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: Continue reading “Reevaluating early Daredevil”
It’s been just over two hours since we learned about the passing of Stan Lee, just shy of his 96th birthday. I have to admit, I’m still at a loss for words. There was something about Stan Lee that seemed to make him resistant to the passage of time. We all watched him age on the outside – though even that seemed to happen at a glacial pace – but he never lost his boyish charm or that sense of wonder.
Stan Lee also remained active until the very end. It’s always been my dream to find a passion in life that will keep me going well into old age. In this sense, Stan was a a personal inspiration, and someone I’ve often brought up when speaking to my still-working parents about the topic of their own “non-retirement.”
What an amazing privilege it is to be able to find new outlets for your creative talents for so many decades. And, how fortunate we have been as the beneficiaries of Stan’s unique drive and imagination.
Others will have more insightful things to say about Stan Lee’s impact on popular culture in general, and the comic book industry in particular. There will also be a time for discussing the entirety of his life work, which is not devoid of controversy.
For me, today, and as much as I am struggling to find the words, I just feel a sense of gratitude for all of the characters that Stan created, together with the many talented artists at Marvel who worked alongside him.
Daredevil will always be special to me, but there are so many other Marvel heroes that, in their own ways, have helped highlight different aspects of what it means to be human. What it means to be a hero, even when you are flawed and there are obstacles placed in your path.
Stan has left our world, but has in turn left behind an entire universe.
For my first proper countdown post – as we await the release of all thirteen episodes of Daredevil on April 10 – I wanted to take a look at some of my favorite stand-alone issues of Daredevil. Not all of these are perfectly self-contained, of course, but they stand well enough on their own that you don’t need to know much going in, and you get a full story with each issue. The issues I chose for this list also meet the criteria of being reasonably friendly to new readers and at least minimally relevant to the Netflix series.
That last bit would really only exclude stand-alone issues like Daredevil #92 (vol 2) which is told from the perspective of Milla Donovan and deals with her and Matt’s relationship. It wouldn’t make my list anyway, but since Milla isn’t going to be in the Netflix series, I wouldn’t even consider it.
Having said that, I should also mention that while technical quality is certainly an important consideration, I’ve put greater emphasis on whether these issues have important things to say about Daredevil and/or other characters or can serve as a good introduction to Matt Murdock and his world. Let’s get started! All issues are listed in chronological order, not by individual merit.
Exposé (Daredevil #164, vol 1)
This issue, written by Roger McKenzie, and penciled by a very young Frank Miller does require some background information going in, namely that Ben Urich is a journalist who, over several issues, has begun to piece together that Matt Murdock and Daredevil may be one and the same. Daredevil is in the hospital after a recent bout with the Hulk, but that’s not really relevant to what happens next, which is that Urich confronts Daredevil with his findings. After Daredevil fails to identify a photograph of his father, he confesses and begins to tell the journalist about his life.
This issue marks the beginning of the close relationship between Matt and Ben, and is important to the continued stories of both characters. Ben Urich gradually uncovering Daredevil’s true identity was an important plot element in the 2003 Daredevil movie, and we can likely expect elements of the same in the coming Netflix series where Ben Urich – played by Vondie Curtis-Hall – is a central character. If you want to know how it all began, and get a bonus recap of Daredevil’s origin, this is a good place to start. I’ve also written extensively about this issue and the ones leading up to it in the post “Meet Ben Urich” from 2008.
Daredevil #191, written and penciled by Frank Miller (with inks by Terry Austin) may be my very favorite single issue of Daredevil. It is the perfect stand-alone story in that, while it certainly helps to know who Daredevil and his nemesis Bullseye are, it’s not crucial to appreciating the story. The artwork, with generous amount of negative space, interesting panel layouts and elegant simplicity, is the perfect match for a story that does a perfect job of nailing down, defining and explaining Matt Murdock.
This issue showcases his fears and weaknesses through the torment he suffers, not just in the wake of Elektra’s death, but in the way he feels complicit in the shooting of a young boy by being, not just a hero, but a role model for violence. I have nothing negative to say about this issue, it’s as close to perfection as they come, and it’s truly innovative in its approach. See also my previous post on this very issue.
Another great one-shot is writer Alan Brennert’s sole contribution to the Daredevil archives, with art provided by Klaus Janson. It’s just a nice little slice-of-life story focusing on Ben Urich (more so than Exposé above, which is really more about Daredevil’s own story), but also featuring plenty of insight into Daredevil, as well as the Kingpin who also makes an appearance. You also get a great sense of Daredevil’s world and the corruption that runs rampant in it. The story revolves around good people doing good, good people doing bad, and the many shades of gray in between. It also reminds us never to presume to know what anyone else is going through, and doing the best with what we have. It is a tale which is both tragic and optimistic, and surprisingly moving.
Where can I find it? This issue hasn’t never been collected and isn’t available through Marvel’s online channels so look for it in back issue bins.
The Price (Daredevil #223, vol 1)
On the surface, The Price, by Denny O’Neil and David Mazzucchelli, may appear a little campy. The Beyonder appears in Matt and Foggy’s office and asks them to argue his case, a case that is pretty much based on the alien visitor’s wish to own the entire world. It’s certainly a little out there. As is what happens to Daredevil during the course of the issue when the powerful Beyonder restores his sight.
