Reevaluating early Daredevil

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

If you were thinking that I had gone back into hiding, I certainly wouldn’t hold it against you. It’s been over a month since my last post, and I’ve had my share of false starts over the past few years. However, I do have a few posts planned that I would like to get out there before too long, and I’m hoping to finish the year with a total of at least twenty for 2021.

For this post, I would like to talk about a rather surprising epiphany I’ve had over the summer, while working on my book. Or to be more specific, while rereading every single issue of Daredevil and taking detailed notes about how Matt Murdock’s senses are actually used. What I’ve discovered is that, contrary to the idea I’ve had that Daredevil’s senses have stabilized and gotten more “grounded” over time, a case could be made for a very different kind of evolution. Depending on what aspect of the character’s senses we’re talking about, Daredevil has actually been getting more powerful in at least some respects.

Considering that this is not my first time reading every issue of Daredevil (I have, in fact, read most runs many times), how could I have missed the things I’m now noticing? Where does my bias against the sensory portrayals of early, “pre-Miller” Daredevil come from? Well, I think it comes down to a few different factors:
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Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix – A first look!

So I’m betting no one missed the first teaser trailer of the upcoming Daredevil live action show which was released today! Well, not counting yesterday’s teaser trailer for the teaser trailer. (The marketing people sure know how to build suspense.) If you, by some chance, haven’t seen it yet, take a look below and then let’s talk!

My first overall impression is a very positive one. There’s a general sense of high quality and attention to detail. Beautiful photography, cool angles and a very heavy emphasis on the sound, which is obviously key for this character.

I also like that they’re going for a grounded feel in the action sequences. There’s some parkour-ish stuff going on, and the last scene in particular is an indication that Matt obviously bleeds when he’s injured. The creators wanted gritty, and that’s clearly what we’re getting.

Speaking of gritty, I know that there’s been some concern from regular visitors to this site that this show might end up being a bit too dark. That is certainly an issue, judging both from this trailer and what’s been said by people in the know. However, I think a key element to remember here is that they cast Charlie Cox for a reason, and I have to think that part of that reason is his obvious charm. Both the Miller and Bendis runs – which we know have served as inspiration for the show – are definitely dark (Bendis generally more so than Miller), but they’re not just that. And it’s remembering that Matt Murdock is so much more than a one-note character that should help make things interesting. If I were looking to portray Daredevil as a character who never cracks a smile, Cox certainly isn’t the actor I would have chosen.

There are only short glimpses of Foggy and Karen here, but I have to say that I’m interested to see what they’re going to do with Karen as a character. She has been described by actress Deborah Ann Wool and others as “trouble” and I definitely get the feeling that this incarnation of the character will have more in common with the the former junkie porn star of the 80s than the young, innocent girl we knew from the 60s. I’m not suggesting she’ll have a secret night job, but possibly a checkered past.

The trailer is framed by a scene of Matt going to confession. This is not a surprising element to see in a Daredevil show, even though I’ve mentioned before that I think Matt’s religious fervor is often exaggerated outside of the actual comic where, aside from Kevin Smith’s Guardian Devil, there is no real indication that he’s actually a regular churchgoer. Religious? Yes. Devout? No. However, religious themes can often be very interesting, so I’m well prepared to live with it. What I really do like about the confession scene is Matt’s voice. You can detect the emotional turmoil going on, but Charlie Cox also makes him sound intelligent and rational, capable of restraint. The voice really works for me.

Another interesting detail I want to point out is that they’re clearly making sure that people are aware that Daredevil operates a little differently than other people, heroes and civilians alike. Even though Matt Murdock is not your average blind guy, his actions and movements are guided by a different set of stimuli and I think that comes across pretty well on the screen. Oh, and massive bonus points for the white cane actually touching the ground. (I’m looking at you, Affleck!) 😉

So, what did you guys think? Sound off in the comment section!

Review of Daredevil #1.50

Hey all! Okay… Where to start? Hm, how about at the end? Karl Kesel’s look back at the Mike Murdock era, in a story called The Last Will And Testament of Mike Murdock, makes up the back end of this double-sized special anniversary issue. It is also, by far, my favorite among the three. (Spoilers warning for the other two stories discussed below.)

Karl Kesel (and his mysterious twin “Kurt”) are listed as both writer and penciller of this story – inked by Tom Palmer with colors by Grace Allison – which sees modern-day Matt finally have to deal with his fictional Silver Age twin. What this story does is what these kinds of specials seem perfectly made for: connecting loose ends and updating old stories to fit with modern sensibilities. Since I know that fans have been asking themselves for a long time what a modern-day extended conversation about Mike between Matt and Foggy would sound like, this story fills a gap, and does so perfectly.

