Daredevil- Man Without Fear Cover

This is a story about how Daredevil became my favorite character. It’s also a story about how representation matters, even for straight white men, no matter what many straight white men will tell you.

A lot has been made of representation matters in comics. A lot of skepticism has been thrown its way. One of the first comments on one of my first articles ever here was a white person pointing out that he could relate to Storm. Implicit statement? Why can’t people of color, LGBTQ people, women, etc. do the cool thing this commenter did? Of course the ability to relate to characters beyond your race is a privilege of being white. When you are the default race, gender, sexuality, etc., you can skip over those primary indicators a lot easier than those who are made, by society, to be very aware of their “other” status.

It is also, largely, nonsense.

Not because that person was lying. I have no doubt they related to Storm. No doubt they love Storm. However, I do doubt that they haven’t related to white characters as well. Most likely before they related to Storm.

There’s nothing wrong with that. At all. That’s the point. It is great to relate to characters across color or gender lines. Ask most comic writers of color which characters they connected to and chances are you will hear familiar white-skinned ones like Batman and Spider-Man and that’s excellent. That, however, does not mean they don’t also deserve characters that resemble them to connect with as well. The argument shouldn’t be: “Hey, if you related to Spider-Man, why do you need a black or Latinx or Asian or Native American superhero?” It should be: “Why should the idea of having room for all kinds of characters be so controversial?”

Anyway, I said this was about Daredevil and me, and it is. This is the story of how Daredevil first caught my eye, became a character I liked, and then became my favorite character. How, in a world with Spider-Man, Batman, a billion X-Men, and a Man of Steel, the Man without Fear ended up being my number one. All through the power of representation.

Daredevil Staring at Fist
Daredevil ponders his fist. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

When First We Met

Several things impressed a young Tim Stevens about his stepfather—a big old mustache, that he lived in a condo while I lived in a house, and that his complex had a pool. However, the most appealing thing about him was that his parents, my new step grandparents, lived in Florida. So that meant I got to go to Disney.

Back in those days, Marvel had nothing to do with Disney. No one could have foretold the glory days to come. The most successful live action adaptation of a Marvel property was not released in theatres. Instead, it was the INCREDIBLE HULK television series. Premiering before I was born and ending before I could even talk, I had nonetheless experienced it via the wonder that was reruns. Thrillingly, they returned to the well for three new INCREDIBLE HULK TV movies released over the course of three years when I was seven. Which brings us to a hotel room in Kissimmee.

It being a vacation, I was allowed to stay up a bit late and watch TV. In my memory, I was alone in the room, but that’s impossible. I was on the trip with my mom, my then-step father, and my brother, so there’s no chance it was just me. But I can’t remember anyone else.  What I do remember was finding a rerun of  THE TRIAL OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK. As soon as I caught a glimpse of Lou Ferigno’s green-skinned behemoth, I settled in for a night of comic-inspired bliss.

However, it was the guy in the all-black jumpsuit that stole my heart. And he did it all with one line: “Your knife is noisy.” What did that even mean? How could he HEAR a knife? I had to know more!

DAREDEVIL Essential Reading

In Search of Daredevil

Who he was was Rex Smith’s rendering of Daredevil. Dressed in head-to-toe black instead of red and facing off against a very hairy Kingpin, he was nonetheless a fairly faithful adaptation of DD. He was a good lawyer who fought for the oppressed. His super powers were rendered in budgetarily appropriate ways. The movie even highlighted that Hornhead could be a bit of a flirt in his civilian identity; flirt, of course, being an understatement.

This being the early 90’s, I had no internet to get further information on Matthew Murdock or his costumed alter ego. So I did what comics curious kids did at that time. I checked in with friends whose dads collected comics and therefore might have a DAREDEVIL or two. And I hit the library.

At Lucy Robbins Welles Library in Newington, CT—home of the world’s smallest natural waterfall—I found an invaluable resource — two encyclopedic-sized books, one devoted entirely to superheroes, one to supervillains. Even better, unlike most reference books, you could take these two out. I did. Over and over and over again. I’d return one, take the other out, return that one and come back to the first. Those two books would be impossibly out-of-date now, but I have never come across anything as extensively covering superheroes and villains from a multitude of companies.

Anyway, that’s where I really found Daredevil. I learned his origin, his friends, his enemies, his significant stories. I saw his “real” costume—which was WAY cooler than the black jumpsuit—and his first one too, the yellow one. Every detail only confirmed my initial impression of him. Yes, he was a very cool character.

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Rex Smith knows black is always in style as Daredevil in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (Courtesy of Esquire Magazine)

With a Little Help From My Friends

Talking to my friends led to paydirt as well. My friend, Christ Quiterio, had not one, not two, but every issue of the “Born Again” saga via his father. Now, from a continuity standpoint, starting with “Born Again” makes not a lick of sense. It was also certainly too mature for me to truly get. For instance, the whole Karen Page acted in porn, became an addict, and then sold Daredevil’s identity for a hit bit? That largely went over my head. It would probably be years before I puzzled out exactly what was going on there.

Nonetheless, I was really good and hooked now. When my friends wanted to play superheroes they reached for the familiar ones. Those that were more traditional? Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. Those that were edgy? Punisher, Wolverine, Ghost Rider. Meanwhile, me? Daredevil every time. Even when they tried to say we all had to be X-Men characters, I tried to sneak DD in, claiming he was a mutant. I must have been annoying. Well, even more annoying than usual.

