"My other senses more than compensate"

Jun 3, 2008

"My other senses more than compensate"

Jun 3, 2008

There are a few common misperceptions about Daredevil that tend to bother me. One is the idea some fans hold that he’s a “devout Catholic.” Outside of the movie and Kevin Smith’s brief run, Matt has never actually been portrayed as a regular church-goer. Sure, he was raised in an Irish Catholic environment, and he is religious, but devout? No.

Another myth is that he sleeps around a lot. This one has been repeated so many times that it’s become “true,” even though Matt hasn’t actually been with that many women. In fact, he’s the definition of a serial monogamist. People who are long-time readers of the comic will know this. People who are not, or who have read only certain runs might tend to buy into this myth because it’s been repeated often enough. It doesn’t help that some writers, like the above mentioned Kevin Smith, have added to and helped spread this myth. I also wonder how Matt manages to be both a “pussy hound” (pardon the NC-17 langauge), to borrow Smith’s words, and a devout Catholic at the same time.

The third “myth,” the one I’m addressing in this post, is the one that has been the most pervasive, in part because it has actively been added to by many – if not most – Daredevil writers, though they may not have done so knowingly. It’s the one that reinforces the belief that “Daredevil can ‘see’ better than any sighted man,” “his other senses more than compensate for his blindness,” “DD isn’t really blind/disabled/ handicapped/whatever,” and so on. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is one of my major pet peeves when it comes to people’s view of the character (I don’t particularly care whether anyone thinks it’s an important part of the character, it’s just that any version of the above makes me want to slam my head against my desk). Since I regularly search the Internet for any discussions related to Daredevil, using search engines like Boardreader.com, I can tell you that statements like those mentioned above actually do come up quite frequently. They bother me for the same reason it bothers me to watch the Jaywalking segment on the Tonight Show when some random idiot claims that the United States fought Great Britain in World War II and that the war took place in the 60’s. They bother me because this kind of flawed reasoning is uninformed and just plain uninsightful.

But if so many of the writers themselves are guilty of perpetuating this idea, what gives me the right to go against many of the greats who have worked on the book and call this a flat-out myth? Well, good ol’ common sense does. That’s all it takes really. Before letting this topic go, and getting it off my chest once and for all, I would like to take a thorough look at this issue and really get to the bottom of it. My belief is that the two main sources of “error” here are 1) a mistaken view of what a disability is and what it isn’t, and 2) the highly questionable notion that perceiving shapes equals good vision. Let’s take a look…

Myth: Disabilities are by their very nature obvious, highly damaging and necessarily impact every aspect of a person’s life.

Anyone who subscribes to this idea will take one quick look at Matt Murdock and all his extraordinary abilities and simply decide that he doesn’t fit their view of what a person with a disability looks like. The fact that he has actual superpowers (though I’ve noticed some fans are uncomfortable with this idea and prefer to just call them heightened senses) adds to make the whole idea of a “disabled superhero” seem like an impossible contradiction. His whole physiology actually makes him better at many things and gives him access to perceptions that lie far beyond that of the average human. How can someone who can double as a human lie detector and perceive an attack from every angle be disabled? Well, to answer this, let’s begin by sorting out the definitions…

The World Health Organization gives us one (there are several) definition for the related terms impairment, disability, and handicap. An impairment is basically an abnormality of some bodily structure or function. A disability might be said to be the consequences or physical manifestations of the impairment, and a handicap is the disadvantage that the person with the disability faces when the demands of the environment are at odds with said disability. For instance, an inability to walk is a disability that results from an impairment (let’s say a spinal cord injury) and which may or may not constitute a handicap at any given time. If there were no stairs in the world and all surfaces were completely flat, this kind of disability would rarely constitute a significant handicap. This is an important point to make, because the consequences of a disability can actually be very context-dependent, and may not be the least bit limiting in one situation while being much more so in some other situation. There are lots of examples of people with various disabilites who perform much better than the human norm in some areas where their specific disability is not a factor. Examples of this include Marla Runyan, legally blind U.S. olympian and long-distance runner who was once the highest ranked female marathon runner in the country, and Terrance Parkins, a South African deaf swimmer who won a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics.

The people mentioned above obviously don’t have any superpowers, but the point here is that a disability is not necessarily always either relevant or detrimental to the completion of a certain task. It depends entirely on the nature of the particular disability and on the situation. The fact that Daredevil has powers and abilities that allow him to fight with greater skill and accuracy than might be humanly possible, and to detect certain things that others cannot, does not actually make him “not disabled.” So long as his radar sense and other heightened senses do not fully replace all functions of normal vision, this will always be true. Which brings me to…

Myth: Having a radar sense and heightened senses of touch, smell, hearing and taste compensate completely for being totally blind.

When you go back to the basics, that is the actual comic itself and sources like the Marvel Universe Handbook, Daredevil’s powers, while somewhat sketchy, are pretty basic: four senses heightened far beyond the human norm, except for sight, and a radar sense. The story on the radar sense has always been that it gives Daredevil a 360 degree three-dimensional “view” of his surroundings. So that’s pretty much like seeing, only better, right? Uhm, not exactly…

I buy that the radar gives him an edge in combat. In fact, I’ve always found Daredevil to be a higly believable superhero. However, none of his senses come even close to compensating for Matt’s most obvious (and not so minor) disability, which is the fact that he’s 100% color blind. He gets a three-dimensional view of his surroundings, but that’s all he gets. What I mean by that is that he misses everything that is rendered exclusively in two dimensions. Everything color-coded, everything written, everything displayed on a screen, and everything light-based.

