Sympathy for the Devil: Daredevil and Depression
I could write a puff piece about Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) and tell you his background, creation, favourite books, TV show, etc… but I thought I would write something different though, something worth talking about even if it doesn’t quite make everyone comfortable.
Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer in Manhattan’s Hells Kitchen section who, in his downtime, dons a scarlet suit and fights crime as Daredevil. Most are familiar with him at this point because of the amazing Netflix series in his name (let’s try to forget the awful movie starring Ben Affleck shall we). Readers have become accustomed to a certain type of Superhero, one that rises to the occasion after being elevated through some life experience. Whether they are mutants (X-Men), aliens from another planet (Guardians of the Galaxy), human achievements in science (The Avengers) all these characters had greatness thrust upon them by something or other.
Daredevil isn’t like his peers in the Marvel Universe. With all superheros, there’s the argument that each identity is the mask they wear and costumes reflect the character more than their name. With Daredevil, that line doesn’t ring true. Murdock didn’t have greatness thrust upon him in the traditional sense, his powers came from being doused with chemical waste, a bit different that being bit by a spider or super soldier serum. While most had their lives enhanced Murdock, on the other hand, had his life torn down and was forced blindly (in the literal sense!) to piece it back together. As such, he’s become the prototypical loner, someone obsessed with walking a reclusive path between personal order and chaos. Clearly a different path to most superheros.
When writers and his creators describe Daredevil as steeped in darkness, it’s not an attempt to be clever, he has everything taken away from him – his is of Shakespearean proportion! Blinded by waste while trying to help an old man, his mother flees his home due to mental health and domestic abuse issues. His father is murdered by gangsters because he refused to take a dive in a boxing match. A man with nothing left but his religious faith but even his faith can’t sustain him through everything. “The man without fear” is what he’s commonly known as only earns this title because it’s only after he’s truly lost everything that he’s free to do anything. No matter the positive things he does his darkness and depression hovers over his shoulder at all times. A monster he can’t punch away.
Murdock’s mother Maggie suffered from postpartum depression, feeling constantly anxious regarding Matt’s safety, thoughts soon developed into self-loathing and she considered herself to be a bad mother. Her depression became paranoia. She began thinking Jack, Matt’s father, was plotting against her and that Matt was there to tear them apart. One night, mental illness stricken, Maggie tried to kill Matt! As soon as she came to her senses, she ran away. She was taken in by a local church and took the name of Margaret. With the help of doctors, treatment, and counseling she recovered from her depression and eventually became a nun. Depression is a “trait” that runs in his family. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to prevent it.
Daredevil stands far apart from Marvel’s capes and tights. More comfortable in dark alleys than in front of people, Murdock lurks in the shadows because to him, they’ve become home to him. A place where his dual life can perhaps save others from suffering. It’s no surprise that he has a notoriously bad string of luck when it comes to relationships. In a more famous and often referenced story arcs written by Frank Miller (of Batman fame) and Brian Michael Bendis, Daredevil is shown as a depressed figure surrounded by loss. Miller wrote the sequence where his great sociopath enemy Bullseye kills his greatest love, Elektra. He also kills another of Daredevils loves, one Karen Page. During Bendis’s run, Murdock is in such a self-imposed loneliness that once he does meet a woman, Milla Donovan, he actually ends up marrying her only to see her driven insane by the super villain Dr. Fear where she is placed in a mental institution and they are separated by a court order. Talk about never catching a break. Dardevil may be a superhero but he’s one who rarely wins his internal battles without a devastating price. Each victory followed by a loss. The life of someone battling depression.
Created in 1964 by Stan Lee, Bill Everett and Jack Kirby, Matt Murdock’s never had it easy. Anybody who he calls a loved one has died from murder or drug abuse. Death and misery become the norm rather than a plot twist. Daredevil has battled crippling depression his whole life. No story arc portrays this more than ‘Born Again’.
‘Born Again’ sees Matt Murdock completely broken. As his world slowly crumbles around him, as his money and home are taken, his careers as lawyer and crime fighter are in shambles. This plays out like a car crash in slow motion, a 7 issue series which goes from bad to worse. You have his ex-girlfriend trading his secret identity for heroin, Kingpin stripping his life away layer by layer, everyone associated with Daredevil tarnished by Kingpin’s treachery and so Daredevil spirals into a depression never before seen in comics. While at the end of the series he takes steps in getting his life back together it’s the never before seen detail by Frank Miller that makes this story arc amazing. Miller is a genius and this story was before his Batman reign which says it all really. Matt Murdock became one of the first characters in comics to consistently and publicly battle depression. His comic was no longer a superhero drama but a personal exploration of self-realisation.
Daredevil punches you in the feelings and makes you cry with joy and sadness. Depression has always been a theme in Matt Murdock’s life. It’s a powerful, dark and painfully real comic book. Daredevil is one of the most honest and compelling pages that have been written not just in comics but actual storytelling. Depression is a real life battle, it’s being discussed in ways where it weighs you down, attacking everything that is good in your life. A life time battle for Matt is summed up in only a few pages, it doesn’t take reading every issue. This sinister force has no cape, mask or human form but it’s one of the worst battles anyone can go through in life. Depression is a living thing. It exists by feeding on your darkest moods and it’s always hungry. Anything that challenges it – depression will try to stop it. Anything that brings joy or makes you feel good – depression will drive it away so it can grow without interference. Depression’s goal is to isolate you and it can paralyse you at it’s worst. You are drained, numb and immobilised by it.
Matt Murdock is instantly relatable and available in ways no protagonist is in my memory. His struggles could be anyone’s struggles. I don’t have to fight his villains in order feel his pain. I myself at one time suffered through depression. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it should be celebrated when one comes out and talks about their problems or feelings. In order for comics to feel real they need human elements like this. Comic books are life experiences, shared knowledge by all involved.
Daredevil is not a hero in traditional sense, but he’s easily identifiable as a hero because he hold a strong sense of morals and ethics. Murdock and Daredevil’s lives are full of collateral damage that any character in their vicinity should run and arguably that’s what Murdock wants anyway, though probably not what he needs. This friction is what makes Daredevil’s depression so plain to see and more relatable as a character. His unending conflict is what makes him special. The adversity and fragility of the character makes him struggle that much more personally. You have to feel that Matt Murdock has to win right? How could you not pull for him?
Depression doesn’t care about sex or age, it only cares to destroy lives. Please share your story with people who care and remember that you’re not alone. People think depression is a sadness or crying but people are wrong. Depression is the constant feeling of being numb. You wake up in the morning just to go back to bed. Days are not days, they’re just obstacles you have to overcome. When you’re depressed you grasp at anything to get through the days: alcohol, drugs, cutting. The overwhelming sense of numbness is what depression is and when you are depressed life become very long. Don’t let darkness fill your heart and don’t let it overcome you. I speak from experience. I lost my father to suicide recently from depression and while I don’t want to make this about me, I can understand at least how Matt Murdock feels. No matter the circumstances always remember to fight depression because it only takes one bad day to lose everything!