Daredevil #1.50 story by Karl Kesel, with inks by Tom Palmer

The technique used to bring Mike into the modern day is through a video tape that Matt and Foggy watch together while Matt squirms. This technique allows “Mike” to narrate a story in a way that doesn’t seem forced (he’s recording it for posterity, after all), and any Daredevil fan will be reminded of the charm that has been so much a part of this character’s life, alongside the dark times and the heartache. It breathes optimism. The artwork complements the script perfectly and the “pop” of Kesel’s particular style is reigned in by Allison’s vivid but not-too-bright colors.

Finally, I’ll just end with a couple of quotes that made this story thoroughly enjoyable (the first by Matt, the second by “Mike”):

”It was a crazy time. I did crazy things. I tried to pass as Thor, for God’s sake…”

”If you can’t find a flagpole — don’t worry! The ground will catch you! Which is the sort of backup plan that keeps you alert and inventive!”

The middle story is a prose story by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated with complementary background art by Alex Maleev, with colors by Matt Hollingsworth. In other words, the old gang is back together. The story is told from the perspective of Matt’s wife, a hitherto unknown woman by the name of Stana Morgan who tells the story of her meeting Matt, and their subsequent marriage, to their unborn child. Her story ends ominously with Maleev’s artwork showing us her coming face to face with Bullseye.

What I like about this story is how well it complements Kesel’s much brighter story, by showing us the grittier and darker side of the Daredevil “continuum.” Taken together, these two stories show the range of the Daredevil title. I also have to admit that I derived at least some satisfaction from the fact that it (somewhat) invalidates Daredevil: End of Days, a story which, aside from the artwork, had little redeeming value in my book.

On a more positive note, one thing I found interesting was how much this Stana Morgan’s first encounter with Daredevil mirrors that of Milla Donovan. As does the rest of the story. They were both rescued by Daredevil, who would later seek them out to check in (though in Milla’s case, she was the one to initiate the relationship), had a seemingly short engagement and were married in Matt’s office.

Daredevil #1.50 story by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

This is one of the more interesting things I’ve seen from Bendis in a long time. The script is admirably to the point, and reveals the perspective of the “common woman” in the Marvel Universe – something Bendis tends to excel at. I really enjoyed his run on Daredevil, minor qualms aside, and I’ve also liked some of his other earlier work (though I really should read his creator-owned stoff at some point): Lately though, I’ve been unimpressed with his work on the Avengers books and thought End of Days was a complete dud. This story is much more reminiscent of the kind of thing he would write during his run on the main Daredevil title, and I can see quite a few fans enjoying this story, as I did.

While this is essentially a prose story, many of the more important points are brought home by the artwork by Alex Maleev, and Matt Hollingsworth, and the look they create is perfect nostalgia for the many, many fans who came onboard during this creative team’s run.

Okay, time to tackle the very first story of the book by the regular Daredevil creative team. Well, the art isn’t by Chris Samnee, but regular colorist Javier Rodríguez has stepped in enough times to shoulder the pencilling duties that it’s starting to feel pretty regular to me. I expected some great artwork, and we certainly got that in spades. Rodríguez is proving himself to be particularly adept at drawing children, and his take on Matt’s son(!) Jack is pitch perfect.

As for the story itself, I have to admit that it’s a little hard to believe that the man behind one of the best issues of Daredevil I’ve read in a long time – last month’s Daredevil #1 – and responsible for some of the best Daredevil stories ever written is the same man who wrote this story. It doesn’t quite feel like a Mark Waid Daredevil comic at all, with the exception of how well this team handled the relationship between Matt and his son, which I found genuinely touching.

Story from Daredevil #1.50 by Mark Waid and Javier Rodríguez

People who are fans of the TOMP Facebook page may already be aware of the major scare I had when the preview came online. What the *beep* was this deal with Matt’s radar sense “evolving” to detect colors? I was hoping that would be some kind of ruse. It wasn’t. While my initial reaction was one of despair, admittedly completely overblown (that’s a first world problem if there ever was one), it was nice to have a few days to digest it to the point where I realized this would be an incredibly silly reason to give up reading Daredevil. So, when I picked up today’s issue, I had already made my peace with it. It’s still something that may actually have to go in the Wacky powers section – and I would be pretty horrified to see this developed in the main series (not unthinkable considering the seeds sown during the Latveria arc) – but I was still going to enjoy this books on its other, undoubtable merits.

What I realized was that this wasn’t the only development that struck me as strange. It was a relief to see Foggy still alive, which I pretty much suspected, but odd to see him so completely transformed. The idea that Matt’s powers could be passed down to the next generation was another oddity, and the idea of a villain who blinds people felt remarkably… Silver Age? Although the modern twist on it was admittedly pretty interesting. The villain herself reminded me of some of the goofier ones to appear during the Kesel and Kelly runs of the 90s. And Matt becoming mayor just didn’t sit right with me.

