As any longtime reader will know, I love scrutinizing Daredevil’s senses, both from a scientific and conceptual perspective. That is to say that I enjoy looking at 1) the conflict between what the limitations of physics and biology allow in the real world and what Daredevil is able to do in the comic and 2) how the nature and extent of Darededevil’s heightened senses – combined with his lack of sight – has been explored and interpreted by writers and artists.

The enigmatic radar sense has been particularly interesting to pick apart, and that’s the reason this post and the ones that have preceded it in the series have even been given their own category on this site. So far, I’ve only reached Denny O’Neil’s run as Daredevil writer in the “History of the Radar Sense” series proper, but I’ve decided to make a big leap forward in time to the present for this post. Yes, the Waid/Rivera/Martín run only has four issues to its credit so far, but given the fact that the entire team has shown an unusual dedication to exploring the sensory angle of Matt Murdock’s world – enhancements and deficits alike – this seemed like a good enough opportunity to return to the topic I never seem to be able to stay away from very long. I can’t say I’ve reached any definitive conclusion yet, but maybe this post will at least make for an interesting discussion.

Starting with the very first interviews with Mark Waid, long before Daredevil #1 came out, it seemed clear that this creative team was really going to spend time getting into Matt’s head and I was quite curious to see what they would make of the Matt’s radar sense. As early as the back-up story in Daredevil #1, with art by Marcos Martín, we see Matt himself offer the following explanation:

Matt explains how his radar sense works, from Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martín

So, apparently it’s “like echolocation.” Without actually being echolocation? To tell you the truth, this exchange – while enlightening in some ways – didn’t make me much wiser in terms of figuring out what exactly Mark Waid imagines the radar sense to be. Worth noting, however, is that the “touching everything at once” line, which was first uttered by a young Matt when explaining his powers to Elektra in the hands of Frank Miller. Regardless of the source of Matt’s pseudo-visual perceptions, it makes sense for there to be a tactile component to the experience. In fact, many real life blind people will claim to be sensing objects by tactile means – as opposed to hearing them – to the extent that one of the participants in early experiments on what was known at the time as “facial vision” refused to believe that his experiences were based on hearing. Only after he repeatedly failed to detect objects when his ears were covered would he accept this idea.

Like I said, I was none the wiser in terms of whether Waid considered the “radar” to be hearing-based, a literal radar sense (i.e. electromagnetic waves) or something in between – or entirely different – from reading the back-up story. The final few pages of the main story of the first issue didn’t make things any clearer. During this part of the story, Daredevil is targeted by Captain America and sprayed with radar chaff. Chaff is used as a radar countermeasure and consists of small pieces of plastic or metal. This would clearly indicate that we’re talking about actual radar if it weren’t for the fact that it seems reasonable that radar chaff would also affect someone’s ability to “hear” nearby object (particularly if that someone is relying primarily on relatively low intensity ambient sound), given that even the leaves of a tree reflect sound. We also see Daredevil trying to get a handle on the situation by actively generating sound, as seen in the panel below in which he taps his billy club against a chimney.

Daredevil taps his club against a chimney, from Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

In his interview with Insight Radio, from the beginning of September, Mark Waid gives us a little more to go on, especially in terms of the functional aspects of Daredevil’s radar sense, as he sees them:

“He also has, on top of [his other heightened senses], what they call radar sense – a sort of second sight if you will. He can’t see faces, he can’t see details, but essentially it’s a form of radar that travels 360 degrees and kind of gives him a vague, almost outline, sense to the things that are around him at all times. It sounds a lot more helpful than it is, it’s really just a sort of aid to make sure he, as he crusades and fights crime, knows where the edge of the buildings are and where the oncoming cars are coming from, but that’s his shtick, that’s his power-set.”

This leads me to assume that Mark Waid does see the radar sense as a separate sense that may or may not be actual radar. The above explanation is followed, later in the interview, by:

“What he sees around him is sort of a jumble of shapes and fuzzy outlines, just enough to sort of get a sense of the lay of the room around him, but he can’t really tell a table from a chair from a person. He can’t really tell, unless things are very still and he is able to concentrate a great deal, who’s who in a room, just by their sillhouettes. It’s really just a matter of silhouettes.”

