–By Carly Twehous–
“I’m not seeking forgiveness for what I’ve done, Father,” Matt Murdock intones in the dark confessional. “I’m asking forgiveness for what I’m about to do.”
Such a statement carries a profound desire to do what is right, coupled with a bleak acknowledgement of a world that perverts even the most noble intentions. Matt Murdock is a blind defense attorney who moonlights as a masked vigilante when the due process of law fails to administer justice. He’s called the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, but his Catholicism haunts his every breath. Season One of Marvel’s Daredevil explores not only the dichotomy within the character of Matt Murdoch, but also calls into question the definition of what a hero should be. Maybe, in his world of classic villains and red leather onesies, his Catholicism is his superpower.
Though he was raised Catholic and kept a fragment of his faith in memorial of his father, Matt Murdock is the last person you’d expect to find sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings. He is far from perfect. To be perfectly frank, Murdoch’s adolescence could very well have turned into the classic tragic backstory common in pretty much every supervillain. His father was killed by the mob, he was in a tragic accident that left him blind, and his mentor sounds a lot more like Darth Sidious than Obi Wan Kenobi. The table’s set for him to take revenge on the world that turned against him.
For whatever reason—be it a divine calling or plain Irish stubbornness—Matt Murdock walked down the road less travelled. Murdock chose a path on which he could do the most good in a world of lesser evils. That’s when his Catholic faith began to make sense: the complicated morality of a life of two seemingly contradictory paths was something that could be understood—if not reconciled—through the duality of Catholicism and the corrupted world.
As Frank Miller, the author of the Daredevil comic books, once said, “Along the way, I decided he needed to be Catholic because only a Catholic could be a vigilante and an attorney at the same time.” The role of an attorney is to seek justice within the confines of the law abiding by a set moral code whereas the role of a masked vigilante is to protect the innocent from harm and seek justice outside the limitations of the law. As any good Catholic knows, once one begins to operate outside the set perimeters of a moral code, there is little more than foggy mist with only a dwindling hope of a prophetic lightening strike.
Instead of wandering blindly in the fog, however, Matt continues to fall back on his Catholic faith in the hopes of finding the definitive line between good and evil. Constantly throughout the series, Matt Murdock is in the confessional or in the church, questioning whatever it is he thinks he believes.
At its very center, it is the age old question of the ends and means: Is it justified? Heroes, across epic poems to the colored pages of comic books, have constantly questioned, tested, erased, and redrawn the thin line in the sand separating good from evil. Often times, such a quest leaves the hero in need of a redemption epic that fuels the second act of their story right up to the point where they defeat the villain and kiss the girl.
Daredevil is different. By constantly standing and studying the line that separates him from Wilson Fisk, who he views as the devil incarnate, Matt Murdock is instead concerned for the state of his own soul, lest he succumb to the presumed nature associated with his title as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Instead of futilely trying to earn redemption after the fall, Murdock repeatedly tries to avoid endangering his soul to the point of necessary redemption in the first place.
That, my friends, is not only heroic, but ground-breaking.
Then, the final conflict: Matt Murdock cannot bring Fisk to justice in court, so he must don the mask. And, God, wouldn’t it be easy if he could just kill the Kingpin? “I know my soul is damned if I take his life. But if I stand idle, if I let him consume the city, all these people will suffer and die.”
It is an impossible choice, one in which there is a nearly infinite margin for error; when faced with such a choice, ordinary heroes often find themselves compromising a part of their code—and, as such, a piece of their soul—for whatever they’ve deemed as the greater good. Matt Murdock, again, is infinitely different. He abides by a simple truth: “Demons run when a good man goes to war.”
Daredevil is not a story of redemption. The Original Sin, so to speak, of this particular narrative has not yet occurred. This is the story of a man in limbo before the Fall, struggling with his free will and wrestling with the devil in the Garden. Matt Murdock is not asking for forgiveness from his sins, but rather for courage in facing the devil, both metaphorically speaking and in the literal incarnation of Wilson Fisk.
Murdock’s Catholicism demands deliberation. It’s an ultimatum for him to choose black or white in a world that so often blurs into gray. As with any comic book superhero story, it is fair to say that the hero wins out in the end. The bad guy takes the fall and there’s certainly a feeling of “Ding-dong, the Witch is dead!” However, with Daredevil, it is far more than that. Maybe that’s the point and maybe that’s why this story matters. Matt Murdock is triumphant. He proved himself a hero worthy not only of his title as guardian of his city, but also as a defender of faith in a world where it is said to have no place; he has the audacity of blind belief, the bravery to question right and wrong, and cunning to conquer the beast inside his soul.
His is a story worth telling.