For those who would shrug this off as being merely an issue of esthetics, I would suggest the following experiment: The next time you go to the store, imagine that everything is the same color and watch the incidental visual information that most of us take for granted disappear. That includes every single sign, all of those “2 for 1” deals they have advertised, the newspaper headlines, the names of every single product on every shelf. It’s all shapes. Of course, fell free to add in sounds and scents. Pretending you’re Matt Murdock for a second, you can most likely identify each section of the supermarket by scent and, to a certain degree, by shape. The cereal isle, for instance, is full of generic shapes that might smell different when you get close enough – though keep in mind that scents always blend together – and you can touch the box to read it. But, you cannot visually scan for anything. For the average person, it would take mere seconds to pick out the cheapest brand on the shelf. If your only means of doing this is by touch, it will take you a whole lot longer and since most pricing information is hidden under a thick layer of plastic, it might even be impossible. Well, unless you have one of those universal bar code scanners. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a big deal, but it is clearly an inconvenience.

At this point, someone might say that a highly acute sense of smell compensates when it comes to shopping for food, but let’s take this experiment to another location. Let’s go to the book store or the computer store. Say you’re shopping for a new ethernet cable for your modem. You enter the store and all you get is various shapes, the smell of plastic and signs you can’t read. Okay, well let’s say you walk through each aisle until you find the area where all of the cords and cables are kept (and these types of packages tend to have distinctive shapes, so I’ll buy that). Now what? Well, what kind of cable do you want? How long should it be? What brand? What other specific information are you not seeing? Go ahead and touch each label, and that will give you the information you need. However, if you could easily read things without touching them you would probably approach this task by quickly scanning the supply, identifying first where the ethernet cables are (and not the firewire, phone or USB cables…) and then quickly narrow down your selection from there to first brand and then length. This would take a fraction of the time it would take if you had to do it by touch. The “can only read what you’re physically touching” issue becomes even more of a problem in a bookstore, where not even the shapes are distinctive…

…which brings me to reading generally. If you can read everything (printed) by touch, then quickly searching for written information should be a snap, right? That’s another no. What do you do when you read the paper? Do you start in one corner and then read the whole thing until you’re finished. If you’re like me, you open it up, look at the page for a couple of seconds at the most and decide if there’s anything you want to read. Heck, it may even be covered by one big fat ad. So, you flip the page if there’s nothing on it that interests you. Because the advantage of vision over touch here is enormous. Vision lets you take in all that information in no time because you can process so much simultaneously. This issue becomes even more obvious if you imagine that you’re looking something up in the phone book. Visual scanning is insanely fast compared to having to stop to touch the page.

These are just a handful of examples that all illustrate my main point, which is that vision consists of much more than only detecting shapes, and that an inability to perceive two-dimensional visual information should justifiably be considered a disability, regardless of what other abilities a person might have. So, when Matt opened up to Elektra and told her about his powers, adding “my other senses more than compensate,” I wonder if he felt the same way an hour later sitting in class in front of a black board he couldn’t read.

It is interesting to note that the writers who have gone the farthest in really trying to describe Daredevil’s enhanced senses are the ones who have been the best at reminding the reader that the hero is also blind. I don’t think this is a coincidence. When you really try to get inside his head, you realize the immense powers of his world. You also quickly realize the limitations. Yes, oftentimes Daredevil’s senses do more than compensate for his blindness, sometimes going far beyond the human norm. But to suggest that they always compensate is a logical fallacy of major proportions. And, if you ask me, doing so even cheapens the character. It allows Marvel to have their disability cake and eat it too. They can milk the “Daredevil is special because he’s handicapped” premise for all they’re worth, but as long as they refuse to actually touch it with a ten-foot pole, it all sounds a little hollow to me.

I touched on some of these points in a previous post as well, but part of the reason for bringing them up again here, aside from getting this out of my system once and for all, was some of the answers I got when I asked comic readers who are not fans of the character what they didn’t like about him. I will get back to all the answers I got in a later post (this was on Newsarama and Comic Book Resources, by the way), but at least two or three people pointed to some version of “you can’t even tell he’s blind” as one of the reasons they found Daredevil to be less interesting than his basic premise would suggest. I thought that was interesting, but I wasn’t surprised. I’ve stated before that I think this is a weakness in how the character has been portrayed, and I know I’m not the only one. Fortunately, Brubaker has, in my opinion, performed the best of any writer ever in this department, and I believe that we will see a more nuanced and modern take on Daredevil’s abilities in the years to come.


  1. james

    This is an excellent essay, addressing some of the ways that literature and popular culture can unintentionally perpetuation scientific/medical myths. Thank you for the great post. I’d like to add this site to my blogroll at defendersfan.blogspot.com

  2. Christine

    Thank you James! I’ve been rather vocal on this issue a couple of times in other fora and been met with a certain amount of “WTF” for it, but I stand by my views on this one. It is a myth, and one that I believe is actually damaging to the character. Fortunately, Bru’s work is definitely leading in the right direction as far as this issue goes. Now, if only he would let up on the guy, just a little, I’d be very happy. 🙂

    Thank you for the add to your blogroll! I will return the favor.

  3. alice

    Excellent essay, Christine! As we have discussed this issue at length in chats, I must say that you have really put my feelings about the disability issues into words.

    I agree that Brubaker is writing a much more believable Matt Murdock right now. I hope that trend continues.

  4. Rob Close

    excellent essay, well conceived. i especially enjoyed doing those mental exercises you suggested to get into DD’s perspective.

    weaknesses really make a character – and kryptonite doesn’t count. those human elements in DD are what allow us to make it through all the noir moments with some hope. and matt’s blindness is really the focal point of his humanity for us reader’s – any writer ignoring that is really missing out so much on his character. Bru is doing a great job at this balancing act – but to be honest, I guess I really wasn’t missing that aspect too much during Bendis’ run (probably cuz it was too much kick-ass fun to care)

  5. Christine

    Thanks Rob! I kind of felt like I was going out on a limb even writing this post so it’s nice to get some positive feedback.

