The humanities have a long history of being discredited in the U.S. as impractical majors in college. The good ol’ U.S. of A. tends to calculate investment and return at a very simplistic level to determine when the cost of a college major can be linked directly to earnings in a career.
Business majors are destined to make bank, goes the investment/return narrative, but what you going to do with an English major?
Here is the real-world irony in the era of Trumplandia: With Donald Trump at the center of 17 investigations, some have questioned why Trump would have pursued the presidency, which clearly opened the door to exposing his criminality.
The explanation lies, you guessed it, in literature.
While many of us found Greek and Shakespearean tragedy serious drudgery in our formal schooling, these dramas told a tale all too familiar: How the mighty are destined to fall because of their unbridled hubris, excessive pride.
Trump born into excessive and ill-got wealth has skirted along his entire life — cut to the scene where young bone-spurred Trump skips past active duty in war — without consequences for his greed, arrogance, and (to tick another work of literature) his pathological mendacity. (See also, like a good parallel subplot in Shakespeare, the Brett Kavanaugh saga.)
Keeping in mind that universal themes in literature are deeply problematic, we have abundant evidence that motifs such as the dangers of excessive pride are at least enduring, and for good reason.
Recently, I have been reconnecting with one of my favorite comic book superheroes, Daredevil.
Season 3 of the Netflix series, despite all the flaws in this adaptation and the original comic book created in 1964 by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, and Jack Kirby, represents what makes Daredevil compelling — the complex investigation of justice in the context of both human and spiritual justice. S3 draws on Frank Miller’s “Born Again” (1986) while maintaining the Netflix toned down approach to superhero narratives.
Matt Murdock as righteous lawyer and simultaneously the morally ambiguous vigilante Daredevil (the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen)*, at its best, is a much more powerful and compelling examination of justice than, for example, Batman.
While the religious debates in S3 are key elements of why I am drawn to Daredevil, picking up the Conclusion to The Death of Daredevil (612) serves well my point above about the value of literature and the enduring motif about the folly of excessive pride.
Charles Soule (writer) and Phil Noto (artist) dramatize the Murdock/Daredevil duality well as Murdock seeks Daredevil as a witness to remove Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin as mayor of New York.
Four pages provide a thinly veiled indictment of not only Fisk/The Kingpin, but also Donald Trump.
When Murdock confronts the district attorney, we witness how political might trumps ethics and even the law:
Murdock’s idealism is highlighted in his plea: “But Wilson Fisk is a criminal. He does not deserve that office.” And this exchange also addresses how those connected to an administration are themselves complicit; as Murdock asks the question often repeated in the real world of Trumplandia:
Can you really keep working for an administration you know is illegal and corrupt at its core when you know there’s a way to take it down?
Yes, it’s a risk. But even if you lose it all, you’ll go out as who you are, not the compromised shadow of yourself the Kingpin’s hoping you’ll be.
It is, however, Fisk on the witness stand and then alone in his office that speak directly to Trump:
Murdock/Daredevil narrates the scene and notes:
I can hear Fisk’s heartbeat. Slow, steady. He’s not afraid. He’s like me that way.
He’s not afraid of anything, and you can’t make him afraid. That’s not the way you beat him. That’s not his weakness.
The Kingpin’s weakness…is vanity.
Fisk as an allegory of Trump is yet another tale of excessive pride, hubris.
Not afraid and certain he is above accountability, Fisk storms from the stand: “Enough. This is a farce, and I will not stand for it any longer.” Might we hear “fake news” in the background?
The dynamic page with Fisk being introspective precedes his being removed from office. It appears the fantasy world of comic books still clings to some sliver of justice even as the real world seems unable or unwilling to take such stands against criminals in office.
However, this is only appearances as there is a twist; justice, you see, is no more simple in Daredevil than in our real world of Trumplandia. The battle between good and evil is never-ending, and more things than justice seem blind — and paralyzed.
The Death of Daredevil ends: “I cannot see the light. So I will be the light. I am Daredevil. And I am not afraid.” And let us not forget, walking unafraid is a trait shared by our so-called heroes and so-called villains.
* Season 2 effectively challenges Murdock/Daredevil’s righteousness with The Punisher, and others, noting little difference among Daredevil, The Punisher, and Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin.
Thomas, P.L. (2019). From Marvel’s Daredevil to Netflix’s Defenders: Is justice blind? In S. Eckard (ed.), Comic connections: Building character and theme (pp. 81–98). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.
Thomas, P.L. (2012). Daredevil: The man without fear; Elektra lives again; science fiction. [entries]. In Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.