This past Friday April 10th, at 3 am, saw the long-awaited release of Marvel’s Daredevil. The Netflix original saw the premiere of all 13 episodes, 13 hours and I was one of the group of people to have finished the series in one sitting. A little before 5 pm, I had finished the show, and as everyone else catches up this weekend, I’d like to present my thoughts on Marvel’s first season of Daredevil.
I’d like to start with saying that along with The Shadow and The Phantom, Daredevil was one of the first comic books that I fully embraced and read from issue one to the then current run of Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack. (My first Daredevil comic was Daredevil: Yellow) I was 12 at the time and I’m sure most of my classmates and school teachers will remember me with a Daredevil graphic novel always in hand and quietly reading about The Man Without Fear during lunch. A long time before The Man of Steel became my identifying feature as a comic book nerd, fan, and collector, I was probably the biggest fan of the ‘Devil, just a kid in junior high, growing up in Queens. While the 2003 movie wasn’t perfect, I called it my own and celebrated Ben Affleck while others got excited for the 2003 “Hulk” and 2004 “Spider-Man 2.” For me, learning of Marvel’s Daredevil has been a fountain of interest and of growing excitement as the show grew closer to April 10th. What’cha Reading has covered the earliest news of the series for some time and at one point had a series of columns (Man Without Fear Mondays) going as casting news broke and general information came through executive producer and showrunner Steven S. DeKnight’s twitter page. April 10th finally came and it was no question that I owed it to my 12-year-old self to stay up and watch all 13 episodes in one sitting. I would take the dare and binge-watch Daredevil, completing its first season in one day. Going on no sleep since I woke on Thursday morning, I can’t remember the last time excitement truly kept me from counting sheep. Possibly as an 8-year-old child, waiting for Easter Sunday morning, and finding hidden eggs, Godzilla toys and the movie robot from Lost in Space. Not since being that 8-year-old could I not fall asleep, watching as minutes turned to hours, and with each passing moment growing inevitably closer in time to the start for Marvel’s Daredevil. The clocked turned 3:01 and at 3:03 a.m. I began. Here Comes Daredevil, The Man Without Fear!
Marvel’s Daredevil, regardless of how it’s viewed, marks two very special occasions for the House of Ideas. First, it is Marvel’s first true adaptation of the Stan Lee and Bill Everett character and is the first outing for Marvel and Netflix’s partnership which will eventually give us A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders. The series marks a decidedly darker and certainly more adult approach to storytelling filled with bones breaking, head smashing, implied nudity, and fleeting language that we’d never see within a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. What makes this all the more interesting is, as Jeph Loeb (comic writer/tv producer) likes to say, “It’s all connected.” While we never see The Avengers, we are told that The Battle of New York, where the Chitauri decimated the city, is the main reason Hell’s Kitchen is being rebuilt and is just as bad as it was in the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson run of 80’s visionary comics. We also have Wesley, Fisk’s right hand man reference Thor and Iron Man without ever saying their names, a framed newspaper that alludes to The Incredible Hulk destroying Harlem in the 2008 film, and Foggy Nelson, partner at Nelson and Murdock, directly saying “Captain America.” While for some it’s nice to know that Marvel’s Daredevil is set within the same universe, Daredevil becomes less about being seen as Marvel’s and more concerned with becoming a crime show about fathers and sons, faith, and a failing city. By episode 2, “Cut Man”, Marvel’s Daredevil feels closer in tone to Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and a less humorous version of “Kick Ass” 1 & 2 than anything else. Throw in the song “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones in a later episode and you could almost mistake this for being something from Scorcese. The real beauty of Marvel’s Daredevil is of how important it was to not only get it right, but to present a work that wasn’t about fan service or easter eggs. Marvel’s Daredevil is a serious show and drama that happens to be focused on a character with comic book abilities, but make no mistake, there is really nothing comic book about this show. Other than episode one “Into The Ring” starting with the chemical accident (a radioactive isotope from the comics, but not mentioned here) that takes away young Matt Murdock’s sight and enhances his senses, and series finale “Daredevil” that features our hero in a surprisingly different take on his iconic red costume, the show doesn’t feel ripped from the pages of Marvel Comics despite being quite reverential to the characters. In many ways, Marvel’s Daredevil feels closer to HBO’s “True Detective” than any of the M.C.U. films.
