In Too Deep Into Marvel #15: Daredevil, or Morality, Justice & Religion In The Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Marvel, where I over-analyse the Marvel properties until… well, until I get bored really.
Well this month I finally bit the bullet and got Netflix and, despite only having a sixth of the content that you guys have, there was one reason in particular that I got it for: Daredevil. And the show if fantastic. Seriously, go check it out before you read this, because I’m not gonna bother hiding away my spoilers. Because Daredevil deals with Morality, Justice, and the Religious Way, something we’d yet to see in this cinematic universe. Does it work? Well lets find out.
But before we start, let us have Matt Murdock sum up morality and justice perfectly when he defends a clearly guilty man:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, forgive me if I seem distracted. I’ve been preoccupied of late with, uh, questions of morality. Of right and wrong, good and evil. Sometimes the delineation between the two is a sharp line. Sometimes it’s a blur. And often it’s like pornography: you just know when you see it. […] A man is dead. And my client, John Healy took his life. This is not in dispute. It is a matter of record. Of fact. And facts have no moral judgement. They merely state what is. Not what we think of them, not what we feel; they just are. What was in my client’s heart when he took Mr. Prohaszka’s life, whether he is a good man or something else entirely, is irrelevant. These questions of good and evil, as important as they are, have no place in a court of law. Only the facts matter. […] My client, based purely on the sanctity of the law which we’ve all sworn an oath to uphold must be acquitted of these charges. Now, beyond that, beyond these walls, he may well face a judgement of his own making. But here in this courtroom, the judgement is yours and yours alone.
So then, what is morality in this sense? As the (blind) Matt Murdock puts it, you know it when you see it. So, is what Matt does as the Man in Black, later Daredevil, morally good? His main goal is to protect the innocent of Hell’s Kitchen and punish evil-doers. We see him going out of his way to protect people, even going so far to take on a gang of thugs to rescue one small boy. These are clearly ‘good’ things to do. But at the same time he’s willing to torture, he’s willing to hurt and kill when it may not be strictly necessary. He puts himself into positions where he has to kill someone to save his own life. Hell, he even has to debate whether the morally justified thing to do would be to kill Wilson Fisk in order to protect the city from him. But while we’re on the subject, lets look at Wilson Fisk. Because, on the whole, Wilson Fisk is a morally good guy. Or, at least, he very clearly wants to be. Aside from a few evil acts, mostly involving brutally killing people, he tends to be try to do what is best for Hell’s Kitchen. He doesn’t want to rule over it with an iron fist, like so many other Marvel villains. He firmly believes that what he’s doing is good and it’s for the betterment of those around him. He thinks his actions are morally good… while Matt Murdock thinks his actions are morally bad. It’s an interesting dilemma: Which one of these characters is morally good. Fortunately the series ends with Wilson Fisk realizing that he is a bad person, and deciding to embrace that rather than fight it. He decides to cross that line and become a bad guy. But until then, he was somewhat of a good guy. He wanted to make the city better. The thing is, once he realised he couldn’t, he blamed Hell’s Kitchen for it. Saying that it was its fault for denying him his vision, and that it deserves it. It’s only at the very end do we actually get a moral split between the two characters, to finally show which one is good and which one is bad. Because up to that point, it was up in the air.
So that’s morality, but what about justice? Matt Murdock is a lawyer after all, so he more than most knows all the laws he breaks when he dons the black mask. But, as he points out in his closing speech, justice is about the facts. While morality is something subjective, something that is how we decide on how the world is, justice is how society is organized. You could say it’s morally wrong to not murder people, but that doesn’t make it just. Likewise you could say that the death penalty is just, but that doesn’t automatically make it morally good. But how does justice play into this series? Well, when it comes to the facts, Matt Murdock breaks the law far more times than he upholds it. And he places himself in a position above the law, thinking he’s better than it. It’s quite an interesting dilemma: A character, sworn to uphold the law, instead chooses to continually break it instead. Which means, in terms of justice, he’s no better than Wilson Fisk. Both men break the law, this is a fact. Who broke the law more is irrelevant in a court of law. But, at the heart of it, the two men see the law as something different. Wilson Fisk sees the law as an obstacle that needs to be overcome, whether it be via bribes or by force. Matt Murdock sees the law as something that needs to be protected and held firm, even if it’s misguided. When he talks about bringing down the future Kingpin, he talks about it solely within the confines of the law. As much as he’d love to just kill Wilson Fisk, he knows that on some level its morally wrong, and that he just can’t kill people. Likewise killing the man wouldn’t really bring about justice, it’ll just fulfil a personal grudge. Justice is far bigger and more important than both these men. This is the tightrope that Matt Murdock must walk, between having to choose what between what he wants, and what the law says. And the series is a lot stronger because of it.
But lets get to the most interesting matter: Religion. This is the first time it has really been explored within the Marvel Universe. Now I’ve heard the arguments before: Surely if people knew that Thor existed, they’d be less religious people because this other faith is proven true. Actually, no, the exact opposite would happen. Since Thor exists you have much stronger evidence that the deity of your choice exists. If a being like Thor existed it is now far more reasonable to presume that a being like Jesus might have existed. Whether you think he’s the Son of God or whatever, the thought of a being having these sort of powers is no longer such a stretch. So after the Battle of NY the general population’s level of faith would far more likely go up, not down. Now I could delve into how this would make terrorism worse in the long run, but I’ll discuss that another day. Point is, religion has more of a standing in this universe. But what about this series?
Well Daredevil is one of those rare superheroes where religion plays such an important part to the overall mythos. I mean there’s a few of the obvious symbolisms (Daredevil, Hell’s Kitchen and the like) and a few subtle ones (having Matt see the world as being on fire is actually quite a clever little reference that informs us a lot about his character). But the conversations between Matt and the priest are fascinating, because it really does show how important religion is in some people’s lives. Now I’m a hard atheist, but Daredevil does make a good case for the other side. The priest character is just a human, nothing more, nothing less. He believes in what he says, sure, but he’s more concerned about trying to help people than converting them to their way. It’s actually remarkably refreshing, given that so much religious material is about trying to convince the audience that their character is right about their beliefs. And the theme of religion is a subtle one that runs through the entire story, but nevertheless works out wonderfully. It really is a refreshing change to see how something as simple as religion can inform a character and their actions without it also being a lecture to the audience. Plus it ties in beautifully with the concepts of morality and justice. But at this point I’m basically talking about what the show actually does, which is far better experienced than read about in this badly worded summary. So go check the series out if you haven’t already.
So there you have it. My look at Marvel’s Daredevil and why it’s simply fantastic, well worth watching (since I got Netflix just to watch it). If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.