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In the 2015 Netflix series Marvel's Daredevil, Matt Murdock was blinded in a car crash containing chemicals. This crash heightened his other senses to the degree that he is able to piece together a mental image of his surroundings in real time, using a combination of sound, smell, air pressure, air temperature and other, small things that the average person would not notice. He describes this mental image as being like a "world on fire".

How accurate is this interpretation of Matt Murdock's abilities to the comics?

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Daredevil's enhanced senses are being depicted in the Netflix series Daredevil as both a fusion of his four remaining senses and as a limited but discrete "radar sense" which appears to Matt Murdock as "a world on fire." This is as consistent as the inconsistent depictions of his powers tend to be. Overall, the show has maintained an internal integrity in their representations of his powers and abilities.

Different writers depict Daredevil's enhanced senses different. Overall, early depictions by Stan Lee and Gene Colan (for example, see below) were limited in how they described Daredevil's powers.

"Inside Daredevil" power sheet, radar sense, titanic sens of touch, built-in lies detector

Daredevil explaisn how his sense help him fight even if he's blind

  • His senses of hearing is hyper-acute, having both a greater range of hearing, infra and ultrasonic awareness, the ability to discriminate sounds both at range and up close. He is able to differentiate and recognize individuals by their heatbeat and movement alone. He is able to discriminate well enough to follow the ticking of a wristwatch down a crowded street. His hearing allows him to recognize the signs of physiological distress when a person is lying. It can also function as a sonar sense giving him a form of ecolocation and 360 degree awareness.

Dardevil uses his radar

  • His sense of taste and smell (really two senses integrated into one) are far beyond the human range, he can even taste odor-transmitting air molecules and draw information from them like serpents can do. He can differentiate the chemical makeup of common foods and chemicals. He can detect scent information in a fashion similar to a bloodhound, even being able to track by scent alone. His ability to track by scent is comparable to Wolverine's.

  • His sense of touch is super-acute as well. Its depictions vary widely depending on the writers. In addition to reading braille, he can feel the deformations in newsprint or books and read regular writing as well by running his fingers across the page. His awareness of touch, allows him to detect movement of air and this aids him in his hand-to-hand fighting style, it also makes him very aware of how his opponents fight, giving him a form of reflexive fighting making even very skilled opponents less able to counter his techniques.

It is the depiction of the vaunted and often contradictory "radar sense" where writers have the most difficulties because early depictions of it were understandably unclear.

Purple depiction of the radar sense

  • Some depictions present it as a series of overlapping shapes whose range and distances are acutely known to him via the amalgam of his super-senses. He cannot read street signs for example, unless he is touching them, so he must gather information about every place he is in via this limited topographical depiction.

radar sense giving forms whit "level" lines

  • At other times, his "radar sense" seems to function as a discrete sense in addition to his other senses, giving him a sense of depth and some degree of acuity. Marvel has for the most part described his "radar sense" as a discrete sense, even when writers and artists choose to either depict it as a subset of his other super-senses rather than a individual sense itself.

Daredevil explains the super-senses again

One of Daredevil's more recent writers, Mark Waid, was interviewed and his impressions were as follows:

“He also has, on top of [his other heightened senses], what they call radar sense – a sort of second sight if you will. He can’t see faces, he can’t see details, but essentially it’s a form of radar that travels 360 degrees and kind of gives him a vague, almost outline, sense to the things that are around him at all times. It sounds a lot more helpful than it is, it’s really just a sort of aid to make sure he, as he crusades and fights crime, knows where the edge of the buildings are and where the oncoming cars are coming from, but that’s his shtick, that’s his power-set.”

  • This leads me to assume that Mark Waid does see the radar sense as a separate sense that may or may not be actual radar. The above explanation is followed, later in the interview, by:

“What he sees around him is sort of a jumble of shapes and fuzzy outlines, just enough to sort of get a sense of the lay of the room around him, but he can’t really tell a table from a chair from a person. He can’t really tell, unless things are very still and he is able to concentrate a great deal, who’s who in a room, just by their sillhouettes. It’s really just a matter of silhouettes.”

Daredevil walks along with Foggy and demonstrates his senses

The Netflix Daredevil's superhuman components show Matt Murdock using both his heightened senses and his superhuman awareness in the "world on fire" as a visually stylistic depiction similar to many artists during their varying tenures on the comic. It is essentially correct and a relatively good way of showing how his senses COULD look to a person with sight. It is a stylistic impression and does not give us the complete awareness he is shown to have with it.

"world on fire" as seen in the Netflix TV show

If you're curious about other inconsistencies and variant depictions of Daredevil's "radar sense" head over to: The Other Murdock Papers; A history of the Radar Sense - Part I and Part II.

  • I really don't like that he sees anything less than a 360° view. =/ – Gusdor Apr 14 '15 at 7:39
  • After watching season 2 what are you views on the change of his perception abilities? were he no longer has radar sense, instead fights people based on their heart beats? – Himarm Apr 1 '16 at 21:29
  • The television series has downplayed his dependence on his radar sense since it would add to the cost for SFX. We are to assume he has the ability even if we aren't seeing it. – Thaddeus Howze Apr 1 '16 at 21:47
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So far, the Netflix show has been playing pretty true to the comics for Daredevil. In particular, they appear to be following the chronology from Daredevil: The Man Without Fear (in the original Daredevil, Matt's in law school when his father dies); in both cases, though, the details of Matt's origin story and powers are pretty consistent:

  • He gets into an accident where he pushes a blind man out of the way of an oncoming truck.
  • The truck overturns, spilling "toxic chemicals" into his face.
  • Matt is blinded by the chemicals, but the rest of his senses are super-heightened.
  • The combination of all his super-human senses gives him a very realistic sense of the world around him.

The way his senses are usually described is as a "radar sense"; you'll frequently see him drawn with the standard concentric circles radar image emanating from his head. I did find some examples of artists depicting "Daredevil Vision" and it's not quite as impressive as the Netflix "world on fire" imagery; it's more like a wireframe version of the world:

Daredevil's "sees" Karen Page

Daredevil "sees" Spider-Man

These panels do a pretty good job of showing how Matt's sense all combine together to give him a good picture of his surroundings.

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Each writer has his/her interpretation of "Radar sense" but the closest that the show gets is Brian Michael Bendis' version. From Daredevil: Lowlife (Daredevil vol. 2 #41, 2003)

Milla Donovan (Daredevil "Lowlife" vol. 2 #41)

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