Review of Blind Justice (1979)

Jun 30, 2011

Review of Blind Justice (1979)

Jun 30, 2011

Cover to Stan Lee Presents: The Marvel Superheroes (1979)

The first time Mark Waid mentioned a particular Daredevil story from the late 70’s, I was definitely intrigued. When it continued to pop up in interviews, I decided I just had to get my hands on it, particularly since Waid’s reasons for singling out this particular piece of superhero prose was writer Marty Pasko’s (under the pen name Kyle Christopher) impressive ability to get inside Matt Murdock’s head. “Blind Justice” is a 47-page prose story that appears in a book called Stan Lee Presents: The Marvel Superheroes, edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. It was published in 1979 and was the ninth book in a series of Marvel novels.

Because there are no pictures to help tell this story, the writer has to spend more creative energy building Daredevil’s sensory world from the inside than if he had been writing this as a regular comic book which allows for a greater amount of “show and tell.” With no art to hide behind, so to speak, Pasko has to use words to describe what Matt percieves and how, and I have to agree with Mark Waid and say that I’m impressed with the way Pasko accomplishes this.

Of course, Blind Justice isn’t the only prose Daredevil story out there. Having read the Daredevil movie novel adaptation by Greg Cox, along with Madeleine E. Robins’ The Cutting Edge and Christopher Golden’s Predator’s Smile, I can safely say that there is quite a bit of variation in how successfully writers are able to translate Matt Murdock’s unique experience into something we can understand. In this regard, Pasko’s rendition is above and beyond the rest.

“Now he had a sensation of waves creeping out from somewhere behind his eyes. The waves lapped against the sliding door that opened onto the balcony and carried back the flat hardness of plain glass: he had forgotten to draw the blinds last night. He felt warmth and knew that he would not need a heavy jacket today, but the smell of ozone in the air meant he should carry a light raincoat for later. He stood in his darkness and let the sunlight warm him for a moment.”

Another thing that I found remarkable about this story is how mature it seems. These days, I have a hard time imagining that very many under the age of eighteen read Daredevil, but this story is from just around the time Frank Miller took over the book when readers had yet to be acquainted with the darker side of Daredevil and comics in general had more of an “all ages” appeal. In contrast to the comic book title at the time, Blind Justice feels fairly dark.

The appeal of the story rests to a great degree on the general tone and the innovative way of describing Matt Murdock’s world from the inside. The plot itself, on the other hand, is a fairly standard crime story that fails to make a big impact by itself. The few surprises that do exist are mostly in the strange departures from established canon that Pasko introduces. I’m generally pretty open to writers (particularly in a non-canon story) taking liberties with the material if that helps the story, but in this case, changes are made for no real reason. The more noticeable things are that Battlin’ Jack Murdock is described as a father who openly and enthusiastically encouraged his son to take up boxing – the opposite is true in the comics – and that Matt has now been endowed with an ability to tell time exactly without having to check a watch. Does that sound weird? It sure did to me. Classic Daredevil villain The Owl, who appears in this story, has also been given a new civilian name, though this is more curious than jarring.

In short, this was a story that I was very glad to find and one that I can certainly see a writer draw inspiration from when it comes to imagining Matt’s senses. It goes a step further than any other prose Daredevil writing I’ve seen in truly describing the sensory content and make-up of his experiences. Considering how vision dominates the sensory input of ordinary humans (in those of us with all senses intact), it takes quite a bit of creativity on behalf of any writer to take most of that ability out of the equation – save for a crude and colorless sense of space and obstacles – and fill the void with other things. This is where Marty Pasko really shines and if this is indeed someone Mark Waid is drawing inspiration from, I think that’s very positive news for those of us who enjoy seeing writers emphasize Daredevil’s unique physiology.

If you want to check out this book for yourself, you should be able to find it pretty easily through online used book vendors. The ISBN number is 0671820915.


  1. Aaron K.

    Christine, I’m a little shocked that you did not mention the use of active sonar (or something like it). Perhaps Pasko’s rendition is indeed better than other prose writers, but you can’t possibly be advocating such a rendition, can you? Say it ain’t so!

  2. Christine

    You know what I love about you, Aaron? You’re as much of a senses/radar/DD science geek as I am! 🙂 I actually had a comment about this in a draft copy of this post, but it fell victim to whatever filter I have for weeding out the (even more) anal stuff that would otherwise see the light of day.

    On a more serious note though, the technical details of the radar sense didn’t bother me much with this story. First of all, it’s set in a time where the active sonar/radar was the majority interpretation dating all the way back to Stan Lee’s first explanation so Marty Pasko probably saw little reason to mess with that. Secondly, the way he writes Matt using this sense isn’t so different, in terms of experience, from how I’d imagine Matt experiencing things by other means (such as regular echolocation with a shot of heightened hearing steroids). The ‘how’ would be different, but not the ‘what’, if you get what I mean. Even perfectly human echolocators can distinguish a hard surface from a soft one, for instance.

