We all know that Matt Murdock has an arsenal of abilities and tricks up his sleeve which make it possible for him to do things us mere mortals cannot. Because of his heightened senses, he not only functions believably (well, sort of) as a superhero, but manages to compensate for his lack of sight in many ways. However, in the absence of normal vision – which the colorless and generally enigmatic radar sense does not provide – there are certain tasks which Matt would approach in about the same way as a non-powered blind person. If you’ve read this far and find yourself thinking “Wait just a minute now, Daredevil can see better than all of us!” you need to go read my old post “My other senses more than compensate” where you will be proven wrong. 😉

At the end of the day, most fans would probably agree that Matt would (and should) have problems with all kinds of screens, displays or exclusively visual indicators. In fact, any and all information rendered exclusively visually and in two-dimensions (with the exception of print, provided he is close enough to touch it) lie beyond what his senses can decipher. In the real world, the blind use a wide range of assistive technology to access information or accomplish tasks for which eyesight is otherwise necessary. Many of these tools and gadgets would probably just gather dust in Matt Murdock’s closet since he gets by without them. However, there are many devices that would be useful to him and which should have a place in the Daredevil comic, if only as background elements to create a better sense of realism in the book.

In this post, I will be looking at the few instances of any kind of assistive device being featured in the Daredevil comic, and use them as examples of how to do it right. Most of these examples are from volume two, hopefully a sign that including pieces of technology that most readers would probably think of as being pretty cool, is increasingly being viewed a positive addition to how Daredevil stories are told rather than the sign of weakness many writers seemed to have feared in decades past.

The braille watch

Fairly low-tech, the braille watch is the oldest and, by far, the most common example of technology for the blind that you’ll see in Daredevil. A braille watch is more of an adaptive device than an assistive device (i.e. it’s an example of an altered version of a product everyone uses, not a novel device created specifically to meet a need only the blind would have). The example below is taken from Daredevil #173, by Frank Miller, but panels showing Matt using a braille watch go back to the first decade of publication. The term “braille watch” is something of a misnomer since the tactile dots that exist on the face of the watch are not standard braille. A person checks the time by opening the glass top and feeling the position of the hands. Follow this link for a look at a real-life braille watch.

Matt checks his braille watch, from Daredevil #173 by Frank Miller
Daredevil #173, volume 1 by Frank Miller. {a href="http://objdesc.org/?H5P5"}Description available{/a}.

Alternative graphics

It says something about the scarcity of good examples of assistive technology when I feel compelled to include the panel below, from Daredevil #314, by D.G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel. I’m not sure a tactile subway map counts as technology per se, but I suppose it’s an example of something Matt might have lying around the house (though Frank Miller would have us believe that he stays out of the subway as much as possible). However, it does address Matt’s weakness in the general pictures and graphics area. Even when drawing, charts and maps are rendered in a way that would make them discernable under his hyper-sensitive fingertips, this makes for a very inefficient way of taking in that kind of information. When you look at a map or a complicated diagram, one of the keys to understanding it is being able to scan the whole thing at once rather than looking at it through a tube as narrow as the width of a couple of fingertips. I totally buy that Matt would be able to make sense of simple line drawings and diagrams, so long as the link layer is high enough, but when graphic content is adapted for the blind, it often comes with instructions for how to make sense of it, which would absolutely be useful even for Mr. Daredevil.

Panel from Daredevil #314, volume 2, by D.G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel
Daredevil #314, volume 1, by D.G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel. {a href="http://objdesc.org/?H5P6"}Description available{/a}.

Braille labels

Moving on to the very first issue of the second volume of Daredevil, by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada, we see Matt using a phone that I can’t quite make sense of. Where are the number buttons on it? Off panel somewhere? Either way, he seems to have the speed dial buttons labeled in braille, which makes sense. I guess this is another example of my really having to stretch my imagination to find any decent use of assistive technology at all, but it does bring up the subject of using braille labels generally. These can be made on the fly using a braille label maker (they come in various makes and models), which is sort of the braille version of those DYMO label makers I remember from my childhood. It would make perfect sense for Matt to slap one of these puppies on files and folders around the law office. If he ever bothered showing up for work, that is. I’m going to leave it up to fellow fan Alice “the Darediva,” braille transcriber in training, to figure out if any of the markings below make sense.