What the story boiled down to were some really great moments starring father and son – and these were truly perfect – set against a backdrop that reminded me of the Bizarro Jerry episode of Seinfeld, where people none of the characters felt like their real selves. While the clues to what may be coming in the main title where easy to spot, the story as a whole felt more like a typical What If? story, in which some absurdity is part of the package.

Oh well, next week, it’s time for the next issue of Daredevil, long before any of this takes place. I will see you back then! Please comment, as I’m curious to see what all of you thought of these three very different stories!

Coming up on the Daredevil front in June

Part of the cover to Daredevil #9, by Paolo Rivera

I decided to take down my upcoming issues page since I was awful at updating it. Besides, ManWithoutFear.com already maintains a way better “coming soon” section than I do, so I’ll just replace that page with something else people might find useful.

Having said that, there are plenty of things coming in June that deserve mention. This week, on June 5, we’ll see the final issue of Daredevil: End of Days hit the stands, along with the very first issue of Daredevil: Dark Nights, the anthology series that starts off with a three-parter written and drawn by Lee Weeks. I haven’t been crazy about End of Days (preview here), but I’ll be sure to do a write-up of some kind once all the pieces are in place.

Teaser from Daredevil: End of Days #8, by Brian Bendis et al

Daredevil: Dark Nights (though I’ve also seen it misspelled Dark Knights and Darkest Knights, which is weird) will definitely be an intriguing read. I like not really knowing what to expect, and am curious to see the marriage of classic Lee Weeks artwork with his own script, and to see what kind of tone he’ll be going for. The preview for Daredevil: Dark Nights #1 is available here, though I really hope they actually fixed that seriously botched blurb on the intro page before it went to press. It will also be interesting to see who else will contribute to this series once Weeks’ turn at the helm is over. I guess we’re going to have to wait until the September solicitations coming out next week to find out!

Teaser from Daredevil: Dark Nights #1, by Lee Weeks

As you may or may not have heard, Daredevil #27 has been pushed back a week and is now coming out June 26. While this is a bummer (because, damn, that was some cliffhanger they left us with), there is some consolation to be found in the fact that Daredevil will be guest-starring in the Indestructible Hulk two-parter which kicks off with issue #9, due out June 19. As a nice bonus, it also sports an awesome cover by none other than Paolo Rivera!

Indestructible Hulk #9 promises to reveal “the secret of the friendship between Matt Murdock and Bruce Banner,” which is nice to hear after I just complained that Matt needs more friends. It really wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Banner might be the mystery client from Daredevil #24 who’s been keeping the firm afloat. Then again, we already know I suck at guessing the identities of mystery villains and I don’t expect to do much better with mystery benefactors. 😉

Part of the cover to Daredevil #9, by Paolo Rivera

What are you guys most looking forward to in the coming weeks?

Not a review of Daredevil: End of Days #5

That’s right, this isn’t a review. I shouldn’t be reviewing this comic. Why? Because it’s not for me. Yes, after the slow build which lead to last month’s End of Days #4, I was hopeful that the story was developing in a direction that I might get excited about, but after the first few pages of this month’s installment I realized that that probably was not going to happen.

Does this mean that I’m declaring End of Days a bad series of little value? Absolutely not. It’s clear from the sheer number of people who have praised this series and written reviews in support of their stance that Daredevil: End of Days speaks to a lot of Daredevil fans. I also suspect that it may specifically appeal to a lot of people who are not crazy about the current take on the Daredevil character in his main book. Not being head over heels in love with Daredevil, in the style of Waid and Samnee, is a perfectly legitimate reaction to a work of fiction that doesn’t ring true for you.

With a character as steeped in history as Daredevil, you are bound to find many different preferences in terms of which creators’ take represents the “true character” for you. There isn’t one true version of Daredevil. There is one true version for every fan. That’s not to say that characterization is arbitrary, but that, as in this case, my own personal understanding of who Daredevil is only partially overlaps with the view presented by Brian Bendis and David Mack in End of Days.

For those of you who are wondering which development made me decide to get off the undeniably scenic ride that is End of Days, I’ll tell you (spoiler warning!): “My” Daredevil would not train a replacement. “My” Daredevil approaches his mission as a deeply personal one that begins and ends with him. In fact, he wouldn’t wish the hardships that come from leading that kind of life on anyone. And, “my” Daredevil doesn’t suddenly start being motivated by some ninja code that I don’t recognize from his past. I don’t have any kind of problem with Daredevil’s ties to Eastern mysticism and would never question Stick’s influence on Matt’s brand of martial arts, but I don’t see how that influence, or the occasional meditation session, translates into Daredevil subscribing to some ninja code of conduct that motivates him to train a replacement. Nor do I buy the concept that Matt would keep massive files on his enemies. When has he ever done that? If anything, he’s made a habit of using Ben Urich as his own personal librarian.

