Matthew Michael Murdock was raised in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan by Jack “Battlin’ ” Murdock, a boxer and mob enforcer. Matt had a natural talent for athleticism, but his father forbade him from any physical activity or fighting, determined that the boy would become a doctor or lawyer instead. Matt’s unwillingness to fight off bullies in school earned him the reputation of a coward and the ironic nickname of “Daredevil.”
As an adolescent, Matt saw a hazmat truck heading towards a blind man. He pushed the pedestrian out of the way as the truck swerved to avoid a collision, causing its radioactive contents to spill out the back and strike the boy’s eyes. Matt’s retinas were burned away, but the radiation also affected his brain, pushing his other senses to superhuman levels. His fingertips could read ink on paper as if it were brail, his sense of balance was enhanced, he could smell the cologne of someone who’d been in a room hours earlier, and he could hear a person’s heartbeat.
Matt believed himself to be a blind freak but was then approached by a sightless martial artist named Stick. Over the course of several years, Stick taught Matt to develop a “radar sense”, allowing him to perceive the shape of three-dimensional objects by feeling how air moved around them and hearing sounds bounce off their forms. Stick also trained the boy in combat, acrobatics and secret ninja techniques, hoping Matt would join him as a warrior against evil forces such as the mystical clan of assassins known as the Hand. Eventually though, events led teacher and student to part ways and young Murdock went to Columbia Law School, fulfilling his father’s wishes for his academic/professional success and leaving his warrior life behind. But soon before Matt officially became a lawyer, his father Jack was murdered by mobsters because he wouldn’t throw a boxing match. Believing that sometimes the law needed outside help, Murdock used his unique abilities and the skills Stick had taught him to become a vigilante: Daredevil, the man without fear.
Over the years, many experiences led the joking Daredevil to develop a colder, harsher attitude. He’s also gone through a few wardrobe changes, more so than some of you might know. So let’s take a look at the fashion choices of Marvel’s famous blind superhero.
When first introduced in 1964, old “horn-head” (as Spider-Man lovingly calls him) was a swashbuckling hero who proudly accepted the title of “man without fear” and fought weird menaces such as the Owl, the Matador, Stilt-Man, the Gladiator and Kilgrave the Purple Man. So with that in mind, this look actually fits. When some people use the term “daredevil” they mean circus acrobats and stunt performers and this flamboyant costume definitely gives that impression. You can see a guy wearing this outfit while performing on the high-wire.
Yellow is an interesting color for Daredevil. In US culture, yellow is often seen as the color of fear and cowards, making it an interesting juxtaposition for a “man without fear.” And it adds an interesting contrast to the eyes.
Oftentimes in comic books, white eyes without pupils on a masked superhero is merely the product of artistic license. Batman and Robin are exceptions to this, as later writers and artists revealed that they actually wear mirrored lenses in their masks. Daredevil also falls into this camp, hiding his eyes because he doesn’t want the world to know he’s a blind superhero. If they did, it would considerably narrow down the possibilities of his true identity. The fact that he chose red lenses makes him stand out from other superheroes whose eyes are hidden from us.
Originally, the colors of this outfit had no special significance since Matt just cobbled the suit together from old shirts and fabric he had in his apartment. In the story “Daredevil: Yellow”, writer Jeph Loeb revised the story and said that Jack Murdock’s boxing colors had been red and yellow and that Matt had made his original costume from the man’s boxing robe, training gloves and boots. This makes the first costume pretty appropriate since Daredevil’s first mission was to bring down his father’s killers.
Back to the outfit itself. Note that the only thing DD carries is a simple belt to hold his billy clubs (which also act as grappling hooks). There’s no utility belt with many pouches, no cape, no weapons attached to his wrists. All of this makes sense on a practical, functional level since Matt is an acrobat who regularly does backflips off of rooftops but, unlike Spider-Man, he does not have the advantage of superhuman strength and agility. His hyper-sense of touch gives him a greater sense of balance than any Olympic athlete but he’s still only as strong as a normal human gymnast of his weight and height. So he doesn’t want to add any extra weight that might hinder or impede his movements.
Along with being utilitarian, this outfit also gives a nice silhouette, something fashionistas love to look for. When you see Daredevil’s shadowy outline fall over a criminal, you know who it is. Those tiny little horns add so much and you’re not going to confuse his outline with Batman, the Black Panther or Captain America.
Starting with Daredevil #7, Matt got a whole new look which soon became his standard uniform. The black shirt and shorts are completely removed and now he’s got a minimalist look complete with a new chest symbol.
I am normally against multiple symbols on a costume, such as when I mocked Cable for wearing no less than seven X’s to indicate his connection to the X-Men. But I’m not going to give Matt any guff for replacing one giant letter D with two smaller ones since it’s a cute indication of his name and it’s done in a stylized way that makes it recognizable to fans. Someone who’s been reading Marvel comics for more than a year will see those two letter Ds arranged on top of each other and know that they’re meant to indicate the man without fear. That makes it an effective logo.