While suggesting that Matt can’t tell the difference between a person and a chair sounds a little far-fetched, even for me, it does make sense for Waid to point out that there are limitations to just how much information you can get from knowing only the shape (and possibly the density) of objects. It’s easy to forget that the ability to see fine detail is a luxury afforded only the very center of the visual field of us average humans and, more importantly, relies to a great extent on the ability to see color without which many details cannot be perceived.

(For those who might worry that “seeing” so much less than people with regular vision would render our hero too ineffective for his own good, it might be some comfort to know that cats, for instance, only have roughly 10% of our visual acuity yet are capable of being both skilled acrobats and predators. Add to that the fact that perhaps the main mobility obstacle facing people with low vision is being unable to accurately determine distance, a problem Matt – whose “visual” perception consists almost entirely of relative distances – simply wouldn’t have. ;))

While the above interview, and the current four issues themselves, have failed to completely satisfy my need to know what exactly we’re supposed to make of the radar sense under the current regime, I will take this opportunity to give two big thumbs up to both artists for their work so far in putting their own spin on the ever enigmatic “radar.” So, before offering you guys the floor, that is the comment section, I’ll end with two radar panels by Paolo Rivera (top, from Daredevil #2) and Marcos Martín (bottom, from Daredevil #4):

Radar image, from Daredevil #2, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera.
Radar image, as drawn by Marcos Martín in Daredevil #4

I’m sorry for getting this post up so late, by the way. I’ve had a nasty cold for the past week and been low on energy, but hope to be back on track very soon! And, for those of you keeping track, this is post #499. 😉

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.

13 comments

  1. The radar sense that Waid discusses there is about the least powerful I’ve ever heard of, though I suppose that may depend on how fuzzy “fuzzy” is. Indeed, such a weak radar sense would render most of what Daredevil has done seemingly impossible. Certainly, he wouldn’t be dodging any bullets with fuzzy outlines that could be either man-with-gun or chair-with-cat-on-top. He’d also not be jumping off buildings without simply dying. Of the little radar sense we’ve seen in DAREDEVIL #1-4, I’d say that Matt’s already well exceeded that short description by Waid.

  2. Ah, the endlessly contradictory radar sense! I think my favorite treatment of it was a panel from the Karl Kesel run where we see Foggy in “radar mode” (Matt’s POV), and he’s saying, “Let me get this straight. You see things only in outline … so you decided to put on a costume, run around on rooftops, and fight supervillains?” Classic. But the thing I liked best about Waid’s treatment was the line about Matt’s brain developing a different language–if nothing else, it helps to explain why nobody can explain he radar sense in English.

    Personally, I’d like to see a writer deal more with the fact that, radar sense or no, Matt apparently can’t read without touching the surface of a piece of paper–so he can’t casually read street signs, public notices, etc., without giving away his limited vision. It amazes me that nobody has made much of a plot point of Matt completely missing a sign somewhere because he couldn’t let people see him touching every piece of paper on a bulletin board. (Although it does irritate me when a writer claims his radar lets him “read” a sign or, worse, a computer screen.)

  3. Matt’s “radar sense” is unfortunately one of those comic book things that can’t be fully explained in a way to make sense. Any explanation given contradicts another writers version. In the 90s he could read a computer screen with his hands. Bendis had him turning it on and off and sensing things through multiple walls. Miller even had different versions depending on the story. First it was a 6th sense that all people have, but had just been lost over time, that was jumped started by the radioactive chemicals. Then in “The Man Without Fear” there was no “radar sense”, Matt’s four remaining senses were just super heightened so they filled in the gaps and let him function. This is actually my favorite version. I like Matt Murdock to be as “human” as possible. Him using sounds around him and feeling the air to “see” the world, to me, is much better than him being able to emits radar waves somehow.

