It’s been a long time since I was this conflicted about an issue of Daredevil. On the one hand, Daredevil #15 is yet another example of great craftsmanship on behalf of both writer Mark Waid and the art team of Chris Samnee and Javier Rodríguez. Artistically, new concepts are skillfully introduced to illustrate Matt Murdock’s changing world and his odd predicament. In terms of the writing, much of the script reads like poetry. In the space of a few panels, an intimate sort of relationship is created between Matt and his Latverian nurse that is nothing short of moving. In other panels, we get to peer deeply into Matt’s mind as he deals with his situation and even manages to reflect on his recent change in attitude. The issue also demonstrates Waid’s usual knack for great pacing and, at the end of the issue, we see other players from the greater Marvel Universe put to great use.

However, all the neat little details can’t save this issue from being problematic in many ways. I have never understood why Mark Waid’s Daredevil is so often compared to that of Stan Lee, based solely on the tone. This, however, is the most “Stan Lee-esque” issue I’ve seen from Waid, and I don’t mean that in a good way. To be clear, I mean no disrespect to Stan Lee, but there was undeniably a certain goofiness to Silver Age Daredevil that you don’t see very often anymore. What I’m getting at is that there is, to me, a goofiness at the core of this story that the more ambitious and literary layers on top of it fail to fully conceal, and that is why I ultimately find it somewhat disappointing. If you haven’t read the issue, I don’t recommend that you read past the panel below, because in order to get into the more problematic aspects of this issue, I’m going to have to spoil much of it. Proceed at your own risk!

Dr Doom peering from a painting, from Daredevil #15 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Did we just see a retcon of Daredevil’s powers?

Before you think I’ve gone the excessively anal fangirl route, rest assured that I’m actually not all that hung up on continuity. I don’t really mind retcons, at least not in principle or in most of the cases where they’re applied. I think writers should feel free to tweak some aspects of continuity and to disregard others in order to tell the best possible story. Because, what a well-implemented retcon usually accomplishes is a modernization of a character.

Matt undergoes a brain scan, from Daredevil #15 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Unfortunately, the retcon of Daredevil’s powers (or, more specifically, the biological foundation of those powers) which we see in Daredevil #15 makes the character goofier than he needs to be, in my mind. I love the relatively naturalistic nature of Daredevil’s powers, and I feel that this change alters them in a way that makes them more arbitrary and fluid rather than just a thought experiment extension of real life. With the new generalized ability to “compensate,” Daredevil sounds more like the mutant Darwin than the Man Without Fear. What would such an ability consist of? Why wouldn’t it have restored his sight in the first place if it is able to do it now? Wouldn’t that be the best compensation of all? Suddenly, Matt’s worries from 1964, that eye surgery would diminish his heightened senses, actually make sense. And it really shouldn’t.

You could always argue that this is a comic book and that it shouldn’t matter much that one impossible set of powers is changed into some other equally impossible ability. That’s true, but I would also argue that Occam’s razor can and should be applied to comic books as well as other real world dilemmas. The simpler explanation, even for something unimaginable, will always, in my mind, be the more elegant.

How is he getting his sight back exactly?

Even more problematic than the power surge mentioned above (which, I fully admit, might only be a problem for nit-picky ol’ me) is that it doesn’t actually explain how Matt regains his sight. It should be mentioned that this is not the first time Daredevil has regained his sight (see my old post “Oh, the blind thing? It comes and goes…”). Usually, it’s happened through some kind of magical intervention, as in the case where Matt has his sight restored by the Beyonder. In one notable instance, it happened in a way that’s somewhat similar to what we see here, in that Daredevil had his brain rewired by S.H.I.E.L.D. in a procedure that also restored his vision. You can read about it in the story arc Flying Blind (see the post I linked to above).

Matt regains his sight, from Daredevil #15 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

The problem I have with Daredevil #15 is that the ability of Matt’s brain to “compensate” in no way explains why his sight is returning. While the eyes (at least the neural structures at the back of they eye) are considered to be part of the brain, it would take the actual healing of damaged tissues for any recovery to happen, not just a rewiring of the brain itself. As far as I know, Matt does not have a healing factor. Or does he? See why I have a problem with this issue retconning this stuff? There is also the minor detail of knowing that Matt never gets to keep his vision very long which makes things even more complicated. Will the repair work to his brain next issue magically make his sight disappear again and will this entail “unhealing” of healed tissues? I really hope Mark Waid can resolve this in a satisfactory fashion. For the sake of logic, I would almost prefer to see him keep what little visual function he’s regained.

Did he just “sense” radiowaves?

For another hit of Silver Age goofiness, it appears (at least from the artwork) that Daredevil is able to pinpoint the signal transmission dampener on the top of Doom’s castle by perceiving the signal it sends out. This… I won’t even go there.

