In the midst of the industry and narrative turbulence around one of Marvel’s iconic and foundational characters comes what feels like a semi-classic re-centering of the Daredevil myth, Daredevil & Echo, reaching back to Daredevil v2 and the introduction of Echo:
Some of the semi-classic re-centering is grounded in the creative team, notably the artwork of Phil Noto:
Daredevil & Echo 1 is a powerful Hell’s Kitchen story that includes the standard focus on justice but weaves a dual narrative about past and present in the visually distinct way Noto portrays Daredevil:
This limited 4-issue series opens with parallel stories and characters, switching between 1835 and present day Hell’s Kitchen. Daredevil and Echo in present day are juxtaposed with Tommy Murdock and Creeping Death (Soena’hane’e).
The tension of the narratives dramatize a truism about history:
Then, with the pairing of Daredevil and Echo, writers Taboo and B. Earl introduce a motif of ableism between the characters’ acknowledgement of blindness and deafness:
Another motif in this issue is innocence as Daredevil and Echo must confront a powerful child, depicted with Noto’s flair for spreads and use of color:
The elements of ableism and innocence are then merged as the child is deaf:
Further, the narratives also begin to overlap with the central evil force being the Blind One
The narrative pacing and interchanging panels for past and present build tension as the reality of the evil force emerges even as Daredevil and Echo find nothing as well: “See no evil.l Hear no evil”:
The many ways in which Marvel ends and restarts characters is often maddening, but with characters such as Daredevil, there are enduring reasons to remain loyal to what will happen next.
The Daredevil & Echo interlude during one of the most turbulent seasons for Daredevil is off to a very promising start that feels like meeting Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen again for the first time.
My recommitting to collecting comic books started out very targeted, but since I completed my Daredevil collection, I have floundered a bit where to turn next. I have been collecting Daredevil appearances in other titles and started working on Moon Knight volume 1 after finding issue 1 in an antique store.
Then, the other day, Nova issue 1 from the summer of 1976 popped up on my Instagram feed. As a beginning collector and a wanna-be comic book artist, I was immediately drawn to Nova as possibly the first #1 of a comic that occurred during my early collecting days. I also was drawing Nova by later that year:
It is a bit cliche, but my immediate love as a comic book collector was Amazing Spider-Man. My introduction to Spider-Man was during the Gil Kane and John Romita years, a truly wonderful era that may even rival Steve Ditko’s original run.
However, my purchasing years were mostly during the Ross Andru run on Amazing Spider-Man (issues 125-185) and that work still has a special place in my heart.
Here are a few older issues and some initial grabs of those Andru issues:
One of my more embarrassing confessions is my delayed nostalgia for Conan the Barbarian. My dad and I made two large purchases of a collection early in my collecting; that included many (if not all) of the early 1970s Marvel titles.
One of which was the Barry Windsor-Smith Conan run. At the time, I wasn’t really all that engaged with BWS’s work, and during my main collecting days, John Buscema took over (often with wonderful Kane covers and Ernie Chau inking).
I purchased the The Barry Windsor-Smith Archives Conan (v1, v2), but haven’t quite fully committed to collecting, again, those excellent issues:
Here are scans of a few early Conan issues in my recollecting stack:
When I began collecting again, I immediately searched for Deathlok, who first appeared in Astonishing Tales. I was actually a Rich Buckler fan, although I think his work was considered second-tier, and this character series fit perfectly into my science fiction obsession.
Recently, I completed this run, although I need to find a better quality AT 25:
Above are galleries of some of my favorite covers, but I am a huge fan of those 1970s covers and the gradual increase in issue prices. I collected many comics costing 12¢, 15¢, 20¢, and 25¢, and watched as they creeped into the 35-40¢ era.
I find the dramatic “Still only 25¢” endearing and miss that era of comic books. There is something we have lost since the basic coloring and newsprint from the 1960s and 1970s—although there is much to enjoy and praise in the current era of comic books.
Hope you enjoy the walk down memory lane that I am taking, recollecting the issues I held in my hands as a teen who fell in love with Marvel way before it was cool.
Simultaneously, I became a reader and collector of superhero comic books by Marvel. At the core of superhero comics—both the problem with and within the sub-genre—is the moral and ethical elements of vigilanteism and the tension between the rule of law and justice.
Virtually every superhero narrative is directly or indirectly addressing that moral dilemma, but many superhero characterizations have alluded to the real-world conflict between Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to nonviolence as a path to justice and Malcolm X’s embracing “by any means necessary.”
Too often those allusions are simplified if not ham-fisted; consider for example Professor X and Magneto in both films and print comic books.
One of the better efforts to interrogate the role of violence in seeking justice, I think, is the Daredevil/Punisher arc in the Netflix Daredevil series. It is “better,” I think, because the characterizations of both Daredevil and the Punisher are messier and slightly more realistic than print comic books.
