Daredevil has superpowers I’d love to have but, honestly, I’d never want to be Matt Murdock.
Spoilers follow for various plot points from Daredevil comics.
Most superhero creations sell the upside of their power fantasies up front. You see their amazing abilities and fantastic feats first and learn about their terribly tragic pasts much later. The earliest issues of Daredevil did the same thing. Dig this sequence from issue #1:
“... I can do anything a man with eyesight can... and do it better!!” Not a care in the world, huh. Daredevil? But the drama starts rolling in issue #2.
Do something that might actually make your life better, Matt? Why would you ever, especially if it meant you’d have to give up being a costumed adventurer? As the years go on, Matt Murdock slowly aggregates a personality, thanks to the contributions of the many creators who’d craft his adventures over 50+ years. The person he wound up becoming is one of the most psychologically troubled yet oddly sympathetic superheroes anywhere. Forthwith, a few reasons why I love the Man Without Fear...
He’s a Walking Paradox
Matt Murdock is a lawyer sworn to uphold the law. His alter ego is a vigilante who breaks it in search of justice. This tension generates much of the primal energy that makes Daredevil a compelling character. His best storylines get a lot of mileage from that dynamic.
He’s Impulsive and Screws Up
Matt Murdock may wind up winning the day in most of his adventures but his superhero career is littered with bad decisions.
This is a guy who declared himself the new Kingpin and also became the leader of evil ninja clan the Hand, remember?
Though he often gets compared to Batman, there’s one crucial difference between The Man Without Fear and the Dark Knight: Daredevil actually emotes. He’s not as prone to holding everything in like Bruce Wayne is and he’s generally not a cold, calculating strategist either. When Matt comes up with plans, they’re improvisatory, seat-of-his-pants affairs and are hardly ever foolproof.
He’s Catholic and It Matters
Daredevil’s always seemed super-susceptible to guilt. Various versions of his past have made a childhood promise to his dad—that he wouldn’t be a man who lived with his fists like him—a pivotable part of his origin. Hell, Born Again—arguably the most popular Daredevil storyline ever—revealed that his mom became a nun.
He tends to wind up in a church from time to time to confess his sins but you know he’s just going to commit more—often for the right reasons—and will wind up feeling bad about them.
His Powers Are Both Practical and Poetic
Superman, Wolverine, Animal Man... lots of superheroes have super-senses. But the creators who’ve worked on Matt Murdock over the decades have made his heightened abilities a beautiful aspect of his mythos and much more than a plot device.
The way he smells, feels hears and tastes his way through his environment has made him seem more connected to the Marvel Universe version of Manhattan than the hundreds of other heroes who call the city home.
He’s a superhero who—let’s be honest here—has suffered multiple emotional breakdowns, sometimes as the result of his own actions.
I’ve been re-reading through the 50-year timeline of Daredevil these past few weeks, in preparation for the TV show. It’s been a little bit like watching the superhero comics industry grow up through the publishing history of one single title. The character starts off as pre-pubescent wish fulfillment: a bullied kid who does something noble, only to simultaneously lose and gain capabilities as a result. Then comes young adulthood and the finding of purpose and confidence: it’s all cocky quips and the melodramatic intrigues of first loves.
Brooding adolescence follows: flirting with inner demons and exploring who you’re attracted to and why, without really thinking about how unhealthy your infatuations might be. Love is supposed to hurt, right?
But even after you’re ensconced in What Seems Like Real Adulthood—steady job, consistently met responsibilities and a coterie of friends—it still feels like something missing, like there’s a void you’re not reckoning with. You can wave the nagging doubts away by telling yourself you can still keep up appearances but, then one day, you can’t do that much any more.
A few shafts of self-awareness periodically break through the fog from time to time and you can maintain a tenuous equilibrium as long as you don’t fall prey to the worst part of yourself. Every so often, a bad decision will worm its way through your coping mechanisms but, hey, you’ve faced the worst already, right? But, more and more, the self-loathing shame you’ve carried around becomes harder to hide. Bad things happen and you’re sliding down a slippery slope straight into an abyss.
When you crawl out, it’s only because you reckoned with the past in full and owned your own part in your life’s fuck-ups and dumbassery. A rigorous vigil over your own mood swings is the only way you’ll keep hold of your best self.
Gesture at darkness but only warily so. Have a carefree laugh but mind the consequences of over-indulgence. Walk the tightrope, Daredevil, fearlessly.