The outlandish aspects of the story aside, this issue is surprisingly moving. It’s really the first time that Matt has had his sight back and actually been able to enjoy it for any length of time. The experience is also pretty heartbreaking for out main character who has to deal with some delayed grief when he realizes exactly what it is he’s been missing all these years. In the end though, he decides that he cares about his principles even more than this new gift. It’s pretty powerful stuff and says a lot about the character. I’ve written about this issue before as well.
Where can I find it? This issue hasn’t never been collected and isn’t available through Marvel’s online channels so look for it in back issue bins.
34 Hours (Daredevil #304, vol 1)
On the title page, 34 Hours is introduced as “A story about New York.” This sums up the issue well, and also explains why I love it so much. I like this issue almost as much as Roulette, as they both do a fantastic job of stripping away the fuss and focusing on what makes Daredevil such a great character. Aside from that, the two issues really don’t have much in common though. Where Roulette is tragic, 34 Hours is brimming with optimism. The latter issue, by D.G. Chichester and Ron Garney, is also much more traditional in its format.
Where can I find it? Sadly, this issue hasn’t been collected either and also isn’t available through Marvel’s online channels so look for it in back issue bins.
Other issues that meet the above criteria, and can be found in collected editions and digitally through Marvel, are the following:
Daredevil #1, vol 1
The very first issue of Daredevil, by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, is actually pretty good. It does a good job of introducing this brand new character, uses quite sophisticated storytelling techniques, and obviously managed to capture enough interest to make up for the very inconsistent quality of the first couple of years of the title.
Guts (Daredevil #185, vol 1)
This is a clever Frank Miller issue (inks by Klaus Janson), that focuses almost entirely on Foggy Nelson, as he sets about doing his own crime fighting. While I like this issue, it has to be said that most modern readers have gotten used to seeing Foggy as a more serious character compared to how he appears here, but it’s still a good read. For another, more recent take on Foggy, see The Secret Life of Foggy Nelson (Daredevil #88, vol 2), by Ed Brubaker and David Aja
Return of the King: Prologue (Daredevil #116, vol 2)
Also by Ed Brubaker and David Aja, this issue is all about the Kingpin, and his new life in Spain where he finds love again after the death of his wife Vanessa. It all comes to a tragic end, of course, but the story really highlights the complex nature of the Kingpin, something which appears to be a big part of the Netflix series.
Daredevil #7, vol 3
This stand-alone Christmas issue by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera is another favorite of mine. Waid and Rivera skillfully take Matt out of his element as he goes on a school trip with a class of blind school children and they’re stranded in the woods after a bad bus accident. I like the idea of Matt doing volunteer work. It goes well with a character who’s always cared about his community, regardless of what costume he’s wearing.
Well, that’s it! What did you guys think of my choices and what are some other issues you’d like to add to the list? Let the rest of us know in the comment section!
Nope, this is not a review. I don’t have an advance copy of Daredevil #9 and this issue won’t show up in Marvel’s digital store for almost another hour as I’m sitting down to write this. (I usually buy my Daredevil comics twice since they tend to take another day or two to arrive in my local comic book store in Stockholm.)
However, I thought the cover this month was spectacular enough to warrant its on post while we’re waiting for the rest of the story. It’s not only breathtakingly beautiful, thanks to Chris Samnee’s inimitable line art and Matt Wilson’s rich colors, it’s also the kind of cover that you can read things into. It tells its own story, and if you’re familiar with Daredevil canon and Daredevil’s first meeting with the Purple Man – in Daredevil #4, all the way back in 1964 – you’re bound to get an even bigger kick out of it. Let’s have a look!
As mentioned, this cover (click on it to zoom in!) becomes even more spectacular when you add Killgrave’s first appearance to the mix, but there are many reasons this cover stands out to me on its own. Before the Purple Children storyline began last issue, we had had a long stretch of issues – most of volume 4, really – with relatively little to bother the main character. Sure, his best friend has cancer, and someone is trying to kill him every issue, but going by superhero standards, and Daredevil standards in particular, things have been looking up for Matt Murdock. And you see it right there in his smile on this cover. Now, it’s not a jubilant smile, or even a triumphant smile, but it is the smile of confidence. In fact, his whole posture has that carefree look to it.
Given what we know about the Purple Man’s power set, passed on to his offspring, this look might be interpreted as that of someone spellbound by their powers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Matt appears to in control, oblivious to cliff he’s about to step off of, and even to the fact that he’s descending. The outline of Purple Man’s face is menacing to look at, and a big part of what makes the image so enthralling, but from Daredevil’s perspective, the slow descent he’s embarked on is disguised as something else. The contours of Killgrave’s face are safe, there’s nothing to set off any alarms.
An interesting visual contrast is the one between the buildings on the left and the bright haze on the right. Daredevil’s path appears lit by a spotlight below, unseen by him, of course (though he does look as if he’s ready to step out on a stage and greet an audience), but more than anything, taking that step off the cliff appears to mark the end of the safety of a tangible physical reality and the beginning of apparent annihilation. That we are unable to see the street below, or anything beyond the haze, cleverly suggest a meeting between Daredevil and a mental or spiritual void, more so than it does a physical threat.