Issue 7 opens by framing the Punisher, Frank Castle as a murderer, insane, and a pawn of The Hand:
This framing complicates both the act of vigilanteism as well as the different moral imperatives that guide Daredevil and the Punisher. For Daredevil, he must see himself as substantially distinct from the Punisher in mentality, intent, actions, and outcomes; remember, Daredevil has evoked that he knows the mind of god:
Another excellent complication in issue 7 is the role of free will , a tension that rests at the center of faith, religion, and perceptions of g/God: If g/God is all powerful and all knowing, where does that leave human free will?
Daredevil, of course, must believe simultaneously in a world of god and that he has free will to behave in ethical ways, with moral imperatives that the Punisher chooses to ignore.
And here this issues evokes a powerful and, again, complex examination of the rule of law:
This is the sort of nuanced distinctions Martin Luther King Jr. made during his non-violent protests:
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
Man-made law versus the law of God as well as the purposes and consequences of laws/breaking the law sits at the center of Daredevil’s quest continued in issue 7:
Directly and indirectly, Zdarsky has been exploring the tensions between capitalism/materialism and socialism/spirituality; here, the police state is framed as a tool of capitalism (“protecting property over people”), thus justifying Daredevil’s lawbreaking.
The code of ethics for the Fist becomes “help people” and “violence when necessary”:
While the narrative so far of Daredevil v7 has focused almost entirely on a new iteration of Daredevil, issue 7 reminds us that Matt Murdock is an (at least) equal partner in the quest for justice:
Daredevil as “decent superhero,” and Matt Murdock as “damned good lawyer” (with the added ironic layer of “damned”).
Bullet proves to be an important character in the Daredevil/Punisher dynamic because he adds complexity and confrontations to their differences and ultimately introduces important elements, a child and overt references to socialism/capitalism (linked to the philosophies of Jesus and property over people in the storytelling):
What and who is being consumed in capitalism/consumerism and who is allowed to go hungry —these social commentaries hang over the more melodramatic aspects of superhero narratives.
While great efforts (especially by Daredevil) are made to distinguish Daredevil from the Punisher, we learn that their common ground is children:
The issue ends by returning to enduring Biblical questions about the sin’s of the father and the sins of the son as well as the pervasive presence of evil.
Readers are now poised to watch mere mortals battle in the names of god and evil, and we must wonder if any real distinction exists when violence is always an option.
 The iconic aliens of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Fivemarvel at the idealistic delusion of the human race when challenged by Billy Pilgrim about free will:
“If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”
If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.
As a long-time fan and collector of Daredevil, I have expressed my concern about the current storyline that has included Daredevil and Elektra as king and queen of The Fist as well as Daredevil announcing, “This is God’s plan.”
With Daredevil 6 (v.7), Chip Zdarsky appears to be shifting the trajectory of Daredevil away from the precipice of knowing the mind of God and toward a much more compelling characterization of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen as a Christ figure—complete with human frailty and doubt (see more below):
With issue 6, I immediately thought of the recurring motif in literature that reveals the alienating consequences of putting Jesus’s plea for charity into real-world practice. Literature often portrays religiosity as false and dangerous, framed against a more humanistic and secular embracing of simply living one’s life with empathy without regard to punishments or rewards (in this life or in a claimed afterlife):
About belief or lack of belief in an afterlife: Some of you may know that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort.
I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead.
Daredevil finds himself struggling to communicate with a world disconnected from God/Jesus in a way that parallels John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany; John Wheelwright, narrator and friend of Owen, offers a key scene in Chapter 1:
We were in Rye, passing the First Church, and the breeze from the ocean was already strong. A man with a great stack of roofing shingles in a wheelbarrow was having difficulty keeping the shingles from blowing away; the ladder, leaning against the vestry roof, was also in danger of being blown over. The man seemed in need of a co-worker—or, at least, of another pair of hands.
“WE SHOULD STOP AND HELP THAT MAN,” Owen observed, but my mother was pursuing a theme, and therefore, she’d noticed nothing unusual out the window….
“WE MISSED DOING A GOOD DEED,” Owen said morosely. “THAT MAN SHINGLING THE CHURCH—HE NEEDED HELP.” (pp. 33-34, 35)
Owen sees a world that those around him appear either unwilling or incapable of seeing; Owen also is eager to act on his vision for empathy and compassion while those around him are paralyzed by their daily lives:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! ("The World Is Too Much With Us," William Wordsworth
The arc of issue 6 depends on creating some nuance to vigilanteism, a core problem in superhero narratives. That arc begins with Daredevil and ends with the Punisher, who has long provided a moral complication to Daredevil’s code of ethics.
