Why Does the Man Without Fear Become a Loner Among Heroes?

Both disability and great ability can create social distance and disconnection.

Posted Sep 30, 2017

The Marvel Comics superhero known as Daredevil appears on the Netflix television series Daredevil (which has completed two seasons so far) and The Defenders (which recently had one shorter season), also known respectively as Marvel's Daredevil and Marvel's The Defenders (even though those names do not appear on screen during the programs). In these shows, actor Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock, the blind attorney who also fights crimes as Daredevil. This is not the first live action depiction of the character. More than a decade before he became Batman, Ben Affleck played "Marvel's Batman" in the 2003 motion picture Daredevil, and long before that, Broadway star Rex Smith portrayed the devil-themed hero in a 1989 TV movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Daredevil has a much longer history, though, because he has consistently appeared in publications from Marvel Comics since his 1964 debut in the comic book Daredevil #1. 

Out of all major Marvel superheroes, Daredevil may be the one least likely to team up with others and most reluctant to share secrets with his caped colleagues. His comic book features the smallest supporting cast for any Marvel hero not well known for adventuring as part of a team such as the X-Men, Avengers, or Fantastic Four. In the comic book series' early years, his his ongoing cast consisted entirely of Matt's law partner Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page. For much of Daredevil's history, the list has had only one member, Foggy, and even he periodically separates himself from Matt Murdock. The law partnership of Nelson & Murdock repeatedly breaks up and later forms again.

Matt Murdock can be outgoing, charming, and (despite his self-loathing) confident without striking most people as cocky. His people skills are high. He has great social intelligence, which is aided by heightened senses which alert him to subtle cues other people would miss when evaluating those around them. His need for social interaction is strong but not constant. At times he completely withdraws from others, even giving up his life as Matt Murdock to fight as Daredevil full-time, and yet he keeps coming back because his need for others is strong. It is, however, superficial in many ways. While his need for interaction is high, his need for intimacy is not.

During childhood, Matt is blinded in the same accident that augments all of his other senses, initially overwhelming him. Disability can be stigmatizing. Individuals with conditions considered to be disabilities find that people may treat them according to stereotypes, and stereotyping someone makes it harder to connect with that person as a distinct individual. Stereotyping presents a pathway to additional distress (Trani et al., 2016), a social factor to compound the sheer stress of adapting to the change of the disability itself - in this example, from being sighted to becoming blind. Such categorization can heighten the sense of "otherness" which keep someone on the "them" side of belonging to either "us or them" (Lalvani, 2015).

On the one hand, loss or impairment to a basic biological ability such as eyesight can be distancing and disconnecting. On the other hand, though, having substantially greater ability can create distance as well, especially when it comes to abilities that seem to give their possessors extra insight or knowledge about the world and the people in it. Consider how often geniuses or others among the intellectually gifted must face anti-intellectual attitudes (Dixon, 2015; Juvonen & Murdock, 1995; Marques et al, 2017), stereotypes (Cobrinik et al., 1953; Rentzch et al., 2011), hostility (May, 1955;Juvonen et al., 2000), exclusion (Bosson, 2012), and distrust (Kerr, 1954; Shaffer, 1977; Thompson, 1955; see also The Big Bang Theory on CBS). For that matter, consider the wariness some people show toward people with psychology degrees, and how often they must hear remarks along the lines of "You're probably analyzing me now." Because Matt Murdock's super-senses make him aware of things others do not perceive, even allowing him to judge how honest they are by listening to their beating of their hearts, knowing this about him would make many people feel vulnerable or become guarded in his presence, as uncomfortable as they might feel in the presence of someone known to read minds.

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An expanded version of this original post will appear in Daredevil Psychology: The Devil You Know.


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