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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.”
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.
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.