Against all odds

May 6, 2008

Against all odds

May 6, 2008

This is the final part to the series The appeal of Daredevil

Do you remember that incredibly annoying song called Tubthumping, by Chumbawamba (was that their only hit, by the way?). In case you forgot, you can look it up on YouTube. I’d have to warn you though, it really gets stuck in your head. Anyway, there are a few lines in that song – repeated over and over – that perfectly describe Matt Murdock’s life:

I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never going to
Keep me down

Even before donning the Daredevil costume, Matt had led one of those lives that would earn you a special feature in the human interest section of the newspaper. Just imagine the story that could be written about the child of a single father (with a questionable employment history) who is bullied by the other kids at school for being a good student and refusing to fight. He then saves somebody’s life in an act of heroism and is punished for his good deed by being hit in the face with radioactive toxins. He loses his sight, yet manages to make an impressive comeback and get into college, then law school and finally graduate at the top of his class. However, just before graduation, his father is murdered for refusing to throw a fight – a final act of defiance to make his son proud. Matt’s story is definitely a complete tear-jerker, there’s no doubt about that.

Of course, that’s only half the story. However, the full story doesn’t necessarily make it any less impressive. While Daredevil is endowed with special powers, he’s a fighter who relies much more on skill and perseverance than most. He’s disciplined because he has to be. He doesn’t have super-human strength or speed, but has had to physically train his body to extreme levels. Even getting the best use out of the senses that take him from human to superhuman takes dedication and focus. And despite his best efforts, he does get knocked down from time to time. Both mentally, from losing people around him and being constantly pushed to his limit, and physically. Daredevil is a hero for whom cuts, bruises and broken ribs are part of the package. It’s the risk he takes for often going up against enemies he knows are more powerful physically. Yet, he does so anyway. Just like he always gets back up again everytime he’s knocked down.

Daredevil’s “never give up” underdog quality is perhaps the most universally appealing aspect of the character. He’s low-powered enough that the risks he takes doing what he does are really enormous. His skills and enhanced senses give him quite an edge in combat situations, but a direct blow to any part of his body would hurt him as much as anyone else. And, while most of what we associate with the character today dates back to the Miller era, this aspect dates back to the very beginning. It is already clearly evident in Daredevil’s battle with Namor in issue #7 (which I otherwise happen to think is wildly overrated…). Just take a look at this scene from the “archives”:

Just as an aside, but doesn’t DD look incredibly cute in this last panel? Those horns look like little ears and I just feel myself getting a little maternal here (this is how you tell the female fans from the male fans, by the way…).

Another example of Daredevil refusing to give up is in the classic #169 by Frank Miller, when Daredevil battles Bullseye in the subway, as shown here. In this sequence, Daredevil willingly and knowingly follows Bullseye into an environment he is ill-equipped to handle. His senses are completely taken out of commission, yet he struggles on, manages to get a hold of his enemy and finally subdues him, even with the odds massively stacked against him. In the end, when he stands triumphant, Daredevil thinks to himself: “I told you once Bullseye… A long time ago… I never give up… That’s why… I’ll always beat you…”

While the events following the Elektra saga and then Born Again were not the first examples of Matt being in a dark place psychologically (he was even written as bordeline depressed in some of Gerry Conway’s early issues while still dealing with Karen leaving him), they are probably the most famous. Below are three scenes from Born Again, showing Matt being first down (issue #227), then completely nuts (issue #228), and then restored (issue #233). At the end of Born Again, Matt has lost a great deal (such as his home and his license to practice law), but he still manages to come out on top in the end with Karen at his side and a newfound love of life.

“Dust… The dust is thick… could choke on it… There’s nothing left. So you know. So that’s why. I never would have connected it to you. Nothing about it said gangster until this. It was a nice piece of work, Kingpin. You shouldn’t have signed it.”

(I always found this scene particularly unsettling. At first you think he’s actually having a conversation with Foggy, until you realize he’s talking to a recording, and the revelation of how out of touch Matt really is begins to hit home. Very creepy…)

“My name is Matt Murdock. I was blinded by radiation. My remaining senses function with superhuman sharpness. I live in Hell’s Kitchen and do my best to keep it clean. That’s all you need to know.”

Most Daredevil readers like to see Matt beat the odds, and come back up after he’s been knocked down – physically or emotionally. But sometimes when I read what fans have to say about the book and the character I get the feeling that people are forgetting about the necessary triumph at the end of it all. Seeing Matt down and at his wits end is only meaningful when you know that he’ll be able to get back up again, and I can’t help feeling nostalgic for the older issues when he was occasionally allowed a breather and didn’t constantly have his back against the wall.

I really don’t have that much more to say on this particular topic, it’s almost too big (so, sorry for the sudden end to this post). Instead, I’d like to ask readers’ opinions on some favorite moments of Matt either being at his lowest or highest. Comment away!


  1. Rick Rottman

    I love that song! I include it in every playlist on my iPod that I use for the gym. Any time I feel lethargic, I skip to that song and I get a burst of energy.

  2. Christine

    Uhm, sorry dude. I didn’t mean to take a swing at your taste in music. It might deserve it (sure looks that way), but I won’t. I’ll respectfully refrain from pointing out that it’s bad. 😉

    Seriously, I could see why that would work as work-out music though.

  3. Rick Rottman

    That’s not even the worst music on my iPod. I actually worry about my iPod getting stolen and the thief finding out just how awful my taste in music really is. 🙂

  4. Bill Schulte

    I with you Christine. The stories, adventures, powers, and universe are all great but the 'never give up' is what has always kept coming back.

  5. Ellen (formerly 'E')

    Being a “new country fan” (i.e. less twang, more 70s pop), I have to say that there are a few Rascal Flatts songs (Unstoppable, Then You Stand) and Rodney Atkins (If You’re Going Through Hell) that strike me as “Matt” songs. And then, of course, there’s John Michael Montgomery’s “Life’s A Dance”:

    There’s a time to listen, a time to talk
    And you might have to crawl even after you walk
    Had sure things blow up in my face
    Seen the longshot, win the race
    Been knocked down by the slamming door
    Picked myself up and came back for more


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