A history of the radar sense #3

Nov 23, 2008

A history of the radar sense #3

Nov 23, 2008

Well, it’s time for part three of my insane quest to chronicle the radar sense. Why the radar sense, one might ask? Well, it’s the only one of Daredevil’s senses which doesn’t have a real-world counterpart in human physiology. His other senses are just heightened, but the radar sense requires that writers and artists actually try to figure out what it is and what it does and how it does it. It’s also a challenge for artists to try to render Daredevil’s monochrome “shape world” in two dimensions.

In the first part of this series, we looked at the very first incarnation of the radar sense and what happened when Stan Lee & Co. tried to reimagine it as something a little more powerful. In the second part, we looked at the rest of the sixties through Roy Thomas’ run, and here we’ll be looking at the entire seventies up until Frank Miller came onboard. In the next installment, I’ll start with the issues where he was the pencillier and McKenzie was the writer so this post will only cover the beginning of Roger McKenzie’s run.

Early on, the radar seemed to be here there and everywhere, but it stabilizes somewhat during the 70’s. That’s not to say that it’s perfectly consistent or doesn’t occasionally defy logic, but there is something of a steady pattern emerging. Below you’ll see more than twenty samples of writers and artists doing various things with the radar sense while offering the rest of us some insight in to how they, as Daredevil creators, imagine it.

Below is an excerpt from Daredevil #76, by Gerry Conway, with art by Gene Colan. The nineteen-year-old Conway’s writing was often on the verbose and slightly pretentious side (if you ask me), and here he has Matt once again wallowing in whatever his problem was this particular issue. We also learn that he “sees” in the “dusk red mind-colors of [his] radar senses.” Note that Conway talks about radar senses in the plural, at practice that creeps up from time to time.

In Daredevil #80, by the same creators, we once again see red, as DD describes an approaching helicopter as a blotch of churning red. One has to wonder where this idea comes from, though I suspect that more than one writer has actually imagined the radar sense appearing as it would on a radar screen or something like that. And, yeah, this is some pretty strange inner monologue, if you ask me.

Below is an excerpt from the letters’ page of Daredvil #80. This was included here to 1) prove that I’m not the only radar geek and 2) show that the Marvel people seem a little sketchy on the whole idea of the radar sense. I’m imagining them just throwing their hands up in the air and going “heck, we don’t know, stop writing!”

“Dear Stan, Gerry and Gene,
I am writing this letter in reference to Daredevil’s superhuman powers. This is my second letter to Marvel, and I’m gonna keep doin’ it ’till I get it right! To be specific, this letter is about DD’s radar sense. I suspect that Daredevil is incorrect in assuming that it is truly radar. I have an idea that what he really has is sonar.
Reason #1: In many issues of DAREDEVIL, we find Matthew thinking (wishfully) about how a loud noise can temporarily “short out” his radar sense. I, for one, don’t see how a noise can interfere with radio waves (which, as if you didn’t know, is what radar depends upon). However, such a noise could interfere with a sonar system (which operates on sound), causing DD’s ears to send a warped picture to his brain.
Reason #2: If Daredevil really does have sonar, as I suspect, his highly developed hearing system would be branched from it, as it must be present to receive the sound waves necessary to sonar.
With the above statements in mind, I ask for my second no-prize, on the grounds that I have found a large mistake (see reason #1).
So, until John Romita returns to Daredevil, Make Mine Marvel (even when Johnny returns (if he returns), I’ll still hang around so don’t worry)!!!”

Below are panels from Daredevil #81, by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan. This scene is not only Daredevil and the Black Widow’s first encounter, it’s also a nice take on the radar sense from the artist’s point of view. What I like about this is that it gives a sense of three-dimensional perception, and is a step up from the contours – or outlines – we’ve been used to seeing. I’ll save my own thoughts on how I personally imagine the radar sense for when I sum up this series (probably about four or five installments from now), but this comes pretty close for me.
Daredevil #83, once again by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan. Here, we are definitely talking about advanced echolocation, and not radiowaves. Below this first panel is another example from the same issue, where movement is described as being perceived as touch.

In Daredevil #85, below, we’re back to a more boring rendition of the radar, though it’s probably easier to draw.

In Daredevil #86, below, we see a clear example that supports my argument that the radar sense has never been clearly defined. Or, if it has, that this is not the kind of information that gets passed down from editorial or from one writer to the next. Radiation doesn’t interfere with radiowaves. Nor does it interefere with sound waves (just a few issues ago, we were talking about echolocation, remember?). There is, of course, the half-baked idea that since the changes Matt’s body underwent at the time of his accident were caused by radiation, this should affect his future encounters with it. That idea is, as I mentioned, half-baked. Or not baked at all, really.

Below is an interesting panel from Daredevil #87, featuring Matt getting some extra information by tapping his cane. Hmm, did I just exhonerate the movie radar? Oh, and that’s definitely getting it’s own post, by the way.

Here’s a leap forward to Daredevil #96 – still Gerry Conway – which offers another artistic rendition of the radar along with some narrative describing the radar impressions as “vague and ill-defined.”