  4. I like it mysterious. I like it complicated. Over the years it has been so many things but “touching everything around him at once” has enough explanative power to for me. When you touch something, you tend to be in control of it. I don’t need my eyes to know I’m holding an ink pen, or a snake, or a ham sandwich. When you’re touching something you know a lot more about that thing (except what it looks like). With all his senses together, that’s a lot of information.

  5. Over time, I have come to favor the explanation that Matt has no true sixth sense but rather simply has a very advanced form of the “facial vision” many blind people possess. This facial vision is a.) often described as “like touching everything at once,” b.) based almost entirely on hearing, making it more like echolocation than anything else, and c.) so second-nature that several blind people find it hard to believe that it is based on other hearing. This would allow both for how advanced Matt’s radar is compared to other blind people (owing to his greatly enhanced senses) and for why Matt believes it to be a separate sense unto itself and is unable to describe it in terms of his other senses very well. It also explains why things like loud noises or chaff can interfere with his radar and why making noises himself, such as by tapping his billy club, can make the “radar” image clearer.

  6. glad to see so many folk (all men so far and only) ticked off about this topic. you sure know how to write an article.

    i like it mysterious too. i like complicated also (blinded me w/science). aw, heck i even like the 6th sense (even a bit more).

    moby dik gets by, snacking on those giant kalamari (gets along just fine and dandy). is he , hmm how can i put it?.. a “super”, whale? (well, i guess clicking at 160+ db, hed give a megadeath concert a run).

    murdock would have to do more than click his cane on the wall to reach the 200+khz frequency of a microbat that takes down a winged insect buzzing quite rapidly, or moth doing elevation n directional spasms, out in an open field.

    radar makes sense, as a sense, in a sense (although radiowaves for the commonwealth do not far exceed those produced by sonar, animals (unless vhf or superhighfrequency is required)

    radar may make more sense from the original story’s view of “radio”active matter having the effect enabling ultra high frequency on his hearing.. above 20khz.. and..

    perhaps coherency cross correlating to pinpoint target via a, say uncontrolled human (animal) sonar/radar bi-signal emitted continuously due to same matter never having completely left his organism (i know youre out there hyde.. i can hear that monster mashing a (forget) away).

    because hes not an electronic device, but a man… although the heart does generates quite bit of electricity, relatively speaking.

    still, considering all that the animallia kingdom is capable of,.. i still like to entertain that 6th element.. well 5th for our poor hero.. if anything could pull it off, i think it would be us// humans i mean..

    but hey, even with vision i, we, i believe most folks.. would be eaten alive and in a split second by the hoodlums that our mattman faces.. in truth, wats most commonly heard?.. “i dont know it just happened so fast”… ?

    i dunno.. perhaps theres more to the gift/curse than can be underexplained… heck maybe downplaying that particular sense is actually the reason 4 his capacity as crime fighter.. less to distract him..

    excellent topic.. good health n happyness so that you may continue to entertain us.. (im a bit greedy), and since netflix won the helen keller award.. i think your research may lead to greater helpful things

  7. I like the idea that the radar functions like echolocation with the possibiities that are used in ultrasound diagnostics. The picture (B-mode) is not very good, silhouettes mostly, lots of artefacts, depending on the frequency not a good range, but if you add the Doppler-effect (a frequency shift according to the velocity of moving objects, like the varying pitch of a siren if an ambulance drives towards you/ away from you) you get additional information about speed (Duplex-Mode). Just pinging something and measuring the time until the sound is reflected (M-mode) gives a accurate information about distances. So the “Radar sense” would give Matt several advantages over sight when he is daredevilling while being very crude and not comparable to vision at the same time.

  8. I just read very well written thriller by Andreas Pflüger, “Endgültig”, it is not yet available in English. The heroine is a blind cop. Daredevil has a cameo twice ;-).
    The author did VERY extensive research for the book and his protagonist has only skills that actually are displayed by real blind people.

  9. @Nora. That sounds really cool, I should read it! My German is not stellar, but I can read it (at least with a dictionary handy).

    And yes, I’m alive, and really starting to itch to get back into the blogging game. Any day now. Seriously. 😉

  10. We will all cheer when you are back but take your time until you are ready 🙂

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