Abnormal Interviews: Mark Waid, Writer of Marvel Comics’ “Daredevil,” The Lawyer Superhero
As we’ve previously noted on this site, Daredevil is a Marvel Comics superhero whose alter ego, Matt Murdock, happens to be a practicing lawyer. Murdock is blind; his heightened other senses serve him well as a costumed vigilante. The point: He’s a lawyer, thus, we can write about the character on our law blog! (If it’s been a while since you read comics, you might recall the 2003 film, Daredevil, which starred Ben Affleck in the title role.).
In his private life, Murdock is a partner at the small New York City firm of Murdock & Nelson, which handles, among other things, personal injury and civil rights cases. Murdock’s partner, Foggy Nelson, is a brilliant attorney who helps cover for Murdock when he’s out fighting crime. Just a few months ago, Marvel Comics rebooted the Daredevil comics series and brought Mark Waid on as the writer of the new series. Waid is known for such popular works as Kingdom Come and Superman: Birthright. As Waid takes responsibility for the character, Daredevil finds himself a persona non grata in the eyes of other superheroes. In fact, because of some recent exploits, Daredevil’s secret identity has been compromised, and Murdock is now attempting to rebuild his life and law practice. Waid was kind enough to agree to an interview regarding the challenges of writing a lawyer superhero character. Waid’s latest issue, Daredevil #4, hits the stands tomorrow, and the first three issues can be found at any local comic shop. Our interview with him (which includes a few minor – though clearly marked – spoilers about tomorrow’s Daredevil #4) is as follows:
JIM DEDMAN: Matt Murdock has two full time jobs: attorney in private practice and costumed super hero. You’ve described that as a sort of a “paradox of a vigilante by night, lawyer by day.” How does he manage doing both those tough jobs?
MARK WAID: Like all good comic book superheroes, he manages to squeeze an awful lot in a 24 hour day. When I go to the bank and the post office, I’m done, and I have to lie down. But these guys, in Matt’s case, one of the things that’s enormously helpful to him is that he relies very, very heavily on his partner and best friend, Foggy Nelson. Their dynamic is such that Matt is brilliant in the courtroom. He is a showman, he is charming, he is well spoken. What Foggy brings to the table is . . . an eidetic memory for court history and for case history. So he’s the one who was always in law school, nose in the books, 23 hours a day, while Matt was out chasing skirts and stuff. So, if you will, Matt’s the face, and Foggy’s the brain, and sorry to say, the brains have the harder job.
JD: Nelson & Murdock is a small New York City firm. You’ve mentioned that you’ll be introducing some interns and assistants at the firm in the future, which is foreshadowed at the end of issue three. How do you go about depicting the day-to-day operations of a law firm in the comic book medium?
MW: With all due respect to the fine lawyers who have represented me in the past and can sue me out of existence today, basic office law work is not the most terribly visual thing in the world for comic books. So, we don’t spend a whole lot of time in the Nelson & Murdock offices and what time we do there is – to the chagrin of many of my lawyer friends – is sort of the TV and comic version of what a law office looks like, which is not reality. People having fun all the time. People are having parties, blah, blah, blah. Luckily, Marvel has a couple of really good writers who also have legal backgrounds. Marc Guggenheim is one, and so I’m able to lean on these guys pretty heavily for background and to sort of back stop me to make sure that my rudimentary layman’s knowledge of how a law office works, at least has some grounding in reality.
JD: We also spend some time in the courtroom. What efforts do you make to accurately depict that process in that arena?
MW: Same thing. I talk to Gugenheim, I talk to a couple of my other lawyer friends. It’s a fine line. I mean, it’s fiction, it’s not a documentary, so every once in a while to make it visual or to sort of compress into 20 pages of comics what would, in fact, be an entire day’s worth of law proceedings, we have to cheat a little bit.