panel from Daredevil #1, volume 2 by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada
Daredevil #1, volume 2 by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada

Computers! (Yes, the blind use them…)

In the following issue, by the same team, we see a very rare occurrence in the Daredvil comic, that is Matt using a computer. And while Matt looks as ugly as sin in these panels (I thought Quesada did a much better job drawing him in the Parts of a Hole arc), this scene is much better than the last time Matt was portrayed as a regular computer user back during Chichester’s run. If you’re not familiar with my dislike of the nonsensical idea that computer screens can be read by touch – which Chichester introduced – you can read about it in my post “Wacky power #11 – Reading computer screens… by touch.” In the panels below, the content on the screen is read out loud, which makes about a million times more sense.

Panels from Daredevil #2, volume 2, by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada
Daredevil #2, volume 2, by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada

From my own brief experience of working with accessibility issues, I know that lots of people, even in the web design field, are unaware that even people who are totally blind can and do use computers. In fact, I was baffled that so many people would have instinctively believed Matt’s words below, from Daredevil #44 (vol 2), by Bendis and Maleev: “You detectives seem to have a hard time grasping the concept that I’m a blind man. It makes it hard to see the screen.”

Panel from Daredevil #44, volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. 1 of 2
Daredevil #44, volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

Panel from Daredevil #44, volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. 2 of 2
Daredevil #44, volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

Matt certainly has a point; it does make it hard to see the screen. However, the officer in this case has a point too: They do make computers for the blind (or at least software to install), and this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, we’ve cloned sheep and put people on the moon. How hard can it be to render digital content in ways you don’t have to see to be able to access?

In the real world, as in the case of the Smith/Quesada panel above, blind people use so-called screen-reading software, which sends the content to either a braille display or, more commonly, produces audio in the form of synthesized speech. The computer itself is controlled using only the keyboard, without a mouse. Even if one were to go along with the notion that Matt would be able to get anything from touching the screen, screen-reading software still has him beat. Screen-readers can take a page and make sense of it at a completely different level, such as listing all links on a page in a web browser or list all the headings. It’s a whole lot more rational than to, not so figuratively, fumble around in the dark.

If you’ve never seen this kind of software in action, I recommend the following YouTube clip made by a blind web surfer. The speaking rate can be turned up or down and most users can understand the content at several hundred words per minute (a pace at which the untrained ear would understand nothing). As this guy explains in the comments, the near insane speed of the voice in this video is set to less than half of what he’d normally use.

In the Daredevil comic, computers have been conspicuously absent from Matt’s office since the Playing to the Camera arc by Bob Gale (which I’ll get to below). As in never even drawn into the background of a panel depicting Matt’s desk. I can’t imagine why this would be since no lawyer would be able to do his job properly these days without one. I guess this is another one of those things we can chalk up to Matt rarely actually working. 😉

Things that talk!

The Playing to the Camera arc, by Bob Gale, in which Matt takes a case which involves suing himself(!), has never been collected. If you don’t own these issues and don’t feel like tracking them down, you should know that they are available digitally at Marvel.com. You can buy a one-month subscription, with no need to commit to more, for less than five bucks, if you’re curious about checking out this arc.

Aside from some crazy stuff, the arc also features a very logical use of a talking pager, which speaks the number which would otherwise simply be shown on a display. This is just one of many examples of “talking” products for the blind, at least some of which would seem logical around the Murdock household (and we’ll get to two more below). In the panels below, from Daredevil #24 (vol 2), with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington, we see Matt explain how he uses a pager and, a few pages later, we get to see it in action.

Panel from Daredevil #24, volume 2, by Bob Gale, with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington
Daredevil #24, volume 2, by Bob Gale, with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington
Panel from Daredevil #24, volume 2, by Bob Gale, with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington
Daredevil #24, volume 2, by Bob Gale, with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington

There were a couple of instances of “talking” products during the Brubaker/Lark run as well, and the panels below are perfect examples of how assistive technology can be inserted in natural and subtle ways without any need for further comment. In the first panel, from Daredevil #95 (vol 2), we see the use of a talking caller ID. Of course, Matt was sharing his home with a non-powered blind person at the time, but his odds of being able to read a display are about as good as hers. In the second panel, from Daredevil #110, Matt comes home to a very talkative answering machine. I may have seen something similar being used by people who aren’t blind, but most standard answering machines don’t say anything until after you push the button.

