samedi 3 mai 2008

The Red and the Black

Recently, a fellow DD blogger started a series of posts about "The appeal of Daredevil". She kindly linked to an essay of mine that is written in french. She suggested to use Babelfish to get a kind of translation. I was curious and used it : it gave me mixed feelings (sometimes you can get what the original text meant, other times it's really an horrible mess). So I felt I had to try to do a better translation, and here it is (with pics added thanks to the easy blog editing) :

The Red and the Black

An analysis of two of my favourite comic book characters and the way they reflect(ed) on my personality.


The title of this essay is, of course, borrowed from the classic novel from Stendhal (may he forgive me to use the title of his great piece of literature for a comic-book discussion!)

One day, while having a drink at a Café, a pal knowing my passion for comics asked me who my preferred comic-book character was. More exactly, he asked me to which character I could relate the most.
I gave him three names: Wolverine, Batman and Daredevil.

The hairy mutant with unbreakable claws and adamantium-laced skeleton is more a reflection of my teenage years, when you believed you could live forever, could easily get pissed off and wanted to slice and dice everything.
So my analysis will focus on the two icons that Daredevil and Batman still are to me.
Creatures of the night. The angel of terror and the devil without fear.
By comparing their two mythos (origins, personalities, powers, enemies, supporting cast...) I would like to testify the richness of these characters and, more generally, of the superhero genre itself.


The young Bruce Wayne attended the murder of his parents assaulted at the exit of the movie theatre. He swore to avenge their death. He travelled the world and honed his skills to become the world's greatest fighter and detective. Heir of the Wayne's' fortune, he devoted his life to fight a never-ending war on crime. He adopted a scary symbol to become an urban legend and to strike terror in the heart criminals.

The young Matt Murdock became blind by saving a man who was going to be run over by a truck transporting radioactive waste. Following the accident, his other senses were highly developed. A Master ninja taught him how to control them. His father, a lowlife boxer, was killed after having refused to lose a fight. Matt avenged his father and started his double career of lawyer and vigilante.

When you try to summarize these two stories, you can realize that the origins of DD are more complex. Sure, for Batman, you could add a fall in a cave during his childhood and the phobia of bats that resulted. This phobia will be overcome so that Batman can be the one who incarnates terror for the criminals, a terror which he himself knew and controlled. The movie Batman Begins treats this topic very well. But in my opinion, that's simply a variation on the classic schema: trauma, grief then resilience.

Daredevil follows a similar but more chaotic schema. His history is even more tainted by loss and irony.

Indeed, raised by his single father (lost Mother), he had to promise not to fight at school against the other kids who insulted and mocked him (they gave him the sarcastic nickname of "Daredevil").

To the oath of revenge on Bruce on the grave of his parents, is opposed the promise of non-violence reluctantly made by Matt to a father that he respected… and feared.

The only time Matt hit back, he got punished by his father. Short running away and birth of a vocation: his father did not have the right to do that, neither did the other kids and if you cannot use your fists, which weapons can you use? The law (a very "American" answer).

Then the accident comes. Lost sight.

Darkness and a chaos of feelings. Then his mother at the hospital visited him. Wasn't his mother supposed to be dead? In fact, she had become a nun. He made her a new promise, to get beyond pain, to get stronger.

Then the tough training with his master : Stick. Not much place for fantasy. Not much time for the chitchat and the confidences. Lost childhood?

And finally, he lost his father, murdered for his last brilliant deed. Because he had refused to give up the fight. Because he had refused... to lose.

At the law school: love-story with Elektra who leaves him after her father's death. Lost first-love.

A detailed reading of the origins of DD emphasizes this succession of injustices, frustrations, losses, reluctantly made promises... Because of all that, I find DD much more complex and touching than Batman and I can't help thinking that this stuff was badly exploited in the Daredevil movie.

Because in spite of all these losses, the character will not turned sour, cynical or whiny: he will persevere, fight, rise for what he believes right, to make something good of his life.

The Knight and the Ninja:

Batman is of noble lineage. He is a kind of Don Diego De La Vega transported in the modern world.

As Bruce Wayne, he's part of the wealthiest people of Gotham City and as hero he is the Dark Knight, whose war on crime is half Grail Quest, half Wind Mills fighting.