Any writer is free to write this or any other character as they see fit, and many many fans will not only accept the very same things that didn’t ring true for me, but find that they line up perfectly with their own interpretation of who Matt Murdock is. That is 100% fine and very natural. But it’s also why I shouldn’t be reviewing this book, and why this isn’t a review. I can’t review this book in a way that does justice to the excellent art by such greats as Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz, nor can I appreciate the craftsmanship by Brian Bendis and David Mack in writing a story that is technically very solid. It’s just not one that I am interested in reading. Because it’s not about “my” Matt Murdock. And that’s fine.

Instead, I recommend that you read one or several of these great reviews by people who love this series:

A quick Google search will reward you with plenty of other reviews that represent the words of people who absolutely love this book. I’m happy for all of them. We should all get to experience the magic of comics at their best, whatever that means for each of us. I am happy to say that I get that and more from the main series right now. End of Days doesn’t have to be for me.

Je parle français? Mais oui!

Daredevil speaks French in Daredevil #90 by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark

We don’t really know much about what Matt Murdock studied in school except for that he eventually graduated with a law degree. One thing that seems certain though, is that French was likely on his list of electives. While it was hinted in New Avengers #16, by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato (the issue when Daredevil fights Nazi-robots and joins the team) that Matt speaks German – at least if Jessica Jones is to be trusted – he has been caught speaking French “on panel” several times. See them below!

Daredevil versus voodoo practitioners

Panels from Daredevil #310, by Glenn Alan Herdling and Scott McDaniel

Daredevil goes up against forces greater than himself in Daredevil #310, by Glenn Alan Herdling and Scott McDaniel, which was part of the Infinity War crossover, but he seems to have a decent handle on the language at least. In his own words:

French was never one of my best subjects, but I know enough to understand these goons, even through their Haitian dialect.

Daredevil goes deep undercover in Paris

Matt as Laurent Levasseur in Daredevil #376 by Scott Lobdell and Cully Hamner

The Flying Blind arc, written by Scott Lobdell with art by Cully Hamner came right at the end of volume one and spans issues #376-379. I’ve mentioned this story arc in another post so I won’t go into the details except to say that it basically revolves around Matt having his brain rewired by S.H.I.E.L.D. This not only restores his sight(!), but has him believing that he’s a frenchman by the name of Laurent Levasseur. I think we can assume that some of his language skills (he’s able to pass for French…) are part of the rewiring, but it probably didn’t hurt that he had a foundation to build on.

“I’m trying to concentrate on the conversation in front of me. But it’s difficult. It’s as if… As if I can hear every word – every sound – on the waiting area outside. […] Oddly enough, It’s all in French. Odder still – I find that odd. I mean, I’m French. Right?”

Torture by American accent

Daredevil speaks French in Daredevil #90 by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark

After Matt breaks out of prison early in Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s run, he heads back to Paris as part of a trek around Europe in search of Foggy’s killer (Foggy was presumed dead at the time). Here in Daredevil #90 (vol 2), he is seen doing his regular routine. In French:

“Je ne peux pas promettre que vous atterrirez dans la rivière…”

The exchange ends on a very humorous note when the man dangling above the river begs him to switch to English. 😉

There may be other cases I’ve missed, but I think the above instances pretty much cover it. As a well-versed and well-traveled man, I wouldn’t react too strongly if writers come up with new languages for Matt to have at least some very basic proficiency in, but I can’t remember seeing other languages spoken by him being featured in the comics. If you can think of any, let the rest of us know!

Quick review of Daredevil: End of Days #4

Well, it wasn’t that long ago that I posted my review of the third issue of Daredevil: End of Days. As you might recall, my general impression of this series up until that point could be summed up as “pretty to look at, fairly entertaining, but stalling a bit.”

Going by the final scene of last issue, however, my guess was that this fourth issue might be the one that really gets the ball rolling. And, it sure did. We’ll have to ignore the fact that the character whose dead body plays a significant role in End of Days #4 was presumably dead already in main continuity, but that’s okay with me. As I’ve mentioned already, I prefer this story to take the more canonically relaxed approach, so Bullseye dying – again – is really no biggie.

