Let’s talk about Daredevil’s “World On Fire”

A still frame showing the world on fire effect used on Marvel's Daredevil

I’ve decided to start this new chapter in the life of The Other Murdock Papers, by tackling a topic I’ve been meaning to address since 2015, when the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil came out. I’m talking about the short-lived special effect known as the “world on fire.”

The effect appeared for the first and last time in the fifth episode of the first season, which also carries its name: World On Fire. I’ve briefly talked about my issues with the world on fire in other contexts, most recently on the “exploring the senses” episode of the #TalkDaredevil podcast. However, I’ve never gone into detail about why I’m not a fan of this particular interpretation of Matt’s “pseudo-visual” abilities.

Don’t take it literally

And let’s start there, with the word “interpretation.” Because, I think it’s important to keep in mind that every single artistic take on Daredevil’s radar sense (and beyond) in every comic book, and live-action appearance have been attempts to translate Matt’s inner world into something that we can comprehend. The natural constraints of telling a story in two-dimensional color means that we can never get a real sense of what “seeing” in colorless three dimensions is really like.

Considering the challenges various artistic takes on Daredevil’s “radar” sense come up against, a case could be made for never showing it at all. If we’re talking about the show, I would argue that such a choice would have been preferable to the world on fire effect. Especially since, from the way it’s described, you really do get the sense that we, the viewers, are meant to take this literally. I would love to know how an otherwise exceptionally ambitious creative team arrived at this particular choice.

However, I also truly believe there are good ways to portray Daredevil’s “radar,” as long as you still keep in mind that it can never be literally what Matt “sees.” In my opinion, the focus of any such attempt should be to not include any information that is strictly visual. Instead, creators should think long and hard about what features of the world that we typically access through vision, can in fact be accessed through our other senses. Those features should realistically be the only one Matt Murdock has any knowledge of.

Frame taken from the scene where Matt "looks" at Claire. Her iris and pupil are visible.

Continue reading “Let’s talk about Daredevil’s “World On Fire””

Fear and self-loathing in Hell’s Kitchen

This post contains references to teaser trailers and promos, as well as interviews with people associated with the show. Read at your own risk.

I have to admit that I’m really excited for season three. Probably more excited than I should be. In fact, I’m reminded of the days when much more of my time revolved around Daredevil: Thinking about the character, reading the comics, planning what to write about and then putting those thoughts into words for all of you to read. 

At times like these, I’m also reminded of the downside to getting this passionately involved in anything. The risk of disappointment is obviously proportionately related to the level of emotional investment. I’m currently re-watching seasons one and two of Daredevil, and my feelings about the tail end of season two will always be mixed. It’s good stuff throughout, but watching Matt’s self-sabotage during the final half of the season can be rough.

Going into season three, I probably should be more terrified than I am. All the teasers are indicating that we’re going darker than dark. (And it’s not as if the first two seasons were all fun and games.) But that’s paradoxically part of the reason I feel a sense of calm. A “fight for Matt Murdock’s soul” is quite obviously not going to end with his soul being lost. Teasers tell you where things begin and hint at where the journey will lead you, not usually where it actually ends. Or else we’ll have thirteen episodes of going in circles, taking us right back to the beginning with no ground covered in terms of character growth. That’s clearly not what’s going to happen.

But I will admit that I’m interested in where Matt begins his journey this season, something I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to get back to. From the Entertainment Weekly interview with season three showrunner Erik Oleson:

“Matt goes to pretty much the darkest place you can,” Oleson says. “When he realizes that he’s incapable of being Daredevil, he would rather just end it than go forward in his life without abilities. He’s decided to set aside his Matt Murdock persona and just be the Devil, to isolate the lighter part of himself.”

So, Matt will find his powers reduced. Incidentally, he’ll apparently still go out as Daredevil (which we have seen before in a story from the Miller run, I mention it in A history of the radar sense #5 – Frank Miller part 2). Then again, if you’re feeling suicidal, thoughts of your own safety might go out the window. If you’re Matt Murdock, the impulse to stay safe from harm was not strong to begin with.

What this all reminds me of is a an observation I’ve occasionally made about this character before: He’s got a very skewed sense of self-worth.

