Dee Discusses: Who is Daredevil?

Posted: December 31, 2014 by Dee in Comics, Dee, General Media, Specials, Television
Tags: , , , , ,

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I grew up in a comic book store. Literally. My parents owned one from before I was born, and we had the business through my high school experience. I started working there on the weekends and a lot of my time was spent reading every backstock issue I could find.  I love comics, and I love talking about comics. I also like yelling about comics, but that’s besides the point at the moment. I’m not one of those geeks who has a problem with comics becoming mainstream or feeling like new readers aren’t “true geeks.” I consider more people loving the things I love the coolest aspect of the current mainstream media. I might not be a huge fan of the latest Star Trek movie, but I was very excited to see new fans come into the fold and be willing to check out the older shows on Netflix. It’s chic to be geeky now, and I love it. Join us. We have catchphrases and tabletop games.

So with that being said, I get asked a lot about the comic background of popular characters. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is introducing casual viewers to characters I already know and love. I thought it would be fun to write about upcoming comic characters, and where better to start than with the Netflix miniseries everyone’s chattering about? I’m going to talk about the character, his supporting cast and general story arc, and the upcoming material. I’m in no way a complete expert though, but I figure I might be able to translate comic speak for people who are new to the world. Feel free to ask more questions or to correct me in the comments. I’m going to start with Matt Murdock aka Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. He debuted in 1964, and on the whole has stayed active to modern day.

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Matt is one of the street vigilantes in the Marvel universe. There’s a difference in my mind between the vigilantes and the superheroes, and I think he’s a good example of that difference. While Matt has superpowers, and he occasionally helps the bigger groups out when team-ups are necessary, he prefers to be a solo artist. He focuses more on personal street-level stories. He fights the mob and the day-to-day violence in New York City, rather than the giant world saving missions the Avengers usually are doing. Matt is notable for two things: he’s a lawyer, so he fights evil on the street and in the courthouse, and he’s blind. He’s one of the few heroes that his super powers are a benefit but also a disability. He was blinded by a radioactive substance that fell from a car, after trying to save a blind man in its path. It enhanced his senses so he’s able to “see” in a different way, although his hyper-sensitivity can get him into trouble as much as it helps him fight for justice. He has advanced hearing, smell, touch, reflexes, and a special radar sense that’s similar to echolocation. He uses billy clubs to fight, and he’s also a skilled ninja and hand-to-hand combatant.

Matt has a tragic backstory (naturally), but I also have a lot of fondness for his father figure. Matt’s father was a boxer, Jack Murdock, who was determined to make his son have a better life than he had. He was sort of a low class, salt of the earth type of man, not very well educated and with little prospect, but he loved his kid. He encouraged Matt to not give in to violence, and to study up, believing an education was his son’s ticket out of the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. After Matt’s accident, Jack agrees to box again and cheat by throwing matches for a known gangster the Fixer. After Jack refuses to throw a match, knowing Matt is watching and might be embarrassed by his father’s corruption, Jack is murdered. Matt dresses in the same colors as his father’s boxing clothes and confronts the Fixer, accidentally leading to his death by heart attack. However, Matt believes that a way to honor his father’s memory is to get an education, yes, but also to clean up Hell’s Kitchen and not let it be run by the gangsters. He is trained by the blind ninja Stick in how to fight without the use of his eyes, and how to sense the world around him in a way normal people could not.

Liar!

Liar!

Matt is a really inspiring character, because he struggled through adversity, both in terms of class and personal disability, and became a brilliant and successful lawyer. I always found it interesting that someone who strongly believes in the law happens to break it nightly, but it makes sense because Matt knows he lives in a corrupt situation. True justice won’t come to the criminals that he takes down. He often tries to find ways as a detective to trap these criminals so he can actually prosecute them – or someone can prosecute them – through legal means.  He aims for the mobs in New York, who own his neighborhoods and everyone is afraid to face them. This is a pretty broad explanation; understand that comics have been around for decades so every few years it would be rehashed and changed. Daredevil got a particularly famous reboot by Frank Miller, who was a penciler on the book. He decided to flesh out Matt’s backstory and make it darker and lead the character to be more of an antihero. Shocking, right? That’s Miller’s bread and butter right there.

