I’ve been rushing to consume the first season of Netflix’s release of Marvel’s Daredevil before someone comes along and spoils things for me. In part, this is a conceit. I’ve read quite a bit of the Daredevil plot-lines that seem to drive this production, so I have a pretty good idea what to expect. And I’m not here to discuss the looming plot beyond this first season of episodes, but rather to point out one of the main talking points about the show: Daredevil aka. Matt Murdock and his Catholicism. This post collects some of the writing that has emerged discussing the new series and its main character’s religious identity.
Plenty has been said about Daredevil’s Catholic history at Adherents.com where the religious affinities of comic book characters are explored in great detail. Their preference for genealogical details–the gritty line where serial plot holes and back stories are filled in by meticulous attention to decades of comic content–are extremely welcome. The new series, however, seems to assume that, on the whole, their viewers know next to nothing of Murdock or Daredevil.
If the character is a veritable blank slate, then what has been written by viewers now about Murdock’s Catholicism?
Some writers have tried to link the TV series with its former incarnation as a feature film. There’s this short piece over at the Christian TV and film review site, DecentFilms, for instance, that worries that the Netflix series, while a superior production to the 2003 Daredevil film starring Ben Affleck, hasn’t clarified “the sacramental theology issue” the Murdock opens when he pre-emptively asks for forgiveness of sins he has yet to commit.
Such concerns become a serious contention over at ComicBookBin, where Hervé St-Louis asks “Is Daredevil Really Catholic?” The author’s reading of 20th century America’s religious history has some significant issues, which make Daredevil’s Catholicism sound, alternately, like a byproduct of WASPish hand-waving to lowly Catholic masses or trite cultural folklore. In the face of complaints that Daredevil simply isn’t Catholic enough as a character, we would do well to remember the story-arc Born Again, one of the centerpieces of the Daredevil canon. Though I am somewhat loathe to have a fight over canonical authority, this central work seems to be not an issue at all for St-Louis, who ignores the rich theology and symbolism that Miller embedded in his narration of Murdock’s discovery of his mother. (A better attempt at this argument is made over at “The Other Murdock Papers,” a blog devoted to Daredevil. The twisting knife of this argument, however, remains the unsustainable line between a lapsed cultural Catholic and “authentic” Catholics. How are we to judge? And whose verdict of Catholic authenticity shall we trust?)
World Religion News seems to buy Miller’s intentions toward the Catholic side of Daredevil’s character. WRN even identifies Patheos’ blogger Kate O’Hare as one viewer who has taken up the challenge of writing about Murdock’s Catholicism (with extensive links to the works of others before the series premiered earlier this month). As O’Hare quotes her fellow Patheos‘ writer Jonathan Ryan, I find myself sympathetic to viewers who see Catholic theology in the cross-hairs of Daredevil’s actions if not his words. “This comic is devotional reading for me,” writes Ryan in 2013. “Sin. Redemption. The power of being helpless. Sacrificing yourself so others might live. All concepts that go deep to my heart.”
Other acute readings of the new series (rather than the comic book that were its inspiration) include the New Republic’s (predictable) account of the show as a anti-gentrification hero. That this might go hand in hand with the Catholic ethnic communities embodied by the depiction of Hell’s Kitchen is ignored in favor of other socio-economic angles. (For you academic-types, try John T. McGreevy’s excellent Parish Boundaries.) Surely there is still much to be said of the way in which the ethnic community surrounding Daredevil is not represented by the other characters that immediately surround Murdock. Is his lawyer buddy Catholic? What about their secretary? What about the villains?
Salon pulls out the stops when writer Charles Moss declares that “Daredevil’s Greatest Superpower is his Catholicism.” The twist (as the inevitable click-bait and switch must have)? “It’s also his greatest enemy.” As Moss says, the Show “tries to reconcile the lawyer who defends the law with the Daredevil who breaks it. Murdock’s brutal justice is more than his way of taking personal responsibility for the sins of others; it’s his way of atoning for his own.” Which sins are these, we might wonder. How many sins does the blind lawyer really have at this stage of the story?
If the debate is about whether Catholic viewers see Daredevil in Catholic ways, then the answer is a far more sympathetic yes. Though Catholic Vote identifies the inevitable weaknesses in production elements of the show’s portrayal of Catholicism, the takeaway from their review is their appreciation that the series took the Church “seriously as a positive actor in a world, a voice of justice and conscience in a crime-ridden city and a light in a blind man’s darkness.” The CV seems to be taking whatever it can get. I wonder whether it shouldn’t ask for more. Why haven’t we seen the priest do more in the community? Is his only task to be the quiet, gentle conscience of the brutal justice Daredevil is handing out? Is his promise of redemption one Daredevil can take?
What do you say? Are you a Daredevil comic enthusiast who sees new religious layers to Murdock’s character? Are you a Netflix series newbie who is being drawn into this world? What do you think of Marvel’s Catholic superhero?