Bullseye's booze, from Daredevil: End of Days #4, by Brian Bendis, David Mack and Klaus Janson

Where this issue really succeeds is in the pacing, and the excellent and very detailed artistic depictions of Bullseye’s final misery (this goes for both his physical surroundings and his mental state). There is lots of dialogue that really flows well and drives the story forward, rather than becoming repetitive. And, the appearances by other characters from Daredevil’s past – namely Turk and Frank Castle – actually managed to both thrill and shock me. Where Ben Urich’s previous encounters with Matt’s past lovers risked coming off as too much of the writers just throwing together a parade of guest appearances for the reunion tour, this issue really turns the quality up. I’m finally genuinely intrigued to see where this is all leading. I will say this however: It annoys me that I can’t figure out whether “Mapone” is supposed to be pronounced ma-POWN or ma-POH-neh. Does anyone know? 😉

While the quality of the artwork on this book has never been in any doubt, Klaus Janson, who provides most of the pencils for the issue (and the series), really kicked it up a notch here. There is an astounding amount of detail in these panels (the panel layouts themselves are equally intricate), but the details never take over, instead inspiring the reader want to revisit the issue after a first reading, just to soak it all up. Using a muted color palette to communicate the dystopic feel of the issue (Matt Hollingsworth is awesome, as usual), rather than drowning the pages in too much ink (thank you Bill Sienkiewicz…) makes for a very accessible reading experience.

Frank Caste, as seen in Daredevil: End of Days #4, by Brian Bendis, David Mack and Klaus Janson

There is still no way of knowing where this story might take us next, but I’m becoming increasingly confident that writers Brian Bendis and David Mack might have some interesting aces up their sleeves (how’s that for a Bullseye reference?). Personally, I’ve gone from casual interest to mild fascination in the space of one issue and I hope that the home stretch of this story will continue to impress.

Review of Daredevil: End of Days #3

So, here’s a brief look at Daredevil: End of Days #3 so I can get it out there before the next issue in the series comes out next week! As I mentioned in my Daredevil #21 review, I’ve been very pressed for time lately. However, I’m going to have to level with you: That’s probably not the only reason this particular post hasn’t seen the light of day until now. Believe it or not, but reviews are actually the hardest type of post for me to write, and they’re especially tricky when I find myself conflicted about the issue in question. My reviews of the main Daredevil series come pretty close to writing themselves because I enjoy each and every issue so much, but so far, I’m just not really “feeling” End of Days.

Daredevil: End of Days is an amazing-looking book – drawing on the respective strengths of no fewer than three artists – and, depending on how things finally play out in the end (this is only the third of eight issues), these first individual chapters may end up paying off in big ways. The way Brian Bendis, here with co-writer David Mack, wrote the main Daredevil title years ago benefited greatly from being collected in a longer format and I suspect this might be the case here too.

This means that we haven’t actually covered all that much ground yet. While the final scene opens up a mystery that is sure to change the direction of this series in upcoming issues, End of Days #3 mostly continues the reunion tour that Ben Urich set out on last issue. This is interesting in itself, but offers little in terms of plot progression. As someone who loves low-key character moments more than big fight scenes, I shouldn’t complain too much about this. However, it seems to me that having Ben Urich check in on all of Matt’s past acquaintances the way he does relies a little too much on the readers’ ability to bring the necessary feelings of nostalgia to the experience.

Ben speaks with "Typhoid" Mary, from Daredevil End of Days #3, by Brian Bendis, David Mack and Klaus Janson

One of the people Ben checks in with this time around is the now permanently reformed “Typhoid” Mary (seen above) who has once again found work as an actress. She is also the mother of twin boys who bear a striking resemblance to Milla’s and Elektra’s respective sons, and to Matthew Murdock. Time will tell whether we’re dealing with some kind of The Boys from Brazil scenario or whether this is meant as an in-joke aimed at Matt’s libido. I’m hoping it’s the latter; the former sounds complicated.

As I mentioned, the artwork in End of Days is stunning. While I’m not in love with Klaus Janson’s too maniacal take on Elektra (or his continuing the tradition of artists constantly forgetting to have characters actually face Maya when they speak), he does a fantastic job of creating a suitably gritty world for Ben to move around in. And, Matt Hollingsworth’s slightly desaturated colors help create the right kind of mood. The painted art by Bill Sienkiewicz and David Mack is used to create a very different kind of mood for the flashback scenes, such as the one below in which Maya “Echo” Lopez remembers her last encounter with Daredevil. I think this page is gorgeous and would happily put it on my wall.

Daredevil and Maya, from Daredevil End of Days #3, by Brian Bendis, and David Mack

To sum things up, End of Days continues to be beautiful and continues to hold the promise of greatness. But, it’s much too early to tell whether the finished story will be mind-blowing or just the world’s best Daredevil coffee table book. Without any real sense of whether investing in these characters will be time well spent, I find myself just noting the events and characters as they appear and postponing my emotional involvement until the story itself starts begging me to care. I like the nostalgia, and am mildly intrigued by some of the mystery, but so far it’s not enough to really make me sit up and take notice.

Why believing isn’t seeing

Daredevil hears a lock opening, from Daredevil #19 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Note! At nearly 3,000 words, this is an essay more than a blog post. I hope you’ll find it interesting and thought-provoking, but you may want to wait to read it until you have 15-20 minutes of peace and quiet to spare. You might also need a cup of coffee!

