A BLIND EGO: FRANK MILLER’S DAREDEVIL
It’s no surprise to those fans of the character Matthew Murdock, aka Daredevil, that after Frank Miller came on the book in 1979, a drastic shift in tone occurred across the comic book medium. Writers and artists around this time were constantly reshaping the maturity and weight that superhero comics carried, and Frank Miller was one of the many talents who entered the comic industry and made such an impact that it’s still felt today.
Daredevil was the character that not only shaped Frank Miller as a writer and artist, but also vice versa. Before Miller came on the book as main penciller under Roger McKenzie’s scripting, the character of Daredevil wasn’t something of a desirable pick-up from the local comic store by fans. A roster of kookie villains to back him up, Daredevil, though having a rather unique origin, came off as merely a Spider-Man rip-off. It was apparent after a few issues of Miller’s work in the book, that he was starting to influence the stories as well. Eventually Miller was moved to being both the writer and artist, and eventually stepped back as just scripter with Klaus Janson becoming the main artist in the remaining issues, and the rest is history.
What Miller did with the Daredevil character exceeds beyond the normal revamp like personality or new line-up of bad guys. Miller did these things, but there was something else behind the veil that he did with Matthew Murdock that is rarely done with the protagonist of their own series; he made him unlikable. When Miller entered the book, and throughout his run, Murdock and his partner Foggy Nelson are considered to have one of the best law firms in the country. And throughout Miller’s initial run on the character, many romances spark up for Matthew. The biggest being Elektra, and the other being Heather Glenn.
As Matt struggles with balancing his responsibilities as an attorney and a superhero, he starts to ignore things that are important to him, with his ego constantly pushing him away from his closest loved ones. Miller brilliantly took the idea of someone having so many good things, that they blindly assumed they would never lose it. Matt assumes Foggy will keep things running smoothly at the law office in his absences. He assumes that by letting Bullseye, his nemesis, live that perhaps the man will have a change of heart and never kill again. He assumes that his longtime girlfriend, Heather Glenn, will marry him if he persistently gaslights her into thinking she can’t live without him.
When you step back and look at the character of Matt Murdock in this time, it’s not even close to heroic, but selfish and egotistic to the point that his downfalls almost feel deserved.
Immediately the backlash of these negative behaviors takes a toll on Matt. He has irrational outbursts with those closest to him, isolating himself without realizing it. Following the death of Elektra, his true love, at the hands of Bullseye, Matt in an insane state of mind, goes to her grave to dig her up to prove that she’s alive, not being able to believe she is gone, and completely breaks down upon touching her cold embalmed face. It’s heartbreaking yes, but it’s also psychotic. Miller illustrates the behavior of a man who thought he could handle anything and everything, but at this great loss and failure, must finally come to terms with reality.
Later, he compulsively asks Heather to marry him, knowing full well that deep down he isn’t doing this out of love. His proposal to Heather, in direct reaction to the realization of Elektra’s death, doesn’t come off as genuine or romantic in the slightest, but rather out of loneliness and desperation. Through the next few issues, Matt desperately tries to shut down Glenn Industries, the company started by Heather’s father that she inherited upon his suicide, and constantly talks down to her that she couldn’t possibly run a whole company on her own. All this so that she is solely reliant and obedient to Matt.
Desperate to save his friends mental state, Foggy makes a ploy to end Matt and Heather’s toxic relationship. However, after Denis O’Neil took over as writer on the book, Heather commits suicide like her father before her, when she’s left with nothing all because of Matthew Murdock.
During O’Neil’s run, many things happen in response to Matt’s hubris and ego from Miller’s initial stories. The law firm of Nelson and Murdock goes into bankruptcy, and Matt begins traversing the globe, taking on international threats and ignoring the things back home that need his attention. Trying to stop evil everywhere else, but not where he should be.
This all culminates in what’s considered the greatest Daredevil story of them all: “Born Again.” In this story, written by Miller, the Kingpin, Daredevil’s greatest foe, learns Daredevil’s secret identity, and meticulously destroys Matt’s life. He has false documents and accusations created that forces Matt into bankruptcy, gets him disbarred from practicing as an attorney, and blows up his Brownstone in his neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen Manhattan, utterly leaving Matt with nothing. All the things he worked for his whole life, just gone.
After a near fatal tussle with the Kingpin, Matt slowly but surely puts his life back together. But not before being stabbed in the street and left for dead. Luckily he’s rescued by nuns and healed in their convent, given a new want for life, a cleansing of his soul and body, and gives thanks to God, reminded of his Catholic upbringing. He also forgives the woman who sold out his identity and helps her heal from a heroin addiction.
A baptism by fire ensues next from a new villain named Nuke, who tears apart Hell’s Kitchen on orders from the Kingpin to kill Murdock. Re-donning his crimson tights, Daredevil teams up with Captain America in not just a fight for his own life, but the soul of Hell’s Kitchen, and exposes corruption on a national scale. Through all this, coming out the other side of this physical and spiritual rebirth, accepting his penance for allowing his law firm to go under, and to lose another romance and his best friend, Matt reemerges stronger than ever through the traditional Christian practice, forgiveness.
In the end he rescues Hell’s Kitchen, and those he loves by not acting selfishly, but heroically as a savior and a man, which is expected from someone like him who is gifted with such amazing talents. In many ways, the Kingpin is the one who made his own enemy stronger, just as Satan’s temptations and malice only build stronger convictions for those who oppose him.
All in all, even though Miller would come back a couple more times to write about Matthew Murdock, he challenged the character in unexpected ways for a superhero story in his initial run the most. He manifested a blind ego that made Matt feel untouchable but led to his downfall and rebirth as not just a stronger hero, but a stronger man. Without Miller, and without Daredevil, writers and artists would never have comprehended the tribulations and risks that these characters need for us to love them all the more.