‘The Defenders’ and the Challenge of a Christian Superhero

Written for Acculturated

September 4th, 2017

Like millions of others, I eagerly devoured Marvel’s latest Netflix miniseriesThe Defenders. It was…ok, but certainly not on the level we’ve come to expect from Marvel. It set the bar pretty high with its previous Netflix shows—well, except Iron Fist—and I couldn’t wait to see my favorite part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, Daredevil, back in action. It’s a good thing I’m such a fan of Daredevil, because he was the best thing about The Defenders. No offense to Luke Cage or Jessica Jones—full offense to Iron Fist though, he’s just terrible—but it’s hard to compete with a blind super-ninja whose superpower is his devout Christian faith. Daredevil, a.k.a. Matthew Murdock, is the most complex and interesting hero in film today. And a lot of that has to do with his Christianity.

It is common for superheroes to be compared to Jesus. Man of Steel had some pretty obvious Christ parallels. So did Wonder Woman. And the Spider-Man trilogy. Even Batman is compared to the Messiah sometimes. This isn’t surprising; after all, Christ is the greatest hero to ever exist, setting the example for perfection in all things in this world, including sacrifice and bravery. Superheroes demonstrate these qualities as well, so naturally minds turn to Christ upon seeing such virtue play out in movies and shows. Daredevil’s storyline in the MCU also has heavy Christian themes, but whereas Superman, Wonder Woman, and company are interpreted as Christ figures, Daredevil exemplifies what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Unlike his super-teammates, Murdock has no special powers. He can feel pain and bleed. He can’t lift cars or punch through walls. Matthew Murdock is an ordinary man, with the struggles and temptations that come with humanity. This is what makes Daredevil a relatable hero: he’s an imperfect man who strives for perfection. He possesses a fierce determination to do what is right and a willingness to endanger himself to follow the path of righteousness. Whereas other heroes, like Jessica Jones or Deadpool or Wolverine, lean into their imperfections, Murdock never stops trying to correct his own flaws. Unlike secular heroes who embrace their dark sides, Murdock fights his, and does his best to shine as a beacon of goodness, even behind his intimidating costume. Murdock recognizes his shortcomings, and is shown regularly attending mass and visiting his priest to confess his sins and ask for guidance. When Murdock is in doubt he looks not to himself, but to Christ and the Church for answers.

Murdock goes further than other heroes in his no-killing policy. He doesn’t just hold himself to the standard, he also tries to protect criminals from each other when he can. Early on in The Defenders a group of teens rob a technology store after an earthquake. Murdock hears the store owner cock his gun from miles away and sprints as hard as he can to stop him from killing the thieves. In Murdock’s reasoning, even thieves deserve a second chance. You can’t reform a dead criminal. This forgiving nature defines Murdock as a man and Daredevil as a hero. He always looks for the good in others, including the ultimate villain in the show, Elektra, whom he tries to bring to the side of light even as she tries to kill him. In the midst of the climactic battle between good and evil, Murdock still tries to redeem the evil. He sends his fellow heroes away, while he continues to battle and attempt to reason with Elektra, all the time knowing that a bomb planted by his allies is about to bring the building crashing down on the both of them. And it kills him. Or so it would seem. At the end of the episode we see Murdock once again, bloodied, beaten, battered, but still alive, in a bed with a nun by his side. He was kept alive, because Marvel’s world needed more of his special brand of heroism. Our world could use more of it too.