This cover also uses Daredevil’s blindness to great effect. With the Purple Children standing quietly atop their father’s face (which, by the way, is a great way to hint at the legacy element of their introduction to the Marvel Universe) they watch quietly as Daredevil walks to his doom. While Matt may not be your average blind man, the fact that they are holding his cane is still significant. What the cane allows blind people to do is probe their surroundings, get to know them and, most importantly here, learn where it’s safe to step. The symbolism of this form of guidance being taken from someone is quite chilling. The Purple Children’s behavior also contrasts nicely with Matt Murdock’s good deed as a child. He saw a blind man in danger and rushed to save him. These menacing creatures are doing the very opposite.
The color of Daredevil’s costume, and the placement of the equally bright logo, also make this cover stand out, and provide a great contrast to the more muted tones of the background. The logo also appears to be hovering, further strengthening the overall sense of uncertainty.
One of the things that makes the choice of having Daredevil step off a cliff is how it reminds you of the Purple Man’s first appearance. In Daredevil #4 (vol 1), by Stan Lee and Joe Orlando, he nearly sends Karen Page to her death by ordering her to step off a building. He was unsuccessful that time, but in the cover above, he’s looking to finish what he started. Compelling people to jump to their deaths is clearly a part of Killgrave’s “MO,” and it’s one of the things that makes him so threatening. He can kill without touching someone, simply by taking their sense of self away.
Even looking at the cover to Daredevil #4 (by Jack Kirby), you get the sense that the cover to this week’s issue represents some kind of revenge for Killgrave. On the cover to Daredevil #9, he takes up much of the bottom half, dominating the scene, becoming the embodiment of Matt Murdock’s path to destruction. On his first Daredevil cover, he is a small figure. He’s placed at the very top, but forced to look down on Daredevil successfully rescuing Karen Page. In this case, it is Daredevil who triumphantly lays claim to most of the available surface. And, he has already jumped, under his own guidance and with a full sense of control. Without reading too much into the contrast between these two issues, published almost exactly fifty years apart, I still think that the contrast in scale and perspective makes the cover to Daredevil #9 even more interesting.
And, having said that. I think it’s time to actually read the issue. I will be back with my review later. In the mean time, how do you guys feel about this cover? Are you sold on it too?
First of all, thank you so much to everyone who commented (or contacted me through other means) to offer support in response to my latest post. It means the world to me, and just proves that the TOMP community is made up of some of the best people – and comic book fans – in the world!
And, thanks for all the post ideas. I’m making a list of all of them and hope to get to them over the next few weeks and months, interspersed with ideas of my own, and the usual reviews and comments on whatever comes up. First on my list is to begin to tackle Daniel’s idea to look at Matt’s happier times, and that whole side of his personality. It feels like the perfect topic to lighten anyone’s mood, and it also makes for an interesting contrast with the darker side of the character.
Mark Waid has strongly indicated that Matt Murdock has underlying issues with depression, which made his take on Sister Maggie’s battles with post partum depression even more meaningful (aside from her story being compelling in its own right, depression is often at least partially hereditary). Of course, Matt’s long list of actual trials and tribulations, along with his mental health battles – which go back decades – don’t negate the fact that he has had happier times and that he’s got a real optimistic streak to motivate him. To quote myself from an earlier post:
“What I recognize in a character like Matt Murdock is that ability to joke, smile and laugh – and do so genuinely, not as a front (or in Matt’s case, perhaps not only as a front) – while at the same time navigating the inevitable slumps and rough patches that you know may be waiting around the corner. It is possible to be both an incurable optimist, to have your “center” propel you forward and give you meaning even while occasionally dealing with feelings that seem to threaten to stop you in your tracks. Real people are complex, and it’s a great thing to see creators of fiction let that complexity shine through their characters as well.”
It’s interesting to note that whatever is bothering Matt Murdock at any one time, and that may be nothing at all, the answer always seems to be Daredevil. When he’s feeling low and defeated, his life as Daredevil seems to act both as a coping mechanism and a compulsion based on a (somewhat exaggerated) sense of duty. When he’s happy, that too spills over into his life as a vigilante. He clearly enjoys the physical aspects of throwing himself off high buildings and the obvious sense of accomplishment that comes from having trained his body to endure almost any situation.
During the first few years of the title, being Daredevil clearly offered him a way to escape the persona of Matt Murdock, the uptight and timid blind lawyer. I’ve talked about the conflicted feelings around his identity in How Daredevil became Matt Murdock. This is interesting because it shows that even the relative carefree days of the Silver Age were not devoid of underlying conflicts. Matt may have thoroughly enjoyed playing the part of Mike Murdock, his made-up identical twin brother, and Mike may have even been a more genuine take on the underlying character. But pretending to be someone else, even as a way to manage a secret identity, is hardly the sign of great mental health. Even early in Daredevil history, there were clear signs of self-loathing and resentment.
As the topic of Matt’s personality and changing moods is a pretty big, I will only be able to scratch the surface with this post, and will be doing so by going back to the very beginning of the title’s history. At the end of this post, you’ll find links to previous posts that deal with Matt’s emotional life (aside from the one’s I’ve linked to above). Altogether, that should make for a good foundation for exploring this topic further in the coming months.
The frustrated optimist
As origins go, I quite like the one we see in Daredevil #1. You would expect no less from someone who loves the character, but considering how weak the writing was on some of the early issues of Daredevil (Daredevil #2 anyone?), the relative quality of the very first issue stands out. The pacing is good, it covers a lot of ground and it cleverly establishes Daredevil’s raison d’être.
