I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Comic books were a huge part of my life back then. We didn’t have 500 channels and hyper-realistic video games to occupy our time. So, I turned to Marvel Comics. At 35 cents an issue, it was good, cheap entertainment. I learned to draw by opening comic books and reproducing what I saw there in the pages of The Amazing Spider-man, Captain America, and the Fantastic Four.
I’ve always been a science fiction fan, and for me, comic books fall into that category. I like to think about the future. I like to think about gizmos and gadgets that are possible on a smaller level, and the interstellar travel that’ll be possible long after I am gone. I like to believe that good triumphs over evil, and I like a good action story.
Now, I’m 50 years old, and I still enjoy the comic book heroes of my youth. I haven’t read a comic book in years, maybe decades, but I am enjoying the real explosion of success that both Marvel and DC are creating on both the big and small screens.
When I was growing up, Daredevil was one of my favorite titles. The idea of the blind guy being the superhero appealed to my 12 year old self. Maybe it was just because the guy with the rough break takes the crappy cards he is dealt (blindness, dad murdered) and turns that into a force for good. Maybe it was because of the neighborhood creators Stan Lee and Bill Everett chose to set him in. Hell’s Kitchen. It had a gritty, tough sound to it. I liked that. Whatever the reason, I was a loyal fan.
I was skeptical about the possibilities when I heard about the Netflix/Marvel collaboration project. I was skeptical of Charlie Cox as the choice to play “the man without fear”. I was skeptical of Netflix capabilities and budget. (Marvel budgets for The Avengers and Winter Soldier are more than some small countries). I am five episodes into the original 13 episode order and so far I am a fan.
I really enjoyed how they didn’t do a straight up origin story, but instead weaved it in as a series of flashbacks over the first couple of episodes. I’m impatient that way. I know the origin stories. I’ve known them for 40 years. Get to the action.
Matt Murdock’s enhanced senses are his super hero powers. He doesn’t have super strength or super speed. The accident that left him blind super charged the rest of his senses. In the Ben Affleck incarnation of Daredevil, Murdock was bombarded with the additional stimulus. So much so that he had to sleep with his ears underwater. A little bit silly. The treatment of Murdock’s super senses is handled much better in this version. He hears and remembers sounds that later identify people to him.
One of the charms of this project is the characters. They are both written and cast well. Show creator, Drew Goddard, of Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, with the help of Daredevil creators Stan Lee and Bill Everett, crafted characters that are layered with both strength and vulnerability. I am particularly impressed with Vincent D’Nofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime and Daredevil’s most prominent antagonist. The juxtaposition of utter ruthlessness as he takes off an underling’s head with a car door for interrupting his dinner, and teenage like vulnerability as he courts the beautiful art dealer, Vanessa Marianna, played by Ayelet Zurer. A much deeper character than the late Michael Clarke Duncan played opposite of Affleck’s 2003 version of Daredevil.
Each of the supporting characters adds their little flavor, to the overall success of Daredevil . There is some excellent, and unexpected chemistry (if you know the source material) between the extremely awkward Foggy Nelson, played by Elden Henson and Karen Page, played by Deborah Ann Woll. The two lesser characters that are most impressive are Kingpin’s right hand man, Wesley, played by Toby Leonard Moore and Claire Temple, who spends her nights fixing up the battered Murdock, and is played by Rosario Dawson, who is really quite good.
The thing that stands out most to me about many modern incarnations of comics is the darkness. Maybe I didn’t notice it when I was reading under the covers with a flashlight as a kid. Maybe it never jumped out at me because there was no tone of voice, and no musical score in the books. There is a lot of darkness in the film and TV versions. Batman, Gotham, the Arrow, even Agents of SHIELD has settled into some dark story arcs. Daredevil may be the darkest of the dark. The corruption of the city officials and the overarching feeling of hopelessness at changing it is akin to the new FOX series Gotham. It raises the level of importance of the hero. All is certainly lost without him.
Even more interesting is the intentional parallels between Fisk and Matt Murdock. Both claim to be trying to make their city a better place. Both are willing to resort to unbridled violence to achieve their ends. Interestingly, it is an undercurrent of rage that defines both characters. Often, Murdock gets into the punching groove and almost cannot stop himself.
The final surprise to me thus far, and very often lacking in the superhero genre, is that Matt Murdock, despite his super powers, is human. At the end of every fight scene he is battered, and those injuries don’t just disappear before the next scene. Even more impressive to me is that you can see him wearing out, running out of energy, hurting, as every fight sequence plays itself out. In one particularly good scene in Episode 2, you wonder whether he is going to make it to the end of the scene. Each punch or kick is a labor.
In developing the Marvel Cinematic Universe across movie and television platforms, the trick is to be able to have characters inhabit the same theoretical universe, but not actually be together onscreen. Setting Daredevil in Hell’s Kitchen creates a nice little microcosm for the show to live in without expectations of or need for crossover. The partnership between Marvel Television Studios and Netflix has created another nice platform on which to launch other small screen endeavors in the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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