This post, which I had intended to write since Daredevil: Reborn #3 came out last Wednesday, was inspired by recent comments on one of my posts on self-loathing at Psychology Today, and also serves as a companion piece to my post on Green Arrow from earlier this year.
I really doubt revelations of tortured self-loathing on the part of Matt Murdock will come as a surprise to anyone who's familiar with the character, whether or not they've read Daredevil: Reborn #3, but nonetheless, spoilery discussion below the fold...
Similar to David Hine's Daredevil: Redemption mini-series from several years ago, in Andy Diggle's Reborn, Matt Murdock finds himself away from Hell's Kitchen and instead in the South, New Mexico in particular. But just like Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, wherever Murdock goes, bad things happen. (Of course, we wouldn't want to read the stories otherwise, right?) In Reborn, Matt happens upon a guns-for-drugs deal, which he proceeds to bust up as only Matt can, in classic Daredevil style (though out of costume).
After Matt rigs the truck full of weapons to drive into a lake, the leader of the operation appears: the Calavera. He asks Matt why he is interfering given that there is little chance of escape, and Matt simply responds, "Don't think I had a choice. Those guns would be used to kill innocent people. I thought I could turn my back, walk away, but... I guess that's just not who I am." (The Reborn miniseries, for those of you not reading it, is meant to establish a new status quo for Daredevil after the events in the Shadowland mini-event. Reborn tells of Matt's "hero's quest" of sorts, in which Matt rediscovers his purpose. With this statement, and the heroic stand he's making, methinks he found it. But more on that later.)
The Calavera, however, is not impressed. "Such vanity," he says, "the nobility of heroic self-sacrifice appeals to your ego," implying that heroism is not altruistic or a matter of duty or virtue for Matt, but simply a way to satisfy his own desires for self-validation (however noble these desires may be). "But," he continues, "I think you are lying to yourself. Answering a deeper need," hinting at something more pathological.
Next he asks Matt what he is afraid of. Of course, being the Man with No Fear, he says "nothing." But little does he know that the Calavera has the ability to reveal "what lies within your heart." And what lies within Matt Murdock's heart is tragedy: not only the recent events of Shadowland in which he fought his friends and allies and ritually executed his arch-nemesis Bullseye, but also the deaths of Elektra and Karen Page (both at the hand of you-know-who), as well as the mental and emotional damage done to his ex-wife Milla Donovan. (The "women in refrigerators" syndrome did not start with Kyle Rayner and Alex DeWitt, you know.) After showing him all of this, the Calavera tells Matt, "You wear your guilt like a mask, to hide you from the world. But you cannot escape the judgment of your conscience. After what you have done... what you have caused to be done... you want to die."
Matt protests, saying "no, no," but there would seem to be more than a bit of truth in the Calavera's words. Even if Matt does not have a death wish per se, he does feel incredible guilt and remorse over what has happened to those he loves (or loved). We can argue endlessly about the moral responsibility he bears for these events--for instance, the revelation of his possession in Shadowland was particularly controversial among fans, seeming to offer a "get-out-of-jail-free" card as far as responsibility was concerned, much like Tony Stark's recent self-mindwipe in Invincible Iron Man #24 (as well as the similar possession-based retcon of Hal Jordan and Parallax in Green Lantern: Rebirth).
But what matters is that, for some reason, Matt does feel responsible for these things, and that is what seems to make his self-loathing different in character than Green Arrow's. Where Ollie's self-loathing is based on feelings of inadequacy, Matt's is grounded in guilt and responsibility. Whereas Ollie has never felt good enough (despite his braggadocio and womanizing), Matt has always had confidence in his abilities, but is all the more tortured by what he has done with them--or, more precisely, what he has failed to prevent. He couldn't save Elektra, Karen, or Milla; he wasn't strong enough to resist the mental control of the Beast of the Hand during Shadowland; and so forth. Lump all this together with his Catholic guilt, and you have the classic self-loathing person by way of responsibility and guilt. He doesn't feel he deserves to live, and so he is more than willing (if not wanting) to die in the cause of justice.
If the title hadn't already been taken, this series could very well have been titled Redemption too. And as I've explained in my posts at Psychology Today, the self-loathing cannot be redeemed by reassurances and validations from others; rather, it must come from within. Matt Murdock has to find a way to go on, hopefully by realizing that the one sure way he can redeem himself for what he feels he has done is to continue his life as a hero. There is no redemption to be gained from giving up; perhaps that is what he has learned in this series.