Matt Murdock, lawyer, and Daredevil, superhero, have carried this tension as well throughout the long history of Daredevil:
Daredevil’s mission is grounded not in punishment but in a key tenet of restorative justice:
Criminals are a consequence of social forces, Daredevil argues, and thus, he seeks a way to use love and compassion to help those labeled “criminals” regain their humanity.
Daredevil’s commitment to restorative justice is dramatized in an exchange with Bullet:
Like Daredevil, Bullet is aware of the inherent flaws in the criminal justice system, built on punishment; however, Bullet is also a voice of blunt reality against Daredevil’s idealism:
Here, my concerns from issue 5 are greatly tempered although this exchange creates even more tension in the story itself. Similar to the powerful scenes between Frank Castle/The Punisher and Daredevil in S2 of Daredevil, here Bullet calls Daredevil on his idealism:
Alone, the weight of that reality on Daredevil is revealed, the pressure of being Christlike, leading by example:
The religious motif of issue 6 is made explicit once Daredevil confronts Goldy while Elektra serves the mission (and faces Iron Man*):
From issue 5—”This is God’s plan”—to issue 6—”The Lord knows the plans of man”—Psalm 94:11 pulls the reader back from Daredevil’s idealism, suggesting that despite his best intentions, his mission is “futile.”
And then, the narrative returns to something ominous, the motif of punishment:
Justice, we must acknowledge, is in the eye of the beholder, and issue 7 appears to be tracking toward a clash between the mission (Daredevil) and the cause (The Punisher).
And the question remains if that justice can be restorative or futile.
This origin story is set in rural Upstate South Carolina during the 1970s, and there are plenty of uncomfortable parallels with the scrawny nerd-to-hero Peter Parker (the origin story of Spider-Man, 1962, occurring a bit over a year after my birth, 1961).
This origin story is about nerd-t-hero, however; it is about an anxious rail-thin teenager being diagnosed with scoliosis and stumbling into reading, drawing from, and collecting Marvel comic books.
From 1975 until I graduated high school in 1979, I managed to collect about 7000 Marvel comic books, the greatest bilk of what was published in the 1970s. One huge part of that collection was buying a collection from an ad in our local newspaper.
As I have written about often, my parents turned themselves inside out to support their son resigned to spending his adolescence wearing a full body brace to correct a crooked spine. Buying comics and even attending a comic-con in Atlanta were stressful for my working-class family, but my parents never wavered.
While my collecting—and drawing from comic books—gradually faded while I was in college and then married in the early 1980s, I held onto that collection until my then-wife and I decided to buy a townhouse before having our only child.
Here, I allowed the normal life expectations to prompt a really bad decision—selling the entire collection to a comic book store in Charlotte (who mainly wanted the X-Men titles, and the full original run of Conan) for enough money to make a small downpayment on that townhouse.
While the money for us then was enough, looking back, I essentially threw away a wonderful collection because of impatience to start the sort of life I believed I was supposed to follow.
Over the next 40 years, I was a former comic book collector—although I popped back into collecting a few times because of students I taught and the growing wider interest in superheroes grounded in films featuring Batman and then the X-Men.
Also over those 40 years, my life—as life does—changed dramatically and in ways I could have never envisions.
In 2002, I moved from K-12 teaching to higher education, and it is then, that I turned to comic book scholarship/blogging and began once again filling my office with comic books used in that work as well as starting (without any initial purpose) collection Daredevil, focusing on my favorite Alex Maleev run.
The 2010s included the greatest changes in my life. Grandchildren, another serious cycling versus car accident (on Christmas eve 2016), the death of both parents in 2017, and then a major life change in 2019 after spending two years in therapy.
This may seem trivial to many people, but a key to coming to embrace my true self, and thus, true life, was to allow myself to return to the joys of my teenage years.
For a few years now, I have recommitted to comic book collecting, focusing on Daredevil and Black Widow along with a few other Marvel (and some DC) titles.
I moved my small collection from my office into a very small apartment already overwhelmed by two occupants and way too many high-end bicycles.
But in 2022, we moved into a larger apartment allowing us to dedicate a small bedroom to those bicycles and that growing collection—along with another new avocation, Lego.
Something unexpected happened in 2022.
First, I was able to complete my Black Widow solo series collection while I also wrote an 8-blog series on Black Widow and recently submitted a book proposal on the character (currently under review).
Next, I gradually began to make huge dents in the more daunting Daredevil collection since his solo series began in 1964 and includes nearly 700 issues.
After connecting with a local comic book store, where they targeted Daredevil issues for me, I began making some large purchases and eventually believed I could complete the entire run.
A tipping point in 2022 was making the big leap to buy Daredevil 1, 2, and 3 from that store, and then realizing I had dwindled my needed issues from about 100 to just about 10.
In that final 10, I was faced with a few key issues that were experiencing the usual market inflation connected to the MCU so I was patient and watched for dropping prices at local stores and on ebay.