If Batman is a noble Knight then Daredevil is a Ninja who forgot to turn bad. Abandoned by his mother, working-class kid, raised by a father working for the underworld, he had accumulated years of anger and frustrations.

In a story, the journalist Ben Urich discovers his identity and asks him why he became Daredevil. He answers: "Justice. Blind Justice."

Symbols: The Devil and the Bat.

Lawyer and vigilante. Blind lawyer. Often blinded by love. Guardian angel in a devil-costume. Catholic demon. Child of Hell' S Kitchen. I find the DD's symbolic richer than Batman's, richer in reflections and paradoxes.

To put it simply: justice, love, angels and demons are more "universal" than a bat.

And although both are evolving in dark worlds, DD is carrying more hope. Batman it is the dark creature of the night, a kind of Bogeyman.

DD is the red spot, the flame that shines in the night, the blind who shall guide us all.

Powers: human or superhuman?

Fanboys often claim that Batman is cool because he doesn't have any powers, so that you could relate to him more easily. This is technically true but "plot-wisely" false. The authors describe Batman like the best in nearly everything (criminology, martial arts, chemistry), he's always engaging a fight with fifteen contingency plans, he has a solution for everything, he is wary even of his allies on which he has files... One of the caricatures of Batman is the Midnighter in Authority: the guy who cannot lose a fight because he's already played and controlled a million of scenarios before the first second. Nobody could be Batman. It is the prototype of the physical and intellectual perfection (a kind of worrying Nietzschean "über-mensch")

Daredevil has powers: highly developed senses, radar sense. He has also skills and talents: acrobat, martial artist, ninja... But he is not "super", simply way above the average man.

So again, in this field, I find DD more touching.

Batman is too good in everything. Nothing can really happen to him. If it is the case, you get the impression of mischaracterization, like the writer did not write the character as the "real" Batman.

DD is vulnerable to a lot of things, sometimes he doubts, sometimes he fails but he never gives up. That's his super-power, a power we can all have, or, at least, that can inspire us all.

Alter ego:

Batman is disguised in Bruce Wayne. His true life, his ultimate goal, is his war on crime. Bruce Wayne is just a facade.

Matt Murdock is a lawyer and sometimes disguises himself in Daredevil. He really leads two lives that complete each other.

He needs to work inside the legal system, to prove himself rules can work but he also needs to run on roofs, to watch the dark alleys and transform his anger and his childish frustrations into something more positive.

DD believes in two conceptions of justice which are opposed and which he tries to reconcile. He is in precarious balance (that's why his series is full of "Falls from Grace").


Bruce Wayne's relationships with women are often simply posturing. Bruce Wayne is a playboy, Batman only has female foes or associates, not much "Bat-love" around.

Catwoman: a thief to catch and maybe rehabilitate.

Talia: the daughter of the enemy, to neutralize or convert into an ally.

Wonder-Woman: inaccessible, to flirt with and piss-off Clark.

The writers of DD played with the heart of Matt Murdock in some more diverse and, to me, interesting ways:

Elektra: the first love, the ninja who turned bad, the soul sister and the negative reflection

Karen Page: the One, the beloved, the betrayer. Secretary, pornstar, junkie, radio animator. Matt couldn't help falling in love with her.

The Black Widow: "the ex", the playmate, the good friend ("I am happy when you are happy...")

Heather Glenn: the jet-set-girl, could lighten up the social life of Matt but couldn't fit in the other side of his life.

Glorianna O'Brien: redhead Irish photographer who never succeeded in shooting Matt's real portrait.


Here's a good point for Batman. His Rogue gallery is much richer and filling with enthusiasm than DD's. Each villain is carrying a particular symbolic system that makes him original and attaching (the bad guys that we love to hate or feel sorry for)

The Joker: the Killing clown with cruel jokes who brings chaos and death.

Two-Face: the duality, the dark side inside all of us, the chance to seize and the fate that dooms.

Poison Ivy: the femme fatale, the seductresses, the poisonous one

The Penguin: a caricature of Godfather, a funny bird but a greedy freak.

The Mad Hatter: ideal vector for incursions into the absurd world of Lewis Caroll, to deal with tales, morals and children's fears

The Scarecrow: fear, itself.

The Riddler: symbol of all the questioning that can surround us.