One interesting conflict that is apparent right from first glimpses into Matt’s early fictional life is the one between his desire for self-realization and the demands and expectations placed on him by those around him. In his early adult life, the same conflict is evident in terms of how he feels about being Daredevil, as opposed to being Matt Murdock (again, see my previous post). But this struggle pre-dates Daredevil, and even Matt’s accident. As a young boy, the source of frustration was not the need to conform to society’s expectations of a blind man, and a lawyer, but rather the strict rules laid down by his father. While young Matt is presented as a genuinely good student, one who probably would have excelled in academia even under less rigid circumstances, his strong desire to express himself physically, and play sports with the other kids, shows us another side of him aching to get out.
Even before he was Daredevil, Matt responded to frustration the same way we’ve seen him do time and time again: By finding ways around it. Instead of accepting the limitations placed on him by his father, he works out in secret. As he builds his physical strength, he finds a new mental strength as well. Allowing himself this way to escape gives him great joy. His secret life as a would-be Daredevil in training fills the very same purpose here as his life as the de facto Daredevil does later in the series. When he finally dons the costume, that too is in response to the frustration he feels over the fact that no one has been tried for his father’s murder. Becoming Daredevil means doing “something” as opposed to doing nothing. I think Mark Waid really nails it in the interview I linked to above:
“I think you see very clearly in Daredevil that depression is inertia. What fuels depression is that sense of helplessness, that sense of not knowing what to do next, that image of sitting on a gargoyle in the rain on the rooftop, frozen by inaction. To me, Daredevil come to grips with that and is actively pushing past. I wrote a scene where he feels that paralysis that comes with depression and he pushes through it. He makes an active decision to move forward. Any movement is better than no movement at all.”
To Matt, the Daredevil identity becomes a vehicle for action, and a way to directly address the inertia which looms whenever disaster strikes. As Matt, he is subject to the whims of others to some extent. He’s burdened by his father’s expectations, the taunts from the others at school (who misunderstand his reasons for keeping to himself and consequently mislabel him), and later by the prejudices of society. While the latter is not often touched on explicitly, it’s obvious that Matt – at least in the early days – had resigned himself to being regarded as weak. As Daredevil, he instead becomes the “actor,” his way of transforming himself from a chess piece into a player. It is perhaps no coincidence that the storylines which have brought Daredevil his greatest defeats, and been the most demoralizing, are not the ones in which he is challenged physically, but the ones in which that agency is taken away from him by the manipulation and scheming of his enemies.
The way this all feeds into and strengthens the need for the secret identity is something that Mark Waid later picks up on. The secret identity, and secrecy in general, can be viewed as coping mechanism, as summarized in Daredevil #22 (vol 3), when Matt explains: “Even when I was first blinded, I never told anyone about my radar or my hyper senses. Not even my dad. I enjoyed having a big secret. When people make you feel like you’re weak and helpless, it’s empowering to know something they don’t. And, boy, did I need empowering.”
The Daredevil identity was borne out of frustration, but is fueled by an incredible amount of optimism, sometimes bordering on over-confidence. The way Matt decides to go after his father’s killers in the very first issue clearly demonstrates his willingness to throw caution to the wind, in the hopes that his hours of training and heightened senses will be enough to carry him. He’s not certain that they will, however, and at least once he catches himself wondering whether he’s bitten off more than he can chew. This, in turn, is a behavior that will continue repeating itself over the coming decades. Matt often gets in over his head, does foolish things, and is prone to recklessness. We see him as fearless, but perhaps optimistic to the point of delusional is a better word for it.
One thing is for sure, Matt Murdock needs Daredevil. He needs the physical joy of it, the power it gives him, as well as the adrenalin rush. Being Daredevil is one of the best ways Matt knows to express himself when he’s happy, and it is often the only way for him to exist at all when he’s down (see much of the Brubaker/Lark run at the end of Daredevil vol 2). When you look at the entirety of the character’s life, it’s easy to see why.
As mentioned, I will have plenty of opportunities to return to this topic, looking at Matt’s remarkable ability to bounce back, and what exactly – besides being Daredevil – brings him the most joy. In the mean time, here are some recommended posts that deal, in one way or another, with Matt’s psyche:
It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to write a longer “essay” type of post, but there have been a couple of ideas brewing in the back of my mind for a while. One struck me while I was going through older – Silver and Bronze Age – issues of Daredevil and has to do with the gradual process of Daredevil and Matt Murdock becoming “one,” and the maturation of the Matt Murdock identity from highly stereotypical to a complex character.
These days, Daredevil is all about Matt Murdock, whether he is in costume or not. Not only is the civilian side of Matt’s life featured fairly prominently in the Daredevil comic, he’s also a character whose emotions and personal struggles are so clearly present even while he’s in costume, that “Daredevil” is always simply Matt Murdock wearing his Daredevil costume and performing his Daredevil “duties.” When Matt is Daredevil, he assumes a particular persona, but he does not in any way become a different person.
I would argue that Matt and his alter ego Daredevil have merged so completely in the minds of most fans at this point, that it’s difficult to imagine things being any other way. Still, when you look at the early issues of Daredevil, you realize that there was a time when things were very different. In the beginning was Daredevil, and on the sixth day Stan Lee created Matt Murdock. Then he created Mike Murdock because he wasn’t sure who Matt Murdock really was.