JD: At this point, it’s public knowledge that Matt Murdock is Daredevil, at least for the most part, and the new assistant district attorney actually tells him, “Every litigator in the game is going to use your Daredevil identity against you every time you set foot in a courtroom.” You’ve said in a past interview that Murdock is doing his clients “no favors by representing them.” Why is his identity as Daredevil such a problem in his private practice?
MW: Because every time he steps into the courtroom, a smart lawyer on the other side will invoke – especially in criminal cases, particularly criminal cases – the fact that Daredevil is an unsanctioned vigilante, and therefore, he must have some sort of antagonistic relationship with law enforcement or by nature must have some sort of antagonistic bent against authority, none of which is true, but it doesn’t matter. . . . [W]hat I’ve been told is that, paradoxically, the courtroom itself is the only place where you don’t have to worry about slander because lawyers can say whatever they need to about each other in order to win the case, essentially. There’s boundaries to that, but Matt is not in a position to sue an opposing attorney for slander for calling him Daredevil in court.
JD: Does Matt have a dilemma in that in his private practice he appears to be a very idealistic person who believes in due process of law, and presumably the rights of the accused, but he’s also out there at night fighting crime and presumably prompting the arrest of criminals who are going to end up in a courtroom in the future?
MW: Yeah. That’s part of it. The real problem for Matt gets back to the idea that a good attorney needs to be fairly invisible when it comes to the facts of the case. The moment the attorney becomes more of the focus of the trials than the evidence or the clients, you’ve got a problem. So then, it’s all about personality, and as we saw in issue one, it doesn’t always do the client any favors. So Matt’s now in a position where he loves trial law. It’s the thing he’s best at. He’s really good at it – [but] what can he do to use that knowledge to help others?
If you come to Matt with a case that seems unwinnable, if you come to Matt with a case that nobody else will touch, if you come to Matt with a case that you cannot afford to have tried but he believes in you and he knows that you’re right because, again, he’s got the super senses, he can tell whether you’re telling the truth or not, then he’ll be your advocate. He will work with you to be your own lawyer.
JD: . . . Is that the model that he’s going to adopt, where he is not [creating] the attorney/client relationship but instead assisting people in representing themselves pro se?
MW: That’s exactly it. Exactly. It’s a dangerous place for him to be, but frankly, it allows him to use his skills. He’s a very good coach, as it turns out, because again, he can read you like a book when you’re standing in front of him. So, he and his guys are not going to win every single case, but this serves two purposes for us. One is that I kind of like the idea that it gets him back in a courtroom milieu without having to deal with the Daredevil identity. The other, quite frankly, is that the problem with Daredevil, with Matt Murdock as a lawyer in comics, is that it’s not as interesting as Daredevil swinging across a rooftop, and you don’t want to spend a whole lot of time in a courtroom in comics because it kind of gets dull. So this gives us a chance to do the courtroom material but not actually have to worry so much about having page after page after page of a guy in a business suit arguing in front of a jury, which is deadly dull on the page.
JD: Now, Foggy appears to be in a romantic relationship with the new assistant district attorney. Is that going to present him any problems, romantic or ethical, in the future?
MW: I think the key word there is “appears,” so I’m afraid I will have to actually stall the question for a couple more issues.
JD: Fair enough. As Daredevil, Matt has witnessed many crimes and foiled many villains. Now that his identity is out there, might he be subpoenaed to testify himself or even be sued by any of these villains for brutality?
MW: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a dangerous place that Matt is in where he’s gone public . . . . Like I described in the first issue, . . . his identity is sort of out there, but following on Daredevil continuity from a few years ago, when he was originally exposed, he denied all charges. He sued the newspaper that reported his identity and won the case. He did everything he could to fight back. Now, that’s past continuity, and that’s not my story. I feel kind of squidgy about that, frankly, because as a reader, that bugged me that a superhero and a lawyer would deliberately mount a false case even though it was all for a greater good. That he would sue the newspaper for telling the truth really bugged me. But those are the cards I was dealt. So instead of focusing on the history of that, what I take away from that is that the reality in Manhattan now is that about a third of the people remember that he was accused of being Daredevil and they think it’s probably true. A third of them think this is crap because he’s a blind man and this is some sort of weird publicity hoax. And the final third of them just don’t care anymore because it’s like news of Anna Nicole Smith at this point. It’s old news.