This post in December 2022, then, is a magical one for me, surreal as I announce with acquiring Daredevil v.1 issue 7 (the first issue with his red uniform), I have a full run of Daredevil.
Few movies for me have been as relentlessly quotable as The Blues Brothers, especially Elwood’s refrain: “We’re on a mission from God”:
Looking back at the film today, this “mission” resonates in ways that could not have been imagined in 1980, unless you continued to deal in fiction. That “mission” and casual exchange between the brothers—Elwood: Illinois Nazis; Jake: I hate Illinois Nazis—are much harder to laugh along with as the U.S. slips further and further into a pit of Christian Nationalism and the rise of neo-Nazi-adjacent white supremacy.
I immediately, however, thought of Elwood’s deadpan refrain when I read the first page of Daredevil 5 v.7:
This exchange between Daredevil and Doc Sasquatch is a red flag, I think, although the challenge from Doc helps tether where Daredevil is heading. None the less, I think physicist Steven Weinberg’s warning is relevant here:
“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion. Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.”
Daredevil exhibit s a great deal of bravado and certainty throughout the issue as he begins to assemble what he refers to as an “army” while stressing the need for Elektra, as his new wife, to remain by his side.
Yet, one of the important scenes addressing Daredevil’s doing God’s work reveals someone quite different:
Here Zdarsky reminds readers of Daredevil’s closeted humility, or at least his ability to self-check, anchored in the imagery of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen (and later the Man without Fear) bringing hell to anywhere he goes.
One key part of Daredevil’s quest to form his army, the Fist, is Zdarsky including a powerful framing of Daredevil against John Walker and introducing motifs that resonate with the current state of political and ideological upheaval in the U.S.:
This clash between Daredevil and John Walker allows Daredevil to distance himself from “fascists” and “authoritarians” (John Walker) while maintaining the problem of both characters’ being certain they are “right with God.”
And here is the essential problem: John Walker, authoritarian, represents religious zeal grounded in fear, and Daredevil perceives himself as a superior warrior in “God’s plan” because: “I need him to see what a man without fear can do.”
How do we as readers come to see Daredevil’s beliefs? Is he descending into delusion and falling prey to Weinberg’s warning—”but for good people to do evil—that takes religion”?
That Marvel and Zdarsky have chosen over the most recent two volumes to further blur Matt Murdock/Daredevil and Elektra in terms of moral barometers is certainly at play in this most recent issue and the impending doom it portends.
The many iterations of Daredevil in print and film/series are held together by Daredevil losing his way despite his overt and even simplistic good intentions.
As a reader and fan, I am finding it much harder to trust this narrative—unlike the more compelling version of Daredevil in the Netflix series (and upcoming Disney+ series).
In fact, the Daredevil fight with John Walker may simply be a metaphor for Daredevil’s own battle with himself.
Again, the current state of politics in the U.S. includes an entire party, Republicans, who have embraced missionary zeal and ends-justify-means politics. Is Daredevil facing a similar descent?
Much of superhero narratives either depend on or call into question ends-justify-means behavior, vigilantism and the codes that may or may not separate heroes from villains (again, think about Weinberg’s warning and the entire catalog of Batman narratives).
Daredevil may have decided that to get to heaven he must go through hell. And he may have also decided to make that choice for everyone else.
As the issue ends and an apocalypse appears on the horizon—including the Avengers and the Punisher/Frank Castle—Detective Cole’s concerns from early in the issue should guide us into the next phase of Daredevil’s quest to implement “God’s plan”—”‘This doesn’t make any sense.'”
Weinberg’s “‘Science does not make it impossible to believe in God, it just makes it possible not to believe in God'” may be embodied by Detective Cole, a rational check that Daredevil needs—unless his descent is what is being planned all along.
More often than not recently, many people have come to know Marvel superheroes through Netflix, the MCU, and now Disney+. That sets up tension between the recent fans and those of us coming from a comic book background.
I am a Marvel reader and collector from the 1970s, and fell in love with Daredevil when his comic book was co-titled with Black Widow. I also grew up a Marvel fan when shows such as The Incredible Hulk hit mainstream TV.
Once CGI allowed superhero movies to look the way we now-older fans always hoped, I have been mostly thrilled with the mainstreaming of Marvel comics—despite the many problems with that different universe compared to the too-often rebooted and jumbled universes of comic books.
I am also one of those fans who loved the Netflix Daredevil series because it captured almost everything that makes the Daredevil character and narratives nearly equally compelling and deeply problematic.
Matt Murdock becoming Daredevil incorporates the traditional silliness of superhero origins (a chemical spill doesn’t kill young Matt, but renders him superhuman) as well as some refreshing and compelling elements (Matt develops many of his superhero qualities because of his character, one grounded in a relentless righteous anger than is more than vengeance).