A while back, I wrote a post called The radar simulation. As far as posts go, it turned out to be a pretty big dud. While I knew that far from everyone is able to get anything from auto-stereograms, I thought the number was in the 10-15 percent range. Judging from the comments, several of my regular commenters couldn’t see anything, so I guess that was a fairly pointless exercise. 😉

On a more positive note, one of the comments, left by Gus Davis, did raise some issues that I wanted to get back to. Gus’s suggestion was basically that Matt’s radar sense experience would be more vivid than what I suggested with my black on black auto-stereograms since he was once sighted and could imagine things based on input collected from his other senses combined with visual memories of things. Gus compares this with the way our mind’s eye fills things in for us when we hear a familiar sound.

Perception versus the “mind’s eye”

My response to Gus would be that we are really talking about two different things. What I tried to illustrate with the auto-stereogram post was the raw sensory experience of what having a colorless, three-dimensional spatial ability might be like. Using one of the examples Gus mentions – the sound of someone knocking on the door conjuring up an (internal) image of a person knocking – this would be analogous to trying to describe what it is like to hear knocking, or to hear anything at all for that matter, rather than what the brain does with that information further down the processing stream.

Daredevil hears a lock opening, from Daredevil #19 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

It would make perfect sense for Matt to put together an “image” or basic understanding of things he perceives, because this kind of mental imagery is something everyone is capable of, whether they have a full set of senses or not. In fact, I thought the panel above, from Daredevil #19, was a very good example of mental imagery. Here, Chris Samnee draws Daredevil listening to the sound of a lock opening in the distance, alongside an image of said lock. This is obviously meant to show the reader what he is hearing while avoiding unnecessary exposition or overly complicated sound effects. But, the use of a contrasting color and the way the panel is laid out doesn’t just show the particular event taking place, it also shows Daredevil becoming aware of what’s happening. But is this the same as actually seeing it happen? And, does imagery even have to be visual? I’ll get to that below, but first, let’s cover one more thing.

What is the essence of “redness”?

We all make inferences – more or less automatically – about the world based on past experiences and associations. However, that doesn’t explain the essence of the sensory experience that prompts the association. These unique “experiential” properties of our senses is what philosophers refer to as qualia. The difficulty in talking about sensory qualia becomes evident the second you start thinking about how you would explain what Mozart sounds like to someone born deaf. Or even how you would explain what red looks like to the substantial proportion of the (mostly male) population who has some kind of color vision defect. This even raises the question of whether everyone experiences red the same way. You and I may both agree that a Coke can is red, but does our sense of red overlap? Is your red the same as my red? Provided that we both have normal vision, the odds are pretty good that they do (we are members of the same species, after all), but this is the kind of thing that is quite frankly impossible to know for sure.

Philosophical conundrums aside, there is clearly something it is like to experience red that is different from simply knowing about colors on an intellectual level. An imaginary colorblind physicist could learn everything there is to know about the color red – that it is a property ascribed to objects which reflect light with a wavelength between 700 and 635 nm – and develop tools which tell him which objects fall into this category. However, this doesn’t give him the experience of “redness.” What I was trying to do with the auto-sterogram post was to try to approximate my own idea of “radarness,” the qualia of a spatial pseudo-visual sense devoid of color.

The limits of imagery

The name of this post is “why believing isn’t seeing.” What I mean by that is that the link between an external stimulus and mental imagery is of a very different nature than the association between that stimulus and our immediate perception of it, through the relevant sense(s).

Imagine that we have two test subjects – we’ll call them Bill and Bob – and let us expose them to an experimental stimulus. If we let both Bill and Bob listen to a sound of rustling leaves coming from behind a partition, what’s going to happen in their minds?

Bill might start thinking of playing in the leaves every fall as a child, and may even remember how his mom made him hot cocoa when he came back in the house. He might see an entire scene play out in his mind’s eye, and might even connect it to the taste of the cocoa or the smell of burning leaves. On the other hand, he might just get a rapidly fading image of a pile of leaves, especially if he is only given a brief moment to listen to the sound before something else commands his attention. Bill’s “snapshot leaves” may be maple leaves, and he may return to pretty much the same image in his head every time he hears the sound of rustling leaves.

Bob’s leaves, on the other hand, might be aspen. He may have grown up in a completely different part of the country. He may not have the strong personal memories of playing in the leaves as Bills does. Maybe the sound doesn’t even remind him of leaves at all, but of his grandmother who often used to play a new age-inspired “sounds of the rainforest” CD when he visited her house. My point is that even though Bill and Bob are listening to the exact same sound, which activates the same group of hair cells in their respective cochelae, their responses to what they are hearing is different. They are similar, absolutely. In both men, the sound evokes “leafiness” and stimulates their brains’ “leaf category,” but there is no 1:1 relationship between what they are hearing and what their mind’s eye is doing.

