- Occasional periods of self-doubt are natural and healthy, as long as they do not interfere with normal life.
- Daredevil saves many lives but focuses too much on his mistakes and what he gives up to be a superhero.
- Just because you make mistakes or bad choices doesn't mean you've chosen the wrong overall path.
It is natural, from time to time, to doubt the value of what we do. Each of us makes contributions in various areas of our lives, such as our jobs, our families or households, and our communities. Sometimes these doubts make us consider giving up a role, especially when it comes to our job. Many of us don’t only want a paycheck for doing our work—we want to feel we’ve made a difference in a positive way.
Of the many superheroes of comics, film, and TV, few have suffered these feelings more often than Daredevil, starting from his very earliest years as "The Man Without Fear" and continuing into his current adventures. In this first post of several drawn from my new book on Daredevil's early years, we’ll look at three specific reasons for doubt he has and see what we can learn from them (and in the next post we'll consider a possible source of all three).1
Too Many Risks to Others
Daredevil saves many New Yorkers from injury or death every day he puts on his red tights, but he still obsesses over the risks he imposes on his loved ones, some of which are realized. Although he dreams of marrying his early love, Karen Page, he tells himself that “only by giving up my crime-fighting career—forever—could I marry Karen—without endangering her life!” (Daredevil #43, August 1968).
When he gets involved in the legal problems of a later girlfriend’s father, who nonetheless goes to prison and takes his own life, Matt thinks to himself that he “only wanted to help, but instead I failed everyone who ever meant anything at all to me!” (Daredevil #151, March 1978). Later in the same issue, though, after saving some lives, he realizes that “maybe I have made my share of mistakes—both as Matt Murdock … and Daredevil … but I’ve done a lot of good, too! That may not justify the mistakes … but it does make them a lot easier to live with.” As we'll see, he usually comes to this conclusion but only after beating himself up unnecessarily first.
Not Enough Time as a Lawyer
As we know, Matt Murdock is also a skilled and compassionate attorney, a mission that is often compromised by his other life. After the grand opening of the Storefront, his free legal clinic, he thinks to himself (while in costume as Daredevil):
There’s a need for someone like Matt Murdock working to help those in need. And there’s something in me which demands I do it. Maybe it’s time that Daredevil wasn’t the only hero in the Murdock family … because I’ve just given myself the chance to make Matt a greater hero than DD’s ever been. Which only goes to prove that you needn’t be super to be a hero … (Daredevil #130, February 1976)
But after saving people as Daredevil later in the same issue, he elaborates: “I’ve questioned myself, wondered if I was doing the right thing by playing super-hero … but I guess as long as there are people who are forced to become victims—there’s just got to be Daredevils to help them.” The fact that Matt does tremendous good in both his roles and because he can't find the right balance, he always feels he is shortchanging one by indulging the other.
Sacrificing His Private Life
Of course, Matt is only human, so he also reconsiders being Daredevil because of the costs it imposes on him personally. As we’ve already seen, his superhero career often stood between him and a romantic future with Karen Page, as well as making trouble for him and his best friend Foggy Nelson. In an early moment of frustration, he says to himself, “Daredevil! He’s already caused me to lose the girl I love—and my best friend, as well!” But after he runs into Willie Lincoln, a blind veteran he helped out in a previous story who had since gotten back on his feet, Matt realizes that “when I think of him, I figure maybe Daredevil’s career wasn’t all a waste! It’s worth taking a dozen pratfalls for one guy like Willie Lincoln!” (Daredevil #49, February 1969).
Another time, he asks himself, “What would you do without your adventures to entertain you, Matthew, son?” He thinks of the life he could have had, full of marriage, kids, and free time, but realizes: “Sure. You might have had a better life— And maybe a few people who are alive because of DD—would be dead” (Daredevil #78, July 1971). Once again, he comes to realize that his life as Daredevil is valuable, but only after questioning it, as he all too often does.
What We Can Learn From Daredevil
As I stated above, it is natural to doubt your value on occasion—in fact, it would be strange if you never did. However, Matt Murdock takes this too far: He seems to question his value all the time, even though he always comes to the same conclusion: The good he does far outweighs any bad. Ideally, over time, he would have formed a more stable appreciation of his own value that would sustain him through his adventures and settle the occasional periods of self-doubt without sending him into an existential crisis.
We all need to step back from time to time and examine what we’re doing to see if we’re on track with our goals and values; as Socrates famously said, the unexamined life is not worth living. But if we seriously doubt what we're doing with our lives too often, it can interfere with them, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in which our worries bring about exactly what we're worried about.
By all means, ask yourself if you're on the right path—but once you decide you are, you need the confidence in your decision to stick with it, making slight adjustments when necessary, but not questioning the path itself until you have good reason to. Matt has plenty more legitimate occasions to do this in the decades of comics that follow the examples mentioned above, but he needs the self-awareness to know that what he does is of tremendous value, even if he seems to mess up once in a while, and not question himself each and every time something goes wrong. (And if Matt Murdock can do that, there's hope for us all!)
1. Mark D. White, A Philosopher Reads... Marvel Comics' Daredevil: From the Beginning to Born Again (Ockham Publishing 2024).