Netflix's Daredevil May Be The Best
Marvel Comic Adaptation Yet
Netflix has garnered mostly deserved praise for its original programming. "Mostly deserved" because for every Orange is the New Black or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt there's a season three of House of Cards (you know what this show needs? More brooding Doug Stamper) or final episode of The Killing ("Holder, you complete me!").
And when it comes to comic book-to-TV adaptations, DC Comic has largely held the advantage over Marvel. The Flash and Arrow are consistently entertaining where Agents of Shield continues to dragged down by having to tie in to the MCU. Sure, Gotham has that growing stink of desperation and it looks like NBC is going to cancel Constantine, but in general, the formula holds.
But as Julius Caesar once (probably) said, nothing lasts forever. Last weekend, the 13-episode run of Marvel's Daredevil dropped and, having watched every episode (after previously enduring that 2003 Ben Affleck atrocity), I feel safe in saying it's one of the best TV shows -- comic-related or otherwise -- to debut in recent memory.
Daredevil tells the story of Matt Murdock (that Stan Lee and his alliterative names). As a young boy, Matt was blinded when he saved an old man from getting run over by a truck (in the comic, a radioactive isotope was to blame, in the TV show, it's some kind of toxic waste). But while he lost his sight, his other senses were heightened to superhuman levels, enabling him with what is often described as a "radar sense."
Matt's father was boxer "Battling Jack" Murdock. Raising his son in Hell's Kitchen, Jack always tried to impress upon young Matt the importance of getting an education as opposed to fighting. Unfortunately, Jack was murdered by the mob after refusing to take a dive, so as is often the case (in comics) when criminals murder your parents, it can make more sense to become a lawyer *and* put on a mask at night and deliver sweet fist justice to the bad guys.
Murdock/Daredevil is played in the TV show by British actor Charlie Cox, possibly recognizable to you from the movie Stardust or from his tenure on Boardwalk Empire. He wasn't familiar to me at all, which may have helped my acceptance of him in the role. His accent is that same "neutral American" that Matthew Rhys uses in The Americans, but Cox nails the Catholic guilt/smoldering rage dynamic crucial to understanding the character.
And that character development, more specifically the time given to allow Matt Murdock and his history to unspool, is one big reason Daredevil works so well. Movies generally allow you an hour or so for origins (or more, depending on how many times you reboot Spider-Man), but creator (and Houston native) Drew Goddard and showrunner Steven S. DeKnight never rush things. Flashbacks cover young Matt's upbringing through the first several episodes, never overwhelming the overall narrative, which is allowed to develop healthily over the season.
The rest of the cast are pretty solid, as well. In addition to relative unknowns like Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page (sorry, True Blood fans) and Elden Henson as Murdock's law partner, Foggy Nelson (sorry, Mighty Ducks fans), there's Vondie Curtis Hall as reporter Ben Urich and serial cinematic jackass Bob Gunton as financier Leland Owsley.
Daredevil also avoids other comic mistakes by avoiding a crowded rogue's gallery and focusing on one Big Bad: Wilson Fisk, played by Vincent D'Onofrio in what may be his best role. D'Onofrio has always been terrifying in the sense that one can easily believe him genuinely psychotic, but Fisk is frightening not only because of the physical threat he poses (I read somewhere he fights like The Waterboy) but because of the influence he wields in Hell's Kitchen and beyond (for the first three of four episodes, his underlings refuse even to speak his name for fear of what he'll do to them). His relationship with Murdock and the way they both view their actions as for the benefit of the city are one of the show's more intriguing dynamics.
A big part of any vigilante story, of course, is the fighting. Here again, Daredevil distances itself from its MCU associates. For where the Avengers deal with threats of a planetary scale (events from the movie are referred to several times in the series, even serving as a launching pad for Fisk's criminal endeavors), Murdock is a street-level superhero. Daredevil -- like Spider-Man before him -- handles the petty criminals, traffickers, and drug dealers preying on the people directly. A micro to the Avengers' macro.
In this area, perhaps more than anywhere else, DeKnight and Goddard shows what it's like to be a hero who isn't enhanced by Super Serum, wielding Mjolnir, or wearing a suit of high tech armor. Daredevil is a consummate martial artist, sure, but doesn't have super strength or accelerated healing. When he gets hit, or stabbed, or thrown through a window, he requires medical care (Rosario Dawson has an early role as a sympathetic nurse who patches our hero up). Part of what the fight sequences capture so well is that need to get up *one more time* that exemplifies Murdock's obsession.
And perhaps no other scene gets that across like this one, from the second episode:
Recalling similar melees from Oldboy or the Raid movies, this single take sequence is everything about the character distilled into three minutes.
The bad news is, we may not be seeing Season 2 anytime soon. At the same time Netflix greenlit Daredevil they also agreed to develop three other Marvel properties: A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Power Man, and Iron Fist, all of which are supposed to lead into a Defenders miniseries. So while Jessica Jones is supposed to come out this year as well, Daredevil S2 might have to wait a while.
And that's a pity, because there are some great DD storylines out there, with the groundwork already clearly laid out in season one: Frank Miller's "Born Again," arguably the greatest Daredevil story ever, and "Out," Brian Michael Bendis' Volume 2 run that revealed Matt Murdock's alter ego to the world. The introduction of Stick (Scott Glenn) and references to "that Greek girl" Matt dated also set up that Elektra crossover quite nicely.
Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out in a couple weeks, and we'll once again be awash in a sea of multimillion dollar CGI robots and Robert Downey, Jr. wisecracks. Until then, check out Daredevil and give the new guy a chance.
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