Conflicting continuities – A look at Daredevil canon

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.

  1. How old was Matt when he had his life-altering accident?

    Long answer:

    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. 😉

    Short answer:

    Fifteen, give or take a year.

  2. When did Jack Murdock die?

    Long answer:

    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.

    Short answer:

    Sorry, there isn’t one. This is one event in DD history for which there are clearly two different versions.

  3. Where did Matt go to college and law school?

    Long answer:

    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.

    Short answer:

    The majority opinion seems to be that Matt went to Columbia for both his undergraduate studies and law school. State College seems largely forgotten.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Other complications

    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.

  7. 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.

Christine Hanefalk

Christine Hanefalk

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Christine is a die-hard Daredevil fan who launched The Other Murdock Papers in 2007 to share her passion for Matt Murdock and his friends with other fans.

19 comments

  1. Hi Christine
    Just to say – I adore this blog.
    I’m still working my way through your posts (and feeling compelled to read every one of them). Keep it up. Thanks.

  2. Interesting post and nice choice of pictures. Those are exactly those I think of when I try to figure out how past continuity is interpreted by modern authors.
    Another interesting bit is from “the Devil in Cell-Block D”, part 2. In it, Matt imagines to talk to his dead father, accusing him of having forced him to be a bookworm while he was working as a mob enforcer.
    This shows that Jack Murdock’s small-time criminal past is currently accepted as canon even though it has previously been shown only in Miller’s MWOF.

  3. I read the first issue recently and Matt was eight in 1950, which would mean that his dad would have died in 1957 or 1958.

    We have to take all this with a pinch of salt of course as Matt is about 35-40, at a guess in today’s comics.

  4. Much as I love Miller’s MWF mini, I must say that I personally prefer the original continuity at many points.

    To me, a barely pubescent Matt loosing his father, and having to fight his way up, without a penny on his pockets, until he makes it to Law Achool, is a bit of over-angsting a character which, in teh original story, had already a lot of issues to fight against. To me the “Matt lost his father as he was nearing graduation” of the classic continuity makes more sense, and (extra point as far as I am concerned) turns room-mate Foggy into some kind of brother, someone who really cares about his friend Matt after his father’s death, rather than the clumsy room-mate that Ubermensch Matt in MWF “adopts” as a protegé aout of pity. Yes, I’m definitely with Brubaker when he pictures Foggy attempting to give an orphaned Matt some comfort at the Morgue.

    Also, daddy Jack is supposed to have won some money is the last months of his life, so I don’t see that Matt was left exactly a pennyless orphan, as the MWF continuity line suggests

  5. In the movie, Matt says, while prepared to kill Kingpi:’I’ve been waiting for this day since I was 12′

  6. ^^^
    In Wolverine: Enemy of the State, Wolverine said Matt got his powers when he was 12 years old and he's been blind for 20 years…so that makes him 32 years old?

  7. Hi, I have been really digging your site; I have a couple of questions. You wrote that you read every DD book and his guest appearance on other books, can you set up a chronology of his books and guest appearances. Have you seen the documentary on TLC about blind people in real life using radar by clicking their tongue, kind of like DD. What do think of digital comics, granted, it better to hold an issue in your hand, but it does have potential for other benefits. To be able to read archives without going broke, to be able to read complete runs (when marvel puts them on), and plus there is a untapped possibility of bonus features like on DVD, where writers and artists can write commentaries about their work.

  8. Hey, Russel! I’m glad you like the site and thank you for commenting. To answer your questions:

    1) There already are lists out there that attempt to list all appearances of not only Daredevil but other characters as well. However, I will try to find the better resources and link them.

    2) I have seen the documentaries (most of them anyway), on human echolocation and the like. This is an area that really interests me a great deal, and I have plans to start writing “The Science of Daredevil” one of these days (if I can’t get it published, I’ll just release it for free online). But that little project is still in the planning stages. Either way, I’ve done quite a bit of research on these things, and I think it’s amazing. I might touch on this when I get to the end of my History of the radar sense series where I finally get to insert some of my own opinions.

    3) I’m a big fan of digital comics and a subscriber to Marvel Digital Comics. It’s not a great solution (yet), but I look forward to more and more things becoming available in digital format, preferably for downloading onto your own computer.

  9. So basically, Matt had his accident as a teen, his dad was killed and as such Matt decided to devote himself to justice. As long as I know this, I’m good right? Hehe.

  10. Nice monologue speech by Bendis but it raises a question for me.

    His father dies and he is left ‘orphaned’…..so who took care of him between Jack’s death and graduating from law school? Was he ever placed in a foster home? Or was he just referring to his parents being dead with the orphaned comment? (Which is strange to say if he believes [or going by Smith, he knows] that his mother is alive)

  11. Christine I know it is over 3 years ago and you forgot all about or posted it elsewhere but did you have links to a chronology list of DD I would like it. Even though there is a list here it isn’t in chronology order: http://www.manwithoutfear.com/daredevil-appearances.shtml Another great Daredevil fan site people should checkout if the haven’t already.

  12. Hey! I don’t have my own Daredevil chronology list, but this page is a good place to start.

  13. @ Christine Thanks even though it stops pretty early it is a start.