The previous look took a circus interpretation of the name “Daredevil”, someone who laughs as he takes risks and displays his ability to overcome the odds. This new all-red look makes the second half of DD’s name the emphasis. He is now a devil, stalking his enemies as a somewhat demonic foe, but one that paradoxically does it for the sake of protecting innocent life rather than a delight in inflicting pain. A figure clad completely in crimson with shining red eyes and horns is a much more intimidating figure to see in the dead of night, looming over you from a rooftop or fire escape as you’re about to commit a crime.
This look becomes even more interesting on a paradoxical level in later years, after writers established that Matt Murdock was, like many other New York kids born of two Irish parents, a practicing Catholic. So not only is this guy both a lawyer and a vigilante, he’s a person who believes in the principles of Catholic faith, in forgiveness and redemption and protecting all life even if it’s evil, and yet delivers punishment on law-breakers while dressed as a devil. And he lives in, of all places, Hell’s Kitchen.
There has been occasional debate as to the actual color of DD’s uniform. Although the gloves and boots (and eye-lenses) are all clearly red, there are many who have argued that the uniform is really black with the color red acting to highlight the muscles, in the same way that the Black Widow and Spider-Man in his black uniform both used blue to highlight their muscles and contour. I can definitely see where these people are coming from, but if you check it out, that’s just the style of some artists to add large black areas to Matt’s uniform. In most of his adventures over the years, it is clear that the entire uniform is red.
Which brings ups the only criticism I really have about this look. In a movie, this outfit makes sense because a minimalist, uniform look makes sense for a guy more concerned with making himself recognizable and intimidating rather than worrying about fashion. But in the colorful universe of comics, we tend to like contrast and things that pop out. So I personally prefer it when artists have DD’s eyes, gloves, boots, and chest symbol (and maybe also his belt) as a different shade and tone of red than the rest of the uniform. Otherwise, Matt is in danger of looking very flat and bland when compared to other costumed crime-fighters.
And hey, did you know there was a storyline where Matt got amnesia and then led a short-lived career as a blind boxer? It was a rather strange idea and this definitely wasn’t meant to be a new general purpose Daredevil costume, but I thought I’d include it since it’s just such a wacky concept. I mean, how come this has never come up in the years since, that Matt Murdock looks remarkably like this blind boxer? Just saying.
Oh, the 1990s. How I loathe so many designs it spawned. It seemed everyone in superhero comics needed a new, “edgy” look in the 90s or needed to have their identity and premise revamped. Spider-Man was replaced by a clone. Thor had a string of awful outfits. And Daredevil got a bizarre story arc where he faked his death as Matt Murdock and assumed the new identity of “Jack Battlin.” He also got a different costume and insisted to everyone who had known his secret identity (such as Spider-Man) that he was not Matt Murdock with a new look but was actually a new Daredevil entirely.
Yeah, I know. Weird. Anyway, let’s take a look. We’ve gone from a minimalist outfit to a complex look of angular shapes, with metal armor and a chin guard added. Now, let’s be fair. This design isn’t completely out of left field, actually. We’ve talked about how Daredevil is basically a ninja and this uniform emphasizes that part of his character. The metal plates emulate lightweight Japanese body armor and the angular designs on his arms, neck and knees share that style.
The other uniform could be called a costume. This definitely says “body armor,” especially when you have the chin guard implying that DD’s wearing a thin helmet rather than a mask. Matt’s previous looks were light and unencumbered, but this is almost an anti-thesis to that idea. If Daredevil had first appeared in this outfit and actually saw himself as a ninja, I might’ve been completely fine with this look. But after years of having it hammered in my head that he is an Irish-Catholic who is known for agility and stealth, I can’t look at this without thinking that Matt seems weighed down and that this design just doesn’t mesh with his personality.
This could work for an enemy though, a dark twin like Superman’s imperfect double Bizarro or Spider-Man’s foe Venom. Just a thought.
After a while, Daredevil went back to his classic red uniform and Matt Murdock showed up alive again, explaining to the public that he obviously wasn’t dead and was ready to resume his old life. Fortunately, folks accepted it and so it seemed the true DD was back.
But that hasn’t stopped the man without fear from occasionally adopting a strange look for a special mission. Ones which he definitely can’t defend.
THINGS GET RIDICULOUS
ALAN KISTLER: Whoa. Matt, what are you wearing?
DAREDEVIL: Oh, hey, Alan. What’s wrong with it?
ALAN KISTLER: I realize you wore this because you were on an undercover mission in Paris for the super-spy/counter-terrorist organization S.H.I.E.L.D. and you didn’t want folks to know Daredevil was up to mischief in Europe… but seriously, what is this?
DAREDEVIL: Well, when S.H.I.E.L.D. sent me on this undercover mission, I lost my real memories and then later wound up on my own with no one to tell me what to do.
