Description: The classic black and white panel from the Born Again story arc in which a bedridden Matt in the hospital after his accident is shown reaching up to touch the cross which dangles from the person leaning over him. The scene is simple and rendered as a silhouette which means that the identity of the mysterious stranger remains hidden.
A few months ago, I wrote a post called “My other senses more than compensate” in which I attempted to poke some holes in the claim made by some Daredevil fans (and even the odd writer) that Matt’s preternaturally heightened senses render him completely “non-disabled.” In that post, I also briefly touched on what I perceive to be two other pervasive Daredevil myths, namely “Matt the Man-Whore” and “Matt the Devout Catholic.”
While Matt’s recent indiscretion under Brubaker’s pen may have somewhat tainted my view of Matt Murdock as a serial monogamist, it still doesn’t change the fact that only the most sexually inexperienced of male comic book fans would consider a man in his mid-thirties with fewer than ten proven sexual partners under his belt to be even remotely promiscuous. And yes, I’m looking at you Kevin Smith… 😉 For those who care to count Matt’s former sexual partners, I already did it for you in Matt’s love life by the numbers.
Now the time has come to take a closer look at Matt’s religious faith or, as I would see it, his lack thereof. I realize that this is a touchy subject, and if people out there, whether Catholic or not, enjoy this take on the character I’m certainly not going to claim that they are wrong to view Daredevil from a religious perspective. In fact, the great thing about fiction is that we, as readers, are co-creators of the reading experience. All I’m saying is that this is one aspect of the character where the reader must add a lot of input themselves since there is very little in terms of “scripture” (i.e. Daredevil canon) to support it.
At this point, I can almost hear one or two of you out there go “Wait a second, everyone knows Daredevil is Catholic, heck Joe Quesada talks about it all the time!” First of all, I completely agree that it’s indisputable that the character of Matt Murdock is a “cultural Catholic,” i.e. someone who has been born and raised in a Catholic context, might observe Catholic rituals on occasion and would certainly check the Catholic box on one of those census forms that the U.S. government likes to send out. What I take issue with is the notion that he’s an overtly religious practicing Christian. I base my own views on the simple fact that I’ve never really gotten that vibe from actually reading the comic. (Well, until Kevin Smith wrote a wildly out of character Matt threatening Karen with hell if she didn’t go to church with him.) And there was about as much active church attendance in the Daredevil movie as there has been in all of comics canon combined, though the movie has certainly served to skew perceptions on this issue.
There has been plenty of religious imagery in Daredevil, particularly in stories like Born Again. Religious imagery doesn’t make the main character a regular church-goer, however. Neither does the fact that his mother is a nun, especially since he didn’t grow up with her. What about quotes like the one below, made by Joe Quesada (Newsarama, December 2006)?:
“The characters that have religion play into their stories are that way because their religion played an important part in who they are as a character and it effects their decisions and their stories, no one more so than Matt Murdock. In direct contrast, one would have to assume that due to Peter Parker’s Irish heritage (Parker/Fitzgerald), he’s most likely of Christian Protestant beliefs, yet while there have been rare instances when he’s reached out to God, it’s not an important makeup of his character.
In the case of Matt Murdock, it’s come to define him. It also adds an interesting juxtaposition and wonderful irony between a man who worships a Catholic god yet wears a devil suit to fight crime. There have also been numerous scenes depicting Matt gaining an incredible amount of comfort from his religion. The scenes of him in the confessional stand out most to me as one of many moments when organized religion has been shown in a positive light.”
As someone who has read virtually everything Matt Murdock has ever appeared in, I have no idea what Quesada is talking about here. The only confessional scene I can think of off the top of my head is the one in Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller, and that’s not even considered to be in continuity. The only other one that comes to mind is Matt in costume collapsing inside a confessional stand because he had the flu and needed a rest in the 2007 annual. Surely, Quesada can’t be talking about the Daredevil movie? I also can’t immediately think of any instances of Matt drawing “an incredible amount of comfort” from his religion. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but to say that religion, in the real sense and not merely as metaphor, figures heavily in the life of Matt Murdock, as depicted in the comic, just doesn’t ring true to me.
Catholicism is an important aspect of the character because Joe Quesada, Kevin Smith and others have said so, not because that is how the character has actually been portrayed for the vast majority of his existence. If anything, I’d say he’s been portrayed as a lapsed Catholic with a very secular lifestyle. Belief in God or a higher power is one thing, but Matt has never seemed to think twice about engaging in extramarital sex and appears very much to be a typical liberal New Yorker. He even lead something of a sexual revolution in mainstream comics by living with the Black Widow in San Francisco in what would have to be a presumed sexual relationship without the required nuptials.
So where does “Catholic guilt” come in? The supposed driving force behind so much of what Daredevil does? Until I finally decided to look this up a few days ago, I never really took issue with this. I wasn’t even 100% clear on what Catholic guilt was so I just assumed that it was an acquired cultural trait which predisposed people with this background to go around thinking that they weren’t trying hard enough. That would certainly be a spot on description of Matt Murdock and very much in line with the relatively greater emphasis on doing good deeds traditionally associated with Catholicism (as opposed to Protestantism’s heavier focus on faith as an act of conscience). Boy was I wrong.
It turns out that the most common meaning of the term has to do with the conflict people feel when trying to reconcile traditional Catholic tenets with Western values, particularly when it comes to abortion, pre-marital sex and masturbation. Does this mean Matt fights crime because he feels guilty about pleasuring himself? Holy cow, I never considered that angle before… I suspect that people throw the Catholic guilt explanation around because they, like me, simply aren’t clear on what it means.
To me, Matt Murdock is a fascinating and, yes, conflicted character who carries a lot of things on his shoulders. His background and upbringing influence him a great deal and his morals and aspirations suggest a spiritually inspired quest to do right in the world, as well as a belief in God. But is he a poster boy for organized religion or even a practicing Catholic? Joe Quesada might say yes. The vast majority of the written record says no.
While my own views on this matter are quite firm, I would love some input on this post. If you feel differently, let me know by commenting. Keep it civil, though. I know the topic might be a little controversial.