Without being overly dramatic, I’d say that I can personally relate to Matt’s tendency to base his self-esteem on his accomplishments (only). In theory, he knows that the concern he feels for other people (sure he’ll screw over Foggy professionally, but would lay down his life before allowing any real harm to come to any of his friends), should apply to himself as well. You could also argue on religious grounds that he should know that the sanctity of human life includes his own. But, at the end of the day, he looks at himself as a tool first. And a tool has no real value apart from its usefulness in doing work or solving problems.

That’s not to say that Matt doesn’t have a hedonistic side that thoroughly enjoys going out as Daredevil. The way I see it, there are two sides to this. First of all, being an adrenaline junkie is a basic part of his personality (something I coincidentally co-wrote a chapter about for the book Daredevil Psychology: The Devil You Know). Even if he never developed heightened senses from the accident, he would have found outlets for this distinct trait. Secondly, being Daredevil allows him a physical freedom his civilian life doesn’t, and that becomes a goal in and of itself. If he feels his capacity in this respect suddenly reduced, it is natural that this would be deeply traumatic, the way it would be for anyone.

Matt holding his Daredevil mask, from the Netflix show

Added to this, though, is this idea that being Daredevil gives him a sense of purpose. I would think that this would be even more important to Matt in light of his nighttime habit also being something of a compulsion (see above). If, on top of a genuine concern for other people’s safety – that his heightened senses won’t let him ignore – he is also able to put his darker side to work for the higher good, what’s not to love about that?

A third thing to consider is that being Daredevil also makes his childhood accident, his point of origin as a superhero, meaningful. I remember that Mark Waid often spoke about this, and pointed out that being able to go out as Daredevil brings a sense of justice and purpose to something that was, in other ways, fundamentally unfair. In committing a good and heroic deed, a young boy loses his sight for life. It’s a textbook case of “no good deed goes unpunished.” If he also gets special abilities as a result, is that not God’s way of giving someone a higher purpose? If you’re Matt Murdock, you may very well interpret it this way.

If Matt believes his ability to be Daredevil has been taken away from him (and of course, we all know he’ll recover) it takes away all of the things I’ve mentioned above. And aside from the normal and very human grief someone would experience at a time of such crisis, it also shines a light on how little Matt thinks of his own worth without these things. Always ready to shield others from harm, and never judging them by their level of power (physical or otherwise), Matt is not nearly as good at showing himself that same level of kindness and respect.

Just looking at the Netflix show, it’s not difficult to understand where this might be coming from. The first person to come along, after the loss of his father at a very young age, is Stick. Despite the fact that Stick evidently develops deeper feelings for young Matt than he intended to, he still views Matt primarily as a tool, a “soldier” to fight alongside him in the coming war. And again, Matt is of use to him because of his heightened senses and physical prowess. If he were just some random unfortunate blind orphan, he never would have received a visit in the first place. Stick also stresses the importance of secrecy, as well as the need for Matt to isolate himself socially from people who might want to get close to him. No wonder Elektra’s brand of intimacy, authentic as it might be, is the one he is best equipped to wrap his brain around.

So, I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m actually looking forward to seeing Matt’s deeper issues dealt with. He needs to understand that his worth as a human being goes deeper than his gifts. Only then can he see them for what they are, as opposed to an obligation to do more, a debt to be repaid, a source of arrogance, or a reason to keep the people who can see through it all out of his life.

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

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. 😉

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

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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.

A history of the radar sense #1 – From the origin through the early “power upgrade”

As promised – though a little late – here’s the first of many looks at the portrayal of the radar sense. The “prologue” to this little series can be found in this post, so I’ll let the panels themselves do most of the talking here, and just inserting some comments along the way. Part of my motivation for doing this series stems from wanting to know the “best” way to imagine this sense, and that was also why I decided to ask DD fans some questions on the Man Without Fear website a few months ago. Judging from the answers I got, each fan seems to have his or her own interpretation and that seems to go for the writers as well.