    I agree that Matt’s blindness adds a lot of humanity, but that’s the aspect of the character that the reader normally has to fill in for himself since most writers don’t really seem comfortable dealing with it. Doing it well also requires some imagination on the part of the writer and many don’t put in the extra effort even when it would really add something to the character, such as letting him solve a problem by being extra resourceful every once in a while rather than pretending that his radar and superhearing will fix everything.

    When it comes to Bendis, I really liked his run a lot, and I loved Maleev’s art as well. But one thing I remember from the Decalogue arc that made me think of some of these things (okay, I’m actually quoting from the book now, LOL) was when Matt told about his encounter with the “demon baby,” saying:

    “The one thing I do very well, is understand the world around me. The tastes, the smells, the sounds. This is what I can do. And in doing so I usually can paint a picture for myself that is actually better than sight.”

    Of course, the interesting thing about this passage is that it leads into an explanation of him feeling helpless because he couldn’t understand what he was confronted with, but it’s also a pretty good example of when writers feel the need to almost apologize for DD’s blindness. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any real issues with this passage at all, but one thing that struck me when I read it is that it almost makes Matt come across as slightly immature. Not this specific quote so much, as just a bunch of other previous situations in the book that it reminded me of, going all the way back to Elektra and his saying “But I have other abilities that more than compensate.”

    Now, as a nineteen-year-old, this kind of attitude actually makes sense. Elektra has basically shunned him at first because of his blindness, and he’s trying really hard to impress her. But as someone who is 30+, has been blind for more than half his life (albeit in a very unique way), you’d think he’d be comfortable with a more “Oh hey, I can hear heartbeats but can’t read a street sign, but that’s all nice and dandy, and I’m cool with it” kind of attitude.

    Realistically, he would be somewhat inconvenienced by his blindness several times a day, and he would be acutely aware of the fact that doing x, y, and z would be easier if he could see normally. Whenever writers put words in his mouth that suggest some need on his behalf to prove himself as being better than everyone else it just comes across as slightly immature to me. You’d think that after almost twenty years, he would have found a healthy and adult way of relating to both his superabilities and his disability.

    Oh well, that turned into another essay, I guess. But anyway, I think Bru does really well with this issue and that Bendis did okay as well, for the most part. 🙂

  6. dmstarz

    Thanks, Christine for the heads up on your articles – both really thought provoking. I like the notion of Matt being ‘colour blind’ – that seems very perceptive to me.

    Two additional thoughts:

    1 Frank Miller to some extent addressed the dilemma of the whole ‘heightened senses’ thing in one issue where Matt seems unable to stop the clashing of noise from his heightened hearing – this has sometimes been addressed by other writers and also was in the Daredevil movie (Matt sleeping in a crypt to block out noise). In a way, it vicariously addresses his blindness by emphasising the impact of another sense.

    2 More a question than a comment – has the whole notion of introducing Milla Donovan over the last few years helped bring the ‘blindness’ to the fore once again? In what ways do the characters contrast? These are just thoughts I’m having without real reference to what I’ve read (I’d have to look myself maybe to answer these concerns).

    Anyway, cheers!

  7. Christine

    Hey, dmstarz.

    Regarding Frank Miller, I think he did a lot to try to explore Matt’s inner world and the double-edged sword of having heightened senses (which must be a lot like having a form of tinnitus when you think about it). He also did his part in trying to readress the nature and origin of the radar sense, making it more of a mystical ability. I’ll return to this in depth when I get back to my history of the radar sense series and the chapter on Miller.

    When it comes to Milla, I’m not quite sure what to think. They brought in another blind character but never really addressed what that meant, if anything. I’m not saying they should have, but when it comes to the character of Daredevil, I do think writers are hesitant to address the blindness issue, and bringing in Milla was one way of doing so without really commenting on it.

    When it comes to how I personally think Matt and Milla clash, I’d say that they would obviously share some common concerns while Milla would have to deal with a host of issues that Matt would be unaffected by. In practice, this would mean that both would have a vision-related disability, but hers would be considerably more severe than his.

    I’ve been in debates with DD readers who do not buy the “disabled superhero” aspect at all, indicating that they don’t think he’d have anything in common with regular blind people or in any way consider himself disabled. I obviously disagree with this, on the basis of it being counter-intuitive, and I’ve often answered by stating that even in real life, there is a spectrum between total blindness and 20/20 vision. It is quite obvious that Matt’s other senses restore certain functions that the average person would use their eyes to perform, and give him certain abilities that normal people don’t have at all. It’s the idea that he doesn’t have a rather severe vision problem which would have to be addressed, accomodated and dealt with in various ways that I don’t buy. (Case in point: any time you have evidence in court that’s either a photo or something from a surveillance camera, for instance. Also, in most academic settings, his advantage over the average totally blind student would be modest at best.)

    I don’t advocate making this a big part of the book or the character, but it’s nice when a writer, like Bru, at least doesn’t seem to be afraid to acknowledge it when appropriate.

  8. Andrew

    I was instantly attracted to DD as a kid when I first discovered his comics in large part because I could relate to his having a disability. In fact, it felt like a revelation at the time to see a hero with one. I never before imagined someone would create a hero like this, because you just don’t think of heroes (certainly not superheroes) as being disabled in some way.