I did not care though. The world needed to recognize what I had discovered. Daredevil was a cool character AND he had cool comics too!

Episode 44: All About Daredevil with Marvel.com’s Tim Stevens

The Boy Discovering Adolescent Angst Encounters the MAN WITHOUT FEAR

However, little kids become pre-adolescents—tweens if you will. Then they become straight-up adolescents and, with that, their opinions change. As I turned 13, I still liked Daredevil, but I’d be lying if I said my interest had not waned a bit. For one, I, like many my age, was less into superheroes than I had been a few years earlier. I was still about a year or so from really getting into comics, so my connection to the genre was even more tenuous than many.

One thing that did keep a lot of us somewhat interested though was collector cards. Like baseball cards for the superhero set, the Marvel—and later, Marvel Masterpiece cards—became all the rage. One of our favorite activities at summer camp became wheeling and dealing. Money, candy, ice cream…whatever you could think of that had value to kids could be offered for trade. I somehow came to possess a Punisher card, a character I did not care about but who had huge cache with others. Even though I didn’t like Punisher, other people’s love for him made me feel like I had to keep him. I rejected all kids of offers. Until someone offered me MAN WITHOUT FEAR #s 2, 4 and 5. Unable to revisit the foil-raised covers depicting minimalistic scenes of Daredevil rendered by John Romita Jr., I agreed lickety-split.

Somehow, scrambling, I managed to get the other two issues within a few weeks. Then I sat down to read the new “origin” of Daredevil.

For the first time, I really got why I loved him — not the surface reasons, the subconscious reasons that I had been too young to understand until my angst came into full bloom.

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Daredevil strikes a pose (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Tim Stevens and Matthew Murdock: Peas in a Pod

It first occurred to me while reading Frank Miller’s essay about Daredevil, when he mentions Matt’s wicked temper. Like Matt, I was a generally calm, placid kid who found himself now wrestling with a lot of anger. Kids had taken to calling me Raging Skull for the way I would lose it if my anger bubbled forth. So Matt also having a temper that he kept almost entirely under wraps until he couldn’t anymore? I got that for sure.

Then there was his family situation. My parents got divorced when I was young and my dad was my custodial parent. My mom did not die or disappear but I definitely felt a distance from her as I entered my teen years. Matt, too, spent years being raised by a single dad.

Moreover, his father was physically gifted—a boxer. My dad was a 6’ 3” former football player. Matt wanted to be physical but his father forbid him. I’d have loved to be physical but I was a.) pretty uncoordinated and b.) me playing organized football was definitely not authorized. So I knew what it felt like to look up to someone and want to emulate them for their physical ability. And I also knew what it was like to know that, for whatever reason, that goal would remain unobtainable.

DAREDEVIL: Will We See BORN AGAIN in Season 3?

The Connections Grow

Then there was the Catholicism. Matthew Murdock was and is VERY Catholic. I was baptized Catholic and my mom’s side of the family were VERY committed Irish Catholics, but I was starting to feel frustrated by the Church. I disliked the way my mom couldn’t get Communion because she had been divorced. The Church’s stands on matters relating to sexuality—no birth control, anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ—seemed  inexplicable to me.

Daredevil’s actions made it clear he struggled with and against his faith. For one, by the time I was reading MAN WITHOUT FEAR, I had caught on to the fact that Matt engaged in a whole lot of sex out of wedlock. More importantly, he knew that doing what he believed in most secularly, fighting crime as Daredevil, often was in direct opposition to what he believed in spiritually. I knew that tension.

That tension also carried over to morality in general. Matt was always someone utterly committed to his principles who nonetheless fell short on them all the time. Matt promised his dad he wouldn’t fight and then spent his life training and ending most nights with aching knuckles. Daredevil loved the law but broke it to seek something closer to what he believed was justice. He could be selfish and self-absorbed. He had cheated on people he loved.

I could relate, feeling constantly that I’ve let myself down. I want to be better than I am, smarter, stronger, faster, kinder—whatever, you choose the adjective. And yet, time and again, I find myself contemplating how I could so fall short of my ideal image. No matter how hard I try, I am still not the equal of my principles.

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Charlie Cox brings the grit(ted teeth) as Daredevil in the Netflix series. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Daredevil and I Today

In general, we seemed to be defined by our inner conflicts. Him, an intellectual who burns to embrace his physicality. A man of faith who remains uncomfortable and often at odds with that faith. A hero who has tendency to do the same wrong thing again and again until it nearly breaks him. He is a pile of contradictions who never feels quite right in his own skin despite all evidence suggesting that he should be thrilled with said skin.

And then there’s me. My struggles are not nearly as operatic or interesting of course. Still, I’m a guy with plenty of natural advantages who can’t help but mourn that he never was as athletic as he wanted to be. I’m a regular churchgoer who lives with panic attacks that tend to revolve around the question of life after death. An introvert who hungers for more social interactions only to often feel awkward and uncomfortable in then.

Really, could I have chosen a favorite character any better?

That’s how I know representation is important. Daredevil is fictional and in many ways we are miles apart. However, in the ways that count, he makes me feel less alone. I can see my foibles in him and that makes it easier to recognize my strengths too. If he can be so flawed, so conflicted, and still so heroic, who’s to say I can’t too? I don’t have the mask or the billy club and I sure as hell don’t have the skills Murdock has. But as long as the Man Without Fear is out there, I feel like I can be the Man (Briefly) Without Fear, too.

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