As we pull away the partition separating the two men from the source of the sound, we may be surprised to se a pile of birch leaves dancing in front of a fan. However, we might find that there are no leaves at all, but a stereo playing a recording of leaves blowing. The two men’s idea of what’s behind the magic curtain could be 100% wrong. The imagery they experienced, having access to only one aspect of the whole scene (sound in this case) would still be completely rational, and part of an essential ability of the human mind to categorize and draw logical conclusions, but it clearly couldn’t replace the missing information.

Mental imagery in the blind

First of all, I think we can all agree that these connections we make between the things we pick up through our senses and our internal representations involve all of our senses. The sound of coffee brewing can elicit a strong sense of being able to smell the coffee before the scent even reaches us. Seeing a painting of the ocean may remind us of the sounds of waves breaking against the shore and the taste of salt. In fact, more and more research is showing just how intertwined our senses are. Even the best wine experts in the world can be fooled by something as simple as white wine dyed to appear red. The way the lips move when someone is speaking actually influences what we hear (this is known as the McGurk effect and is demonstrated here) to the point where even knowing about this phenomenon can’t undo it. It’s increasingly clear that our senses combine to create a unified experience of our world.

Still, we often talk about thinking in pictures and, as highly visual primates, it’s no wonder that we think of images as being central to imagery. For people born blind, visual images are obviously not a part of their experience of the world. But what about people who lose their sight later in life? To what extent does visual imagery remain a part of their internal worlds? The answer to that question is apparently a very big “it depends.”

In his book The Mind’s Eye, my very favorite neurologist Oliver Sacks mentions several different cases. One is that of John Hull, who details the loss of his sight in middle age in the book Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness. Hull describes experiencing something he refers to as “deep blindness.” Shortly after losing his sight, he started losing his ability for visual imagery and was distressed to discover that he could no longer visualize the faces of his loved ones. Within two years, this progressed to the point where he could no longer even remember what seeing was like. However, his experience is far from typical.

In stark contrast to Hull’s experience, Sacks also mentions the case of Zoltan Torey, an Australian psychologist who had lost his sight in an accident at age twenty-one. Torey’s coping mechanism in response to total blindness was to develop his inner eye to the best of his ability. Sacks writes:

“In this, he said, he had been extremely successful, developing a remarkable power of generating, holding, and manipulating images in his mind, so much so that he had been able to construct a virtual visual world that seemed as real and intense to him as the perceptual one he had lost – indeed, sometimes more real, more intense. This imagery, moreover, enabled him to do things that might have seemed scarcely possible for a blind man.
‘I replaced the entire roof guttering of my multi-gabled home single-handed,’ he wrote, ‘and solely on the strength of the accurate and well-focused manipulation of my now totally pliable and responsive mental space.’ Torey later expanded on this episode, mentioning the great alarm of his neighbors at seeing a blind man alone on the roof of his house – at night (even though, of course, darkness made no difference to him).
And he felt that his newly strengthened visual imagery enabled him to think in ways that had not been available to him before, allowed him to project himself inside machines and other systems, to envisage solutions, models, and designs.”

If we want to try to imagine what Matt Murdock’s inner world looks like, it’s important to remember that his radar sense, whatever it is, supports an accurate sense of space. He doesn’t need to work as hard as the average blind person at creating a spatial map in his head, even though his inability to “see” color and detail (and signage!) puts a higher demand on his other senses to fill in as much missing information as possible. Still, the question becomes to what extent he would be actively trying to enrich this pseudo-visual experience with visual imagery.

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

As I hope we’ve already established, constructing a full image of what something might be like from a limited amount of information is not always reliable (remember Bill and Bob…) and may have little to do with external reality. There is no denying that Zoltan Toreys’ brand of mind-mapping is useful to him or that a blind person who was previously sighted can get a very rich experience from having a painting or scene described to her. But in many cases, there is no way for a blind person to actually verify the accuracy of his or her visual imagery and in no way does imagery replace either the experience or function of eye sight.

In Matt’s case, he’s free to imagine Foggy wearing a polka dot suit to work every day if he wants to, but the question is whether this is at all useful for him. The information revealing the true state of affairs is unavailable to him through his remaining senses and no amount of imagery can make up for it. Trying to use all of his available senses to reach the best possible understanding of his surroundings is one thing, and is no different from what you and I do, but my own take on the character is more in line with what Mark Waid described in Daredevil #1 (with art by Marcos Martín, seen above). Many descriptive categories that sighted people use to make sense of the world are of no practical value to him. And, to get back Gus’s original comment, the knowledge and memory of sight should have limited bearing on the immediate experience (qualia) of his non-visual senses, including radar.

