Daredevil is a character that, more often than not, has been overlooked by newer fans as a minor player in the grand scheme of the Marvel comics universe. Some of that blame falls on the failed movie in 2003 (I know I try to wipe it from my memory), and some of the blame falls on a shifting culture that wants to see characters that don’t carry such a dark atmosphere about them; Marvel has tended to steer the bulk of its properties away from the dark and gritty stories until the Netflix branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was launched.
And comic book fans have, for the most part, come to expect characters with fantastic origin stories. But Daredevil isn’t a character created by scientific experimentation or technological augmentation, as are Captain America and Iron Man, respectively. Nor is he the result of human mutation, as is the entirety or the X-Men family, and, to an extent, the Inhumans. Daredevil isn’t even the result of mystical or mythical origins as are Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, Thor, and Iron Fist, for example. Yet, Daredevil truly is one of the most important characters to the entirety of the Marvel Universe, and here’s why.
Born Matt Murdock, he grew up in a very specific neighborhood of New York City known as Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood now filled with trendy restaurants and a growing hipster culture. But for decades, and when Daredevil was first created by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, and Jack Kirby, Hell's Kitchen was less vibrant. A collection of crime syndicates ran the neighborhood, and it was a rough and tumble one to grow up in, and young Matt's life was made harder when he and his father, “Battling Jack” Murdock, were abandoned by Matt’s mother.
Growing up in a lawless neighborhood, Matt understood that rules were important to keep people from behaving badly, and he would eventually devote his life to studying the law and helping people. He showed flashes of this heroic outlook on life from an early age, such as when he ran into the street to save a man from being hit an oncoming truck. That truck would forever alter Matt’s life, however, as it would spill its radioactive cargo and blind Matt permanently.
Yet, the radioactivity would do more than just disable his eyes -- it would seep into his body and enhance the rest of his senses. Matt sought out a trainer, and found the blind martial arts master known as Stick, and, through Stick's teaching, Matt would hone his senses and fighting skills to become a formidable fighter.
But Matt couldn't shake his innate sense of justice and interest in the law, and he knew he could help people as more than just a superhero. So while Matt trained his body to peak performance, he also attended college to receive his Juris Doctorate as his father had always wished for him. But before he could graduate, his father was murdered by agents of the man for whom “Battling Jack” was an enforcer and "fixed" boxer. Outraged, Matt took justice into his own hands when the legal system failed. Donning his father’s boxing robes, he tracked down and savagely beat the men who had killed his father, thus giving birth to his Daredevil identity.
Daredevil, now a feared vigilante on the streets, was only part of who Matt was. He would continue to pursue justice through the legal system first and foremost, but when the law couldn’t address certain evils, that is when Daredevil would rise from the shadows. Over the years, Daredevil would face off against the criminal element of Hell’s Kitchen that wasn't served justice in the courtroom.
It seemed ironic that a man who claimed to serve the laws of society so quickly donned a mask and terrorized people who were just found innocent by a court of law, but the corruption in Hell’s Kitchen was vast. Too often, jurors or even judges were bought off in order to sway the decision and get a not guilty verdict. Matt's internal moral code ultimately overrode the law if the law was in the wrong: he couldn’t be bought, he couldn’t be swayed and that is what made him so dangerous to the criminal element of the city.
Though many comic book characters had previously had internal conflicts finding the balance of good and bad within them, Daredevil seemed to have surrendered to the darkness and let it consume him. During the events that led up to the "Shadowland" arc, as well as the events during it, an even darker iteration of Daredevil would emerge, a vigilante who believed that the only way to end crime was to become an overlord of sorts.
After a bomb was detonated by Bullseye in an apartment building full of families, Matt Murdock was pushed to the brink of his own sanity due to his failure to stop it. Rallying ninja clan, The Hand, around himself, he traveled to Japan to unite the warlords of the Hand. During these travels, Murdock’s soul, his most prized possession and source of ongoing internal strife, would be corrupted by the Beast (a mythical demon tied to the history of the clan). After forming a fortress in New York City, Daredevil would renege on every vow he'd ever made to himself and his God, brutally killing his nemesis by breaking both arms and stabbing a sai through his heart. Only after being healed by a qi punch from Iron Fist would he be able to correct the corruption of his soul.
One of the major arcs and crossover events in Marvel’s history, and the focus of the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, was Marvel's Civil War with Iron Man and Captain America representing the two sides that disagreed on the rights of super-powered individuals around the world. In one of the most symbolic gestures of the entire event, Daredevil would hit Tony Stark right in the metaphorical heart after a S.H.I.E.L.D. hit squad was sent to arrest him. The squad took Daredevil to the Negative Zone prison, where Tony offered Matt Murdock one last chance to join his team. Daredevil didn’t say a word but revealed a silver coin in his mouth, a gesture that symbolically compared Tony to Judas Iscariot, the traitor that turned on Christ and led to his crucifixion in the Bible. This weighed heavily on Tony as Daredevil was considered one of the most moral and universally respected superheroes in the Marvel pantheon, and Stark would begin to question his motives and how far he had fallen.
It was moments like this that highlight what an impact Daredevil has made on the history of the Marvel universe. That a simple, unspoken gesture to a man like Tony Stark was, in part, what helped bring about an entire change of heart in Stark shows the profound influence Matt Murdock has had on his fellow superheroes and how integral he truly is to Marvel. Without Daredevil, Marvel would survive, but it would be without its strongest reminder of the strength of humanity itself. In a comic universe laced with aliens, mutants, and cosmic entities, to find a hero that took what he was given and turned it into a quest for justice and doing what's right was refreshing, especially as his story shows how easy it is to stray from the moral absolutism of characters like Captain America and how easy it is to venture down the path of violence and corruption like Jean Grey. That Daredevil has managed to maintain his morality and his soul is a testament to the man he is, both inside and out of the mask.