Rha' S Al Gul: megalomaniac, the end justifying all the means, the dictator, the "purifier"... he is perhaps the most sinister because the most "real" (well, don't bring up Lazarus pit, please)

In regard of this long, yet non-exhaustive list, DD can only line-up:

The Kingpin: the moral adversary, king of the underworld but especially symbol of the corruption, the contempt of laws.

Bullseye: the physical adversary, can turn almost everything into a lethal weapon, a deadly foe with a simplistic "shoot them down" philosophy.Typhoid Mary: psycho-killer, a mix between Elektra and Two-Face.

Mephisto: devil, formidable adversary symbolic system but physically too powerful to allow traditional fights (hence philosophical confrontations that gave us writer Ann Nocenti)

The Owl: he flies, looks like an owl and wants to be a big godfather of the underworld (much like the Penguin but with less sense of humour and even less personality)

The Punisher: ok, he is a "hero" but a pretty tough SOB and the antithesis of DD. No justice, no lawsuit: judgement is quick and execution without appeal.

So DD has a smaller rogue gallery but consequently, the duels are often more "personal".

Supporting Cast:

On one side, there is Alfred and all the Bat-family and on the other side: Foggy, Ben Urich and Murdock's women.

As much as I find Alfred essential (he is the local "Bernardo" to Zorro-Batman) the rest of the Bat-family has me torn: they are cool but Batman is a loner. How could the World's finest seek to be surrounded of other simple humans, weak and flawed ?

Foggy is the law school comrade, the good pal, the sidekick of the legal team. But authors gradually changed him into a competent associate and a confidant.

Ben Urich is also a stereotype: the curious journalist who discovers the secret identity but who does not reveal it. However, he is at the origin of scenes even of attaching episodes.

The supporting-cast of Batman is typically in a spandex style while DD's cast leans towards soap-opera or sitcom.


Having examinated their similarities and their differences, that will be no surprise if I tell you that, nowadays, I prefer Daredevil to Batman. It was not the case, years ago...

By the end of my teenage, at the threshold of adulthood, I was living as a student, recluse in the campus that was my Batcave, picturing the wide world as an hostile Gotham-City to conquer and my future life as a long war to fight. I also thought I knew it all or at least enough about everything I needed to know. When I was interested in something, that turned into obsession and I thought that my only will could make me succeed. As in "Dark Knight Returns" I thought that the "world only makes sense if you force it to" and thus I believed I had to impose my will on the world. And life, like Superman, knocked me down and crushed me many times...

And then I got out of school (as out of the Cave) and I kinda made it. I entered the active life. I learned how to reconcile my requirements with those of the others. I understood that life could be lived inside your job but also elsewhere. I opened up to other activities, other horizons. And today, being a grown-up guy and all, I feel myself closer to Daredevil/Matt Murdock. You can make it through life even with handicaps. You can find love, even after many badly ending love-stories (well, in DD's case, that only works if a writer is willing to give him a break). You can enjoy the darkest night if you try to feel beyond darkness. The scents in the air, the noises of the street, the beats of the city, the breath of the world.

You have to be a bit like Daredevil, keep a certain balance, act for what seems right to you, fight for what really matters to you and... "Never give up. Never."

And that's it. I wrote this essay about four years ago, maybe more. Hope you enjoyed my translating efforts. Surely that's not perfect english but I think it's more understandable than Babelfish output.

Though I haven't changed my mind since, these days I'm not that much into "DD fanboying". The regular series is a bit disappointing. Brubaker and Lark are good but they knocked the ball out of the park with "The Devil in Cell-block D" and every arc since didn't deliver as much. But I keep the faith, I can't give up "Old Hornhead" !

Catégorie : Blogging_Comics

5 commentaires:

Christine Hanefalk a dit…

I think it's a great essay, JP! But you know that already... ;)

Francesco a dit…

Nice essay, buddy, and excellent choice of pictures.

P.S. I didn't think you were disappointed with the first Brubaker storyarc.

JP Nguyen a dit…

In fact by "knocking the ball out of the park", I meant they did a terrific job with the first arc, a performance that they haven't matched since.

Francesco a dit…

damn you, idiomatic expressions! :p

Anonyme a dit…

Gorgeous picture essay! I see something new every time someone talks about Matt. But you almost have me liking old Batman, due to his Zorro connections.