Although Daredevil is one of the earliest Marvel creations, debuting in 1964, and has endured almost 60 years and numerous reboots over 7 volumes, in many ways, the character is a low tier one, if not a top tier two figure in the Marvel Universes (certainly a notch down in the MCU).
Daredevil, however, is currently trending regularly on social media because, as many of us Netflix Daredevil fans have wanted, the character is being reintroduced to the Disney+ and MCU versions—although at a glacial pace. With that, we comic book fans who have been stung many times by various types of reboots have been fretting about a Disney+ series ruining the Netflix version, one that is incredibly violent (Kingpin’s car door scene, for example, is very not Disney) and one that owes a great deal to Frank Miller’s reboot of Daredevil that boosted Miller to superstardom and laid the foundation for his heralded Batman work.
Many comic book fans also fretted about Moon Knight, a much more clearly second tier Marvel superhero. However, in some ways, I think, the success of Moon Knight tempered our fretting about how Daredevil would be recreated (again).
Another element of the relevance of Moon Knight and Daredevil in the MCU is religion. Moon Knight being Jewish has been examined with the Disney+ series, in terms of how relevant his faith was portrayed in the series. Matt Murdock, and the entire ethos of Daredevil, Man without Fear, is grounded in Miller’s emphasizing Murdock’s Catholicism.
In similar ways to concerns about Moon Knight being Jewish, it seems important to interrogate whether or not Murdock’s Catholicism is being trivialized or honored in the MCU. Some fear Murdock’s faith is mere “stained-glass window dressing” (Cressler, 2022, p. 113).
Ironically, Matt/Daredevil’s righteous resolve is the antithesis of glass. In many ways, people find Daredevil compelling because his superpowers are certainly skewed closer to being human, thus frail, than other superheroes such as Luke Cage, The Hulk, or Superman. Yet, Daredevil is often the most determined human in any conflict, counting on his ability to suffer and persevere—because he is certain (usually) that he is right.
Cressler admits a concern I raised above (with the Netflix series a notable exception):
The extent to which Murdock’s religiousness features in any given story—and indeed, whether it features at all—depends of course on the artists involved. Some center other elements of the Daredevil mythos (secret ninja societies, for instance). Most of the time Catholicism seems more like stained-glass window dressing, offering a thematic or aesthetic palette without much depth: fistfights in front of altars, vaguely religious themes, jokes about Catholic guilt. (p. 113)
What makes Cressler’s analysis compelling is using Catholicism as a lens for understanding not only Matt/Daredevil but also portrayals of Daredevil as that intersects with who is drawn to the character and why. Citing Andrew Greeley and others, Cressler asserts, “Daredevil’s abilities accentuate what is often cited as the distinguishing feature of Catholic Christianity: the sensuousness of its religious culture,” including violence (p. 116).
But even more significant, I think, Cressler notes that Catholicism reinforces a central motif of most portrayals of Daredevil, suffering. In the Netflix series, for example, a motif of the show is how often people express disbelief in the amount of suffering Matt can and does endure. Nearly even more so than his blindness, Matt’s willingness—even eagerness—to suffer defines him.
Among the most informative aspects of Cressler’s analysis is his explaining how Miller’s own working-class Catholic background builds on the origin of Daredevil: “Daredevil thus presents a working class twist on the classic comic book origin story” (p. 120).
Miller’s working-class Catholicism, I think Cressler demonstrates compellingly, contributes to both why Daredevil is an enduring character (maintaining Miller’s stamp) and a very problematic one as well.
The best analogy I have is that Miller-influenced Daredevil (Netflix and Disney+ versions) are similar to why so many people are drawn to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul despite the deeply problematic elements. When the craft is high, the work soars, but often with any work, the flaws of the artist and the world seem to inevitably creep in:
This reluctance to call white Catholics white and have that word signify something substantive is particularly problematic when talking about the era in which Miller came of age and eventually began a career in comics. In the 1950s, white Catholics defended “their turf” against Black migrants in the urban North. In the 1960s, some fled to federally subsidized and racially segregated suburbs while others fought on the frontlines of resistance to integration. The so-called “Catholic vote”—by which pollsters meant working-class white Catholics—helped usher in a half century of conservative rule, first as part of Nixon’s “silent majority” and then as members of the “Reagan revolution.” Born Again bears this influence….
By the time Frank Miller began drawing Daredevil in the late 1970s, white Catholics had thrown bricks at civil rights activists in Chicago, firebombed school busses in Boston, and brutally quelled a prison uprising in Attica, just to name a few notorious instances of white Catholic violence. (pp. 124-125,127)
Miller’s own misogyny and bigotries grounded in his upbringing tarnish even the best aspects of his run on Daredevil. Like too much of the comic book world, stereotypes often populate Miller’s narratives in the most reductive ways.
