In my very first essay after The Book Closet relaunch, I did a Deep Dive into the Daredevil Root of Evil storyline, collected in the Daredevil Epic Collection: Root of Evil. In that essay I came to the conclusion that the majority of the Root of Evil storyline was thematic and that the visuals were meant to be taken symbolically, rather than literally, and that every character and motif was influenced by Matt Murdock’s subconscious desire to come to grips with his identity. I stand by that assessment, but there is one important character I neglected to examine in that original post: the character of Joshua / Peacekeeper.
Joshua is a character that, as far as I can tell, only appears in these five issues of Daredevil, but he is an important character in those five issues. That gives him an odd distinction of being very important for a small amount of time, then never again, which is an oddity in continuity-obsessed comics. It makes sense that this character came out of the mid-90s, an era that the industry has spent the last 20 years denying happened, but in keeping with my analysis that all the characters are manifestations of Matt’s troubled psyche, I think that there is a narrative reason we don’t see Joshua again: he never existed.
In the storyline, Joshua is presented as a homeless person who is being assaulted by bad cops and is saved by Daredevil, who then follows Joshua into the tunnels under the city when he discovers an entire civilization of people living apart from the rest of society, constantly under threat from a Kingpin-like character. Throughout the course of the story Joshua is ever-present as Daredevil battles nightmarish villains, until at his darkest hour Joshua reveals himself to be Peacekeeper, a vigilante from Daredevil’s youth who had rejected the influence of the Kingpin and never been heard from since, going into hiding.
And unlike most times some version of this story is told in a Marvel Comic, Peacekeeper does not appear to be some long-forgotten golden-age hero returning for a last hurrah. He seems to have been birthed whole for this issue alone.
I submit that, just as The King, Bushwacker, and Deathlok all appear as versions of Matt’s fractured psyche, what I missed on my first read through was that Peacekeeper represents another important part of Matt’s mind: his devout Catholicism.
Within Christian doctrine, Joshua was one of the twelve spies sent by Moses into the land of Canaan as the Israelites left Egypt on their exodus. Joshua and Caleb were the only two who had confidence in God and would recommended a direct attack, and because of their faith they were exempt from condemnation to death in the wilderness. God instructed Moses to lay hands on Joshua to designate him leader to follow him. God then commissioned Joshua to lead the Israelites.
That’s heavy for non-religious folks I know, but let’s remember that a big part of Matt Murdock’s character is that he is a believer. So how does the Peacekeeper Joshua mimic Saint Joshua’s arc? Fairly well. He was sent from his homeland (below the city) to spy and was attacked, but was saved from attack and revealed to be a leader.
So if we accept that Joshua represents Christian doctrine to Matt’s troubled mind, what does that mean for the reveal at the end, when Matt recognizes him as a hero from his youth who denied the Kingpin?
This makes this a story about Matt Murdock finding his faith again. The “hero from his youth” is not a literal hero as presented, but the thing that “saved him” from men like Wilson Fisk (or perhaps even becoming men like Wilson Fisk), his faith. It’s been forgotten and beaten over the years, by a corrupt legal system he worked within (represented by the bad cops), society (represented by the world above) and by his battle with the Kingpin (represented by the Rat King), but once he sees it for what it is, something to believe in from his youth, he becomes the hero he was always meant to be again.
Despite it’s title, Root of Evil is a redemption story about the return of Matt Murdock to faithfulness after the Fall from Grace arc.
Daredevil Epic Collection: Root of Evil by Warren Ellis
This shows what one great author can do to right the course of a sinking ship, as Warren Ellis picks up the shards of the themes Wright and “Smithee” were fumbling with and brings them together into a cohesive narrative within one 30 page conclusion with issue 343.
Worth a read twice, as Ellis’ cap makes the rest of the issues make more sense thematically for having been there.