Of The People: Daredevil, the Devil, and street-level heroes

Now that we’ve talked about Daredevil as a television show, let’s talk about Daredevil as a person. Or rather, let’s talk about Matt Murdock, because over the course of the show we see that Matt and his vigilante alter ego are one and the same. Matt Murdock is inspired to don a mask and become a vigilante because he sees injustice and fear oppressing the good people in Hell’s Kitchen, but when he is “in character” as Daredevil, he’s no less Matt Murdock than he is when he’s arguing for justice in a court of law. Throughout the show we see Matt struggle with his conviction not to kill, and ultimately he upholds his morals, turning Wilson Fisk over to the police. Matt’s morality, and his Catholic faith, are important parts of his identity which he does not subsume in order to fight crime.

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There are no secret identities in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—Steve Rogers is a national icon—but for the first time we’re dealing with a person who has a reason to wear a mask. You can’t be a lawyer and a vigilante, you’d be disbarred immediately, and Matt needs his job. Because he’s already invested in protecting his identity, he has a chance to be something none of the Avengers can truly be—a symbol. Claire Temple fears that he will become a martyr, but he’s already evolving into a symbol, “the devil of Hell’s Kitchen”, before she voices her fear. And he embraces that persona, acquiring a red suit with horns, and ultimately earning the moniker “Daredevil”. As Daredevil, he’s less of an inspiration and more of a warning. Father Lantom believes the devil is real and that he wears many faces; Matt Murdock presumes that the devil is universal.

father lantom

It’s important that Matt embraces religious iconography as Daredevil, because that’s a language everyone in his neighborhood knows. Throughout the show we hear many different languages and accents, and Hell’s Kitchen is a melting pot on the cusp of gentrification, but everyone recognizes a red figure with horns. It’s a specific image that carries a specific meaning, regardless of language. But it’s also embracing a particular aspect of the devil that Father Lantom touches on, that the devil “walks among us”. From Milton to comic books, the devil is imagined as someone who lives and operates on Earth, interacting with people on a regular basis. He’s not above the fray.

daredevil-black-suit

By becoming Daredevil, Matt Murdock signals his place is down on the street, interacting with people on a one-to-one level. The criminals he faces are all local operators, a point driven home by the episode “Stick”, in which Matt’s mentor, Stick, appears to be involved in a global effort to stave off some kind of war (undoubtedly Black Sky was an Inhuman and this is all further place setting for the Inhumans). He’s trying to prepare Matt for this conflict, but Matt is uninterested. He’s only concerned with what’s happening in his backyard. This is a new perspective for a Marvel hero—to date we’ve only met Avengers and the Avenger-adjacent, all of whom are globe-trotting heroes dealing with world-ending, or even galaxy-ending, threats. Daredevil is uniquely of the people, only taking on those that pose immediate threats to the residents of New York City.

Daredevil_RedSuit1

He’s not a billionaire, he’s not superpowered, he’s not aided by advanced tech—Matt Murdock is a regular guy with a unique advantage. He’s a man of principle and conviction and will, but he’s also a cynic. He believes in the system but he also believes it’s imperfect and capable of failing. As a lawyer, he fights against the inherent injustices of an imperfect system. As Daredevil he can step into the gap between what should happen and what does happen, and try to tip the scales more in favor of the disenfranchised who would otherwise be victimized by the system’s failures. He embraces his persona as a devil because it’s a universal symbol of fear and retribution, but also because, as Father Lantom says, “devil” can also mean “adversary”. And that’s ultimately what Daredevil is—an adversary to injustice.

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