hearing!” You’re probably right, Matt. Hearing a car from thirty feet away shouldn’t be a challenge, but go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.

Daredevil swings down and lands on a car in Daredevil #14, apparently guided more by its sound than its shape.

Below is a panel from Daredevil #15 (art by John Romita), once again showing the ability of the “uncanny” radar sense to also become X-ray vision. It is interesting to note the sequence of events though, the radar sense presumably coming into play only after the other senses have been tapped for information.

In Daredevil #15, Matt notices the arrival of Karen and Foggy, first by their sounds, and later by the radar contour visible through the wall.

Another panel from Daredevil #15, seen below, shows how laughably easy it can be to take Daredevil out when you know how to do it. Going up against the Ox, the radar sense it taken out by, you got it, the shrill sound of a woman’s voice.

“In the next split-second, Karen Page shouts a warning to Daredevil in an effort to help him — little dreaming that the shrill sound of her cry momentarily blanks out the masked adventurer’s radar sense, giving his huge opponent the needed advantage!”

In Daredevil #15, Daredevil is being attacked by the Ox with a steel bar when he is distracted by Karen's scream.

Below is a panel from Daredevil #17 (art by John Romita), included here because it contains a direct reference to the sharpness of the radar (which, quite seriously, has gone up and down depending on the demands of the plotline ever since it was first conjured up). On the other hand, it is an interesting admission on behalf of Stan “I can do everything better than a sighted man” Lee that Matt himself doesn’t consider his radar sense to necessarily be quite as acute as normal vision.

Another thing to notice about this panel is that it is perhaps the only time I can recall, outside of Daredevil #1, of Matt actually using his ability to tell how many bullets are in the gun.

In Daredevil #17, Daredevil is attempting to fire a gun at a nearby blimp.

Okay, I admit it, this one (below) probably belongs in another category, possibly in Wacky powers because it’s just that goofy. Daredevil is seen here, in issue 22 (art by Gene Colan), prowling the rooftops of Manhattan looking for the Owl, and thinking to himself: “Wherever the Owl may be holed-up, I’m pretty sure of one thing… He’s nowhere in this vicinity of New York! My radar sense could hardly miss his powerful birdlike emanations!” “Birdlike emanations,” huh? Oh well, I’m sure that made some kind of sense when they wrote it.

Daredevil is crouching on top of a building in Daredevil #22, searching for the Owl's birdlike emanations

Before making a huge leap and skipping about fifteen issues, in which nothing radar-related of any particular interest happens, here’s a look at issue #30 (art by Gene Colan) where Matt is impersonating Thor. That’s right. That’s not Thor. That’s Matt pretending to be Mike being Daredevil dressed as Thor. From his thoughts we gather that he is not a big fan of capes, and that his decision to go without is not just based on an impeccable sense of taste: “Too bad I have to wear the nutty cape! By fluttering this way, it muffles some of the sound vibrations that guide me!”

This and a handful of other sources is what I would point to in arguing that the radar sense has never been definitively defined, as the radar is indirectly described as sound-based in this panel and sounds more like classic echolocation.

In Daredevil #30, Matt dressed as Thor is spotted by curious bystanders while the man himself complains about the fluttering sound of Thor's cape.

The radar rings return! After having been absent for about three years of publication, the rings are back in issue #41 (below, with art by Gene Colan).

In Daredevil #41, Daredevil tries to detect a nearby power supply. The radar outlines around his head are back!

I have to love the full page below, from Daredevil #46 (art by Gene Colan). Why? Because it actually makes sense. Stan Lee appears to have really put some thought into this, for once.

First of all, I’ve never been a fan of the radar sense arbitrarily penetrating solid objects. I think it’s counter-intuitive, something of a cheat and completely unnecessary. It’s not that actual radio waves don’t go through walls and the like. They do. However, the also go through people. If the idea of the radar is that you get information about things around you by perceiving an echo (be it electromagnetic, sound-based or something else), then having the signal go through a wall, reflect off of something that’s usually less dense than the wall, and then go back through the same wall with most of the energy intact just strikes me as goofy.

Here Stan Lee does what actually makes sense, he lets Matt gather information about what’s in an adjacent room by utilizing a sound, in this case of the door opening, to figure this out. This actually could work, assuming that the wall that has another room behind it is relatively thin with a lot of empty space on the other side. Thank you Stan for making sense!

“It’s empty, but judging by the sound of the door opening, there’s another room behind it! Having a built in sonar sense can be mighty handy at a time like this!”

In Daredevil #46, Matt sneaks into a hospital dressed as a doctor and discovers and empty room behind the door he's opening using its echo.

Damn it, Stan. You were doing so well. “Something about his electronic circuits must be deadening my radar sense!” Huh? By what mechanism? The panel below is from issue #50, Stan’s last issue as a writer, art by Barry Windsor-Smith.

In Daredevil #50, Matt finds his radar sense deadened by the presence of a robot.

The story of Starr Saxon’s “plastoid robot,” also featured in the post Death by gym equipment, continued in issue #51 with Roy Thomas as the writer and Barry Windsor-Smith as the artist. I’ve noticed that whenever a new writer comes on board, or when there is a one issue guest writer, Daredevil’s powers tend to take strange quantum leaps in various directions. Below, we see Daredevil once again, gaining the ability to “see” the exact construction of a robot, in great detail (he accomplished a similar feat early during Stan Lee’s run). Don’t ask me how he knows what piece of micro-circuitry is actually the destruct mechanism.

In Daredevil #51, Daredevil gets a very detailed radar "look" inside Starr Saxon's plastoid robot, even finding the destruct mechanism.

Another panel from the same issue shows a new artistic take on the radar, though I suppose it might be an attempt to draw a headache. Here, Matt is beginning to suffer the first adverse effects of exposure to radiation and his radar and other heightened senses are slowly beginning to fail him. The mysterious man here is Starr Saxon who has just found out Daredevil’s secret identity.

In Daredevil #51, Matt's head looks like it's either radiating something or is in the throes of a severe headache.

The two panels below, from issues 58 and 63 respectively (art by Gene Colan), have been included here for featuring yet another artistic take on the radar sense where the image of DD and what he’s sensing (though this presumably includes input from all senses) are merged into one panel.

In Daredevil #58, Daredevil notices the sound of a motorcycle approaching. Some of the features of the bike are superimposed on the image of the radar rings emanating from his head.

Ah, the gladiator saying hello… Nothing says “nice to see you” like a pair of spinning serrated blades aimed at your throat.

In Daredevil #63, Daredevil notices the Gladiator's blades coming toward him. They, and the Gladiator's fist are shown superimposed on Daredevil's head as if he's picturing them in his head.

Well, that wraps up this chapter in the eclectic history of the radar sense. In the next installment, we’ll cover the entire seventies from Gerry Conway’s run through Roger McKenzie’s. Frank Miller will get his own chapter after that.