Daredevil appears to register radio waves, from Daredevil #15 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

While we’re at it, another thing I reacted to in this issue is how Matt is able to ascertain that he’s still in Latveria from seeing Doctor Doom’s picture on the wall. How would he recognize a two-dimensional color painting of someone he’s only had three-dimensional colorless interactions with? Unless, he caught a glimspe of himself in the mirror while in Doom’s body all those years ago. I prefer to think of this as his reacting to the presence of a large painting with no regard for the motif. That’s how I keep myself sane. 😉

I’m sorry if my critical mind has spun out of control over an issue I’m sure nine out of ten fans loved, but this issue did represent a throwback to sillier times for me, and I would have preferred to see it play out differently than it did. Having said that, Mark Waid still has many more check marks in the positive column than in the negative one in my book, and I still maintain that this is one of the best runs the book has ever had. It is because of my high expectations and Mark Waid’s usual knack for well thought-out stories (not to mention well thought-out uses of Matt’s powers!) that I find this issue falling short of the run’s usual quality.

Daredevil in action in Latveria, from Daredevil #15 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

On a final note, I want to give two thumbs up to the art team. Chris Samnee clearly shows that he belongs on this book, and his visual creativity is one of the highlights of this issue. We Daredevil fans can consider ourselves very lucky to have him!

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.

12 comments

  1. The way I understood it, Waid implied that his brain has been altered to automatically generate heightened senses and radar sense, kinda like a lizard regrows a tail. Sure, this contradicts a few stories in which he temporarily lost one or more of his senses, but with a little stretching of imagination it works

  2. That’s how I interpreted it too, and it definitely works. I just don’t like it. 😉

  3. I just read it and really enjoyed the issue. I’m definitely interested to see where this is going.

    I don’t think it is a big stretch at all for Daredevil to recognise Doom from a picture, given he knows he WAS in Latveria. ‘Guy in a metal mask’ should be enough for him to work out he is still in Latveria. It’s not like he knew it was Doom without any context. Matt is a smart guy who convinced the world (and heroes/villains) that Daredevil is sighted so is probably pretty good at making snap judgements accurately from snippets of information.

    I do agree with you on the sensing radio waves, though, in fairness, Daredevil’s powers are going haywire here so it is not like his regular senses can do it.

    I am not sure what I think about the overall concept of gaining his sight back. I am intrigued, and will reserve judgement until I see more of the story. I am not totally against it, but you do raise some good points.

    Wow, Samnee’s art is getting better with each issue (from a high start). Overall another great issue. I also enjoyed the relationship with the nurse and the appearance of some other players from the Marvel Universe.

    Who do you think the one person who can help Matt is? I can think of at least three (Reed, Hank Pym or Doctor Strange) it could be. After writing that sentence I remembered there is a preview of an upcoming issue with Pym in, so I suppose I know the answer.

  4. On recognizing the painting … Doom seems to keep a lot of statues of himself around. Maybe Matt radar-ed one at some point? Or maybe Alicia Masters did a supervillain-themed show … Matt always seemed to be a popular guest at those things. I could see him having touched, or radar-sensed, a statue of Doom and gotten and idea of what he might look like.

    As for getting even some of his sight back, however, I agree–not a good idea. The one believable part of his origin for me was always that the radioactive gunk actually destroyed important tissue in his eyes. I support you in calling shenanigans on that one.

    As for the communications damper–actually, I’d believe that he could “hear” it, just not the actual radio waves. I think I’ve mentioned in a couple of other comments that I hear unusually high frequencies, and was especially sensitive as a kid. Many common electronic components, to my ears, made a high-pitched whine when in use–sort of like the noise of a computer monitor when the tower is turned off, only higher. I never figured out what was making the sound, but even our toaster and my grandmother’s hearing aids made it, so it must have been a pretty basic component. High-power lines and big transformers near my high school drove me absolutely bonkers for the same reason. I could buy Daredevil hearing a high-powered electronic device, very high up, and gambling that he was smashing the right thing.

    What I want to know, though, is how Iron Man got there so fast. Does his armor have a teleporter now? Or was he just zooming around illegally in Latverian airspace on the off chance that Matt’s communicator was going to go off?

  5. I have complete faith in Waid in this regard. He redefines or expands on a hero’s talents then uses that to further and deepen the characterization and drama of that hero. It’s the exact same thing he did for Wally West, the Flash, and it led to some of the best Flash stories I’ve ever read.

    I see this as a good twist but also a natural progression, a new view to an old idea, which is what Waid has been doing for this entire run. Sure, I get your concerns over reflecting Silver Age goofiness, but Waid will use this to explore more of Matt’s character. Matt’s fundamental view of himself has just changed in a big way. How will he react? What does he feel about it? What, if anything, will he do about it? The possibilities are endless and how is that a bad thing?

    In a recent interview with CBR, Waid hints he is just starting with the new level of Matt’s abilities, so I’m willing to go along with him to see what he has in mind.

  6. “In a recent interview with CBR, Waid hints he is just starting with the new level of Matt’s abilities, so I’m willing to go along with him to see what he has in mind.”

    This scares me, quite frankly. Exploration, fine. Anything even remotely sounding like a power upgrade, and I’ll be heart-broken. However, given that Waid (in interviews) has seemed very interested in making Daredevil’s abilities more adapted to present, 21st century circumstances, I doubt that he’ll go there.

