They say that when you lose a sense, your others make up for it by increasing in sensitivity – and Daredevil takes that to extremes. Blinded by a chemical spill as a young boy, the future hero developed super-powered extra senses and a form of radar vision, allowing Matt Murdock to swing through the skies and battle crime as The Man Without Fear!
But yeah, in his new Netflix series DD’s powers make no sense. Sometimes he can do anything, sometimes he can do nothing, and it all feels very arbitrary and plot-driven in a way that can be frustrating.
But before we get into how confusing Netflix has made Matt’s power set let’s go back to the source material. Traditionally, Daredevil has had the following abilities:
His most commonly displayed ability (especially in the TV series), Daredevil’s hearing is enhanced to detect an acoustic pressure charge of 1 decibel, whereas an ordinary human can only detect a sound as low as 20 decibels. In the TV series, his hearing allows the hero to listen to events going on throughout the city, tell when people are lying by measuring their heartbeats and (presumably) get really distracted by loud noises.
Not brought up that much because it sounds a bit creepy, DD’s sense of touch is supposedly so acute that he can read with it, feeling the impressions of ink under his fingertips (though he still can’t “see” screens or anything er, laminated). This improved touch also allows him to sense the body heat of others in close proximity, as well as their emotional state (or if they’re dead).
Also used surprising little, the comic-book version of Daredevil is supposed to be able to recognise anyone by their scent, as well as tracking an individual smell through a crowd up to 50 feet away.
According to his official description on Marvel’s website, Daredevil’s sense of taste is “sharp enough to enable him to detect the number of grains of salt on a pretzel” which is weirdly specific. He can also tell what ingredients you put in his food which is…handy, I guess?
As well as his enhanced senses DD has this extra one, which sort of allows him to “see”, albeit in a way that just shows him a 360 degree 3D map and doesn’t give him much detail.
No actual physical abilities
Despite kicking all kinds of ass, the only extra physical advantage Matt has on others is an improved sense of balance, and presumably a good gym membership.
OK, now we’ve caught up with comic-book Daredevil, how does TV Daredevil (as played by Brit actor Charlie Cox) compare? Well, he’s quite different.
Basically all of screen DD’s abilities seem to revolve around his super-hearing and radar sense, with little to no reference to his other powers. This isn’t necessarily a problem, of course – the comics themselves don’t spend a lot of time with Daredevil licking floors to find out where criminals went, and there’s nothing wrong with the series changing what he can do a bit – but then the powers he has left aren’t treated very consistently.
Take his radar sense. Netflix Daredevil’s version of this power is shown in the first series and described as looking like a “world on fire”, not giving him too much detail (but just enough to confirm that Rosario Dawson is very attractive).
In other words, it’s sort of but not quite as good as seeing properly, much like in the comics – but the way Daredevil actually behaves doesn’t seem to reflect that (with the radar sense not even shown in season two).
For the most part, Daredevil actually seems almost all-knowing, fighting as well as any sighted man, able to “see” through hidden walls and train carriage doors to the contents within and basically not seeming inhibited by his blindness at all. Whether this effectively makes him a “benefits cheat” as someone I know suggested remains to be seen.
At one point in series one he even casually identifies a hammer lying within a toolbox several metres away without looking at it, though it’s not clear exactly which of his super-senses he used to do this (as one of my colleagues said at the time, “You can’t smell a hammer.”)
At another time, he’s able to focus his hearing so that he can hear one thing in particular in his city, despite not knowing where the person he’s listening for is and omitting the millions of other loud noises audible from the miles and miles around.
This version of Daredevil’s powers made him seem a bit too capable, in other words – which might explain why the show then overcorrected in season two, making Daredevil’s abilities easily overcome by tactics that make NO SENSE (pun not intended).
You see, in the latest series Daredevil gets in all sorts of trouble when he faces some ninjas who can mask their heartbeats, which is apparently how he tracks people when fighting them. Upon Matt receiving a bit of a beating over this, old flame Elektra advises him to track their weapons instead, which basically works until the ninjas get wise and put their swords away. Those rascals.
Anyway, there are a few logical questions here. Why can Matt track weapons which don’t have heartbeats, but not the ninja’s heartbeat-less fists? For that matter, how is he able to avoid projectiles, obstacles or even the doorframes he encounters in his day-to-day life when they too are totally heartless? And doesn’t his radar sense work without having to hear things anyway?
But instead of addressing this, Daredevil the series’ response is bizarre –Matt is instructed by his mentor Stick (Scott Glenn) to listen for the weaponless ninjas’ breath instead (despite the whole no-heartbeat thing, apparently they still need to breathe), and block their attacks that way.
For some reason, this is easier than using his radar sense to feel their movements, or feel the air displacement of their blows coming towards him, and allows him to block specific attacks that can’t have an awful lot to do with where they’re breathing from.
This might all sound a bit picky and fanboyish, and to an extent it is. Daredevil as a series is more about people than it is powers, and its loose attitude towards how Matt’s abilities work serves the plot, not an internal set of rules. And it’s all made-up mumbo-jumbo anyway, so what does it matter if they fudge the details from time to time?
Yes, you could argue that – but I genuinely think this inconsistent approach makes any action feel contrived, with DD able or unable to get out of situations based on what the plot needs him to do. Of course superpowers aren’t real – but if you set up rules as to how they work you need to stick to them, otherwise it doesn’t feel like you’ve created a real world with real scientific rules (even if they are different from ours). It feels like you’re just winging it and cutting corners, and in a world with so many superheroes in popular culture, that sort of attitude just doesn’t cut it any more.
Hopefully, season three of the Netflix series will make a little more sense – but for now, you don’t need Matt Murdock to tell you something looks/smells/feels a little bit wrong here.
Daredevil season 2 is streaming on Netflix now