Matt Murdock is thinking about committing murder, but he wants to talk to his priest first.
In Marvel’s hit Netflix series “Daredevil,” which premieres its second season March 18, Murdock describes an internal spiritual war between his better angels and the Devil “clawing to be let out.” Father Lantom explains how Murdock’s alter ego Daredevil could be a force for good – even though the vigilante may at times appear otherwise.
“Nothing drives people to the church faster than the thought of the Devil snapping at their heels. Maybe that was God’s plan all along,” Lantom muses. “Why he created him, allowed him to fall from grace to become a symbol to be feared, warning us all to tread the path of the righteous.”
Netflix’s “Daredevil” confronts the problem of evil in the world and challenges viewers to consider how they can be part of the solution. And it does it through the life of a blind Catholic superhero.
Murdock, the lawyer-turned-crusader known as Daredevil, has always been a religious character, but his Catholicism has varied over the years. First published by Marvel in 1964, “Daredevil No. 1” describes how Murdock was blinded as a boy while saving an older man from being hit by a car. Radioactive chemicals splashed on his eyes and took his sight, but heightened all of his other senses. Donning a red, horned costume, Daredevil patrols the streets, fighting villains who seek to victimize the citizens of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City.
— Daredevil (@Daredevil) March 8, 2016
Catholic writer Frank Miller is best known for his influential comic stories that became films including Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy. But in the 1980s, he resurrected an almost canceled “Daredevil” and turned it into one of Marvel’s best-selling titles at the time. Part of Miller’s approach was to focus more on Daredevil’s faith.
“I decided he needed to be Catholic,” Miller said in a documentary about the 2003 “Daredevil” film starring Ben Affleck, “because only a Catholic could be a vigilante and an attorney at the same time.”
The Netflix version of Daredevil continues to delve into the hero’s faith and how it conflicts at times with his violent, vigilante acts. It’s those questions of God and the Devil, good and evil, and our place in between that the show raised so well in its first season. And if the preview poster for the second season is any indication, those questions will be back.
A red neon cross illuminates the bleak city landscape, as Daredevil, Punisher and Elektra loom in the forefront signaling a battle for the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. Whose path will the citizens follow? Daredevil hopes to use the image of the devil to eventually lead the city down the path of righteousness.
In becoming the hero known as Daredevil, the devoutly Catholic Murdock struggles with guilt for what he’s done and guilt for what he’s not been able to do to save his city. After each conflict with the gangs and mobs exploiting the city, Daredevil bears more of the wounds to prove his savior complex. If you doubt he loves the city, you can touch the wound in his side.
Lamenting the toll his battle with evil has taken on his body and those he loves, Murdock tells a friend he’s not sure if being Catholic helps deal with the pain. He’s just not seeing God. Hell’s Kitchen is being run by murderous crime bosses vying for control of a city on the verge of a gentrified reformation. Innocents are caught in the crossfire. Daredevil, like many believers and skeptics alike, struggles with the problem of evil. Where’s God when there is so much suffering?
Theologians and philosophers have wrestled with that question for millennia. In searching for its answer, “Daredevil” reminds viewers that if they are looking for God, they can start by looking in the mirror. God uses the actions of humans—both good and evil—to bring about his purposes. “Because he really is a flawed hero,” Miller says of Daredevil, “in that he’s a man who intends to do good and causes much damage. Matt should have been a villain … but somehow he redeems himself and moves ahead.”
Man is capable of redemption because he reflects his creator. As His image bearers, humans reflect, even if imperfectly, God and His character in the world. For the Christian, that is most exemplified in demonstrating the sacrificial love of Jesus.
The most hell is stirred up in Hell’s Kitchen when people ignore God’s image in their fellow man. Direct consequences often follow an individual’s failure to recognize another as an image bearer worthy of care and respect.
As the personal aide to Wilson Fisk, the show’s main villain, James Wesley found himself surrounded by men and women of immense worldly power. When he confronted Karen Page, the client-turned-secretary of Murdock’s tiny law firm, Wesley dismissed her as insignificant. That conversation led to his death.
Fisk, the most powerful man in Hell’s Kitchen, refused to see how a grizzled old newspaper reporter could still be important in the Internet age. Yet, Fisk’s eventual fate was brought about, in part, by the investigation of the journalist from a by-gone era.
The city’s crime lords repeatedly dismiss Daredevil because he is just one person. Because he’s blind, no one suspects Murdock of being the superhero taking on the city’s criminal element. What could he possibly do?
One of the central theses of the show—we don’t really see what’s right in front of us—is proved by their treatment of God. We may not see him on screen, but he’s clearly there.
He may seem far removed from the grit and grim of the city. Murdock says he used to see God’s will in his childhood accident, but now he’s not sure where God is. Despite Murdock’s doubts, God is there in the slums and on the streets. His image bearers are all throughout Hell’s Kitchen.
They are people like Page, who transitioned from someone in need to someone risking their life to save the city. You can see God in Elena Cardenas, another client of Murdock’s law firm, as she fights to keep her home and make her neighborhood better.
God is working through Murdock, but not merely in his role as a superhero. As lawyers, Murdock and his college friend, Foggy Nelson, forego high-paying jobs at a giant firm to start their own. They want to serve the people of Hell’s Kitchen.
When wrestling with the problem of evil, “Daredevil” gives an answer that may not address all of the philosophical wonderings, but addresses a much more practical issue. We see evil in the world and we wonder what God is doing about it. As those created in His image, we have to once again look in the mirror. “Daredevil” reminds us that God is there in the midst of the suffering, able to serve, because we are there.
As they discuss God’s seeming absence from their city, Murdock and Page fall back on a trust that God will make things right one day. Fisk will face justice. They just aren’t sure where God’s at or what He’s doing in the meantime.
The Christian answer agrees that God will deal out appropriate justice at some point. Every thing will be made right. In the present day, however, He continues to work through those who bear His image. If you are paying attention, even a blind lawyer turned superhero can see that.
Aaron Earls is a writer living outside Nashville with his wife and kids. He writes about Christianity, culture, comics and C.S. Lewis at his blog The Wardrobe Door.