JD: Now, there’s a police brutality civil rights lawsuit that plays a role in the first several issues. . . . [H]ow did you first come up with the idea of using that type of litigation to advance the narrative?
MW: I wanted something visual. . . . [I]t couldn’t have been a criminal case per se. People who are accused of crimes and are in prison, basically, they have a right to a lawyer. You know this better than I do with the speech: “You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you. ” And Matt needs to be dealing with people who can’t get any sort of representation at all. So, I needed to get away from criminal cases in that case. But I needed something visual. I needed something where . . . it was an open and shut case. Matt has all the evidence, the poor guy is for real. Matt knows that the guy is completely telling the truth when it comes to police brutality. And it should have been a cake walk. It should have been just a complete read through, easiest case Matt ever did, and the reason it backfired is because he wasn’t taking into account his own celebrity. So, that’s why I wanted something visual – giving the guy a broken arm. I needed something visceral . . . . Readers have a very strong response to cases like police brutality and stuff.
JD: Are there other types of cases besides that you’re going to explore in the future?
[NOTE: SPOILERS FOR DAREDEVIL #4 BELOW]
MW: Yeah. . . . [W]hat I like about setting this world up this way . . . is that all of these cases can lead to bigger things. Not every case has to, but certainly, the cases we’ll be focusing on in the comic [are] the kind of things that are going to lead to bigger things. For instance, in issue four, Matt takes the case of a kid who was fired without cause, apparently. And he’s upset and he’s suing the company. The problem is that New York is an “at will” state. So, Matt says, “That’s why no one’s taking his case. It’s a dog of a case. He didn’t have a contract, he can’t win.” And Foggy says, “Yeah, but I thought you may be interested because the kid is blind.” And so now Matt’s intrigued – does it has something to do with disability? . . . And that ends up turning into a case where the kid inadvertently heard something that leads Matt in turn to a criminal conspiracy that in turn leads into something bigger as Daredevil. So, that’s kind of the structure I see playing with. You start with a small case. And the more interesting ones turn into bigger cases that Daredevil needs to be involved with.
JD: I have to ask this. In the first issue, when Matt first enters the courthouse, he’s mobbed by newspaper reporters, including one law blog. How did that reference come to be?
MW: That you would have to ask my editor, Stephen Wacker, because I believe I left that stuff fairly open, and I said, “Steve, let’s you and I figure out what these people are screaming.” That’s also why one of the guys in the background is screaming, “Bababooey, bababooey!” because of Howard Stern.
JD: . . . Have you had any reactions from lawyer readers?
MW: Yeah, a couple. And luckily, everybody seems to understand that I’m doing my best. I’m not a lawyer, but I play one in comics, and everybody sort of understands I’m trying to do my level best to keep it as accurate as I can, and at the same time, try and keep it as entertaining as I can, and sometimes, those are not always things that work in concert. But so far, so good.
JD: Last question. More generally, you tweeted very recently that “[n]ot all mainstream comics have to be written for the existing fan base.” What’s your philosophy about that?
MW: My philosophy about it is that it makes me insane that most comics today, most super hero comics, are written specifically for the guys who’ve been reading them all their lives, which is a really inbred way of going about getting new readers. When I sit down and write a first issue, whether it’s Daredevil or Fantastic Four or anything else I’ve done, but particularly with Daredevil – I bend over backwards to make sure that it’s a comic that you could hand to anyone if they’ve read a thousand comics or they’ve never read comics before – it doesn’t matter. They understand who the character is, what he wants, and what’s in his way, and why we should care. Those are the four litmus paper questions that need to be asked about every story.
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