On April 10th, time will stand still…….okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. This Friday is a very special day for those of us out there who are Fans Without Fear….and have a Netflix accout. All 13 episodes of Marvel’s Daredevil, the Netflix Original series about blind lawyer/vigilante Matt Murdock will be available for binge watch consumption. While it’s only a few days away, it’s hard to wait when you’re this excited. To help tide you over, I will be showcasing some great DD comics history right here in the final installment of “Countdown to Daredevil”! Read on and find out why Daredevil may just be the best street level hero that comics (and fandom in general) has ever seen.
With just a couple of days before the debut, I thought I’d take a look back at the origin of the Man without Fear and focus on the guy that defined him. Like many heroes, Daredevil is a character born from tragedy. Matt Murdock would become the blind vigilante to bring his father’s killer to justice. But unlike Batman, whose parents were killed in front of him when he was just a boy, or Spider-Man, who lost his Uncle Ben when he was a teenager, Daredevil was a young man in law school when his father met his demise. So while the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne defined Batman and the death of Uncle Ben defined Spider-Man, Battlin’ Jack Murdock defined not just Daredevil but Matt Murdock as well.
Jonathan “Jack” Murdock made his first appearance in 1964’s Daredevil #1 (created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett). He would also die in that issue, so his time in the Marvel universe was short. Through the years, we would learn more about the character from flashbacks, but the bulk of what we need to know is given to us in that very first issue. Jack was a boxer who was tough as nails. He could take a punch like nobody else. The problem was he took a lot of them. He’s fallen down the card by the time we’re introduced to him. But he’s the kind of guy who refuses to throw in the towel. “The measure of a man is not how he gets knocked down to the mat….but how he gets back up again.” This was something he instilled in Matt. But more than that, he always stressed the importance of brains over brawn.
Jack was a bruiser, a meathead, with no real formal education. When his wife Maggie left him (which was revealed recently during Mark Waid’s Daredevil run it was because she suffered from severe postpartum depression), Jack would end up raising Matt all by himself. The one thing he wanted more than anything was for Matt to grow up and make something of himself and not have to fight for a living. Because of this, he was strict. When Matt got home from school, he was to hit the books. He couldn’t go out and play with the other neighbourhood kids. He couldn’t join sports teams. Jack wanted him to be the smartest kid in the class. And he was….which made the school bullies come out of the woodwork. So Matt would have to do the one thing his father never wanted him to do. In issue #191 of the first Daredevil series, Matt remembers a time he came home with bruises compliments of a fight he won. There was no way to hide it from Jack. He was livid. He got so angry he lost himself and hit Matt. He immediately knew it was wrong and apologized profusely. It was the one time when Jack truly slipped up.
Jack was by no means perfect, but the tough love he showed Matt when it came to school work only applied to that. He was a loving father who cared deeply for his son and wanted to pass on to him the importance of perseverance. That lesson in perseverance became extremely important after Matt lost his sight. He didn’t give up on his studies and eventually made it into Columbia Law School, all to make his father proud. And Jack was proud of him. So when Jack was given the match of a lifetime and was told to “take a dive” by Roscoe Sweeney, aka “The Fixer” (a fight promoter known for rigging fights to make big money in gambling), he decided he couldn’t. He wouldn’t be able to look at Matt ever again if he threw a fight, no matter how good the payout. So he went out and had the match of his life.
Victorious in the ring, Jack met his demise at the hands of The Fixer’s thugs. He was beaten to death outside the arena, just a short time after the fight. This was, of course, the catalyst for Matt’s transformation into the Man without Fear. Throughout his career as a crime fighter, Matt has continued to find strength in the memory of his father and the many lessons he taught him about being a good person and to never quit.
In later years, a bit of ret-conning would take place that would sully Jack’s rep a bit. In the fantastic Man without Fear miniseries, written by Frank Miller and drawn by John Romita Jr., a number of changes are made to the Daredevil origin story. One of the main differences is that Matt is much younger when Jack has his last fight. This was done to better explain the inclusion of Stick, a Miller creation introduced in his initial run, who trained Matt in regards to using his “radar” sense. The other major change is Battlin’ Jack’s past. In this version of the story, Jack isn’t just a washed up fighter. He’s also a goon for The Fixer, shaking down guys who owe Sweeney money. This was one of the only missteps in the retelling of origin as it wasn’t really necessary. Many creators who work on Daredevil must agree with me on this as it’s been largely forgotten. It’s not even mentioned in Marvel’s bio of the character.
The one place it wasn’t forgotten was in the 2003 Daredevil movie. I know, I know, I shouldn’t open up old wounds. In the movie starring Ben Affleck, roughly 15 minutes of screen time is given to the Battlin’ Jack story. Like in the Miller/Romita comic, Jack’s death happens much sooner, shortly after Matt becomes blind. He’s also more than just a boxer in this story as he is once again a thug for The Fixer. Matt actually sees his father “working” which leads to his accident. So instead of Matt losing his sight heroically saving an old man from getting hit by a truck, he ran onto a loading dock and caused a forklift to swerve. With this decision, the film cheapened the origin of Daredevil’s defining characteristic.
Thankfully, this is not the case with the upcoming Netflix series. Episode 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil focuses on the story of Battlin’ Jack Murdock and it mostly follows the original tale from the comics. Jack is shown as the positive father figure he’s always been. To find out my thoughts on this episode as well the series as a whole, be sure to listen to Geek Hard this Friday at 7pm Eastern on www.realityradio101.com for my full review.
Marvel’s Daredevil debuts on Netflix April 10th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!