Joking aside (that probably wasn’t exactly how it happened), it is difficult to look at the Mike Murdock era today and not get the sense that the identity crisis which played out on the page was also a reflection of the creators’ inability to fully make sense of their own creation. Who was the pretender? Was Daredevil role-playing as Matt, or was Matt playing dress-up as Daredevil? Even before “Mike” Murdock came on the scene to provide some contrast, Matt in his civilian guise always came across as extremely restrained, and careful not to step outside the box he’d built for himself. As such, he was a fairly dull person.
Recent events in Daredevil have raised other questions which also tie in to issues of identity or, more specifically, which aspects of himself Matt has been willing to show the world. Even before his outing in Daredevil #36 earlier this year, I know I wasn’t the only one to be slightly concerned about his lack of caution: Should he really be hanging from a rock climbing wall in the open like that? While history had lead us to a point where Matt Murdock would always be evident underneath the costume, were we finally looking at Matt Murdock getting ready to “come out” as Daredevil?
This was something I intended to get back to, in a separate post, before Mark Waid & Co. beat me to it with a definitive outing, but now I’m starting to think that maybe this was just the logical next step in finishing the process of Matt and Daredevil merging, in every respect. The current creative team have decided to kick things up a notch, and give Matt-as-Daredevil a much bigger stage. It is a real game changer for the character, and in many ways it’s a much bigger deal for Matt Murdock to be a public superhero than it is for Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and many others. I’ll get get back to that, but first let’s start at the very beginning.
“Daredevil is the real me!”
As mentioned already, early Matt Murdock was dull. Okay, so the things that happened when he was off the clock – or mysteriously disappearing from the office – were not so dull, but the Matt Murdock identity he deliberately crafted for himself certainly was. He was a young man who seemed to live the life of someone much older. A big part of the reason he would pass up social outings with Karen and Foggy was that he was busy being Daredevil, but there was more to it than that, which I suspect had a great deal to do with the era in which he was created.
The Matt Murdock of the 1960s, much more so than his modern incarnation, seemed to have internalized much of the stigma that came with blindness. When I look at old issues today, I tend to chuckle at Matt’s worries that Karen would reject him because he was blind, but mixed in with all the Silver Age drama is a hint of something more serious. In Daredevil #8, while working out in his private gym, he considers Karen’s suggestion that he undergo eye surgery:
”Suppose I do consent to the operation that Karen thinks I should have? What if I do regain my sight…? …But lose my extra-sensory powers in the process?!! It would mean the end of Daredevil as a force for justice! But it would be the only way I could dare try to make Karen my wife! For, I could never ask her to marry a sightless man!”
While the actual physical limitations of Matt’s blindness were downplayed in early Daredevil, the consequences of the stigma attached to blindness would affect Matt Murdock a great deal. Looking back at these early stories through fifty years of social progress, it is clear that the prevailing stereotypes surrounding blindness at the time – and to a lesser extent still today – were a major influence on the creation of both Daredevil as a concept, and on Matt Murdock’s early personality.
While those of us who love Daredevil can list a number of things which are unique about the character, things that have kept us coming back for years, it also has to be said that from a literary standpoint, Daredevil offered little that hadn’t been done before. The notion that blindness would allow someone do develop keener senses is old, and the cliché has been associated with a long list of literary characters.
Their senses had become marvellously acute; they could hear and judge the slightest gesture of a man a dozen paces away — could hear the very beating of his heart. Intonation had long replaced expression with them, and touches gesture, and their work with hoe and spade and fork was as free and confident as garden work can be. Their sense of smell was extraordinarily fine; they could distinguish individual differences as readily as a dog can, and they went about the tending of the llamas, who lived among the rocks above and came to the wall for food and shelter, with ease and confidence.
The Country of the Blind, by H. G. Wells (1904)
Alongside the “positive” stereotypes of blindness, there are negative stereotypes. Unlike Daredevil who is based entirely on the positive, the public persona of Matt Murdock received more of a mixed bag. On the one hand, he is presented as disciplined and studious, on the other there is something almost apologetic about him. An air of “Oh, don’t mind little old me!” He’s careful, something of a recluse and, despite Karen’s longing, appears to be virtually asexual.
We all know the real Matt isn’t like that. Matt himself knows he’s not like that, and in the first few years of publication, there is often resentment about having to “be” (the public) Matt Murdock. In the panel below, from Daredevil #25, by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Matt seems almost angry:
“Meanwhile, I felt like I was suffocating in that business suit of mine! I’d have jumped out of my skin if I had to wait any longer to get into my working clothes! I never realized Daredevil was so much a part of me! It’s like DD is my real identity — and I’m just play-acting as Matt Murdock!”
While trying to figure out creators’ intentions nearly five decades after the fact is somewhat risky business, it seems to me that it was probably a conscious choice to distance the private (known to readers) Matt Murdock from the public persona. It was important to point out the fact that he was “no ordinary blind man,” not only by highlighting the Daredevil identity, but also by rejecting the public Matt Murdock. If I may be provocative for a moment, my guess it that it was important to emphasize that he was not one of “those people.” He was not truly one of the afflicted, but one of the gifted.
Creators have continued to actively try to distance Matt Murdock from “ordinary blind people” at regular intervals over the years, and I would argue that this is a practice that didn’t stop completely until the last fifteen years or so. I should maybe clarify that I’m not talking simply about reminding people that Matt Murdock has abilities that makes blindness less problematic for him than for others who are (totally) blind – and makes it possible for him to be Daredevil – or that hiding these abilities requires its fair share of pretense. What I’m talking about goes beyond that and boils down to a form of complex that Matt Murdock seemed to have.
