Claire Temple: “… On top of that, he can take an unbelievable amount of punishment without one damn complaint.”
Matt Murdock/Daredevil: “That last part’s the Catholicism.”
From “Marvel’s Daredevil” on Netflix
On Friday, April 10, streaming service Netflix premieres its 13-part adaptation of “Marvel’s Daredevil,” based on the comic-book character. Without going too deeply into the series’ comic past — as that may or may not play into the series as it goes on — I did find conflicting views of just how Catholic Matt Murdock, a blind New York City lawyer by day and masked crimefighter with super-senses by night, really is.
On the “Matt Murdock is really Catholic” front, here’s Patheos blogger Jonathan Ryan from 2013:
The final exhortation in the comic seals the deal. Daredevil cuts short his confession with a priest to go fight crime. When the father asks him where he is going, Matt replies, ‘I’m off to do my Father’s work, padre, off to do my father’s work.’”
This comic is devotional reading for me. Sin. Redemption. The power of being helpless. Sacrificing yourself so others might live. All concepts that go deep to my heart.
On the “Matt Murdock is only kinda Catholic” front — considering, in the comics, he’s not exactly chaste — here’s blogger and “Daredevil” aficionada Christine Hanefaulk:
It turns out that the most common meaning of the term [Catholic guilt] has to do with the conflict people feel when trying to reconcile traditional Catholic tenets with Western values, particularly when it comes to abortion, pre-marital sex and masturbation. Does this mean Matt fights crime because he feels guilty about pleasuring himself? Holy cow, I never considered that angle before… I suspect that people throw the Catholic guilt explanation around because they, like me, simply aren’t clear on what it means.
To me, Matt Murdock is a fascinating and, yes, conflicted character who carries a lot of things on his shoulders. His background and upbringing influence him a great deal and his morals and aspirations suggest a spiritually inspired quest to do right in the world, as well as a belief in God. But is he a poster boy for organized religion or even a practicing Catholic? Joe Quesada might say yes. The vast majority of the written record says no.
That’s enough for the comic books, let’s look at the series itself. If you want to remain utterly unspoiled until you’ve binge-watched all 13 episodes, stop now.
I’ve seen five episodes, and Murdock, played by British actor Charlie Cox, has gone to Confession once, in the pilot — granted, he’s seeking absolution in advance, and he’s told that’s not how it works — and then there’s the above quip about Catholicism, from a later episode.
But, other than that, faith doesn’t seem to be a big topic of conversation.
Murdock also gets medieval on several bad guys, but he doesn’t appear to be enjoying it, and he doesn’t carry a gun.
The son of a single-father boxer who made one last glorious stand in the ring before losing his life, Murdock was dosed with radioactive waste as a child (radioactivity being Marvel’s favorite way of making superheroes), costing him his sight but massively increasing his other senses.
He prowls the mean streets of Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen — which is a bit anachronistic, since it’s now called Chelsea and is well on its way to total gentrification — rescuing the helpless and fighting a multicultural, but mostly Russian, slate of non-super-villains.
His costume is basically just black clothes and a mask pulled over his eyes (one assumes the snazzy red outfit and the nickname come along in good time), and he doesn’t throw off quips while fighting, like Spider-Man, or have Iron Man’s unlimited wealth and tech.
Murdock’s got his senses (like uber-hearing, acute sensitivity to temperature variations, smell, etc.), his two fists, his kung-fu-fighting ability, and that’s about it.
On this team are a law partner with the unlikely name of Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), secretary and former client Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), and a nurse named Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who helps patch him up (and the only one so far in on the secret).
The show is dark — visually and tonally — but not dystopian, and there are flashes of humor. At one point, there’s even a touching belief in the ability of a newspaper to right wrongs by getting the word out (and a crusading MSM reporter, played by Vondie Curtis Hall, which is how you know it’s kind of a throwback).
As a bonus, star Charlie Cox was raised as a Catholic … but I’ll get deeper into that in another post.
In short, after five episodes, “Marvel’s Daredevil” is only slightly more overtly Catholic than anything else on TV, but, like Christophers Award winner “The Flash” on The CW –click here for more on that — it features a true, old-fashioned hero.
Both Barry Allen/The Flash — part of the DC Comics universe — and Matt Murdock/Daredevil have lost parents to injustice, acquired super-abilities through mishaps, and are on missions to save their cities from criminal menaces.
But, unlike the metahuman villains of “The Flash,” or the colorful foes of Fox’s “Gotham,” based on DC Comics’ “Batman,” the baddies of Murdock’s world are ordinary evil people, seeking power, fortune and personal gratification.
Hearing the cries of the innocent, Murdock throws his very-vulnerable body into the fight then suffers mixed emotions about the mayhem he causes, even if it’s in the service of good.
It’d be great if he also recited a prayer now and then or had the odd rosary in hand, but that’s sounds pretty Catholic to me.
Oh, and regardless of the level of Catholicism involved, is “Marvel’s Daredevil” good?
Hells to the yes.
Here’s a sneak peek:
Images: Courtesy Marvel Entertainment/Netflix