    I was born partially deaf because of a congenital defect and while I am able to navigate through the world quite well I will always be at a certain disadvantage (depending on the situation), no matter how good my coping strategies are. So the notion that Matt’s other abilities “more than compensate” for his lack of vision never made sense to me, because I know it doesn’t work that way. He can hear things we cannot; smell, taste and feel things imperceptible to the rest of us. But we (anyone reading this) can see a world in vibrant colour that he can only perceive as a memory. It is one of the most intriguing aspects of the character, that as readers we can explore a world of heightened perceptions vicariously through him while also being reminded by his limitations of how our experience of the world is so often defined by sight. Comics are a visual medium where the art drives the story, so we’re looking at a character who himself could not even enjoy his own story (if he were real) as we do.

    • Christine

      @Andrew: Thanks for your comment on this post which was one I did pour quite a bit of heart (and some strong opinions) into. I can definitely see why you would feel a certain connection with our fav guy in red. I’ve always liked this aspect of the character as well, for many different reasons. Though I don’t have any personal experiences in this area, I’ve always had an interest in the “sociology of disability” (not sure how to put it), and a lot of what I do at work deals with online accessibility. I’ve also had a longstanding interest in the senses, and even wrote a paper about brain plasticity and sensory compensation for my neurobiology class back in college. Combine that with my childhood love of superheroes and sci-fi, and the general awesomeness of Matt Murdock as a character and my love of Daredevil is easy to see.

      It’s interesting that you would mention the irony of the Daredevil comic being largely inaccessible to the title character himself, which is something that has entered my mind too from time to time. I could talk at length about this subject, and already have, here and elsewhere, but I’d be more interested to hear your views on how this subject has actually been handled in the comics. I’ve expressed some disappointment in this post (as well as in a previous post) about how this aspect of the character has been dealt with. I would hope that readers in the 21st century would be mature enough to be able to handle a more realistic take on this. OTOH, there’s also the much later introduction of Echo that shows us how little Marvel has learned over the years. Why come up with a deaf character and make a major point of her ability to read lips and speak perfectly? Doesn’t that make the whole thing into just a novelty, and does her apparent “perfection” really matter? Which sort of brings me back to the whole “my other senses more than compensate” issue. If the point of Daredevil’s power set is to make his blindness irrelevant, then why make him blind in the first place?

      Well, I’d better leave this issue before I get into another whole thing here. LOL Thanks again for commenting. 😀

  9. R.M. Hendershot

    Just discovered this post, and YES. I love the way you describe this. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to having radar instead of functioning eyes. One of my favorite examples is from Christopher Golden’s DD novel “Predator’s Smile,” when Daredevil walks into Josie’s bar, looking for information, and Josie yells at him to get out because she’s just hung a “No Super Heroes Allowed” sign in the window … which, of course, he missed. He can beat up any tough in the bar, but he can be foiled by cardboard and a Sharpie. One of the reasons I love the character …

  10. Emily

    I absolutely love this post. As someone who also frequently looks for discussions on Daredevil, and also feels really unhappy when seeing other people claim he’s not blind or his senses make up for it all the time, reading this was definitely refreshing.

  11. Pedro

    Good post,
    There is , however, one more(but very important) thing that the radar sense has been shown to do and you forgot to mention (but you probably already know about it): the fact that DD can see through things (like walls,surfaces and even clothes) with the radar sense. This skill has let DD find hidden bombs , find hidden traps in castles, detect hidden weapons and detect hidden people.
    I just feel I also need to say that the radar sense has shown to have a pretty nice range of detection, being able to detect thing hundres of feet away.
    And there is also the fact that DD does not need light to see nor is the radar sense affected by weather conditions.

    Anyway, i just wanted to say as that, as I think your description of the radar sense does not make it justice. Don t get me wrong, I agree with your point that the radar does not fully compensate for what normal eyes do, however, considering all the advantages it does give him , I think it is fair trade-off for a superhero, but just an average “runner up prize” for a lawyer.

  12. Christine Hanefalk

    @Pedro: Hey Pedro! Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog! I’ll just comment on the examples you mentioned.

    Many instances of Daredevil “seeing” through certain objects or materials, I’m completely fine with (though the fact that he can “see” through clothes and other fabrics would also mean that he likely can’t detect these quite as easily as those with normal sight since they are poor reflectors of whatever his radar sense is – whether sound-based or actual radio waves), though I do tend to dismiss things like the scene from a very early issue where he is basically getting an X-ray shot of the inside of a robot as just typical Silver Age madness.

    It’s kind of like the thing where he used to be able to detect color by touch, but hasn’t been able to for the last thirty-five or forty years. Getting a rough sense of what’s in a neighboring room (by sound if nothing else) is not something I have a problem with and that is clearly something he can (usually) do, but there are certainly some Silver Age interpretations of it that come across as slightly silly to me and that I may not consider “core abilities” of the character, especially since you rarely see things that extreme these days or even going back to Frank Miller times.

    However, there have been many cases where objects in his path have presented a problem, and the same goes for weather conditions. This, to me, is not cut and dry, but has obviously depended on the writer. In the classic arc Born Again, when Daredevil is driving a car through the city (see this post), with Nuke, and he complains:

    “Radar’s useless — what the windshield lets through the rain tears to bits — too much noise — hard to sort…”

    This suggests that 1) the windshield does absorb some of the energy (sound or otherwise) passing through it (which makes perfect sense when you consider the physics of it) and 2) that he finds the rain bothersome as well. I can think of other examples of rain or snow presenting an interference, perhaps most recently in Daredevil #7 (vol 3), by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera where he is trapped in a snow storm. (Incidentally, also from the Waid run, is the issue where Matt is trapped in Latveria and his radar is not able to penetrate the walls of his glass cage.)