    I by the stumbled into a interview with Joe Kelly (I was searching for information about DD guide dog) where he explain his view on adopting MWF series:

    “It’s tough when you inherit conflicting continuity! My answer was to pick the best of both, melding them into one. The way I see it, one MUST start with Stan’s stuff and build upwards. Matt was in college when his dad is killed. Period. Therefore, if you want to keep the MWF stuff, you sprinkle it around. He did meet stick, pre-college, but when he went and kicked the girl out of the window, it was during a pre-DD rampage. It’s a little messy, but I can live with it to keep the great Miller elements, while still being true to Stan.”
    Again it is taken from the fantastic site of manwithoutfear: http://www.manwithoutfear.com/daredevil-interviews/Kelly

  14. Matt’s age is 16 when he got blind. probably, he was born in november. He lost his father when he was almost graduating at columbia law school. I like to think that one of the stories is the one that he told at his book ( Stan lee’s, beacuse he couldn’t blip about stick and the ninjas) and the other is an urban legend ( A mix of those two is the real one). One thing that i like to think too; is that he used to watch martial arts movies ( bruce lee, jackie chan…) before he got blind. THAT, and the influence of his father, he trained, hiding this of his father. Maybe, was dyslexic, it is a problem that is developed when the baby is in the fetus. His father has humble origins, that’s why he wanted Matt to work hard. He met his paternal family, and part of his maternal family, but since his mother wasn’t there with them, it was more him and his father. He was kind of a geek ( and a comic fan) and not so social, he had a few friends, but was not the most popular gent in the park. He stood up by bullies. But did not beated them. I think Jack was supportive and good and kind as a father, but firm. He’s father was a big deal as a boxer, back then (they we’re not poor), as in some pages of the 29 issue v3, his father have some tropeies as the pages show. His father traveled a lot because of his job. Maybe, Matty have a brother that have gone to another country ( don’t judge me, that’s what i like to think). That’s our point of view. An very lovely hug to you, my companions. SORRY FOR THE ENTHUSIASM. You rule, tate sucks ( sorry, pal).
    PLEASE, MAKE A POST ABOUT MATT’S MUSICAL TASTE, I WAS READING ONE COMIC WHEN IT WAS SAID THAT HE LIKED JAZZ. CHRISTINE (You are the best) DARLING, READ THIS: http://shot-of-patron.tumblr.com/page/2. I LIKED 🙂
    PS: 3 days ago it was a friend birthday. So could you please… you know, if it doesn’t bother you.

  15. An older brother ( 3 years old)☺️

  16. What was Frank Miller’s thinking with Matthew Murdock’s mother leaving Jack to become a Catholic nun while her son was still a baby/ young child?

    A widowed woman can become a nun, but Jack was still alive when she left him to join whatever Catholic religious order she did.

    Miller might have finagled his way around this by suggesting Maggie divorced Jack to become a nun, but in Catholicism a civil divorce doesn’t break the marital bond. Maggie would still have been married, so she couldn’t become a nun.

    Now if she got the marriage annulled by the Catholic marriage tribunal that could be a different story, although it would still be up to the order she wanted to join as to whether or not they would accept her. However, if a divorcee has children, s/he wouldn’t be accepted because a parent will always need to be a parent, even if the children are grown and of legal age.

    That and things wouldn’t have moved too quickly as they seem to have for Maggie because an annulment takes forever and can be painful (what with needing to prove the claimed grounds for nullity against canon 1099 about the sacramental dignity of marriage, or even as the closely related intention contra bonum sacramentalitas of canon 1101, § 2), and a religious community would want to see that an applicant has had plenty of time to grieve and bring closure to that part of life before beginning with them.

    Just like marriage, good discernment of religious life requires that one be totally “free” and conscious.

    The Holy See (Rome) has permitted couples to remain married, dispensed them from the obligations of marriage without dissolving it, and then to enter religious life or ordained priesthood. But this is a rarity, and I’m doubting Miller had this in mind!? Maggie and Jack were Brooklynites, and therefore unlikely to be well connected through higher Catholic circles.

    In addition, a decree of nullity does not dispense a person from the obligations of marriage because it says they were never assumed in the first place. What does not exist cannot be dispensed from. However, canon law recognises that certain obligations of natural law do arise even from invalid marriages and continue to bind after even definitive separation, namely things like any alimony, child support and education, etc.

    Yet Maggie had no direct ongoing contact with Matthew after she left Jack to take up the religious life.

    Plus what grounds would she be able to claim for nullity against Jack at that time, that would likely ensure a tribunal would permit it? Jack while involved in criminal activity was never openly charged so she could not present that before them, and after she left he always seemed respectful of Matt’s following of Catholic ritual, etc.

    Christine, you really need to commit a singular article/ post to this topic.

  17. Or maybe Maggie lied about a few things when she entered the novitiate…?

  18. Maggie can’t have been a postulant rather than a full nun either as a novice or postulant doesn’t dress the same way as a full nun as she was always shown. While several orders have traditionally granted temporary refuge to women in trouble (fleeing domestic violence, with unwanted pregnancies, etc.) and allowed them novitiates even if they were unlikely or unable to go on and take full vows, they’d have done a bit of investigating and Matt attended Church and lived local to her convent.

    She might have been a novitiate at the time of Matt’s injury, not taking full vows until after Jack’s murder, but there’s the issue of the neighbourhood being somehow aware, or at least the local clergy. They’d have put their feelers out a little, and it shouldn’t take long to connect the dots in a neighbourhood such as the then Kitchen.

    My immediate thought on this is that Maggie hadn’t disclosed her marital status to the church, and perhaps not her actual identity. If so, that’s ripe for the Kingpin to get at Matt by getting her excommunicated from the Church. But again it’s a long bow, and another piece of prejudiced uneducated crap by a comics artist who learned everything he ever knew from comics, well quelle surprise. The sad thing is, up ’til now most fans probably think Frank Miller must be a Catholic!

  19. Was it ever explicitly stated anywhere that Jack and Maggie were married before Mark Waid decided to put his… spin on why she left.

    I and everyone I know who reads DD assumed that Maggie got pregnant out of wedlock abandoned Matt with Jack but was never actually Jack’s wife. The Battlin Jack miniseries also supported this idea.

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