Another point I wanted to make during that discussion was that the radar sense has not been clearly and unambiguously defined, and that’s a conclusion I stand by. As you’ll see, the radar sense has been based on different things, and had very different properties at various times. Neither one of my own questions, such as “Is the radar sense always ‘on’ or active?”, “Does its effective use require active attention?” or “What is its range?” can be answered definitively. The simple answer to all these questions is that it depends on the writer. That’s not to say that there aren’t some commonalities throughout the series or that some interpretations aren’t more common than others. Here, I’ll just present what it has been, and let each person make up his mind about what it should be. Okay, that was wordier than I had intended, so let’s get started!

Matt explains his radar sense, from Daredevil #1

This is the original explanation of the radar sense from way back in Daredevil #1. I’m not sure what Stan Lee really had in mind for it, but for this and the following issues it seems to be imagined as an entirely tactile sense with few, if any, visual properties.

Panel from Daredevil #3
Panel from Daredevil #3

The above is a panel from Daredevil #3 that not only tells us that Matt lost his sight at fifteen (I remember some of us wondering a while back how old he was in the original origin, as opposed to in Man Without Fear), but also that his radar sense tells him how far he is from a solid obstacle. The thing still seems to be “pinging” though… 😉

Daredevil follows the Matador's actions, from Daredevil #5
Daredevil follows the Matador's actions, from Daredevil #5

Here we are in Daredevil #5, in which DD goes up against the Matador (villains and their themed costumes… *sigh*). DD is still relying exclusively on his other senses to deduce what’s going on…

… which is also evident in this later panel of him escorting the always lovely Karen Page to a costume party. A costume party seems like the perfect setting for the Matador, doesn’t it?

Later, at the same party, we see Matt using his radar sense for something a little more complicated, that is figuring out the Matador’s stance. His abilities seem a little less impressive in this next panel, however…

*sounds of tires screeching to a halt* Now wait a minute… Vibrating air fogs his radar sense? I’d hate to see this guy out on a windy day. So, by studying this and the next panel we learn that the easiest way to take DD out is to simply treat him like a bird by throwing a blanket on top of him…

So, I said I wouldn’t insert my own opinions (too late for that anyway, I suppose), but this is pretty funny. No wonder the writers decided that it was time for a little power upgrade. Although, when I say “little,” I mean huge. It happens gradually with his radar sense becoming more sight-like, as evidenced by the two panels from Daredevil #6. First we’ll cut to another image from Daredevil #5, however, as we take a look at the first definition of how the radar sense actually works…

“Normally, my radar sense goes out, hits objects around me, and bounces back, giving me a mental picture of my surroundings! But when there is too much movement and confusion all about me, the “picture” which comes back is garbled and distorted!”

“Noble-looking”? You’ve got quite an ego there, Murdock! (From Daredevil #6).

Here we see our favorite guy in red – uhm, yellow – picking up the contours of a light switch. His powers saw their most substantial upgrade in issue #8 however. If I may guess, I would imagine that this was part of the bigger overhaul of the character that came with the change in costume as well as the fact that his billy club was stuffed full of a ridiculous number of gadgets (to be discussed in full in a later post, of course).

Well, ladies and gentlemen, you are beholding a historic panel of comic book history – the very first appearance of the iconic radar rings emanating from DD’s head. As part of the “power upgrade,” he is using them to detect a time bomb under the hood. (From Daredevil #8).

Here, in Daredevil #9, we see Matt going to Lichtenbad (it’s not just bad – it’s Lichtenbad!) to meet with the famous eye surgeon Dr. Van Eyck. It would appear as if DD’s radar sense has actually turned into the Hubble telescope, considering he can pick up a walled city thousands of feet below.

Here, we also see the radar becoming X-ray vision. While DD retains the ability to “see” through solid objects to this day, it’s been a while since the ability was quite this extreme (or detailed).

This panel, from Daredevil #11, is included for a couple of reasons. It probably features the third or fourth variation in how the radar rings were drawn (I personally like that the “light” intensity tapers off the way it does here, which makes quite a bit of sense), and it also addresses at least two of my own original questions, namely whether the sense is always active and whether it requires active attention.

Well, that’s all the radar goodness I can muster for one post. This series will continue in a week or so, but before then there are plenty of other things to discuss. My next two reviews might have to wait until Monday since I have quite a bit of work to do this weekend, but I’ll definitely see you then!