Daredevil continuity is relatively uncluttered by paradoxical events and conflicting timelines, but it is not entirely straightforward. The first major complicating factor came in the form of Frank Miller’s mini-series Man Without Fear in the early 90’s. Then there’s the movie to consider. No, movie events rarely enter into canon, but they can make the new fan feel a little confused about the conflicting accounts of a character’s history. So, I’ll slap this post with the Daredevil for beginners label for the benefit of the canonically confused and hope to be able to shed som light on the situation.
Most of the events where the timeline seems to be in question pertain to Matt’s early life. How old was Matt at the time of his accident? How old was he when his father died and just where did he go to college and law school? What about mini-series like Battlin’ Jack Murdock and Daredevil: Father? Are they canon, and who decides? Let’s look at this one event at a time.
How old was Matt when he had his life-altering accident?
The unequivocal answer would be that he was in his mid-teens. If you want to be really specific about it, Daredevil #3 (vol 1) explicitly states his age as fifteen, and in Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear he is supposedly sixteen. However, this is never mentioned in the actual mini-series but in the original draft of the script from 1988 that was printed in the Frank Miller Omnibus Companion. John Romita Jr’s art, on the other hand, makes him look quite young. I suspect that Matt looking as young as he does has added to the overall confusion on this point. There is also a puzzling “young Matt” panel from volume 2 that I will return to further down.
In the Daredevil movie, Matt’s age isn’t given but Scott Terra (who plays young Matt) turned fifteen while the movie was in production. At this point, you’re supposed to marvel at the amount of research I do for these posts. 😉
Fifteen, give or take a year.
When did Jack Murdock die?
According to original canon, Matt loses his father shortly before graduation from college or law school. Since Stan Lee seemed oblivious to the fact that you need three years of law school to become a lawyer, it seems like he only graduates once so you can choose to interpret this anyway you like. However, in Daredevil #1, a relatively short amount of time passes between Jack’s death, Matt and Foggy going into practice and Matt becoming Daredevil. This makes sense since Matt’s motivation for donning the costume is to avenge his father’s death. Either way, Matt is in his early to mid-twenties when he loses his father.
In Man Without Fear, Jack dies a few months before Matt starts college, which means that a couple of years have passed since the accident. The events between Matt’s training with Stick and Jack’s death happen within a few pages so it’s easy to get confused about the timeframe as a reader, but the captions clear this up for us. In Man Without Fear, Matt also avenges his father’s death rather swiftly so there’s definite Daredevil action without the Daredevil costume early on.
In the movie, it would appear as if Jack’s death happens within a few months of Matt’s accident. Now, we don’t have to care about the movie at all while discussing the comic, but I’m just being thourough here.
Sorry, there isn’t one. This is one event in DD history for which there are clearly two different versions.
Where did Matt go to college and law school?
Most people would say Columbia University without even thinking about it. However, the original version of the character graduated from the very prestigious sounding “State College.” Now, how generic can you get? We’re not exactly talking ivy league here, are we?
Matt’s alma mater isn’t mentioned again until Frank Miller comes along, and when he decided to change it to Columbia University (in issue #168), there probably weren’t that many old school readers with any amount of affection for State College around to protest or even care. Oddly enough, State College resurfaces in the flashback issue “Daredevil -1” by Joe Kelly and Gene Colan that came out in 1997.
In Man Without Fear, Matt does his undergraduate work at Columbia and then goes to Harvard for his law degree. He gets a job at a Boston law firm after graduation and doesn’t set up shop with Foggy right away, which deviates quite a bit from the original chain of events. This is the version given in the character biography in the Marvel Universe Handbook, though my impression is that most fans, even the many who love Man Without Fear, probably don’t consider that part to be canon. Correct me if I’m wrong.
The majority opinion seems to be that Matt went to Columbia for both his undergraduate studies and law school. State College seems largely forgotten.
What about Stick?
Stick, Matt’s mentor and trainer, is introduced during the first Miller run and is a fixture of Daredevil canon at this point. In Daredevil #1, Matt is shown training by himself without any outside help. The addition of Stick, in my mind, adds a lot to the Daredevil mythos and gives a much more realistic version of what happened after Matt’s accident. The idea that he would become a master martial artist all by himself is something of a stretch, and his needing some extra guidance adds weight to the trauma of his altered perceptions.
In the main series, no reason is ever given for Stick’s eventual departure, whereas this event is touched on more extensively in Man Without Fear where we found out that Matt has been “chosen” to be trained as a warrior. I’m not sure I’m particularly fond of this interpretation (nor am I that big a fan of Man Without Fear generally, with some exceptions), but I suppose this is one of those things that each fan has to decide for himself.
And, while we’re discussing Stick canon, his soul is currently residing inside the baby Matt saved in Guardian Devil. Where’s Mephisto when you need him, because that’s one event (depicted in Daredevil: Ninja) that I would like to see retconned.
And what about Sister Maggie?
According to original canon, Matt’s mother died when he was very young. In Frank Miller’s classic arc Born Again we find out that Matt’s mother is very much alive, but that she left him and his father to become a nun. What’s nice about Maggie’s introduction is that it’s never actually clearly stated that she is his mother, it’s all based on Matt’s suspicions and that he detects a lie when he asks her about it and she says that she is not. That slight uncertainty is definitively squashed when Kevin Smith revisits Sister Maggie in Guardian Devil.
Maggie’s relationship with Jack is touched on in the Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock mini-series. While probably not considered to be canon by most readers, it certainly gives one plausible explanation for the chain of events.
The extent to which events from Man Without Fear has seeped into Daredevil canon is quite surprising when you take into account that it was never intended to be a retcon, but a movie script. But it was definitely brought into the main book when Joe Kelly referenced an event from the mini-series in the ’97 Daredevil/Deadpool annual. The woman Matt accidentally kills in Man Without Fear is shown to be none other than long-standing Daredevil villain Typhoid Mary, and very much alive. I suppose fans are still debating whether this was a good idea (I think it’s forced and completely unnecessary, personally).
We also have two mini-series which have attempted to add things to Matt’s history, Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock, which I already mentioned, and Daredevil: Father. I don’t consider either of these to be canon, but that, again, is up to each reader to decide until something from the particular story in question is mentioned in the main book. Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock not only adds additional new information to the Daredevil mythos but tampers with some of it as well. The same can be said for Daredevil: Father where we find out the identity of the man Matt saved from being hit by the truck when he had his accident.
Where are we now? Daredevil continuity in volume 2.
Interestingly, Brian Michael Bendis followed the Man Without Fear origin during his run, whereas Ed Brubaker is sticking with the original. As far as the death of Jack Murdock goes anyway. Below are three examples from the last few years. The first one is from Daredevil (vol 2) #36, by Bendis and Maleev. It shows what Matt himself had to say about his early life when he went out to defend himself against the Daredevil allegations in the press. Note that he uses the phrase “young boy” rather than “teenager.”
Below, in Daredevil (vol 2) #58, still by Bendis and Maleev, we see a very young Matt leaning over his dead father. No established origin gives Matt’s age as younger than eighteen at the time of Jack Murdock’s murder, so this should probably be seen as a continuity goof.
We see a very different image in Daredevil (vol 2) #91, below, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark. Here, Matt is clearly a young man and not a boy, and Foggy is with him at the morgue. This is much more consistent with pre-Man Without Fear continuity.
Well this concludes my look at some of the major inconsistencies of Daredevil continuity. I hope this has shed some light on these events for people who might have been wondering what’s what. Feel free to leave comments about which origin you prefer or to bring up any other disputed events I might have missed.