It’s the 50th anniversary of Daredevil and Marvel Studios is set to premiere the Netflix Original Series Daredevil, hopefully finally giving The Man Without Fear his proper live action due. While the mainstream public may first think of Ben Affleck’s weak, leather-clad 2003 film, Daredevil has been known and loved by comic book fans for decades. First debuting in April 1964 and created by writer Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, Daredevil has been a mainstay of the Marvel Comics Universe year after year. But while die-hard Daredevil fans have long supported the character, there are so many more who are set to discover what makes Matt Murdock and his crimson-clad alter ego one of the greatest comic book characters of all time.
And once you’re a Daredevil fan, you’re a Daredevil fan for life. From dark vigilante dramas to epic ninja battles to swashbuckling superhero adventures, Daredevil has taken part in some of the finest superhero comic books of all time. He’s a character fans can really sink their teeth into and love for countless reasons.
Matt Murdock is a morally righteous man with a shocking dark side that he must continually fight in all aspects of his life. Catholic guilt plays a major role in the character, underlying many of his tortured choices that are only exacerbated by the countless tragedies he has endured. But that only makes him a symbol of courage, charging into battle no matter the odds. It’s not just blindness that Daredevil overcomes to fight crime and save lives, it’s his own inner demons.
So whether you are interested in understanding more about the hero who is soon to be everyone’s new favorite Marvel character or just want a better look at The Man Without Fear, take a deep dive into the strength of Daredevil and his wild history in comic books.
The Strength of Matt Murdock
As a child, Matt Murdock was blinded by radioactive waste while saving an old man from a speeding truck. But although the accident took away his sight, it enhanced all of his other senses beyond normal human capacity and granted him a radar sense to better perceive the world around him. Matt was raised by Jack Murdock, an over-the-hill boxer who strove to provide a better life for his son, which led to Matt becoming a lawyer. But when Jack was murdered after winning a fight he was meant to throw in order to inspire his son, Matt put his martial arts skills to use to become a vigilante and avenge his father, which he had been taught by the blind ninja master known only as Stick. After that, Matt took on the identity of Daredevil, pursuing justice by night while protecting others during the day as a lawyer.
Having a superhero whose disability was part of his power and closely tied into the identity of the character was a bold and new move during Daredevil’s creation. It certainly helped the character stand out among the crowd and kept him from being seen as too similar to the huge amount of Marvel characters being churned out by Stan Lee at the time. Also of note is the fact that the character’s powers are fairly simple, as Daredevil’s enhanced senses and radar are his only actual powers. Other than that, he’s a normal man who has become incredibly skilled at fighting and is extremely intelligent.
Daredevil isn’t incredibly strong like Spider-Man or able to heal from anything like Wolverine. He’s also not super rich like Batman. But Murdock is The Man Without Fear. Not only does he leap across buildings and swing through New York without a care, he faces deadly enemies with little care for his own wellbeing. It’s that sense of recklessness that is innate to the character and is both his strength and weakness.
Throughout his lengthy history, Matt has been to hell and back countless times. Daredevil’s numerous devastating injuries are little compared to the true losses he has felt. He’s lost loved ones, had his professional and superhero career ruined, had mental breakdowns, become a criminal kingpin, been possessed by demons, and much more. From his many romances to his continual setbacks to the fear that he may lose everyone he loves at any second, Daredevil makes Spider-Man look like the luckiest guy in the world. These traumatic events have brought him to despair and to very dark places. However, Daredevil is always resilient. You know that he will come back to triumph eventually, even when readers don’t know how.
The Vibrant Street-Level World of Marvel
Daredevil occupies a corner of the Marvel Comics Universe that is near and dear to many fans’ hearts – the streets. While characters can interact with anyone and all of Marvel Comics embodies one giant universe, both in the comics and on a shared big and small screen, it is unofficially split into a few different sections. The X-Men often have their stories sectioned into a mutant-focused world. The Fantastic Four, Avengers, and their related characters often fight around the globe in big scale battles. Marvel Cosmic has characters like The Guardians of the Galaxy, Thanos, Nova, and more explore countless worlds and galaxies. Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, and others fight in the magic-centered sections.