Yet, as Cressler explains, we must acknowledge the key role of Catholicism:
When Frank Miller said Daredevil “had to be Catholic,” the Catholic he created was a white working-class Irish American Catholic man prepared to save his woman and defend his block with brute force. This is the Catholic Daredevil brought to life in Marvel’s Daredevil. And this is not merely a work of fiction. (p. 127)
Ultimately one of the most interesting tensions here is between Matt’s devoutness and his righteous anger turned violent:
Daredevil’s religiousness, reviewers seem to say, can be found in biblical quotes, religious images, and theological themes. Violence is another matter, one that has to be forgiven in the confessional and reconciled with faith. (p. 128)
However, as Cressler shows, Matt—notably in the opening scenes of Netflix’s Daredevil—has fully embraced both his faith and his violence:
If we resist [the] urge to separate the two, however, it quickly becomes clear that religion and violence are bound together for both Frank Miller and Netflix’s adaption of his work. Recall how the series opens. We meet Matt Murdock in confession, where he admits “I’m not seeking penance for what I’ve done, Father. I’m asking forgiveness for what I’m about to do.” (p. 128)
The portrayal of Matt/Daredevil, by Charlie Cox in the Netflix series, I think, is at its best when viewers can see in the acting that Matt/Daredevil has switched to “violence is the only solution”—sometimes accompanied by a slight head tilt. And we feel a little rush of adrenaline as we anticipate that despite all the odds against him, Daredevil will leave the “bad guys” regretting not only their immediate actions but also being bad guys.
I do not see Daredevil as a base vigilante bouncing from act of vengeance to act of vengeance. I am compelled by the character Daredevil because of the tensions created through Matt being a lawyer and his Catholic drive to rid the world of evil (starting, of course, with saving all of Hell’s Kitchen). Cressler referencing Birzer notes that Daredevil embodies “righteous violence meted out in defense of moral order” (p. 129).
The Disney+ era of Daredevil has been announced, Daredevil: Born Again. There is no doubt that Miller will be lurking there, but what remains to be seen is how seamlessly the Disney+ era will grow from what Netflix established.
Will we have to endure mere “stained-glass window dressing,” or will we feel the hair raise on our arms anticipating Daredevil single-handedly pummeling the bad guys down a cramped and dark hallway?
Superhero comic books have a long and troubling history of xenophobia, racism, cultural appropriation, sexism, and nearly any negative -ism you can imagine.
The comic book industry is obsessed as well with rebooting as an industry mechanism and rebirth as a recurring plot element. Whether reboot, resurrection, or adaptation, however, superhero narratives seem unable to shake the very worst aspects of cliche and reductive storytelling.
The adaptation of The Punisher (Netflix) and yet another rebooting of Daredevil, volume 6 (2019), share even more examples of failing to take advantage of starting over.
Season 2 Episode 1 of The Punisher puts Frank Castle, masquerading as Pete, in a dive-bar in Michigan.
Ever stoic, Frank cannot avoid trouble, interjecting himself between a crude bar patron and the bartender, Beth, who has remained nearly equally as distant as Frank. When the bar bouncer moves to expel both the creep and Frank, Beth intervenes, and despite her protestation that she doesn’t need any help, she ultimately makes the move on her knight in shining armor, offering a nightcap at her place.
As Beth and Frank (Pete) walk to her car, Beth asks Frank to assure her he isn’t an “asshole”; Frank replies, “Isn’t that the kind of thing an asshole would do?”
Soon, Beth and Frank are entwined in Hollywood montage sex, interspersed with some dialogue where Frank confesses his name is Frank, and not Pete as he has told her.
Once again, Beth struggles with a reasonable concern about whether or not Frank is an asshole, just another creep, one whose body is riddled with scars.
And for the second time, Beth just goes with a feeling and accepts Frank is essentially a good guy.
Not blessed/cursed with superhero powers, Frank is one of the mostly human superheroes although gifted with skills and the prerequisite rage-motivation: a well-trained killing machine spawned by the military and then driven to incessant vigilanteism by the slaughter of his entire family.
The Hollywood montage sex of E1 is much less about the sort of sex people have on one-night stands and more about the objectification of bodies in superhero narratives. And these narratives never stray too far from the unexplainable magnetism of the white male saviors that nearly always sit in the center.
Superhero sex is a compelling topic when those superheroes have exceptional powers like Superman needing to be human to be with Lois (see the Christopher Reeves films) or the violent and destructive coupling of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage in the Netflix adaptation of Jessica Jones.
But Castle, The Punisher, is all rage and training so the super sex is titillating but mostly secondary to the standard messages being sent about Frank as white male savior and sexually irresistible.
In both the Marvel comic book universe and the Netflix universe, Castle/The Punisher and Daredevil/ Matt Murdock are paired as different sides of the same vigilante coin—Frank the-ends-justify-the-means Castle juxtaposed with Matt Batman-lite Murdock.