Panel from Daredevil #95, volume 2, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark
Daredevil #95, volume 2, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark
Panel from Daredevil #110, volume 2, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark
Daredevil #110, volume 2, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark

Conclusion

I would love to see more assistive technology featured in Daredevil, when and if it makes sense to include it. I don’t think the Daredevil comic should ever forget that it is first and foremost a superhero comic, albeit it both modern and mature with a commendable amount of depth, and I don’t advocate writers forcing developments and features into stories where they don’t belong. However, there are plenty of situations where doing something along the lines of what we’ve seen in this post is perfectly appropriate, and that adds to making Daredevil more believable. For right now, I’d settle for Diggle giving him a computer (even if it does nothing aside from sitting on his desk). I guess leaving the Hand to read his email just seems like a terrible idea.

And, speaking of the Hand, I’ll see you back here tomorrow for the review of Dark Reign – The List: Daredevil, which is due out in North America today!

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.

6 comments

  1. Great post, Christine, and here's your answer to what I assume Joe Quesada was trying to put on Matt's phone as somewhat of an inside joke. He must have done a little research, but failed to get the dots aligned properly in the six-dot braille cell to really say what I think he meant to say. The first button at least half visible ends with "ex". Next one shows "–ggy", arguably "Foggy". Next is probably meant to be "jay", with the one below that "bob". Neither of those has the dots quite in the right configuration, but the joke fits since there are numerous references to Jay and Bob because Kevin Smith was writing the book at the time. The last button, the one Matt hits, has "sw" on it. Maybe that was to throw people off, thinking he's calling the Scarlet Witch? Nah, since we know he's calling Natasha. Anyway, that's what it says.

    My favorite braille thing in the pages of DD was the card that Vanessa Fisk gave Matt during dinner. It supposedly had the name of the person who ratted him out to the tabloids. It clearly reads "danny dobbs"(none of the braille shown has ever used any capitalization, but no biggie there), even when seen from the back in another panel. However, when we see the late-night confrontation with DD and Mr. Dobbs, the panel tells us we are at the residence of HENRY Dobbs. Okay, so was this a gaff, or a very inside joke somewhere?

    [Note to DD artists: need braille proofreading? Darediva at your service.]

    Want to know about some other items readily available without calling Reed Richards? Handy stuff is shown on http://www.braillebookstore.com/ from a wonderful company out of Canada.

    In this digital age, there are lots of gadgets that "talk". I'd bet the microwave in Matt's (and Milla's, when she was still around) would talk. Very common thing. The new iPhones have VoiceOver, and many other brands of phones already had verbal software, like my Sanyo phone that announces the number to me, and the name, if it's one I have in my phonebook.

    As noisy as Matt's world would be, I'd imagine he'd stick with a classic braille watch, so he could sneak a "look" at the time under the desk without letting his clients know. Stealth does still have its advantage.

    Again, Chris, great points, and I'm with you about seeing some stuff in the background that alludes to Matt being a tech-savvy guy.

  2. Hmm, that’s interesting stuff, Darediva. I’ve wracked my brain for what “sw” could stand for, but couldn’t come up with anything definite. “Star Wars,” maybe? Smith is a huge Star Wars geek and does tend to bring it up in one form or another in almost all of his movies.

    Also, nice to see Playing to the Camera mentioned…I really enjoyed that story, personally. I’ve had my hopes up that Marvel might finally collect those issues to highlight some of Bob Gale’s previous work now that he’s one of the writers on Amazing Spider-Man, but I guess we’ll have to continue to wait on that one.

  3. Hi Christine,

    It was great stumbling across your site about DD and your highlighting the lack of Matt’s use of up-to-date assistive technology in his titles.

    While I no longer read Matt’s adventures due to my own sight loss some fifteen years ago, I’ve often argued that the title’s writer should have their scripts vetted by one of us blinkies.

    I’ve even gone so far as to email the Q-Man himself (yep I’ve got his personal email) that the writing reins should be handed over to one of us.