But it’s the street level of Marvel that has produced some of the publisher’s greatest and most relatable characters, Daredevil being one of their most iconic. Of course, Spider-Man is the poster boy of the street level world, fighting criminals and a host of bad guys that make up his rogues gallery and embody much of the more grounded world. However, like Captain America, Spider-Man often fights on a grander scale. The most iconic of the street heroes include Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Deadpool, The Punisher, Moon Knight, and more who fight the good fight on the streets. These heroes battle day in and day out to protect their territories in New York City from thugs, crooks, the mob, and colorful supervillains looking to pull a big heist or take control of the underworld. Daredevil and his ilk don’t typically fight world conquerors, aliens, or the supernatural, but their challenges are still incredible.
Street-level adventures carry a deft blend of thrilling superhero action and everyday challenges. They also have greater grit and have dark, noir-tinged crime elements that appeal to many who love similar stories in film and books. The villains are often just as interesting as the heroes, as they are more like normal men and women who are motivated by not just greed or evil urges, but more relatable challenges that may force anyone to resort to desperate measures. However, criminals will employ all manner of insane technology and superpowers to meet their goals. The Kingpin, Bullseye, Elektra, The Hand, Green Goblin, and Jigsaw are just some of the best of this world’s villains who have challenged our heroes again and again.
Throw in the police, journalists, and all other types of everyday people and the street level world of Marvel is by far its most iconic and well-formed section. Daredevil and his fellow characters live and breathe in a fully formed world, with each able to have their own separate adventures and run into one another for the occasional team up or clash.
The Flexibility of Daredevil
Like any character that has experienced longevity, the character of Matt Murdock has flexibility concerning interpretations while still staying generally true to his essence. Add in the fact that Marvel Comics has never reset its continuity and Daredevil has both the burden of a 50-year history and a need to stay fresh and accessible to new readers. That’s a major challenge to any creator, but the best make the most of it so The Man Without Fear can be a more vibrant and deep hero in all interpretations.
While his origins have always had a dark tinge, Daredevil was a happier and lighter character in the 1960’s and ‘70s, often fighting crime with a smile on his face and a fearlessness that let him leap from roofs and battle opponents that were far more powerful than him. By the late ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s, Daredevil’s stories became darker and had a more tragic bent thanks to the influence of writer/artist Frank Miller. His noir tales really gave the character a unique and vibrant direction that would come to redefine him forever. These were stories where devastating losses were intertwined with acrobatic fights against ninjas and supervillains. While other writers followed his lead, it was always Miller that had the greatest grasp on the character.
He would come back for two more major tales with Daredevil. One is the legendary “Born Again” – a tale of personal devastation, forgiveness, and redemption and my personalall-time favorite comic book. The other is “The Man Without Fear” a darker and more in-depth retelling of Daredevil’s origin that is now being adopted by the character’s Netflix series. These standalone stories are some of the character’s most defining chapters and would go on to echo throughout his history.
While the 1990s were a bit of a dark era for the character (like every other comic book superhero), they ended with the stories that would revitalize him. Specifically, it was writer Kevin Smith’s “Guardian Devil” story that would birth the modern era of Daredevil through possibly his most devastating tragedy. That, in turn, would lead to writers Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker turning in back-to-back modern classic runs on The Man Without Fear.
Yes, it wasn’t all perfect for Daredevil stories in the modern era. The character’s biggest mainstream exposure was in the laughably bad Ben Affleck-led feature film of 2003. Also, the doom and gloom of the modern series would lead to the “Shadowland” arc, which turned Daredevil into a demon-possessed villain leading The Hand ninja clan in a bid to take over New York. It was clear things had gone wrong in the hero’s stories. But any misstep can lead to revival in the right hands.
Most recently in the character’s history, Daredevil has undergone a major overhaul that returned the character to his swashbuckling and lighter tone that he had when first introduced. That’s all thanks to writer Mark Waid, who sought to bring the character back from unrelenting darkness after Murdock had become a darker and grimmer character after a decade of incredibly macabre stories. Here, Daredevil works to be happier and carefree, even when faced with shocking darkness. But it’s a denial that borders on the psychotic, with the character trying to deny the many tragedies that threaten to overwhelm him at every turn. It’s only the latest amazing chapter of the character’s story that is sure to lead to even more compelling pieces in future years.
The flexibility shown throughout these many stories means that Matt Murdock is a character that you cannot predict and one whose stories will continually surprise and shock you in the best ways possible. Whatever you may prefer in your superhero stories, Daredevil has it all and so much more. From the lowest lows to the highest highs, Daredevil is a hero that will take you on a ride like few others.