    I get your point, but it seems that the properties of the radar sense range from the basics which he is always able to do, pretty much regardless of who the writer or artist is, and the things that he is sometimes able to do, and sometimes not, depending on the writer and/or situation. In the case of this post, though, these things don’t really undermine the point of the argument that I was trying to make, which was probably the reason I didn’t mention them (I wrote this post years ago).

    As for being able to see without light, I agree that’s a good thing. Not being able to see with light when that’s better (i.e. a lot of the time), is perhaps not such a great thing. For a superhero who often works at night, the equations often tips in Daredevil’s favor. In many other, everyday situations, it’s more of a disadvantage.

    When it comes to the range, I agree it’s probably not half bad. I’ve always figured it to be in the neighborhood of 300-600 ft. The Marvel Universe Handbook (2004), without putting a distinct limit on it, describes it this way:

    “Its resolution is not very fine, probably on the order of several feet at a distance of one hundred feet. By repositioning his head and adding input from his other senses, Daredevil is able to resolve the image of an average flagpole (three inch cylinder) at a distance of over 80 feet.

    On the other hand, even 600 ft is not all that far. Stand on any street in any city, and that’s a couple of blocks in each direction. With normal vision, you can literally see as far as the next galaxy, or to the horizon. It’s very good for someone whose eyes don’t work at all, but not quite as impressive compared to normal vision, particularly when you can’t make out fine details (and he really shouldn’t be able to).

    To make a long story short, I hear what you’re saying and I realize that fans differ a great deal in how they imagine this or other characters to work and how powerful they perceive them to me. The way I see it, I don’t think I’m underselling the radar sense. To illustrate my point for this post, I also deliberately chose examples that I can’t imagine Matt Murdock pulling off, even if you go by the most extreme interpretations of his powers.

  13. G

    This is such an insightful take on the matter. I, for one, always find myself worrying for Matt when he faces off with his enemies. Besides the fact that he frequently goes for people stronger than him, I always feel that his lack of sight presents a vulnerability. People shouldn’t brush him off as not having a disability, but rather that he has one and chooses not to let it control his whole life.

  14. Pedro

    @Christine Hanefalk: Let me just elaborate some of my points and comment on some of yours

