In the midst of the more fantastical superhero movies and shows that have spawned since Christopher Nolan’s grittier Batman series, none may be as captivating as Netflix’s “Daredevil.”

For many reasons, Daredevil and Batman are similar heroes, as often happens in the comic book world. They share aspects of subduing the bad guys through vigilante justice — a normal life alter ego as attorney Matt Murdock and businessman Bruce Wayne — and childhood experiences of murdered parents that forever drive their thirst for justice. Matt Murdock might have been blinded and given extremely heightened senses to allow him to combat foes, but both share the realism of the bruises of their trade.

Yet setting it apart from many superhero series before, both in comics and on the screen, is the way that “Daredevil” as a series has dealt with the topic of religion. Season 1 was opened with the character visiting a priest for confession, and conversations between Matt and the priest would become a way of identifying the moral values of the character. The trailer for the second and current season was rife with Catholic imagery, and in addition, promotional images were reminiscent of famous works of Catholic art. Daredevil’s first appearance in this season even leads him into a church as he fights a band of escaping robbers.

Murdock is not the only character with a Catholic past this time around, though. This new season presents Daredevil’s new foe in the form of the antihero, the Punisher, a character who, in the comics, once wished to be a priest, but dropped out of seminary after struggling to forgive those who had sinned. This mindset continues to steer his own vigilante form of justice to places Daredevil would never go, as far as hunting down and murdering with military precision. It tackles an issue that’s important in the Catholic guilt that lies deep inside Matt Murdock and one that’s become drastically more important in our own world: Is it OK to kill even the most evil of society?

It’s an issue with such recent importance that the abolition of the death penalty was one of the major calls to action defined in Pope Francis’ speech this past September in the first address ever to Congress in papal history. Society is shifting to agree with his call as well, as public support for the death penalty has fallen 20 percent over the last 10 years to only 56 percent in favor of capital punishment. As Pope Francis said in his speech, “Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.” This displayed a sentiment that is in line with other organizations such as Amnesty International, which calls for the end of capital punishment, especially in societies where dangerous criminals can be safely quarantined.

For reasons other than strictly a moral argument, the call to abandon capital punishment as a just sentence is a logical decision, as there is a general lack of reasons other than for purposes of retributive justices to continue the practice. Seeking the death penalty concurs considerably higher costs for prosecution that gets passed on to the taxpayers: A study on cases in Maryland shows that in cases where capital punishment was sought, incurred trial costs were two to three times higher for unsuccessful and successful sought verdicts respectively, and another study in California suggested that removing capital punishments for current death row inmates would save the state $170 million per year.

The convictions themselves are a point of contention. Just evaluating them on correctness alone, 151 people have been released from death row due to wrongful convictions, and certainly many more have been executed wrongly or with the support of only dubious evidence. It disproportionately targets minority races, with one Yale study finding that Black defendants receive the death penalty at three times the proportional rate to white citizens. The National Association of Mental Health estimated that up to 10 percent of death row inmates suffer from untreated, serious mental illness, for which executing them is in direct violation of U.S. law. There’s yet to be a consistent link found between death sentence convictions and crime deterrence, and the failures of lethal injections have also called the methods into question.

With a lack of other reasons to institute capital punishment, it remains solely as an instrument of deserved punishment in regard to the actions of the offender. The question creates a standoff between heinous criminals who do terrible things and a punishment that is itself a wicked act. It’s this tension that creates Daredevil from Matt Murdock: the lawyer who goes vigilante, the Catholic who masquerades as a devil and one opposed to his character foil of The Punisher, to which the right to life is no longer held by the villainous.

A certain scene in the season has Matt attending the funeral of an Irish mobster, a heavy sinner no doubt, with only him and his partners in attendance. The priest in his eulogy recalls the man’s quest for redemption and his inevitable return to crime each time. “And so, we might say … one life gone, one sinful life,” he says. “But one person is not just one person. In each of us, there is a world, webbing out, reaching others. Creating reactions. Sometimes equal, sometimes opposite. We rush to say, one life gone, but each of us is a world. And today, a world has been lost.” Such is the motto for “Daredevil.” It’s merely a television show, but it should cause us as an audience to wrestle with the question of how much a life is worth, even the lives of the most despondent in our society. It shouldn’t take a superhero to stand up for them; it’s something we all should do.        

David Harris can be reached at daharr@umich.edu.

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