“You a Catholic?” the masked vigilante Daredevil asks The Punisher, hoping to establish some connection with the man who has chained him up and is trying to forcefully convince him that the only way to deal with criminals is through lethal measures.
“Once,” The Punisher barks back.
“You still go to Mass?” Daredevil queries hopefully.
If that sounds like an odd conversation for two comic book characters to be having, then you obviously haven’t gotten around to watching Daredevil on Netflix. While other superheroes are driven by the memories of murdered parents or the philosophy that with great power comes great responsibility, Daredevil is often motivated by more spiritual concerns. By night “The Man Without Fear” may prowl the back alleys of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in search of crimes to stop, but during the day his alter ego, Matt Murdock, can often be found consulting with his priest, trying to ensure that his actions remain consistent with his Catholic beliefs.
“If you want to play a complex, turmoiled character, then give him a dose of Catholicism,” said Charlie Cox in a recent interview when asked about his role as Daredevil. The actor, who some may remember for his portrayal of Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva in the 2011 film There Be Dragons, takes his character’s struggles with religion seriously, admitting that playing the conflicted superhero has perhaps drawn him a closer to the Catholicism of his own childhood. He finds Matt Murdock’s spiritual struggles to be one of the more compelling aspects of the character. And the fact that these struggles are approached so seriously (and shockingly) in a manner respectful to the religion is one of the main reasons your Twitter feed is likely full of Catholics excited for the newly arrived second season of the show.
Alas, as the new season of Daredevil gets underway, those same Catholics may feel a bit of concern as they find that Daredevil’s confessor, Father Lantom, does not have quite the same presence he had during season 1. He’s there early to counsel Matt when a crisis of conscience arises and to preside over the funeral of a fallen criminal who “at least came to church,” if nothing else. But the good father disappears early, and his scenes with the troubled hero are sorely missed.
But don’t get to worried. By the time the third episode of season 2 rolls around and the aforementioned conversation with The Punisher begins, it becomes clear that the titular hero is still guided by the tenets of his faith. The Punisher, for those not familiar with the character from the comics, is a vigilante in the Death Wish mode. A highly trained military operative who witnessed his entire family being gunned down by gangsters, The Punisher has made it his sole mission in life to kill every single violent criminal in New York City. To Daredevil this approach is anathema, as he believes that every individual, even the worst of offenders, retains some spark of light, and to murder such people for their crimes would be to rob them of the chance for redemption.
This moral conflict becomes the overarching theme of season 2, especially after Daredevil’s old college lover, Elektra, reenters his life. Trained to be a master assassin by the same man who taught Daredevil his awesome fighting skills, Elektra suffers none of the twinges of conscience that Daredevil does when it comes to dispatching an enemy. In fact, she confesses, she rather enjoys killing. Even so, Daredevil believes she can be saved just as all people can and will risk his own life to do so.
If all of this sounds a bit more complex and interesting than the usual superhero fare, it is. That doesn’t mean, however, you should rush to plop your kids down in front of the show. Unencumbered by the need to sell as many movie tickets as humanly possible, Daredevil can be more adult in its themes. This means there’s a bit more realism in the show than its cinematic cousins. When people get punched, they bruise and break; when they get shot, blood flows; and when they get tortured, even the strong may feel the urge to look away.
And yet such depictions of violence do serve the need of the story. It’s easy to be the hero when everybody walks away unscathed at the end, however, it’s a lot less easy to choose the side of the angels when confronted with the real horrors that people can commit. This is the central conflict at the heart of Daredevil, and while the character falters from time to time as we all do, it’s refreshing to see one of these costumed crusaders actually try to let his faith steer him through the morass of moral complexities he faces. It is to this Catholic, anyway. Can we have season 3 now, please?
In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by … watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ives spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.