With Daredevil being resurrected once again in the comic book with 2019’s volume 6, on the heels of the Death of Daredevil and three seasons of Daredevil on Netflix, we are immediately confronted with super sex and body objectification.
While superheroes such as The Punisher and Batman are essentially humans with super abilities gained through training and trauma, Murdock is a step above since he does possess super powers, although his physical strengths are mostly acquired. In other words, Murdock/Daredevil does not pose the same sexual threats as Superman or, say, the Hulk.
Fresh from the edge of death and the hospital, like Frank in S2 E1, Matt in issue 1 (2019) moves from the bar to the bedroom:
The panels preceding these are the comic book version of Hollywood montage sex, but this dialogue is significant for the ways this reboot approaches well and then fails the super sex motif.
In the early episodes of Netflix’s Daredevil, Foggy chuckles about Matt’s being blind but always attracting beautiful women. This adaptation remains uncritical in its use of the blind motif in Daredevil, which the comic book has tended to do since the early 1960s.
The scene above does complicate the blind motif when Matt implores: “Please don’t make my disability your fetish.”
However by the final panels of that page, the dialogue and artwork paint a disturbing, and far too predictable picture.
Matt’s partner in a one-night stand is aggressively establishing her seeking out his body. But she is drawn pencil-thin, and both she and Matt concur—despite her being attracted to Matt’s blindness (“I picked you up with my charm“): “I don’t have to worry if I am pretty enough,” she explains. “And yet,” Matt parries, “you’re beautiful.”
“And yet,” she echoes, “I’m beautiful.”
Superhero narratives remain compelling because they have potential, often underachieved potential, but potential none the less.
The Punisher and Daredevil are characters with moral and ethical imperatives about justice, but also embodiments of vigilante themes that are pursued uncritically.
They share as well the lazy super sex plot elements and body objectification that is reductive for women characters who are equally diminished by their capitulation to the irresistible white savior appeal of Castle and Murdock—stoic, scarred, and chiseled.
Real-life sex is almost nothing like Hollywood montage sex, and superhero narratives could benefit from realizing that as well as exploring the full physical and emotional complexity of humans, even when they have superpowers or especially when they are merely human in the presence of the superhuman.
The origin story for superhero comic books rests in the 1930s and 1940s, but those creators remained in relative obscurity, often with little or no financial reward. However, the 1980s and 1990s ushered in an era of comic book creators as superstars.
One of the most iconic and influential superstars from that period was Frank Miller, who built his comic book capital on a staple of the industry—the reboot.
Miller reimagined the canon for and resurrected Daredevil (Marvel) as well as Batman (DC). Some argue that his work on Batman: Year One (with David Mazzucchelli) and The Dark Knight Returns (with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley) is among the best in the history of superhero comic books.
Miller’s artwork also proved to be a visually impressive source for film—notably his Sin City and 300.
But, as if Miller were one of his own antiheroes, his stark individualist philosophy has also led him down some lonely corridors. He’s written graphic novels that many of his fans recoil from—including one that WIRED called “one of the most appalling, offensive, and vindictive comics of all time.” And he followed that up with ferocious online musings that provoked an outcry, even from some of his most stalwart supporters. In recent years, he’s withdrawn from the public eye.
The Many Universes of Superheroes: Netflix’s Miller Lite Adaptation
While rebooting characters and entire universes became a standard convention of comic books at Marvel and DC, the adaptation of superheroes from print to film sputtered throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s.
Marvel has mastered the film adaptation, and many in the public are far more familiar with the film Marvel Universe than the many universes of the comic books. Concurrent with the feature film success of Marvel and struggles with DC-based films other than Batman, Netflix launched serialized superhero adaptations in conjunction with Marvel: Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher.
These adaptations, I thought, held much greater potential than feature films; they matched the current generation’s lust for binge watching, but they also maintained one of the most compelling features of comic books, extended serialization.
The Netflix approach was well-suited to Jessica Jones since the adaptations downplay some of the main conventions of superhero comic books, such as elaborate and identifiable superhero costumes.
To their credit, Netflix adaptations have been character driven, often as much about the everyday person as the superhero alter-ego.
Season 1 of Daredevil traveled that muted approach to superheroes, and found the perfect source in Miller’s arc, later published as a graphic novel, The Man without Fear, written by Miller with dynamic artwork from John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Al Williamson (inks).
This first season follows a softened and tweaked Miller narrative and draws significantly from Romita Jr.’s art, notably the black non-costume Matt Murdock dons in most of the season:
While I have examined The Man without Fear and its relationship with the Netflix series , I want below to look at Season 3 and the use of the “Born Again” arc as more Miller Lite.
Daredevil Born Again, and Again
The “Born Again” arc (Daredevil vol. 1, issues 227-231, and often including 232-233) features Miller and Mazzucchelli, who also paired on Batman: Year One. This storyline builds on the rebooted Daredevil fashioned by Miller and includes some powerful religious imagery and themes.
