The iconic vigilante Daredevil has gone through some interesting wardrobe changes over his nearly 60-year career on the pages of Marvel Comics, but what may be his worst costume was also a major part of one of Matt Murdock’s worst story twists. As the “Death of Daredevil” arc brought Murdock’s iconic run as Daredevil to an end (for a few months, anyway), the Man Without Fear found his life wrapping up cleanly, taking down his biggest rival and finding peace in saving his city, only for it all to be immediately erased.
In 2018’s Daredevil # 612, by Charles Soule and Phil Noto, Daredevil finally meets his end, but in a very controversial way. The ‘Death of Daredevil’ arc saw some of the most dramatic highs and lows of Matt Murdock’s life, starting with Daredevil being run over by a truck and put in intensive care, and ending with him finally dethroning his arch-nemesis Wilson Fisk from the mayor’s mansion. That is, until the end of the last issue: After defeating the mysterious villain The Vigil, Matt unmasks him only to find his own face beneath the Red-Cross emblazoned mask – shaking him out of a vivid, prolonged fantasy. The issue then cuts to black, showing Murdock’s heartbeat nearly flatline before his heart begins beating again.
Unfortunately, the emotional weight of his final words is undercut by the way his story ends – and the costume he ends it in. The Vigil, introduced at the beginning of the ‘Death of Daredevil’ arc in Daredevil # 609, arrives as a mysterious threat, getting in Matt’s way as he tries to take down Fisk and fight against the beating his body has just taken. While Vigil is eventually revealed to be an embodiment of Matt’s never-ending internal conflict with his Faith, the costume itself misses the mark. Attempting to blend Catholic imagery of big, red crosses and priest’s robes with a functional ninja suit, The Vigil’s costume certainly stands out, but not necessarily a good way.
Marvel has an inconsistent track record with blending religion into their heroes’ stories. While the introduction of Kamala Khan as a Muslim hero has been widely applauded, they’ve also had their share of missteps. Another Catholic, Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, was at the center of a controversial storyline in Ultimate X-Men # 65- # 70, by Brian K. Vaughan and Wade Von Grawbadger. After discovering Colossus is gay, Kurt cites his religion when calling Cyclops an “abomination” for being gay. While dressing a character in religious sacraments and having them antagonize a Catholic hero is not quite as controversial, it stands as another low point for Marvel’s depiction of religion.
More important to the story, however, is The Vigil’s role in Matt’s story. The Vigil being the marker for Matt’s coma dreams puts a hard point on Daredevil’s struggle with his religion, especially with the dream ending by Murdock literally punching his religious side in the face. This being the moment that snaps Matt back to reality, accompanied by his brush with death, marks an unusual end to the “it was all a dream” twist. While ending Daredevil’s story on such a vague note left the door wide open for the hero’s next writer, Chip Zdarsky, to take Matt’s story in any direction he wanted, it left fans with no solid conclusion to Soule’s run and left fans with more questions than answers.
While the end to Soule’s run on Daredevil may be marred by the presence of The Vigil, the story of Matt Murdock did not suffer in the long term: Since then, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen has had one of Marvel’s best ongoing series, leading into the Devil’s Reign crossover series and Daredevil: Woman Without Fear. Heroes with a past as storied as Daredevil are bound to have high and low moments, and the story (and look) of The Vigil certainly wasn’t a high point. But Daredevil‘s struggle with religion continues on in Marvel Comicsand fans of his have had no shortage of great stories since.
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