    The “seeing” through things ability of the radar was very much present through volume 1. In most of these cases, DD can detect the walls/fabrics he is seeing through, but they look like flat blocks/things. Take a look at the following comics:
    -Daredevil vol 1 #8(by Stan Lee and Wally Wood): Daredevil uses the radar to “see” through a car’s hood and find a hidden bomb. In another scan, he uses to the radar to detec Mr Kaxton through a wall. He even says “ordinary walls are no obstacle to my hyper acute extra sensory radar”, implicitly saying that he knows there are walls.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #9(by Stan Lee and Wally Wood): DD uses the radar to see through the floor of Klaus Kruger’s castle, stating that “his radar can see through the floor as if it was made of glass”.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #18 (by Stan Lee and Johnny Romita): DD detects Foggy and Karen together through the door of his office, stating “my radar sense detects Karen and Foggy through the wall”, acknowledging he perceives the wall as well. On another instance, he uses the radar to “see” Foggy through the rooftop he is standing on.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #146(by Jim Shooter and Gil Kane) : DD uses the radar so “see” a ball through Bullseye’s clothes stating that “my radar sense can see its shape through its cloth, but what…”.. Somehow , he also perceives the cloth he is seeing through.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #147(by Denny O’ Neil and Klaus Janson): DD uses the radar to detect two men on the ground floor, while he is on a highet floor.It is safe to assume he had to “see” throuh the floor. By the way, I was never a fan of this instance, since he makes clear that DD can “launch” at will the mechanical/electromagnetic/magical waves the radar is made of, which is inconsistent with how the radar was in previous issues.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #200(by Denny O’ Neil and William Johson):While training,DD uses the radar sense to see through his training room ‘s walls and “see” Black Widow coming.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #206(by Denny O’ Neil and David Mazzucchelli): This one is not explicit, however, Daredevil says “You have got a switchblade knife in your pocket, six inch blade” to the villain of the issue. He can actually tell the size of the hidden knife,therefore, he must have seen through his cloths,since he could not have guesses the size of a hidden using his other senses, can he ?
    -Daredevil vol 1#207(by Denny O’ Neil and William Johson):Daredevil scans the inside of a building using the radar in order to find Black Widow, who was kidnapped by HYDRA agents. The interesting thing to notice is that, even thought the radar detects correctly that there was “no movement” inside the building, it does manage to fail to detect the trapped Black Widown. However, when DD gets inside the building , he does manage to detect a person “hanging by the ankles”. These clearly shows that the radar can and does fail to recognize or detect some things because reasons.
    – Daredevil vol 1 #210(by Denny O’ Neil and David Mazzucchelli):Daredevil detects, through a sstatue, Crossbow taking aim at him.
    – Daredevil vol 1 #211(by Denny O’ Neil and David Mazzucchelli):DD “sees” through the walls of his house and finds Mycah Synn’s waiting for him. Since he knows they are inside, somehow he must perceive the walls as well.
    – Daredevil vol 1 #213(by Denny O’ Neil and David Mazzucchelli):Daredevil “sees” some men through the walls of an abandoned subway station. He also perceives the walls.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #254(by Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr):Now this one is not explicit Daredevil’s monologue is “my radar is picking a whole crowd on a rooftop a block to left”. Since there should be more buildings between the building he is standing on and the building he is referring and the comic itself shows that DD is on a small building, it is safe to assume he had “seen” through some building walls.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #255(by Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr): In Matt’s words: “My radar is picking a disturbance behind this building and I smell smoke”.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #258(by Fabian Nicieza and Rom Pin): Daredevil uses the radar sense to find Bengal hiding in the trees. The comic shows Daredevil using the radar to do so.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #273 (by Ann Nocentti and John Romita Jr): This is one explicit but one can infer. In one moment, the narrator says “and his radar (referring to DD) senses something flying his way”. Daredevil and his two female friends (the perfect robot girl of Nocenti’s run and the other country girl) were inside a cabin, so if the radar sense did sense Shotgun coming, it should have been it seeing to the walls of the cabin. This is razonable to assume, since Nocenti has already used the “see through stuff” ability.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #276(by Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr): Daredevil uses his radar sense to find Ultron, who whas somewhere in the middle of the forest. He also uses his hyper hearing to confirm his position.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #300(by D.G. Chichester and Lee Weeks): While chasing the Kingpin, Daredevil ends hanging from a car which has the baddy inside. He uses the radar to find the satchel tucked into the Kingpin’s jacket.This implies the radar had to penetrate inside his cloth doesn’t it? On another previous instance, DD uses the radar to trace the crimelord in a subway, stating that: “(…)letting my radar sense spread its way across the platform and buses (..)”. This also may imply the radar can see through many diferent “layers” of objects at the same time.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #317(by D.G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel): The radar “sees” through a very large section of the ventilation tunnel DD is in. The scan shows how the radar detects the nearest wall while ate the same time detects the path around the corner through the former wall.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #329(by D.G. Chichester and ):The radar “sees” through the ground and detects a power line, from wich TechnoSpike (one of the villains) draw his power. This is one of my favourite instances, because it makes it explicit the advantages and disatvantages the radar has. The narrator comments : “Daredevil’s internal radar can’t make up for the fact that he is blind, but it can give him a window into places no sighted man can ever see”. The funny thing is that Captain America is surprised by DD finding the cable hidden underground, as one would think the other superheroes already know about DD’s powers.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #345 (by John Marc Dematteis and Ron Wagner) : Daredevil uses the radar sense to look for the buried corpse of Hellspawn. The narrator tells the reader :”His radar sense probes the gravesite and he finds, to his relief, that Hellspawn is still there, very much dead” The scene shows the radar sense “seeing” thorough the ground (the radar goes through the sand) and detecting the corpse.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #365 (by Joe Kelly and Cary Nord): This one is very explicit, as it shows Daredevil s radar “seeing “ through the walls of the air tunnels he is currently inside and detects Mister Fear and his henchmen stealing some chemicals.
    – Daredevil vol 1 #374 (by Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti):Daredevil uses the radar sense to “see” through the clothes of a guy and detect a knife he was hiding. This scene is interesting it shows the radar detecting only the knife, but not any other thing the mob may have inside his clothes.On a later scene it is confirmed that the guy had a hidden knife.
    I am probably preaching to the choir here by pinpointing some of the instances where the “see through things” was used; however, since that specific skill has been consistent through many authors, I consider it to be somewhat “core” the radar. Also, the fact that Stan Lee himself has made use of this ability frequently, leads me to believe that the radar was intended to have this ability in the first place. I agree with you on the fact that there some silver age madness. Off the top of my head, DD using its billy club as a multifunctional tool having pills and radio strike me as such. I also acknowledge that there not just inconsistencies, but downright contradictions in DD comics (like DD being “unable to read Captain America ‘s movements because of his metabolism” in one comic and then effortlessly defeating him and Beast and Hercules and Black Widow on another comic). However, I would not certainly not put the “see through things and fabrics” in the same category as “detecting colours with touch”, since the latter was pretty common during the first volume. The ability also persisted after Miller’s retcon of DD’s power , which may be due to writers considering this ability as core.
    But then volume 2 came. All of the references that I put on my list come from volume 1 as I have not been able to find another example of Daredevil’s radar seeing thorugh fabrics or things during Bendis or Brubaker’ run. One would think that the Beast of the Hand would somehow make this ability see more use, but no such thing during Diggie’s run. Clearly, writers stopped using ability in volume 2. This may be for one of the reasons: 1) The ability was just written out , but considering there was never a proper retcon of DD’s power during those runs, this would be inconsistent. On the other, inconsistency has never stopped authors from messing things up anyway so the option is still out there.Or 2) They just don’t want to use it but still are aware of it. Kind of how most writers hardly ever use DD’s sense of smelling or the almost-never-used sense of taste; but fans and writers know (or should know) that he has those.
    Now, when it comes to Waid’s run, I certainly missed that instance that you pointed out. The one where he is trapped in Latveria and the radar does not penetrate the walls. After looking at the run, the only one instance that I could find where DD’s radar “sees through something” comes from Daredevil vol 3 #6, where he fights Bruiser. There is one moment in their fight, when Bruiser has DD pinned down and Murdock uses the radar to locate “the point of maximum stress”, but Matt needs to “focus” in order to do so. The scene shows the radar sense “seeing” in diferent instances, one where it only sees the shape of the legs; and , after focusing the radar “sees” what appears to be bones of Bruiser, which means he saw through his skin. It is kind of like when he used the radar sense to defeat Absorbing Man in volume 1, where he uses the radar to find the “flaws” in his diamond body. I don’t think for a second that DD could see the crystalline structure of diamond to find dislocations (besides that would be the only instance where he would have done so); but since this particular example does not show what the radar is actually seeing, I dont consider it a good example of the “seeing through stuff ability”. However, in the Waid’s example we do get view of what the radar is seeing. So maybe, for Waid , DD ‘s radar can “see “ through things, but needs to focus in order to do so.
    No example of “seeing through things “ in Soule’s run either, but it has not finished yet so we will see in the furture. Anyway, even though this ability has been used less and less since the beginning of volume 2, the ability see enough use in volume 1 and Stan Lee’s run, I don’t think it is far fetched to consider it core. I also acknowledge that an argument can also be made against it being core by pointing that there are more instances where DD does not use the ability than instances where he does. What is more, those same writers that do use the ability seem to use it in an arbitrary way. To this I can only say, “comic book logic” and I can see people not considering it core. All in all, since there was never a proper post-Miller “retcon” of his powers, I think DD should still have this ability , but the writes seem to have forgotten about it.
    When it comes to the radar being affected by weather, you are right: it has been affected by snow and rain. However it seems to not get affected by fog. There is one instance in Daredevil vol 1 #220, when Matt goes to see Heather Glenn and there is some thick fog. The narrator tells us “A chilly, almost impenetrable mist , this fog one that deadends sound and smell, and of course,makes the human eye not much more than a jellied marble”. And then, he goes on to tell us “Daredevil doesn t care about that, he has not used his eyes since he was blinded in a childhood accident years ago and he does not require his ears and nose either. Not usually, he has what he calls his radar and that is nearly always enough”. The next page, Daredevil fails to grab onto a light post with one hand while simoultaneusly the narrator tells us “but not tonight”. What I understand from this is that DD “sees” better than normal people in fog with low concentrations of suspended particles than in “thick” fog. Though it is not weather, the radar sense has been shown to work and not get affected by smoke. I found some instances of this:
    -Captain America vol 1 #235 (by Roger McKenzie and Sal Busceman): While rescuing Captain America from the National Force, these baddies make a fire. Daredevil’s radar sense does not get affected. The instances here are really explicit, as DD states “Luckily, the smoke does not bother my radar sense. It’ll be our eyes until…”We also get a glimpse at what the radar sense is actually seeing and no smoke is detected by it.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #351 (by John Rozum and Shawn McManus) :Daredevil uses the radar to detect a girl inside a fire. The caption tells us “Through the shouting and crying and the noise of heavy machinery, he hears a woman calling out for a daughter left behind. His radar sense tells him exactly where she is”. We don’t get to see what the radar sense is actually seen, but the “exactly” leads me to believe that he does see through the smoke.
    -Daredevil vol 1 #376(by Scott Lobdell and Cully Hammer):Laurent Lavousserur uses the radar sense to see through the smokescreen that the ninjas that attacked him and his newfound friend, Claudia DuBois, threw in order to confuse him. It is pretty clear that the radar can see through the smoke; but Claudia cant seem to do so; as she says: “You see something out there in the smoke?”
    So maybe, the radar sense does get affected by tiny liquids and solids but not gases (this include pure gases, mixtures of gases and coloids where the dipersion medium is a gas).
    The range of the radar has to be shorter than normal vision, but when one considers the fact that the radar is in omnidirectional, I think the con is “evened out” by the pro.
    On the topic of Daredevil not needing light to see, while not being great, I think it offers (or should offer) some minor advantages over normal vision, which corresponds to all phenomena light can experience and can “trick” our vision For instance, he should have no problem with seeing through mediums with diferent refraction index, so seeing “deformed figures” through, say water, while standing on the ground is imposibble for him. Also, he should have no problem with seeing through polarized glass (or any kind of light polarizing device), as he should he able to see through them just like normal glass. As you mentioned it, probably the biggest disadvantage of not needing light to see is not being able to see colours, but I think it also offers some minor advantages. I do agree that this is one aspect where DD radar loses by a margin, though.
    Oh, I was not disagreeing with the result of your scenario of DD buying computers or books. In fact, I agree with your point. After all, “seeing” through the computers is not gonna help him much and most computer stores are well illuminated anyway. I though that your description of the radar was incomplete. But now you have told me that you don’t consider the “seeing through things” a core power. Guess we have different standards.
    Anyway, I think that wraps up my comment.
    Have a nice day.