Marvel’s Daredevil is a story about lawyer by day, vigilante by night Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). He’s a good Irish catholic, a hero driven by faith, by duty to his city to defend those that have become overpowered by the corruption and evil that has seeped its way into Hell’s Kitchen. So at night, aided by his extra sense of sight that allows him to see the “world on fire” and martial arts skills taught to him by an enigmatic surrogate father named Stick (Scott Glenn), he dons a black, ninja outfit taken directly from Frank Miller and John Romita Jr’s mini-series “The Man Without Fear.” He’s placed on a path that will eventually draw him closer to Wilson Fisk a.k.a. The Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio). The series works well as a first season, but even better as a 13 hour movie as each episode runs into the next, sparing us a few minutes of recapping the previous installment. It’s also on Netflix which saves us from the low aspects of weekly formatted television. Marvel’s Daredevil really is the best superhero series and has shown tremendous potential for further installments along with more interest in the lead up shows to “The Defenders.”
Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio are two of the best actors cast for a superhero adaptation and D’Onofrio is terrifyingly creepy as the twitchy, child-like monster Wilson Fisk. I’ve seen him compared to Alfred Molina’s turn as Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2” and I would agree that the same intensity and pathos is brought to a role that could easily slip into one-dimensional bad guy territory. Thankfully that doesn’t happen and even the supporting players such as Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple and Vondie Curtis Hall as Ben Urich bring out a sense of the real world to the streets Daredevil walks on. The care in which all the characters are treated with is something really special and early on in the series, especially with Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) you immediately recognize these people as someone you may have walked past or sat next to on one of your nights out with friends. Even Matt Murdock is just as relatable and accessible as the rest of the cast.
The real highlight of Charlie Cox’s performance and an important detail that Marvel had to get right was presenting us with our first street level hero. Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most of us would probably never encounter the likes of The Avengers. Our lives would never really demand us to meet them despite how much we’d probably like to. The same could be said for DC’s Justice League. Maybe we’d see Thor or Iron Man fly overhead one day, or see Captain America at a signing, but that’d be it. With Daredevil, we’d have a sincere chance of passing by Matt Murdock on the street and there would be a strong possibility that, God-forbid we ever were in trouble, he’d probably be there! That’s a sentiment that is explored throughout the Netflix series and a conclusion we begin to understand more so with each episode. Charlie Cox is a terrific Matt Murdock and an equally great Daredevil. He’s heroic, fearless, and sometimes questionable, but always a hero through and through. Charlie Cox is Daredevil and it will be fun to see people argue between who wore it better: Charlie Cox or Ben Affleck?
Marvel’s Daredevil was a terrific first series for Netflix to start with as he is a character many have become familiar with, if not through the comic books than from the 2003 film. The first outing was so strong that it should definitely lead to an increased interest in A.K.A. Jessica Jones. The show has already been received well by the fans and while it isn’t drenched in service to them, it’s certainly a nice touch to have villains such as Melvin Potter (The Gladiator), Leland Owlsley (The Owl) and Turk present if only by name and not appearing as their alter-egos. There’s enough subtle homages that sincere fans will pick up on (Shawdowland, The Hand…) but I’ll leave those for you to discover as you watch. Whether or not you plan to binge watch all 13 episodes, or plan on spacing it out over time, Marvel’s Daredevil is highly addictive as it should be and has set another raised bar for what comic-book/superhero productions could be if you dare.
Marvel’s Daredevil gets five out of five stars and is available now on Netflix.