You notice it in cases where Matt, in his private thoughts, boasts about how he can read faster with his fingertips than any sighted man every could (because being better than sighted people at everything is apparently important, whether it makes sense or not) or when he simply lets the readers know what simpletons the people around him are to not even realize his spectacular potential. “If only they knew that a blind man could do X, Y, and Z more capably than any sighted man!” It’s the kind of thing you roll your eyes at.
And yet, along with pitching Daredevil as a respectable superhero to potential newcomers, it also serves the purpose of reminding them that (public) Matt is nothing like (private) Matt. In essence, the pretense itself becomes the character’s biggest burden. It is his perceived limitations that bother him, because the real ones are virtually non-existent in early Daredevil. Being forced by circumstance into play-acting as Matt Murdock was his true handicap.
The emergence of Matt Murdock
As mentioned, this rather annoying habit of overcompensating didn’t fade away overnight, though it was much more common in the first few years of publication, but at least Matt Murdock’s personality seemed to stabilize over time. While he couldn’t stop pretending not to have his powers, he at least allowed himself to stop pretending to be a more boring version of himself. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened, but I do think the Mike Murdock era was oddly therapeutic in this sense. Stan Lee and Gene Colan had broadened the personality palette, if you will, and Matt was a more interesting character in his own right after the Mike Murdock era than he had been previously.
Another key moment came when Matt started “coming out” to people around him. Foggy was kept in the dark for over three decades of real time, but Karen learned about Daredevil fairly early, in Daredevil #57. This naturally released him from his enforced duality, at least around the people who knew. This translated into Matt getting more screen time as his genuine self out of costume, and in conversations with others besides the readers.
During the San Francisco years with the Black Widow, the lines between Matt and Daredevil start to blur even more. Natasha, “roommate” and partner in crime, obviously knows who he is, and the dynamics between them seem unrelated to whether either one of them is wearing a costume. In fact, they take their bickering and relationship woes with them out on the streets, just as they “talk shop” around the house.
Perhaps the most pivotal story arc in the merging of Matt and Daredevil, in my mind, is Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Born Again. This story is remarkable for many reasons, and not only because of its many literary and artistic qualities. First of all, Matt spends very little time in costume. Secondly, the story revolves around the destruction of Matt Murdock’s personal life by a villain who has learned his secret. Think about that for a moment. Arguably the most definitive Daredevil story of all time, isn’t actually about “Daredevil.” It’s about Matt Murdock. And I think many readers would agree with me that the very fact that so much of the focus rests on Matt Murdock is what makes it such a strong Daredevil story.
In the years following Born Again, Matt spends a lot of time in a sort of limbo. It takes a long time for him to return to practicing law, and for much of the beginning of Ann Nocenti’s run, he lives with Karen and works as a short-order cook (while passing for sighted, incidentally). “Public” Matt Murdock, the lawyer, goes on a long hiatus. Things get even more extreme when he fakes his own death during D.G. Chichester’s run and lives under the alias Jack Batlin.
When “Matt Murdock, blind lawyer” finally returns, it is after Foggy Nelson has learned the truth, and the sphere in which Matt is free to be himself, and feel equally at home in all of his different guises, has expanded considerably. It makes sense that this sphere would continue to expand over time, and during Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run, Matt is pushed in a direction where his secrets are exposed and the lines are blurred even further.
Before philosophizing about what being a public superhero might entail for Matt – and Daredevil – going forward, I want to point out one scene which speaks to the brilliance of the current run in being able to create a more complete modern incarnation of Matt Murdock by subtly addressing past events. This has been done in many different ways, but the most relevant for my purpose here is the exchange between Matt and Foggy, as seen in Daredevil #23.
What is so clever about Matt commenting on his past secrecy is that it is relevant and interesting to new readers while also providing a perspective on Matt’s past behaviors in a way that people who are familiar with all or most of Daredevil’s history can appreciate.
Through modern eyes, it is easy to interpret Matt’s early boasting as a defence mechanism against feelings of inferiority, and do a sort of mental retcon when reading the early issues. Waid et al help us do just that by addressing Matt’s relationship with secrecy. In the case of Daredevil, there’s an additional layer of deceit at play in that Matt actively has to hide his powers in a way that Peter Parker doesn’t (something I’ve addressed before). The kind of exploration – or is that explanation? – of the character that we’re treated to here helps put all of this in context. Without defending Matt’s history of keeping important secrets from his loved ones, Waid introduces a different way of looking at it, by recasting it as a coping mechanism.
The public superhero
Having helped us make more sense than before of Matt’s early double life, the current creative team is perfectly suited for the task of completing the path Matt Murdock has been on for the last fifty years. While definitively outing Matt Murdock is a risky move, it has so far – three issues into volume 4 – worked out quite well. We have already seen the storytelling potential that comes from allowing Matt Murdock to do detective work as himself, rather than just in the guise of Daredevil.