  15. Christine Hanefalk

    Hey Pedro!

    Thanks for your very detailed response. It’s always nice to be acquainted with a fellow DD science nerd. 😉

    I think you may have read just a little bit too much into my response though so I’ll post parts of it again with highlighted sections (in bold) and comments, to make sure I’m making myself clear:

    Many instances of Daredevil “seeing” through certain objects or materials, I’m completely fine with (though the fact that he can “see” through clothes and other fabrics would also mean that he likely can’t detect these quite as easily as those with normal sight since they are poor reflectors of whatever his radar sense is – whether sound-based or actual radio waves), though I do tend to dismiss things like the scene from a very early issue where he is basically getting an X-ray shot of the inside of a robot as just typical Silver Age madness.

    I’m not saying that he can’t detect cloth at all, just that, logically, a fabric would probably reflect his “signal” more poorly then the dense stuff underneath. I have never had an issue with him detecting objects under someone’s clothes, quite the contrary. You do make the point that he can probably focus on different layers of an object, and I see no reason to disagree with your point here. I think what I’m trying to say is that, all things being equal, a pile of clothes on the ground would be harder for him to notice than a similarly sized pile of bricks. (One more thing to consider though, is that he has the very helpful use of his other senses, and fabric on a human body in motion could easily be heard.).

    I am also specifically calling out the detailed inside view of a robot, and things of that nature, as what I would think of as a bit too “Silver Age.” Because that also places a huge demand on his being able to pick up small details on an order that are definitely stretching things.

    “It’s kind of like the thing where he used to be able to detect color by touch, but hasn’t been able to for the last thirty-five or forty years. Getting a rough sense of what’s in a neighboring room (by sound if nothing else) is not something I have a problem with and that is clearly something he can (usually) do, but there are certainly some Silver Age interpretations of it that come across as slightly silly to me and that I may not consider ‘core abilities’ of the character, especially since you rarely see things that extreme these days or even going back to Frank Miller times.”