The problem with Bendis

So, I’m going to have to get a little rough on Brian Bendis again (even though I’m sort of going to let him off the hook for this one). Don’t blame me, it’s all Gus’s fault for mentioning Bendis’s writing as an example of Matt consciously filling in missing information. 😉 Gus is absolutely right, though. I can think of at least two cases where Bendis has Matt actively create a scene in his mind while we as readers follow along by looking at the art. The one that will be most familiar to readers is probably this page from Daredevil #43 (vol 2) where Matt studies Milla, who has come to visit him in his office, and we see her gradually come into focus (art by Alex Maleev).

A longer and more detailed example of this “filling in” process comes from Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #7, by Bendis and Bill Sienkiewicz, and can be seen below in two pages worth of panels.

Scene from Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #7 by Brian Bendis and Bill Sienkiewicz

In both of these examples, Bendis – through Matt’s internal monologue – takes us on a little tour of what kind of information it is that Matt is paying attention to as be builds his image. While this is happening, the artist’s rendering of the scene becomes gradually sharper. Focusing mostly on the art, one might easily be lead to believe that Bendis intends for us to take the image appearing before Matt’s senses literally. There is a strong suggestion that the image Matt is building in his mind and the one you or I would see before our eyes is virtually one and the same.

Personally, I think this is a unfortunate, especially as that conclusion doesn’t actually line up with the writing. Bendis himself puts disclaimers in there, such as “So, even though I will never see him the way you do…” Add to this the fact that all the things that Matt is picking up on as he narrates the scene are things that are very non-visual. The fact that the man above is a sweaty smoker whose positions Matt can pinpoint from the heat of his body would really tell him nothing about what he looks like. He can probably pull up a stereotypical image of someone who fits that description and used to live in his neighborhood as a kid, for reference, but that can never be a literal representation of the man in front of him.

In my mind, this kind of storytelling technique, interesting and beautiful as it may be, greatly exaggerates the visual properties of Matt’s understanding of the world. We are lead to believe that he is in a position to make educated inferences about appearances that his senses really shouldn’t allow for.

Conclusion

This was a long one! My goal here was to 1) explain my intentions with the radar simulation (auto-stereogram) post, i.e. to capture the qualia of the radar experience, and 2) try to make the distinction between the primary physical experience of our senses – and their relationship to the external world – on the one hand, and our internally generated mental images on the other. I want to thank Gus for leaving the comment that inspired this post.

I also want to take the opportunity to point out that my intention with this and other Daredevil science posts is not necessarily to get anyone to conform to my own view of how Daredevil should be interpreted. Every reader, and writer for that matter, should feel free to imagine for themselves what being inside Daredevil’s body is like. What I try to bring to the table is whatever information I might have come across over the years to try to explain things in Daredevil’s world as they pertain to real world phenomena.

So, feel free to disagree with me! And, I would love it if you did so in the comment section. Who knows, it might inspire a whole new post? 😉

Wacky Power #21 – The aura sensing is back!

So yes, I’ve been giving Brian Bendis a hard time lately. Some day soon, I’ll make up for it by posting my top ten moments from the Bendis/Maleev run. Before I get to that though, there was a moment in last week’s New Avengers #33 that I can’t just let slide without poking a little harmless fun. 😉

If you’ve been following this series of posts, you may remember that Matt once had the ability to sense people’s “auras.” We’re not talking about purple, sparkling halos or anything (as far as I know), but whatever it is villains radiate to make them come across as villainous. Apparently it’s like a gaydar for sniffing out criminal masterminds or random psychos.

However, judging by New Avengers #33, with art by Michael Avon Oeming, the aura sensing is back! And, it’s been extended to cover general instances of “wrongness.” According to Matt:

There’s something wrong. There’s an aura.

Daredevil gets an aura, from New Avengers #33, by Brian Bendis and Michael Oeming

I don’t know what this aura is supposed to be. Maybe it’s the same kind of energy that Spider-Man’s spider sense taps into. Maybe Bendis is just making this up as he goes along. Maybe Matt feels he has to impress his fellow Avengers. Either way, I do find the contrast between what Bendis says the radar sense is (a combination of Daredevil’s four remaining heightened senses, making it – in theory – the most naturlistic option available to any Daredevil creator), and what Daredevil actually ends up doing on the page to be pretty extreme.

Speaking of New Avengers #33 more generally though, I have to say that I found Oeming’s art here to be pretty darn intriguing. I can’t decide if I hate it or love it. Maybe both? It’s highly stylized and somewhat crazy-looking, yet really cool at the same time. And, you’ve got to love the below panel of Daredevil falling on his ass as the team goes into action. 😉

Daredevil falls on his ass, from New Avengers #33 by Brian Bendis and Michael Oeming

Check back Monday for The Other Murdock Papers Podcast #4, which features a very special guest in the form of none other than Chris Samnne! It’s part interview with the guy who – holy crap! – draws Daredevil every month and part just geeking out with a fellow fan. I hope you’ll enjoy it!