Under Miller’s rule the book grew in popularity, and he introduced Elektra and the Hand ninjas to the major storyline. Elektra was Matt’s love interest, the daughter of a Greek ambassador who he met in college. They had a passionate romantic relationship, but  Elektra’s father was killed and she turned to the dark side. For real. She ended up studying martial arts and learned how to become a spy and an assassin, all in the name of revenge against her father’s killers. Eventually she let this fury consume her. She was killed by Bullseye in the comics, something that traumatized Matt a great deal. Not just because he lost a loved one, but because he wasn’t able to persuade her from her path and start over with him. She did eventually come back from the dead, and the two have always been back and forth with her mercenary tendencies causing a rift. Matt on the whole stays on the light path, but he walks a very fine line. A running theme in the comics is that Matt tries to keep his identity secret, and on the whole it works for a long time. Not many people are aware that Daredevil is blind, he certainly doesn’t move like he is. Matt’s handicap is in many ways protection, because people overlook him. He did at some point pretend someone else was Daredevil, and it became something of a joke in the fandom that he was not the best at secret identities.

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Daredevil in general is a series that leads to a lot of intense storytelling: later on, Matt’s secretary and love interest Karen Page would go through a very dark development. She became an actress after Matt revealed his identity to her and she quit. She became a heroin addict and did porn movies, before hitting rock bottom by selling Matt’s identity to a drug dealer. He forgave her and helped her clean up. Karen thought she was HIV positive because of a plan by Daredevil villain Mysterio. She was eventually killed (shock, right?) by Bullseye as well. So clearly, Daredevil is a series where very few good things happen. It’s perfect for the gritty, crime show that they’re trying to do on Netflix. But in a lot of ways there’s something really gripping and inspirational about it. I am talking about the serious aspects, but Matt also has really positive and strong relationships with other characters. His law partner Foggy, his best friend Spider-Man, and his off-and-on relationship with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. Peter and Matt in particular have a really interesting relationship, since Peter’s known as a more light hearted street fighter, and slightly younger than the serious Matt. Matt was his lawyer during a storyline and it brought the two characters together, who inevitably became close friends and relied on each other during some of the darker points in their career. Black Widow was an active part of Matt’s comics for a long time as his partner and co-lead, and she provided a very supportive emotional figure for him. Maybe they were almost too healthy as a couple to keep going in the comics. Not enough drama!

Matt is well respected in the superhero community, despite him not being terribly interested in the big Avengers problems. He cares about his community, he fights for the people on the street, and he does believe that the world can get better. There are times he despairs, but on the whole, Matt doesn’t let his many handicaps – emotional or physical – stop him from fighting. His career as a lawyer meant that his hope was some day the system would be the ideal he strove for. He’s a daredevil because he faces fear head on and pushes past it to accomplish death-defying acts. He sometimes gets very critical of other heroes because in saving the world they rarely pay attention to the citizens as individuals, and in that he provides a grounding influence.

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Daredevil is a true underdog story. He was born underprivileged, he lost his sight, he lost his father, and instead of letting it make him bitter or giving up, he pushed harder than ever to make something out of his life. He’s far from perfect; he makes mistakes, he makes enemies, and sometimes he crosses the line. But it’s his perseverance and certainty of purpose that make Matt a memorable character. I’d say his only real downfall is that it’s depressing. Matt isn’t known for his humor the way his friend Peter Parker is. It’s a dark world he lives in, and he takes it seriously. I think he’s fairly similar to Batman in the way that he’s on the ground level of the war against evil; he’s brooding and tragic, except take all the money away.  His Netflix show will be in May of 2015, starring Charlie Cox, with Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson. Everything they’ve said makes it clear that they plan to keep Matt to his roots: fighting for the common man, keeping to the streets, and counteracting the powerful mobs in New York City.

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Comments
  1. […] going to be difficult to watch this show without wanting to keysmash all the time. If you read my Daredevil Spotlight, you’d know that I love Matt Murdock. He’s one of my favorites, and I had high […]

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