Onward Christian Superheroes: How Netflix and Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage’ and ‘Daredevil’ Represent Their Christian Backgrounds

Blind lawyer Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox) sits in the confession booth at a New York City Roman Catholic church describing his family history—that is, his and his boxer father’s violent natures, where they “let the devil in” and people get hurt. But instead of confessing past sins, Matt says, “I’m not seeking penance for what I’ve done. I’m asking forgiveness for what I’m about to do.”

Later that night, dressed in black and a ski mask completely covering his eyes, he attacks criminals engaged in human trafficking, the first of many bloody (though non-lethal) encounters to follow.

With Marvel Studio’s incredible box office success now having earned over $3 billion for 2018 alone for three films—Black PantherAvengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp—it might be possible to overlook the presence of more grounded superhero series in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), on Netflix. Superhero mythologies tend toward outright fantasies, with often cosmic levels of power providing conflict for the stories (see Infinity War). But some of these Netflix series—in particular, Daredevil and Luke Cage—take a different path, getting their down-to-earth dilemmas and moral themes from another place: their protagonists’ faith backgrounds.

Just as Phil Vischer promised we’d never see a VeggieTales installment featuring Jesus as a vegetable—it would violate the essential conceit of the stories to feature the Son of God in an animated vegetable world—it’s hard to include Christian themes when a genre tends to work by displacing real-world conflict and psychology into fantastic scenarios featuring super soldiers, Norse gods, and amazing powers. (A rare cinematic exception is Captain America, who, in the first Avengers movie, disputes the existence of Norse “gods” because of his belief in the Judeo-Christian God.)

That’s why what Marvel has done with Daredevil and Luke Cage is taking a commendable risk: opening the door to letting Christian belief inform the nature of the characters and conflicts and exploring how that can alter the very nature of a superhero and his world.

Bloody Saint Matthew of Hell’s Kitchen

The first series to debut, Daredevil, in 2015 indicated quickly how different the Netflix series would be from the fun PG-13 feature films. Matt Murdock’s off-the-rack outfit—no supersuit here—does little to protect him as he’s pummeled, stabbed, and bruised. And the cinematography underlines the blood motif throughout the series: The opening credits are an animated study in a character and world immersed in bloodshed. These aren’t the clean battles between superpowered entities of Marvel movies. They are more reflective of what real violence is like: brutal and exhausting.

Matt’s nightly missions often leave him in need of the medical care provided by a nurse, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who remarks that “martyrs … the saints, the saviors all end up the same way—bloody … and alone.” Is this Matt’s cross to bear?

This bloody brutality in the name of justice is what haunts Matt Murdock, raised a Roman Catholic. The accident that blinded the character also exposed him to a strange radioactive substance that greatly enhanced his other senses, so that one night he can hear the nearby muffled cries of a girl molested by her father. Finding the legal system ineffective in addressing the crime, Matt attacks the father, beating him senseless, with a warning that the masked man will know if he ever touches his daughter again.

From then on, Matt is compelled to act on what he hears going on in the city. But still, his uneasy conscience drives him to a series of dialogues with Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie), sometimes sitting in the sanctuary under a bloody crucifix of Christ, that delve into deep ethical and theological questions about Matt’s motives and how far he is willing to go to fight evil. When Matt ponders whether to kill crime kingpin Wilson Fisk, Father Lantom quotes Proverbs 25:26: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.”

The priest explains, “One interpretation is that when the righteous succumb to sin, it is as harmful as if the public well were poisoned, because the darkness of such an act, of taking a life, will spread to friends, neighbors, the entire community.” Matt Murdock will have to find a way to keep his righteous anger from descending into the demonic.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Alex Wainer