    As I’ve had time to think more about my strong reaction to this issue, I think what I’m scared of is Matt’s power set becoming less “down to Earth.” They were as grounded as superhuman abilities come and I don’t want to see them evolve in any way that takes away from Matt’s proper “low-powered” status. The character can evolve all he wants, I applaud that. I welcome anything that makes Matt see himself in a new light, but I don’t like seeing such core traits mucked around with too much. Having said that, I’m sure that Waid can do tons of interesting things with it, and I do trust the guy more than perhaps this review suggests.

    What he also said in that interview (here’s the link for people who haven’t read it) was this:

    “There’s MUCH more going on there. Matt always believed that the accident that gave him his abilities was a one-time gift. What he’s now learned is that this may not be so. And there’ll be independent verification of that next issue by a very interested party.”

    What I like in this paragraph is the suggestion that there’s more (other things?) going on than we think and the use of the word “may” in that second sentence. 😉

    Seriously though, this is a case of me 1) having to get over myself (I still don’t find his getting his sight back that particular way as being logical, and I’ll stand by that) and 2) trust that Mark Waid knows what he’s doing. I did have a negative, almost visceral, reaction to the nature of the changes that are hinted at in this issue which did take me out of the story and raised several concerns for me, and I will always be honest in my reviews (note to creators: this is how you know my positive reviews are sincere as well). However, sometimes taking a step back and letting things sink in are a good way to go.

  7. WOW, I must have completely mis-interpretated the whole sensory compensation thing.

    I didn’t think Matt’s actual eye sight was returning to him. I thought that his radar sense was being replaced with a kind of thermal imaging sense.

    Because, towards the end of the issue, when he’s escaping and running along the rooftops of the castle, his mask is down COVERING his eyes!!

    Hmm… Any theories?

  8. @Daniel: Knowing Mark Waid, it’s very likely things are not what they seem. The idea that Matt’s sight may not be actual sight occurred to me too, but since he seems able (judging by the art) to see things that only vision allows (he can see the Doctor Doom painting, distinguish the nurse’s apron from her dress based on color etc…), it looks to me like it’s the real deal.

    Regarding his mask, I think there have been at least version of it where the lenses are opaque from the outside but not necessarily from the wearer’s perspective (like certain sunglasses). Should someone else get his hands on a Daredevil mask, it would be suspicious if you couldn’t see through it. On the other hand, a lot of artists draw the mask as if it’s all made of fabric.

  9. Yeah… I guess I can sort of buy into Matt wearing a mask with actual lenses, just in case anyone should examine the mask… Although a couple of years ago in Amazing Spider-Man, there was this three-parter where Peter Parker had to borrow Matt’s costume (“Kraven’s First Hunt”). Peter specially had to ask Matt for a mask he would be able to see out of, and what Matt gave him was a actually a Daredevil mask with eye holes CUT OUT of it. lol

    But yeah, looking again at that first panel with the nurse that you’ve posted, I now notice that Matt’s folded hands are drawn clear as day, and then the nurse is depicted in the purple and orange. As to suggest that Matt can see his hands clearly but beyond that his eyes are struggling.

    Another thing I wasn’t sure about is towards the end of the issue, Matt tells himself to focus on searching for the absence of something. What does this mean exactly? Is the absence he’s refering to, the emergency signal from his Avengers ID card? So he’s basically saying: Focus on where the signal (which he should be able to hear) is being dampened the most?

  10. I don’t get your point on him seeing the radiowaves when he just fought an army of KLAW clones in the beginning of this run. The book also went onto explain how his powers are spiking up and down. He was also talking about how his sense of touch was so strong that the rain was hurting. It does’nt seem that far a stretch to me to believe that this is affecting his senses that allowed him to hear the pitch and humming of radiowaves in the past.

  11. I actually read this issue with your recent “How do Matt’s powers work?” posts in mind so cringed at several of the items you posted about. (The Dr. Doom painting especially since it was shown before I realized that it was viewed through a version of regular sight, not his usual radar sense. Although in retrospect I still found it strange that the painting was clear and in color as compared to everything else he was “seeing”. That bothered me more than him recognizing that it was Dr. Doom. Not many people run around in metal armor these days, so it would have been a good guess as mentioned above.) On the other hand, I did find it very funny how annoyed he was when his vision wasn’t 360.

    The Beyonder issue you mentioned is one of my all time favorites, even though I knew while reading it that I was being manipulated since there was no way that his sight would remain past the end of the book.

  12. I agree with your view, where you explain that waid s run is very similar to Stan Lee “s. I don t like that very much, because as you point out DD looks goofy. Some artists have made homage to that stories, but this comics look dated. I see Waid s run as a transition after many magnificent runs, such as Miller, Nocenti, Bendis and Brubaker, which dealt heavily on down to earth and very depressing storylines. That formula is a bit overused, and needs a refresh, that Waid is providing, then we can go back to usual daredevil.

    Be well.

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