Daredevil, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Netflix original series, came out a few weeks ago, and it’s been pretty well received by most people (including me). While no one on this blog has written a straight review of the series yet, I imagine it’s only a matter of time; in the meantime, I’m interested in talking about Matt Murdock and Catholicism.
Comics have been doing a pretty good job lately insofar as realistic representation of religion is concerned. From Kitty Pride talking about dealing with anti-Semitism to Kamala Khan just existing, we have a variety of heroes of different religious backgrounds doing their thing on the printed page. However, this hasn’t yet translated to the MCU; save for Cap’s offhand remark about how God dresses, we haven’t seen a single reference that implies any character follows a certain faith. (Remember, I’m talking about the MCU specifically, not X-Men or other films.) And it wouldn’t be difficult, as I’ve pointed out before; anything from an offhand remark about a Hanukkah gift to a character making the sign of the cross in a stressful situation would do it. It goes without saying, then, that I tuned into Daredevil with some trepidation on the religion front. Matt Murdock is probably one of the most devoutly religious Catholic characters in comics (that I’m familiar with, at least). Would his faith make the jump to the screen?
Thankfully, yes, but in a somewhat imperfect way. Some mild spoilers for the show after the jump!
If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a brief recap: Daredevil is set in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, and follows Matt Murdock, attorney at law, who spends his evenings in a mask beating up on the people who he can’t, for whatever reason, prosecute into a cell. As the series progresses he takes on bigger and bigger fish and gets more embroiled in the seedy goings-on of Hell’s Kitchen. As he struggles with questions of right and wrong, he turns to his faith for guidance.
The first scene in which we see Matt being, well, ostensibly religious left me a little disappointed, to be honest. He goes to confession, and asks the priest to forgive him for sins he’s about to commit—namely, beating the shit out of some human traffickers. This made me eyeroll pretty hard. Not only is this sort of confessional scene a somewhat lazy way to exposition-drop everything the protagonist is thinking, it’s just bad theology, and I’m surprised they had Matt do it. You can’t be forgiven for something you haven’t done yet, and it’s kind of bad form to ask, seeing as it means you’re just informing the priest you’re planning on sinning later. The seal of the confessional still applies—the priest can’t tell anyone what you told him—but it does put him in the shitty situation of knowing you’re going to go do something bad and not being able to do much about it.
Thankfully, though, this weird scene is not the only time in all thirteen episodes that Matt’s faith makes an appearance. Matt casually references it throughout the show, whether in jokes or serious conversation. When Claire is sewing him up for the first time, he quips that he’s used to pain because he’s Catholic. When a beloved friend and client dies, he finds comfort in his belief that there’s a higher power. Each of these little pieces fall into place to make Matt’s religion an organic part of his character rather than a caricature.
Furthermore, his relationship with his priest does extend beyond that first scene. Even though he eventually pieces together what Matt is up to, Father Lantom doesn’t reveal that the handsome young lawyer who frequents his pews is moonlighting as a vigilante. In fact, he takes up a role as the thoughtful guiding force in Matt’s life. When Matt, who’s been saddled with the name “the devil of Hell’s Kitchen” in the media, comes to Lantom looking for his thoughts on what it means to be the Devil, Lantom assures him that helping people is not devil-like behavior. And instead of feeding Matt some vague platitude that “the Devil is other people” or something like that, Lantom says that he does believe the Devil exists, and that it’s the job of good people to stand up to him.
He says the Devil is someone who wants to undermine anything and everything that’s good and peaceful in the world, and will stop at nothing to do so. This sets up Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, as the real Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, and makes for an interesting dichotomy for the rest of the show. Matt is considered the Devil, blamed for Fisk’s acts of terrorism and violence and scapegoated in the media, and yet he continues to selflessly fight for the people of the city. Meanwhile, Fisk is celebrated as a philanthropist and a gentleman, but he spends his time ruthlessly breaking Hell’s Kitchen into the shape he wants it to be, with no regard for the well-being of those who currently live there.
In the end, this means that not only is Daredevil a show that features a main character with clear and unashamed belief in his religion, it even sets this character up on an explicitly religiously-themed plot arc. In taking down Fisk, Matt is taking up his own small crusade against a type of the Devil, and in defeating him, it’s not just a victory for Matt, but a victory for God and the side of good.