Compelling superheroes are those with rich, irreducible iconography—status quo character or storytelling elements that are conceptually inseparable from the heroes themselves. Superman’s vulnerability to kryptonite. Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton. The dying words of Uncle Ben to Peter Parker. Green Lantern’s oath. My favorite superhero of all, Daredevil, has a ‘trinity’ of iconic traits: blindness, lawyering, and Catholicism; the day that Matt Murdock has his blindness cured, switches professions, or de-converts is the day that Daredevil is dropped from my pull list.
Catholic is not the flavor of Christianity that I personally grew up with, but I must admit that it works so well for visual storytelling mediums (comics, TV, film, etc.) because Catholicism itself is so visual and full of symbolism. Beyond that, it just works for Daredevil. Many comics writers and artists have harnessed this aspect of Matt Murdock to great storytelling effect. The themes of guilt, confession, redemption, the sanctity of life, and resurrection come up again and again in Daredevil stories. As a person of the Christian faith, I feel represented when I read Daredevil; the only other mainstream comics hero I can think of that represents my faith is Nightcrawler of X-Men fame (Hey Marvel, how ‘bout a team-up? Although I’m still hoping Daredevil and She-Hulk open a law practice for metahuman clientele).The day that Matt Murdock has his blindness cured, switches professions, or de-converts is the day that Daredevil is dropped from my pull list.
I find it fascinating that in a fictional universe full of sentient life on countless worlds in a multiverse of alternate possibilities, in which Daredevil has both battled extrabiblical demonic entities and has buddied up with Thor, the Norse god of Thunder, his belief system remains intact. He is still an often-devout Catholic who believes in the God-man Jesus of Nazareth who briefly walked the earth in Palestine some 2,000 years ago.
In The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the more-than-a-lion Aslan is depicted as the form that Jesus takes when visiting that specific fantastical version of reality. But in Daredevil, Jesus is not depicted as anything different than if you walked into a Catholic church in the ”real world” on any given Sunday. We have seen many religious and mythological figures portrayed in Marvel and DC Comics (Ares, Hercules, even Judas Iscariot), but Daredevil’s depiction of Jesus remains rooted in a recognizable daily experience.
Most of all, Catholicism works as a grounding force in Matt Murdock’s life. Whereas Batman has some sort of personal code against taking life, Catholicism is that personal code for Matt Murdock. And frankly, it inspires me.
It is the code that leads Matt Murdock, while outing his secret identity in a court of law during writer Mark Waid’s excellent run, to say “When the globe came after me, I lied to shield my friends. That’s the truth. It’s not the kind of excuse I’m looking forward to giving St. Peter—a sin is a sin—but maybe he’ll understand. I hope so.” It is the code that causes Foggy Nelson, weak from chemotherapy, to declare to his best friend, “You’re not perfect. Sometimes, you can be a real jerk. Not on purpose. Just sometimes. But no matter what, you are a man of integrity. That is your defining characteristic.”Whereas Batman has some sort of personal code against taking life, Catholicism is that personal code for Matt Murdock.
It is the code that leads Matt Murdock repeatedly into the confession booth with a local priest in Season One of Netflix’s Daredevil, to prayerfully beg for God’s healing and mercy at the bedside of a poisoned Elektra in Season Two (while his incredulous, Zatoichi-esque mentor Stick stands by), to reverently make the sign of the cross after proto-Bullseye takes a very dear life in Season Three. It is the code that leads Matt Murdock to chide Karen Page, contra Frank Castle, that “only God can decide” if somebody should live or die.
As I write these words, I am gazing at a Funko! Pop Daredevil bobblehead on my desk, his walking stick transformed into nunchucks—a vigilante martyr ready to take on a world of potentially endless pain. Seeing those sightless red eyes not gazing at me from behind the ironic, devil-horned battle mask, I feel challenged: “Do the right thing. Never give up. Let integrity be your defining characteristic.”