Daredevil as a mythology and narrative has survived, I think, like other major superheroes because in its essence that mythology has compelling elements—structural justice versus vigilante justice, tensions surrounding the idea that “justice is blind,” etc. However, the serial rebooting of the character and the adaptations of the comic book medium into feature films and serialized filmed formats suggest at least that these essential elements have not in some real way been fulfilled.
This is where the differences between the source material and the adaptation come into play. Netflix’s S3 of Daredevil uses “Born Again” as the primary frame, as S1 used The Man without Fear. But S3 also pulls directly and loosely from other sources in the comic book universes as well.
Schedeen focuses on Karen Page’s role in Wilson Fisk/Kingpin discovering Matt Murdock is Daredevil; Karen is manipulated into revealing Murdock’s secret in “Born Again” because Miller has reimagined her as a drug addict and failed-actress-turned-porn-performer. I want to add and emphasize here that the Netflix version of Karen is an important shift from Miller’s trite and reductive Karen. Netflix’s adaptation has clearly sought ways to keep Karen flawed (her backstory revealed in S3 is brutal and dark) but maintain a far more complex and fully human character than Miller has allowed. Like Matt, Karen feels a great deal of guilt and self-loathing in S3, but this adaptation resists a common flaw in comic book narratives to reduce women to one dimension.
Another change involves pulling from a different source, “Guardian Devil” from 1998, as Schedeen notes. This change fits into my point above, I think, in that S3 character Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter (an adaptation of the Marvel character Bullseye) kills Father Lantom instead of Karen. Again, I see these changes allowing a richer and more complex version of Miller’s Karen Page and the wider Daredevil contemporary canon (in this case crafted by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada).
S3 maintains the “Born Again” reveal of Matt Murdock discovering Sister Maggie is his mother, as Schedeen details, developing more tension in the adaptation version.
The teasing out of Wilson Fisk/ Dex (Bullseye) and another assassin, Nuke, between “Born Again” and S3 demonstrates how the Netflix series often streamlines source narratives and characters while also in many ways blunting superhero elements.
One of the most distinct differences is the use of Dex, and dropping the name “Bullseye” as well as the superhero uniform, in S3. Netflix’s adaptation has chosen to emphasize Dex as mentally unstable, paralleling, I think, in many ways the motif throughout the series concerning childhood trauma (shared by Dex, Fisk, and Murdock) and authority conflicts—the parent/child pattern seen also with Karen.
The paralysis of Bullseye is shared between S3 and the comic book source, and as the Netflix S3 ends, Dex’s surgery clearly was designed to propel the series into another season.
One of the key characters in the Daredevil myth is Foggy, and the Netflix version also develops from the foundational source character into a more complex and even realistic person, a necessary change, I think, in terms of how Foggy parallels Karen as they interact with Matt.
Fisk’s love interest, Vanessa, proves to be another interesting adaptation in S3, much like the changes made with Karen. As Schedeen explains, “In the comics, though, Vanessa has a much more complicated relationship with her husband and his criminal empire.” Here, I think, the viewer of S3 is forced to consider Vanessa as a more fully human and independent character, again in similar ways to how we view Karen. In comic books, as in literature, women are often reduced to being merely symbolic or muses for men as heroes, or villains.
Similar to Dex (Bullseye), Fisk (Kingpin) is essentially drawn from the comic book Marvel universe, and “Born Again,” but the superhero/villain elements are greatly muted. The “Born Again” Kingpin projects the sort of large ego we see in S3, but the fights and outcome for Fisk vary substantially in the adaptation. Schedeen adds, “Fisk doesn’t suffer quite so resounding a defeat in ‘Born Again.’ He does overplay his hand in his attempts to destroy Matt Murdock, eventually causing the deaths of dozens of Hell’s Kitchen residents when he unleashes the out-of-control Nuke.”
With the Netflix run of Daredevil finished, in midstream, we can see how Miller’s version has provided a powerful and compelling frame for the adaptation. But we should also recognize the potential and purpose of adaptation from one medium to another.
The Netflix series as Miller Lite presents an important argument for the urge in the comic book universe to reboot and retell. Daredevil as a foundational superhero myth has extremely important characters, motifs, and themes, but too often the array of creators positioned to soar with those elements has tended to flutter, falter, and even fail.
S1 of Daredevil was exciting in its potential, even as I found the filming too dark (although the dark tendency of the comic book with some artists, such as Alex Maleev, has been among my favorite qualities). By S3 and the abrupt end, I was increasingly hopeful that this adaptation was working its way in the right direction.
While episode 13 of S3 charged viewers with Matt’s “man without fear” speech at Father Lantom’s funeral, we are left once again with less than we had hoped for.