Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Motivational Poster-Boy

I was about to add another "ordinary" entry, when it occurred to me that this blog has reached its 50th post. I thought that a moderately important milestone such as this deserved a little more than that, and so I decided to insert a post about one of the reasons why Daredevil is so important to me.

From this comic book - let the self-righteous cool guys laugh about it as much as they want - I get motivation. Whenever I don't get it directly, I try to indirectly find it, by relating to the main character.
I think that relating to a character such as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, is simplified (especially in the stories of these years) by the fact that the hero is constantly shown facing adversities.
It is just like our everyday lives. Yeah, I mean that. Let's put aside the shiny and cool view of the world that the internet commonly gives us. That one world made of funny pics and memes, of easy chicks, of permanent fun, where the biggest problem is to find the witty line to write on a comment thread or to get enough friends on myspace.
Let's put all that aside, at the cost of being labeled as party-poopers, and face it: everyday life is hard. Life is full of opportunities and encounters, certainly, but also of problems.
And sometimes it's nothing short of a succession of adversities. Just like Matt Murdock's life.
We could be tempted to say that it's like that for just about any superhero, or even any fictional character. It could be. But I think that with Daredevil, it all looks much less fake.
Every superhero is shown having problems, but somehow, often, we see the generic hero being done with it by the end of the storyarc, often without further consequences, often with the problem solved hastily with some Deus (or should I say Daemon?) ex machina, so that he can move into the next event/storyline.
Daredevil is not like that. His problems pile up on one another. His enemies are always there, planning his destruction. His past choices come back to haunt him, and there's never an event that can be said to fully close a circle.
This type of scenario is certainly more similar to the course of real life.
The problems never go away on their own. They eventually go away (and are subsequently followed by others showing up), but only if we fight our way through them.

But in order to do that - to have the strength to do that - you need motivation.
It can come in different forms. You can have your friends cheering you up. Giving you their support and confidence. Reassure you that you can make it through. That surely helps. But, at least in my case, at the end of the day you have to unlock that strength by yourself, from within. To that end, sometimes it's more effective something like what's shown in the panel above, of DD being ambushed by the Ox (from DD vol.2 #99, by Brubaker and Lark).

I found the wording used to translate that in Italian even more brutal, but also, for this reason, even more direct and cutting (my compliments to the adaptor, Giuseppe Guidi of Marvel Italia) :

- Non vali niente, Murdock!

Which retranslates as "you ain't worth anything, Murdock!".
A phrase like that, meant to scoff, can at times shake a person from apathy and discomfort better than any encouragement. When I first read that I remember being moved to the point that I would've died to add captions saying something like "What the *%&$ are you saying you moron, YOU are the one who's not worth anything and you're in for an enormous butt-kicking for having said that".

Sometimes, right after life hits you hard, so hard that you feel like you'll never have the strength to stand up again, much less to fight back, I can feel just like that. Like if some voice is mocking me, saying "you're not worth anything". And right after that, that small spark ignites, that pride that makes you reply "hell, no!", and thanks to which it becomes possible to get back up.
It's the "never give up" spirit so underlined by Frank Miller in his run, particularly in the Born Again storyarc, in which Matt's willpower allows him to fully get back on his feet from a state complete annihilation, despite his greatest enemy's efforts at keeping him down.

When I think about it, this is what I admire so much of Matt Murdock. His force of will. That iron will that has allowed him to rise from the ashes everytime. That willpower that can, by all means and purposes, be really considered what makes him a superhero, much more than his hypersenses, or his peak human condition. Again, Miller comes to mind. Heightened senses, fighting skills and acrobatics are just tools - he said in the mind-blowing "Roulette" story. To be a hero, the man who has them needs first to be inspired. In the fictional world he lives in, Matt's inspiration comes from his father, a man far from perfect or invincible, but whose lesson, of never giving up and always struggling to do what's right, he will never forget.
In the same way, in turn, I dare say that Daredevil's refusal to give up the fight despite how desperate the situation may be, and staying true to what he believes in, inspires me.

A small reflection now. The condition typical of the present-day Daredevil, with misfortunes coming upon the protagonist one after another, with the hero never having a moment of rest, his life seemingly perpetually on the verge of ruination, has reached by now a point where it has become somewhat iconic.
For this reason, comic book readers (or even writers) often come up with the conception that this "depressing, anguishing tone" of the book is what Daredevil fans actually expect from it (or even what they demand from it), and that all of it is a standard set by Miller (who redefined the character and all of that).

Both these conceptions, the way I see it, are erroneous.
While it is true that Miller redefined the character, and that he modified the tone to a darker, more serious one, the depressing, anguishing atmosphere and the heavy-handed "grim and gritty" "hard-boiled" tone of today's DD is a more recent redefinition, which can be entirely attributed to Brian Michael Bendis. That said, if such a tone is the definitive way to write Daredevil today, if it has been brought to its excess as of recent or not, is entirely debatable.
But, as a matter of fact, anyone could pick up some issues from Miller's run, compare their tone with that used in Bendis' and see that the difference in this regard is more than evident.

Regarding the fact that DD's most attached readers have actually come to like or even expect the fact that Matt's life is constantly put through hell, I consider that to be a misconception derived from a superficial look of it.
In my opinion, Daredevil fans don't like the fact that Matt's life is full of difficulties in itself. They instead like reading how, despite the many, enormous difficulties in his life, Matt is able to find the strength to take them all on, and how he refuses to give up, no matter how unescapable the situation may seem.

Troubles and adversities may come, as they do in real life. What really matters is the spirit with which the hero fights through them.
And whenever the author manages to convey that...

... it feels good.


Christine said...

Wow, Francesco! This post is one of the most uplifting and inspiring posts I've read in quite a while. What a fantastic piece of writing!

One tip though, to make sure even more people get to read it, is to update the date of the post (which I suspect is the date the draft was first created) to reflect the date it was posted (Dec 27, right?). That way, it will appear correctly in the DD feed. :)

JP Nguyen said...

Great post, Francesco !
You've expressed my DD-fan feelings in a much better way I would ever have.

Darediva said...

Excellent post, Francesco! Even after we talked about this the other day, you had a lot more here to say on the subject.

You are so right. It's not that DD stays in so much trouble, it's that he continues to keep on in spite of it. Nicely done!

Francesco said...

Thanks, people! I'm very fond of the way I relate to this comic book, and I'm glad you appreciated that.