In the next issue, the same artistic technique is still used. We also have the “too many figures jamming my radar sense” going on. This is a recurring factor throughout the history of the comic.

Strange things tend to happen when you have writers come onboard for one or two issues. This can be seen below in, issue #102, written by Chris Claremont and pencilled by Syd Shores, where we are back to Stan Lee-style x-ray vision. Note the cute concentrated rings coming from DD’s head.

Below, we’re back with Steve Gerber in issue #104, pencilled by Don Heck, and Matt is losing Natasha in the crowd due to noise. If you follow Francesco’s blog, you might recognize the “keep screaming!” set-up from a much earlier issue, though there wasn’t an unusual noise level to explain his difficulties that time.

Oh, come on! 😉 You know how DD’s radar can sometimes penetrate solid objects? While I find that a little silly, the idea that a gas cloud would present an obstacle is just as silly. Below is a panel from #109, by Steve Gerber. Bob Brown did the pencilling.

In the next issue, #110, Gene Colan is reunited with Steve Gerber. We also see Daredevil dealing with the nightmare combination of both too much noise and too many moving shapes. Once again, we have a very confused radar sense.

The panel below is included due to what I think is a very nicely drawn radar image of DD’s attacker. We also have a subtle example of what has become the standard “now I hear it, and NOW my radar is picking it up.” This is Steve Gerber and Bob Brown in Daredevil #111.

Below, in issue #119, we have another case of “guest-writeritis” in the radar department. One would be inclined to blame the artist for this odd take on the radar (some weird beam coming from his eyes?), if it weren’t for the fact that this is Bob Brown doing the pencilling and he was hardly that much of a newbie (it was his ninth issue). So, I’m pinning this on the writer, Tony Isabella.
In issue #123, below, Tony Isabella is getting warmed up, and maybe I shouldn’t be calling him a guest writer at all considering he did a five-issue stretch, ending with this issue. Bob Brown is the penciller here and gives us a nice coming to scene.

Below, we have Marv Wolfman on writing duties. The issue is Daredevil #127 and Bob Brown is doing the pencilling again. Included here, due to the odd art choice of having the radar rings circle around an incoming fist. There is also no mention of the radar sense here in DD’s monologue.

Marv Wolfman and Bob Brown team up again in Daredevil #132, below. Daredevil is confused, once again, and we see more smoke. Certainly, the crowd looks wild enough in and of itself, but I doubt the smoke would do much except maybe cover people’s scents. And DD appears to have grown a second head…

Later in the same issue, there’s more confusion. Although I think that maybe it’s Marv who’s confused since we have Matt hearing things with his radar sense. Unless it actually is based on hearing after all. We’re looking at more than ten years of publication history here and we’re no closer to any kind of definitive answer here, are we?

Below, in issue #141 (Marv Wolfman + Bob Brown), we have Daredevil getting caught in the rain, literally. This isn’t the only time he complains about the weather, but here he actually explains why in the panel following this one (click HERE to see it, the shape of it didn’t make for a seamless inclusion in this post), where he says: “I’m in for a fight! This drizzle is playing just enough havoc with my radar-sense and ultra-sensitive hearing so that the fact that he can see and I can’t could give him the edge!” What’s interesting is that we’re back to his hearing and radar being separate senses here. Writing the radar consistently obviously isn’t easy.

Here, in the same issue, Marv Wolfman tackles one of the mysteries of Daredevil’s radar sense, i.e. evading bullets. Of course, why radar should be better than vision at reading someone’s movements I’m not sure I get (though being able to do it without “looking” is a nice perk). I prefer to chalk this ability up to insanely fast reflexes, personally. 😉

The next issue sees Daredevil strapped to a huge arrow heading for the New Jersey Palisades. “Doesn’t take much to bounce my radar off whatever I’m rushing at.” Does this suggest that Marv Wolfman, at least, imagines the radar as a transmitter to actively be turned on? Who knows?

Roger McKenzie gives us an example of that third well-known radar disruptor: pain. The panels below are from issue #153 with art by Gene Colan. The blurring image in this case is shown as DD “seeing” double.

Well, I’ll get back to this issue, looking specifically at Frank Miller’s work, in the next installment. Thanks for reading!


  1. Duane Thomas

    A minor point, but I don’t believe the “rings” around the Torpedo’s incoming fist are meant to represent DD’s radar sense. Rather they come from the effect of the Torpedo’s turbojets, which not only allow him to fly through the air but generate a “turbulence” effect that amplifies the effect of his blows. Perhaps this is how DD’s radar sense perceives the effects of the turbojets, as a vibrating pressure wave around and in front of the fist, but they’re not “the radar sense coming from the oncoming fist” per se.

  2. Duane Thomas

    Looking at my previous post, it seems very poorly worded. It sounds like I’m saying you think the radar sense is coming from the Torpedo’s fist, which is ridiculous. What I was trying to express is that the “rings” are not meant to simply indicate that DD is using his radar sense, but rather are how his radar sense perceives the turbojets’ pressure wave.

  3. Duane Thomas

    Or at least that’s how it seemed to me when I first read that panel back in 1975. lol.


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