However, given Daredevil’s unique nature as a character, there are certain issues that are raised by his outing that are less of a concern for other heroes. The first that comes to mind is that he is a low-powered hero, with no special armor to protect him, and no team to back him up. At best, he can reach the Avengers in an emergency, but the utility of that lifeline is limited. This means that known enemies are a more serious threat than in the past. The only mitigating circumstance here is that his identity was already known to some (such as the Kingpin), or at least strongly suspected. That makes the step of going public a smaller one, but the situation it creates is still riskier than being able to hide behind the wall of plausible deniability. There is also the added complication of having specific weaknesses you may not want your enemies knowing about, such as being a sense short and being overly sensitive to non-visual sensory input.
The second thing that sets Matt apart from other superheroes is the thing that explains why “coming out” would be desirable, even to the point of off-setting the risks in wall. In fact, looking at Matt dangling from that rock climbing wall earlier in this post, and his increasingly reckless behavior over the course of Waid’s run, you’d think a big part of him wanted to be found out.
The way I see it, this brings us back to where Daredevil started and his resentment at having to play the role of “non-powered blind person”. This kind of play-acting goes both ways though, as Matt himself noted in his conversation with Bullseye in Daredevil #191 (by Frank Miller): “The secret identity can be a relief, Bullseye. When I’m Murdock, I don’t have to use my amplified senses to pretend I’m not blind.” Outside of his circle of close confidantes who knew his secret, Matt has always had to deny some aspect of his physiology; either his powers as Matt Murdock, or his blindness as Daredevil. Swinging between the extremes of restraint on the one hand or strain on the other, there has never been much room for him to physically be at his most comfortable, in a place where he doesn’t have to pretend to sense less or see more than he does.
The term “passing” was first used to describe the phenomenon of people with mixed (generally African/European) ancestry being able to “pass for” white. It has since been expanded to include a long list of other group identities where someone might try to pass as belonging to a different group, and I think it is a pretty good description of Matt’s predicament throughout Daredevil history. Passing is usually done in an effort to conceal some aspect of yourself, and it’s easy to see why it might be psychologically and emotionally demanding.
Given the current creative team’s track record of spot-on characterization, I’m looking forward to seeing them explore the personal ramifications of the new status quo, in addition to the changes in Daredevil’s external universe and the new kinds of physical threats that it brings. Matt Murdock and Daredevil are now fully one single entity. Let’s find out who that makes him.
And then, there’s this page below, from Daredevil #45 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan. To give you some background information: Daredevil is being chased by all the cops in town after having been framed for murder by the Jester. Desperate for a disguise, he is clearly ready to do just about anything. As in knocking an innocent man unconscious and stealing his coat! What the hell, DD? Will that money you stashed in his pocket pay for the therapy this guy is going to need to get over the trauma? What if someone else mugs him while he lies motionless on the platform? What if it’s just plain wrong to hurt people? Hmmm…
Over the next couple of pages, we also learn that a rain coat will not cover your ass if you’re stupid. Or rather, it will cover your ass. It just won’t cover your red boots. Or the gloves you forgot to take off! Though I suppose a guy who hasn’t seen himself in a mirror for years can be forgiven for not realizing which part of his look might seem striking to others. Hitting people though? That’s still unforgivable! Tsk, tsk. 😉
As already mentioned, I’ve had reason to poke fun at this issue before (see the first link above for more references), but it continues to be a fantastic source of Silver Age madness. One that recently got my attention was the aliens’ use of a seemingly nonsensical unit of measurement: the “nomameter.”
The first time the aliens use the term, above, I didn’t think much of it though. Different worlds, different customs, different units of measurement. That kind of thing. Sure, it was odd to see something ending in “meter” refer to a unit of time, but hey, maybe it’s like the opposite of “lightyear” (which sounds like a unit of time, but actually measures distance). Perhaps a nomameter is the time it takes a “noma” (whatever that might be) to travel one meter? Where I really started scratching my head was when reading the panel below.
“So sensitive is the machine, that… once frozen… it will take a thousand thousand nomameters to defrost it! And we cannot spare the time!”
How long is a nomameter anyway? And how come, if you’re sophisticated enough to succeed at intergalactic travel and building sight-stealing rays, your language has no concept of “one million”? And why can’t you spare the time? Are you running late to conquering some other planet?
The biggest plot hole of all, however, is that Daredevil himself was shot with the very same weapon earlier, and was frozen solid. He thawed out onboard the aliens’ space craft within the span of two pages! How about that? 😉
Considering Daredevil’s blindness, the number of times he’s found himself flying some kind of aircraft is pretty astounding. And to be clear, any number higher than zero would count as astounding. In this series, I’ve already covered his landing a rocket (in Daredevil #2, possibly the most craptastic issue of Daredevil ever released), and the time he flew the Avengers’ Quinjet (in Daredevil #100).
You might also remember the time Matt staged his own death by having a dummy version of himself “die” in a plane crash, in Daredevil #54. The latter has been touched on in two posts already (Weird moments in Daredevil history and DD (Driving Dangerously)) and entails Matt driving himself to an airfield and then flying off with the dummy in tow. Pretty crazy stuff.
But wait! There’s more! In Daredevil #24 (all of these examples are from volume 1, of course…), by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Daredevil takes to the skies once more. At the beginning of the issue, Daredevil finds himself in an unknown location somewhere in Europe, having been transported there by the Masked Marauder last issue, in the middle of a fight with the Gladiator. After beating up some bad guys who were waving guns in his face, he finds himself in the place depicted in the first panel below.