    So, don’t worry! I don’t advocate the mystery waves version of the radar sense and I hope that Waid will take whatever he likes from Pasko’s writing and disregard whatever he feels doesn’t fit. I mean, since this story was written, many other takes on all of this have surfaced. Personally, I will always prefer whatever explanation is the most naturalistic, i.e. the Occam’s razor of superpowers. The less magic you need in order to explain something, the better! 😉

  3. marc

    you don’t need magic to explain radar sense as something other than echolocation.
    I will always stand firm by my assertations that radar sense is NOT echolocation. I have never seen Matt have to do anything monotonous like bat his cane off a rail (dardevil film…) this is because radar sense is not just his sense of hearing.
    Arguers for echolocation are really gimping his abilities in interpretation. More likely than echolocation to me, because echolocation would be ridiculously hard for a human mind to interpret, is a highlighter radar sense, which is what Waids cover clearly shows.

    Sounds and smells are clearly highlighted but at the same time Matt has perception of depth and space because his input data isn’t just sounds and smells, those are just highlighted information. His incoming information has to be a conglomeration, information off of surfaces, maybe large band waves, likely his own wavelength, I’m sure he could pick up radio at one time, although i don’t necessarily advocate that.

  4. Aaron K.

    @Marc – I missed the part where you explained his radar sense WITHOUT magic. “Highlighter radar sense”?

  5. Christine

    @Marc and Aaron: One of the main points I’ve always made about the radar sense is that it’s been imagined different ways by different writers. When I say that I wish for it to be echolocation, that doesn’t mean that I’ve suggested that the majority of past writers have written it like that or would agree with me in the least.

    However, one of the main reasons I personally think echolocation is viable as the answer to the question at the heart of Daredevil’s power set – “How does the completely blind Matt Murdock move around safely with a firm and reliable grasp of his surroundings?” – comes from fairly recent advances in the research on human and animal echolocation. Just this year, two very interesting papers were published that shed a considerable amount of light on how the brain interprets echoes, as well as how fine a spatial resolution is humanly attainable. Both studies compare people at the very extreme of ability (in both instances, one of the test subjects, and by far the most extraordinary one, was none other than Daniel Kish) to those with more average abilities. It has also been shown over the last few years that “echolocation” (when the term is used more loosely to represent all forms of “auditory spatial awareness” in the blind) consists of more than just echolocation (this time I’m using the term in its stricter sense). Changes in the ambient sound field that occur close to walls and other large objects is one example of a phenomenon that is used by the blind, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, and which is a passive process which doesn’t require any more input from the person in question than simply moving relative to objects.

    With Daredevil, you’d have a natural pre-established neurological process that actually works in real life to build on. With a heightened sense (and, importantly, range) of hearing a person’s ability to use this process would be greatly improved. I completely disagree that echoes should be harder for the brain to interpret than a completely new sense that is unlike any of the other and for which there is no natural neural substrate. I also don’t see why a radar sense in a more literal interpretation would be better, it would in most ways just be analogous to “seeing with sound” and in no way automatically better. OTOH, I don’t know what highlighter radar sense means.

    To round off, anyone is free to his or her own opinion on this subject, but I prefer what I feel is a more elegant solution which requires only a set of heightened natural senses and no introduction of a new sense for which there is no identifiable receiving organ. I don’t see this as “gimping” (a word I find somewhat objectionable to be honest) Darevil’s abilities at all. It also offers a very good explanation for why sounds bother him so much and affect his ability to sense things clearly. This is true of real life echolocation as well when it comes to very noisy situations.

    I may need to revisit this topic and talk a little bit about the new studies that are out there. In the mean time, here’s at least one old panel showing Matt actively generate sound for the purposes of “lighting up” a room. 😉

    From Daredevil #87:

    Panel from Daredevil #87 showing Matt tapping his cane to get a feel for the room

  6. Bee Clayton

    First off, thanks Christine for the book info. I’ll have to look into getting a copy.

    As for his radar sense, it’s easy to lump it in with Peter’s spider sense. That is, where does this come from? How exactly does it operate?

    Echolocation is as good an explanation as any that I’ve heard. But if you see the DD mythos as an ever-evolving culmination of creative efforts, then I prefer the idea that his ‘radar sense’ is actually a result of his training with Stick. He has hyper senses, but Stick taught him how to utilize them best towards ‘seeing’ his environment. Radar sense is the visual sight on-panel of all his senses working together as ‘one’.

  7. Bill

    Am I a sucker because I think you’re all right? I guess I don’t care so long as somehow it all translates to DD blocking bullets with a table leg.


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