by Robin Reed
In Marvel Studios/Disney’s ongoing efforts to take over the media universe, they have now reached Netflix, where the original series Daredevil recently debuted. Thirteen episodes fell all at once into our binge-watching lives, and I have taken in six of them in the last three days.
I am a long-time Marvel comics reader, though I faded away from constant comics consumption in the late eighties when I realized that the characters would never really change, that by the nature of the industry they couldn’t change. I craved endings, and superheroes never end as long as their books, movies and TV shows sell. Even death isn’t the end, they come back whenever there is another chance to profit from them. Sometimes they snap back to their beginnings and devoted readers such as myself are left with years of stories in our heads that have been rendered nonexistent.
Daredevil was created when someone at Marvel said, “How about a blind superhero?” How this was possible was explained half by the old saw that blind people compensate with sharper hearing, smell, and touch; and half by a mysterious chemical that spilled over young Matt Murdock in an accident. At least it wasn’t radiation, the other favored bit of handwavium in the Marvel universe.
Daredevil was in the doldrums, sales-wise, until Frank Miller took it over and introduced DD’s mentor and trainer Stick (parodied as Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who also used a chemical, called a Mutagen, to explain the origin of the turtles.) Miller also created Elektra and made the Kingpin, normally a Spider-Man villain, into DD’s nemesis.
Netflix has brought Daredevil into the twenty first century, yet also left some classic elements back in the last century. It treats the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen as if it was still a lower class, crime-ridden area. However, with the prices in Manhattan, the area is gentrifying and is called Clinton or Mid-Town West by the real estate sales people these days.
Tying into the events of the first Avengers movie, Hell’s Kitchen is being rebuilt after all the destruction of the Chitauri invasion. One of the forces behind the rebuilding is a new crime boss, so scary that no one will say his name. His name is of course Wilson Fisk, though he is not yet called The Kingpin. Vincent D’Onofrio is very good in the part, though he can’t manage the sheer size that Michael Clark Duncan did in the Ben Affleck DD movie.
Many villains are given a human side, but Fisk’s more gentle side is the first we see of him, as he goes on a somewhat awkward date with an art gallery owner named Vanessa. It isn’t too long, though, before he decapitates a fellow gangster with a car door.
The show is very dark, a shot of daylight is rare. Even when Matt is arguing in a courtroom there is nothing but blackness behind him. Every punch lands with a thud that sounds like doom. In fact, I was aware of the foley effects more than in most movies or TV shows because they are so exaggerated.
Besides his enhanced senses, Daredevil is able to take a lot of physical abuse. He gets cut and bleeds a lot, but doesn’t need weeks in a hospital to recover. This is explained only as a trait inherited from his father, a boxer whose main tactic was to let his opponent hit him until the opponent got tired. This isn’t really a super power, just another bit of “there’s no story if he can’t do this.”
I grew up when the Comics Code Authority was in full force, so I was a little surprised by language that they never would have allowed, but it is the twenty first century on a platform that has no restrictions, so I got used to it quickly. Another thing the CCA would have banned is the portrayal of rampant police corruption. A year ago I might have thought it was over the top, but since then we have had the real New York police department throw a hissy fit because the Mayor said something that everyone knows is true.
Charlie Cox is good as Matt/Daredevil. Elden Henson is his law partner Foggy Nelson, who plays a lot bigger role than I remember Foggy playing in the comics. Deborah Ann Woll is Karen Page and Rosario Dawson is a woman who gets involved when she finds DD in a dumpster, and tries to keep him from going over the edge. All of these people have lives outside of Daredevil’s story and aren’t just sidekicks and love interests.
One aspect of the Ben Affleck DD movie that I liked was that he slept in a sensory deprivation chamber because every sound even from blocks away was loud enough to keep him awake. This DD doesn’t do that, and he never did in the comics, but I thought it was a neat idea.
Now if you will excuse me, I have seven more episodes to watch.