AK: You got amnesia AGAIN?
DD: Anyway, I had a vague memory that I was supposed to fight crime dressed in red, so I made this new outfit. I didn’t remember exactly what I was used to wearing, so there are no horns and the billy club holsters are on my chest now instead of my leg.
AK: Oh, look, you’re right. There aren’t any horns. Know what else is missing? A mask. How are you going to be a vigilante with no mask? And what’s with the eagle design on your shirt?
DD: It’s like the eagle of the S.H.I.E.L.D. emblem. Because I was connected to them at the time.
AK: Seems pretty lame. And why do your eyes look normal here?
DD: I had my vision temporarily restored.
AK: This is just getting sillier. What did you call yourself during this story?
DD: Laurent Levasseur.
AK: And honestly, this just looks like a very weak “Hey, Daredevil’s working for S.H.I.E.L.D.” action figure. It doesn’t look like a lot of thought went into this.
DD: Is the eagle symbol actually lame? I can’t tell. I was told it looked cool.
AK: Oh, Matt, Matt. I’ve warned you about dishonest tailors. Radar sense can’t tell you what’s designed on a suit or if it clashes, man. Consult me next time you get a new outfit.
DD: Okay. Well, what do you think about this other look I wore during the mini-series “Daredevil: Father?”
AK: What the holy hell is this?
DD: You don’t like it?
AK: You looking like the Silver Samurai’s little brother? No, I’m not really a fan. What’s the deal with this?
DD: Well, I was forced to fight a super-powered street gang called the Santerians, so I decided I needed some extra fire-power. So I got a kendo outfit and some extra stuff like nets and swords.
AK: A street gang scared you into getting this armor? Seriously? Were they such vicious villains?
DD: Actually, they weren’t villains, they were just upset that I was no longer interested in taking care of crime outside of Hell’s Kitchen and basically they felt like I was a hypocrite. They also didn’t like it that any thug too scared to come into the Kitchen would go into their neighborhood instead. I guess they felt like I was giving them more to do.
AK: And these guys scared you enough to grab some armor that really doesn’t offer much protection against modern weapons or serious super-powers. Matt, you’ve faced Mephisto and have fought alongside the Fantastic Four. You’ve stared down guys like Morbius the living vampire, have fought serious warriors like Captain America and Wolverine, and you once even beat Ultron, a psychotic robot who’s nearly destroyed the Avengers a few times and wiped out an entire European country. You don’t need silly things like kendo armor, man! Be confident about your bad-ass devil self!
DD: No, wait. It gets better. I didn’t just get armor, I got this cool motorcycle. see? Doesn’t this make it cooler?
AK: I don’t… What… Dude, did you steal some kid’s scooter?
DD: That’s my special motorcycle!
AK: No, THAT is a big wheels toy! Is there a string you have to pull so that it makes noise?
DD: It’s just sleek! Doesn’t it look like those cool cycles in Akira?
AK: Matt, lose the outfit and find a third grader who will enjoy that toy scooter for Christmas.
WELCOME TO SHADOWLAND
Matt’s been going through dark times again. His identity was exposed in a tabloid and it took lots of lies and help from enemies to put that genie back in its bottle. He got married which pretty quickly became a disaster. He went to jail for a while for the murder of someone who wasn’t actually dead. And most recently, he was asked to become the new leader of the Hand assassins, the same evil mystics that his teacher Stick had dedicated his life to fighting before he later actually died during a battle against them. Deciding he could warp the Hand into becoming a force for good, Matt accepted the position as their boss. Now, in the story Shadowland, Daredevil is operating with a new, darker moral code and it’s bringing him into conflict with many former allies.
There really isn’t much change here. The entire outfit goes from red to black with the exception of the chest symbol and club holster. This alteration very clearly tells us that Daredevil’s gone dark, dipping into the shadows and the dark forces he’s often opposed. Like the armored look of the 90s, this reminds us of DD’s ninja background, fitting since he’s working with an evil ninja clan.
The style of the Ds on his chest now have a curved, liquid look to them, implying blood. That, along with the blades on his wrists, indicate that Matt is no longer afraid of bloodshed. And the black mask with the red eyes makes him look far more demonic than the all-crimson suit ever did.
This wouldn’t work for the heroic Daredevil we know and love, but for this tale where Matt seems to have fallen from grace (not for the first time though, so there’s hope), it makes sense. And it stays close enough to the traditional look that fans who haven’t been following recent events in Matt’s life won’t look at this and mistake him for a brand-new villain. That’s important. This uniform tells us that this is Matt Murdock, whether you like it or not, and only time will tell if he goes back to his old self both spiritually and fashion-wise.
That about wraps this up, folks. Matt’s live-action costumes from the films “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” and “Daredevil” will be discussed in a future column, so be on the lookout. In the meantime, feel free to send suggestions or questions to me via my site or twitter @SizzlerKistler. This is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.