What is interesting here is that Daredevil is displaying a behavior that I, for my own “studies” have come to refer to as CAR, i.e. “Conspicuously Absent Radar.” My definition of CAR is a scene where Daredevil will refer only to sensory information that is auditory, olfactory or tactile in nature, despite being pretty close to the object of interest. This panel is an obvious example. Daredevil appears to be clearly sensing an opening, but he does not appear to be sensing – by radar – the shape or presence of the airplane and its lone crew member, at least not initially, but is instead paying attention only to smell and sound, and putting two and two together.
What could be going on here, is that the plane and the figure on the beach are outside of the range of his radar sense. This makes a great deal of sense since Daredevil’s radar sense appears to be understood by most writers as limited in range (which makes physical sense as well). However, the part that makes this “absent radar” particularly conspicuous is what happens on the very same page.
Suddenly, his radar is honest to goodness flight radar. We are also meant to believe that Matt knows what direction England is. Again, he doesn’t actually know where he is. Stan Lee seems to be anticipating that fans will have a hard time buying this:
“To save you the trouble of writing scathing letters to us, we’ll explain here and now how the sightless D.D. can pilot a plane! He feels the vibrations of the needles and dials within the instrument panel, and his own natural radar sense takes care of the rest!”
…Sly Ol’ Stan!
I hate to tell you this, “Sly Ol’ Stan,” but that makes absolutely no sense at all. I say it’s wacky! 😉
I’ve alluded to a certain “secret project” of mine before. I won’t divulge any more information here, except to say that it pretty much requires my having to go through every issue of Daredevil in detail along the way. Which can hardly be considered a chore, really. 😉
Anyway, while I’m doing this, it also gives me ideas for various posts, and one post in particular that I’ve been wanting to write for a while has to do with Daredevil’s habit of ending up badly injured. Which shouldn’t be surprising given his lack of supernatural physical strength and his characteristic fearlessness.
Rather than put every instance of Daredevil being injured into a single absolutely massive post, I thought I’d just work my way through Daredevil canon and report in at regular intervals. So, for this post, we’ll be looking at panels from Daredevil #7 and #9 (volume 1, both by Stan Lee and Wally Wood).
I should add that just being punched in the face or getting a bruise or two up doesn’t count as far as this series of posts i concerned. Matt gets beat up all the time. We’re talking about more serious stuff, such as being knocked unconscious (as in Daredevil #7) and being shot (as in Daredevil #9). Now, with no further ado, let’s travel back in Daredevil history!
Daredevil #7 – Daredevil succumbs to the Sub-Mariner
Daredevil #7 is something of a classic. The third issue drawn by Wally Wood, it is the first to feature the red costume and has Daredevil squaring off against Namor the Sub-Mariner.
Namor ends up in the law offices of Nelson & Murdock after deciding to sue the human race. Since this turns out to be pretty much impossible, he ends up spending most of the issue in a state of rage after being repeatedly misunderstood by the legal system.
Matt, as Daredevil, takes it upon himself to talk some sense into Namor while trying to protect innocent people. He’s in for a world of hurt. In his first attempt to engage Namor, the former pulls him into the water…
Fortunately for Daredevil, Namor isn’t really trying to kill him. When he notices that Daredevil isn’t breathing, he shoots him up through the water toward the surface. As seen below, Daredevil fortunately regains consciousness.
Later in the issue, Namor seems to have temporarily forgotten that he doesn’t really want to kill Daredevil. Breaking off a lamp post and playing a nice game of baseball, with Daredevil playing the part of the ball, hardly looks like an act of peace, or even restraint.
True to from, Daredevil struggles to regain his composure. It is clear that his never give up spirit goes back to the very beginning of the Daredevil title.
It’s at this point that Namor takes the opportunity to electrocute Daredevil. Considering that Namor didn’t want Daredevil dead, we can only assume that he knew what he was doing. Poor Matt, that has got to hurt. As seen below, Daredevil appears to be down for the count.
Incidentally, the series of panels above is a favorite of mine from early Daredevil. Not only does it show us Daredevil’s grit and fighting spirit, Wally Wood’s art has him looking like an adorable toy figure.
Fortunately for Matt, there is an upside to being beaten to a pulp. Next day at the office, Karen goes into full Florence Nightingale mode when she sees Matt banged up, sitting at his desk. If he had played his cards right, he probably could have gotten a sponge bath out of the ordeal…
Daredevil #9 – Daredevil is shot at
Daredevil #9 opens to Daredevil hunting down a gang of boat hijackers. The evening ends on a painful note, when one of the bad guys fires at Daredevil, the bullet apparently grazing his arm.
It is interesting to note, that at this point in his “career,” Matt was very concerned about his brand image and how Daredevil would fare in the public eye if defeated. With more than just ego bruised, Daredevil stumbles home and offers some interesting introspection on the way:
“Sometimes I wonder… Do I really do this to help mankind… or am I just a showoff who never grew up?!!”
Back home, while tending to his wounds, Matt delivers another classic nugget of wisdom:
“Show me a superhero without a first aid kit, and I’ll show you a nut!”
Later in the issue, Matt goes on a crazy journey to Lichtenbad, ostensibly for eye surgery, where he has to combat his former law school classmate turned despotic ruler. His feats as a fighter and acrobat is made even more impressive by the fact that his arm is apparently still numb!
Well that’s it! Now, next time you stub your toe or hit your funny bone (which really isn’t funny, or a bone), ask yourself: What would Daredevil do? That’s right, keep it together and go fight crime!