    Again, if you read the above paragraph carefully, I’m not actually saying that something like detecting a person or large object through a wall is not a core power, I’m specifically referring to the more extreme takes on it.

    The reason I brought up the other cases that make the point that he can’t see through things, was just to point out that – as we all know – the powers of comic book superheroes tend to be pretty malleable in this regard, depending both on the writer and the situation.

    For the Mark Waid scene I mentioned, this was the one I was thinking about, from Daredevil #14 (vol 3).

    I’d like to make one more point though. The first is that, a lot of the time, the very term “radar sense” is used sloppily by writers. I’m sure you’ve noticed this too. For instance, all of his heightened senses have frequently been referred to collectively as “my radar senses” (plural), which leads me to suspect that the same writer might be inclined to not really make a distinction between whether he’s heard something, or sensed it by other means. I’ve even seen the term “radar hearing” used at least a handful of times. The only point I’m really trying to make here is that someone like you or me have probably spent more time thinking about this than many or even most of the writers. They are familiar with the things DD can do, but may not dwell too much on the details of it.

    There are many cases where Daredevil accomplished something through one sense where I find myself thinking that it would have been more easily accomplished using a different sense. (in fact, I personally prefer the interpretation that DD’s radar is actually closer to an advanced form of echolocation – as in much of volume 2, Ultimate Daredevil, the Daredevil movie and the Netflix show – though I know this is a minority view and not in line with how Daredevil is traditionally described.)

    Again, thanks for your comment, and I hope this clears up my perspective on it.

  16. geb

    hello dear fellow fan pedro..

    a debate over what this extra-ordinary 5th (6th for us average people) sense, that our hero was “baptized” with, actually entails would require access to a very large research team of not only the top science, mekanix, medical, etc, experts.. but also a survey for the opinion of how it is perceived from all of the many fans of the comic.. and additionally, even if we had the resources and more importantly the time, we would NOT conclude the case to closure..

    for this issue would fall into (for lack of a better wastebasket term) the “what came first? the chicken or egg category” of rhetoric, and perhaps even the unsolvable mathematical equations collection.. simply, my friend, due to the fact that we would need to actually expose a real live human subject(s?) to the same circumstances to even find a reference point so as to begin an assessment as to just what exactly it is we are investigating to investigate..

    and that is one big NO can do.. you follow me, i know… for even then the chances at best are that we would find ourselves being charged with murder in the 1st degree..

    what the director is simply stating is that all that fantastic stuff, even in exaggerating the radar ability, was wicked cool when we were kids (or way back then) looking for that one, that difference.. but.. as we grow and learn, we wish for something more believable in as far as story telling goes.. and in this case, how descriptions of the ways that a hero with a disability encounters greater difficulties and, additionally, how his overcoming them by more plausible methods (including and especially when regarding the radar) with as accurate an explanation as possible, well.. just merely and logically makes for a far more interesting tale to tell..

    when he would most need something to act as an equalizer, would be for the hand2hand combat sequences.. which, as we all know, happen very quickly and at relatively very close proximity… and, as stated before when regarding the range of the radar, this is where this sense is at it;s most sensitive, and explains quite a few things.. mainly his ability to tango with three (ok, maybe even more) hoodlums within barely seconds a time’s lapse.. that works quite well..

    in closing, please, feel free to interpret that sense as you wish, as do i still on some occasions.. i know it makes for a fantastic mind tour.. it’s not a bad thing, imagining..

    and, hey, either way, most folks who get confused about this mattman are really not to blame themselves.. because.. in truth and in his original incarnation (’40’s), he was launched as adult entertainment.. and indeed, just hearing or reading that specific alias does tighten ones gut somewhat (most folk), at least makes one think twice.. marvel gets credit (speaking for myself) for further increasing his disability, thus multiplying the mind pluck.. and explaining, in part, most original inconsistencies but, at the same time, making it such a challenging write.

    be well.. and sorry, did not wish to scribble so much

  17. Genesis Malakh

    You mentioned at the end that Brubaker has done exceptionally well at portraying Matt’s blindness, but there is one scene in “The Devil Takes a Ride” that kinda bugged me. He plays poker to catch Lucca’s attention, and he keeps winning because he can tell when anyone is bluffing. The line that bothers me is, “I never even look at my cards, and I win every hand.” Um, Matt… you CAN’T look at your cards! The wording just threw me off so much that I felt it was a pretty annoying oversight.

    Now, one could make the argument that he can “see” what cards he has by touch, but just as you’ve talked about modern printing practices putting a practical hindrance on the Silver Age “I can read print so well, you don’t even know,” playing cards are almost always printed with a glossy coat, making it pretty much impossible to tell what cards he has at all.

    So, great, he wins every hand because he’s a human lie detector, but what’s even the point of saying anything about looking at his cards when he very clearly can’t?

  18. Le

    Genesis Malakh- Yeah, this kind of thing bugs me a lot too- but you know that the average DD geek has probably thought about these things in a whole lot more depth than the average writer, right!!? Reminds me of another fandom I’m involved in- The Professionals. The 57 eps were originally dashed off as the tv equivalent of fast-food, with the writers having no idea that, 30-odd years later, their every move would be being intimately dissected and pored over!! Ha!!! 😀 This is similar I think…

  19. Nora

    Exactly. THis is why Christine’s book (or this blog until the book is published) should be a mandatory read for every new Daredevil writer. With Charles Soule we are back to short red canes, “my radar tells me….”, coloured radar vision – it just feels as if years of progress have been lost.


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