On -isms: The Mute Daredevil

By | Thursday, July 20, 2017 Leave a Comment
At some point back in the 1980s, I picked up a copy of FantaCo's Daredevil Chronicles, a comic-sized magazine with a lot of articles and interviews about Marvel's Daredevil. But one of the art pieces in it was something by Michael Gilbert featuring Marvel's Daredevil beside Lev Gleason's Daredevil. That was the first time I'd heard of the earlier character. And one of the key points (besides his existence) that I learned was that the character was originally mute! "The world's first mute hero!"

Even in that one page piece, it states that trait was later revised, but I'd for some reason always assumed it was later in the character's run. Maybe around the time the Little Wise Guys started gaining popularity. I discovered yesterday, though, that the change was actually almost immediate. Daredevil debuted in Silver Streak #6 and he's talking up a storm by #7.

I can't really fathom why, though.

In the original story, they go out of his way to make sure you know he's mute. On the opening page narration, it says, "During the attack, the thugs branded Bart's chest with a hot iron shaped like a boomerang. The torture caused the boy to lose his voice." So it's very much a part of the character's origin, standing out from other heroes of the era. (Indeed, standing out from other heroes, period. How many other mute comic book heroes do you know of?)

Now, the initial thought I had when realizing the character was only mute for one issue was that the creator might have had difficulty in communicating the character's thoughts and ideas to the reader if he couldn't speak. But there are two big problems with that. First, he's given thought balloons that act pretty much as dialogue anyway. Second, creators Don Rico (probably the writer) and Jack Binder (definitely the artist) left after that one story, and all the creative duties were picked up by Jack Cole, so they wouldn't have even been around to think maybe writing a mute character was too hard.

Now, the next thing I could think of would be that Cole wasn't given much information about the character, and reworked things out of ignorance, maybe basing his work off a single sketch or something. The problem with that theory, though, is that Cole was also editor of the series! He would have absolutely known what had gone into the previous issue! There no way Cole could not have known the character was intended to be mute.

There don't seem to be good statistics on the number of mute people in the world, or even just a single country. The World Health Organization estimates 15.6% of the world have some form of disability, and 2.2% of the overall population have what might be classified as a severe disability giving them "very significant difficulties in functioning."

And yet we see very, very few instances of characters who exhibit any disability in comics. That's one of the reasons fans got upset when DC revamped Barbara Gordon (again) and removed her from her wheelchair. In scanning through a variety of lists, the biggest/most well-known mute character I can find in comics seems to be Man-Thing. (One could argue Black Bolt is mute, but that that is an active choice on his part and not the result of a physical, mental, or emotional problem seems to me to put him in a slightly different class.) Besides that, you've got a couple infrequently-used Green Lanterns and a handful of background characters that were used for a single story.

When people talk about diversity, it's not just about race. I know I tend to focus on trying to find/highlight/promote more people of color, and even when ableism is brought up, it's often thought of in terms of missing limbs. Ultimately, I don't know why Daredevil was changed after a single issue. But I'm talking today about being mute because that should be a concern as well. Just because mute people don't speak doesn't mean they shouldn't get a voice.
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