As a teenager, I was a huge John Belushi fan, beginning with Saturday Night Live, of course, and then his series of successful and now iconic films such as National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blue Brothers.
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:
The opening of issue 5 centers what many feel is the essential tension of Daredevil/Matt Murdock as a superhero—his religious zeal and righteous anger meant “to save the world.”
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.”Steven Weinberg: A physicist who found religion ‘an insult to human dignity’
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.