Every Marvel comic book fan knows Spider-Man and Daredevil are two of the most tormented heroes in the medium. From the pivotal deaths of Uncle Ben and Jack Murdock to the later deaths of Gwen Stacy, Karen Page, and countless others, there’s no shortage of tragedy in either hero’s life. What’s more, both characters have made questionable choices that alienated others and fueled their guilt. These experiences shaped Daredevil’s and Spider-Man’s characters, making them two of the most committed heroes in the Marvel Universe.
Despite the similarities between the two crime fighters, Daredevil takes the cake as Marvel’s most tragic character. The combination of loved ones’ deaths, loneliness, and immense faith-driven guilt make him a hero readers look to as a fellow sufferer in a difficult world. Spider-Man is certainly a source of solace for these readers as well, but Daredevil’s unique characteristics, circumstances, and life events make him Marvel’s poster child for tragedy.
Matt Couldn’t Prevent Jack’s Death
Growing up as the son of a world-class boxer, Matt Murdock believed Batllin’ Jack could take on anything. The young boy was confident his father would always be around to protect him. Sadly, this belief was shattered when Jack was murdered by the fixer he was forced to work for. Matt was left devastated, and the event forged his belief that no matter how strong you are, you can’t escape tragedy.
Like Matt, Peter Parker’s beloved parental figure, Uncle Ben, faced a tragic end at the hands of a criminal. As fans know, this was worse in some ways because Peter could have used his newly acquired spider powers to stop the mugger and prevent Uncle Ben’s death. However, Matt’s tragedy is that he could never have prevented his father’s murder. He was still getting used to losing his sight and could only wait helplessly as Jack succumbed to his fate. While Spider-Man feels more guilty about his uncle’s death, Matt’s experience is more tragic because he had no way to stop the murder, which founded his belief in the inevitability of catastrophe.
Daredevil Is More Lonely Than Spider-Man
Fans know both Spider-Man and Daredevil as some of Marvel’s ultimate loner characters. Because these heroes care more than most superheroes about protecting their civilian identities, and thus those of their loved ones, they tend to operate solo. This is one of the main reasons neither Spider-Man nor Daredevil have remained on teams like the Avengers for any extended period of time. But their personalities also play a large role. For instance, Spider-Man annoys heroes like Wolverine, Red Hulk, Spider-Woman, Hawkeye, and countless others. This is largely due to Spider-Man’s non-stop running commentary, which he uses to hide his insecurities and keep others at a distance. Yet he still maintains relationships with other heroes and civilians, including the Fantastic Four, Black Cat, and Randy Robertson.
Daredevil’s isolated lifestyle, on the other hand, is fueled by other factors. After losing his sight, and before he learned to use his radar sense, Matt experienced profound loneliness. He had to learn how to navigate life with a stigmatizing disability. Once he became a lawyer and vigilante, Matt had to go to great lengths to keep his identities separate and he distanced himself further from close friends like Foggy Nelson and superhero allies like the Avengers. What’s more, the subsequent guilt stemming from his double life and questionable choices as a crimefighter prevented him from accepting the help and kindness from others.
Daredevil Is A Killer, And It Consumes Him
Across the years and many writers, Spider-Man and Daredevil have killed their fair share of villains. This likely alarms casual fans since superheroes are known for avoiding killing. However, they’ve both found themselves in difficult situations where they felt they needed to either take a villain’s life or avoid saving them. Fans don’t have to look far to find examples of deaths Spider-Man could’ve prevented, such as Moondark, Drom, Agent, and Morlun. Yet the vast majority of these deaths were either unintentional or passive killings when he let villains die from their own machinations.
Daredevil has taken a more active role in the deaths of his villains. For instance, in Shadowland #1, which was created by Andy Diggle, Billy Tan, Batt, Christina Strain and Joe Caramagna, Matt finally snapped and murdered his longtime rival Bullseye under the influence of the Hand. Another death took place in Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #4, created by Frank Miller, John Romita Jr., Al Williamson, Christie Scheele and Joe Rosen, where Matt deflected a bullet fired by the Kingpin’s top assassin Larks, killing him in the process. While the hero feels these deaths were necessary, he still feels guilty for killing these villains while espousing values like heroism and justice. He knows it means more when a supposed hero kills someone, and this knowledge prevents Matt from living a happy life.
Matt Ties His Faith To His Faults
Aside from Nightcrawler, Daredevil is probably the most well-known Catholic in the Marvel Universe. He wears his faith on his sleeve, constantly directing his thoughts toward God both after nights of crime fighting and days of litigation. In contrast, faith plays a much less obvious role in Spider-Man’s life. When his thoughts on religion are actually mentioned, it’s a passing gesture to a generic version of the Judeo-Chrstian God. However, Daredevil’s adherence to the Catholic faith is a critical part of his character. His beliefs are alluded to in virtually every modern story featuring the hero.
Matt’s reflection on crime fighting and its relationship to law and faith causes him unimaginable strain. Not only does he feel he has to adhere to the legal standards of his profession, but also the tenets of Catholicism. He has to continually compare his actions as Daredevil to an impossible standard of faithfulness that few people could hold to. His harsh judgment of himself in this way prevents the tragic hero from experiencing any peace of mind in his difficult life.
Daredevil’s devastating experiences, the guilt associated with them, and his strict devotion to his faith make him the ultimate tragic hero. Unlike Spider-Man, whose self-condemnation is primarily tied to the people he failed to save, the Man Without Fear lives with a constant sense of culpability for the lives he’s taken and regret for those he was powerless to save. His need to offer penance for his choices makes him Marvel’s saddest and most tragic superhero.
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