    For starters, a lawyer of Matt’s calibre would be more than familiar with screen reading technology, so I’d have him making use of what else but JAWS (Job Access With Speech) for Windows.

    I’d retain the tactile watch, and actually have him explain to perhaps Natasha that using a talking one would give him away in battle when its hourly alarm goes off and gives away his position when he’s fighting a foe in the darkness.

    I’d have him using TALKS on his mobile phone to text, a DAISY book player, and voicing his frustration at websites that are not W3C compliant when he is attempting to research cases, shop online, etc. Given the typical frustrations he’d experience in his employment, I’d subtly introduce a Personal Assistant in his law firm who transcribes his case research since so much legal documentation is still not available in accessible format (particularly the older cases). And in non-stereotypical fashion I would not have Matt sleep with his PA;)

    I’d also stop referring to his ability as Radar Sense and actually start referring to it in its real-world terminology of Echolocation which plenty of us do through tongue-clicking. I’d upgrade his cane by having ultrasonic tech installed into it (such as that in the Batcane).

    If we want to keep this sense as much more heightened than the typical blinkie, we’d need to start looking at the obvious moral questions these powers raise. I’d play with the idea of Matt Murdock being able to read how every word he, opposing council, the judge, or a witness spoke was received by each member of the jury. Obviously, Matt Murdock would rightly face legal sanctions or disbarment if word leaked that he was using his enhanced hearing to give him such an advantage in court. How would one create tension around this issue? I’d have Murdock become District Attorney of New York and upon taking up his new role use the resources at his disposal as DA to finally make good on his promise to hunt down the Punisher and end his career.

    Upon capturing Castle, Matt launches prosecution against him.

    But Castle has an ace up his sleeve.

    DD and Punisher have fought so many times and Punisher studies all of his enemies so completely that we have to assume he at least suspected something was “different” about Daredevil.

    Just as Matt thinks he has him nailed in court, I’d have Castle drop the bombshell, with indisputable evidence to back it up, thereby having Murdock’s plan backfire and he rightly faces legal sanctions and disbarment for using his radar sense to give him such an advantage in court.

    The only thing Murdock has to return to after the decimation of his legal career is the costumed identity of Daredevil. And just as well too since the implications of this revelation means that every case he defended that lead to the incarceration of a super-villain is undermined and they all get released from prison onto the streets of New York to pick up where they left off. So he’d certainly have his hands full once again as the costumed vigilante.

    I’d even have a go at updating his rogue’s gallery by making it up of antagonists who worked hard enough to make their other senses compensate for their disabilities and develop the innate potentials they always had. This might require creating some new characters, but how interesting would it be to study existing Marvel villains and looking for clues to disabilities they already have and revealing their powers as compensatory attributes!?

    And given Matt is more than just the barriers he experiences, I’d focus back on the dichotomy of him being an officer of the court who chooses to work outside the law… and then start exploring whether he is driven by a desire for justice or retribution – of course moving away from the historically gritty arguments inculcated since Miller’s run and instead returning to Nocenti’s focus that sometimes the courts fail to offer true justice. I’d consequently have him start managing the pro-bono cases for his firm to start addressing this issue that is dear to his heart legally too.

    Would be keen on your thoughts (and whether we should begin a lobbying campaign to get us on that title;)

    1. First of all, thank you so much for your comment James! I’m glad you found my post useful. Since I think your comment deserves a longer reply than what my time allows for the moment, I will have to get back to you in a few days.

      For the moment though, I’d say that my impression is that things have improved over the last few years and will probably continue to do so. For instance, Mark Waid, who is set to take over writing duties with the volume three relaunch in July, made some interesting comments recently regarding Matt’s relationship to screens generally and I would expect that he would have done a certain amount of research on the topic. You’ll find the link to that interview in my most recent post.

  4. Thanks for advising you’ll follow up on my post. I’m sure you can check my email if you wish to do so privately.
    Mark’s taking over sounds like a start, but what I want to hear more of is Matt/DD dropping complaints in his dialogue when he’s out and about about environmental design issues, or frustration when he’s using the internet to research a case about poor website design (a very reall problem for screen reader users), etc. as I’m sure his Radar Ssense has no way to pick up the layout of a site and location of links on a flatpanel screen.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.