About a year or so ago, I thought I was finished with super heroes, comic books, and comic book movies. I was feeling fatigued, their omnipresence and the notion that the only source of new entertainment we potentially had would come in the form of adaptations of comic books and super hero-centric narratives. Avengers: Age of Ulton came out and while it was enjoyable, it wasn’t a revelation in the same way that the first Avengers film was. I feel like my reaction to Ant-Man was much the same– “Yes, this was entertaining and fun and well made, but did we really need it?” Captain America: Civil War fell into the Age of Ulton trap (in that I enjoyed it and thought it was well done, but it didn’t feel like something transcendent) while the utter and abject catastrophe that was Fantastic Four and the moderate disaster that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice left me feeling pretty removed and worn out from the whole comic book/super hero experience.
A funny thing happened, however, on my way from leaving behind the super hero universe (especially those properties associated with Marvel, the comic book company with which I had been brought up and followed since childhood). In the words of Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part III (a film I’d, all things being equal, like to forget), “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” And that pull back in came in the form not of a feature film, but rather in the form of a Netflix original series adaptation of one of Marvel’s more interesting characters– Daredevil.
Marvel’s move to television (I say television in the broadest sense, as obviously Netflix is not exactly what we think of when we think of broadcast television) began with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter on ABC, expanding on the popular Avengers universe from the films. Despite the sometimes good things I’d heard about these shows, I hadn’t felt compelled to watch. However, in 2015 they went in a slightly different direction with the release of the first season of Daredevil on Netflix, uploaded all at once in the House of Cards–Orange is the New Black mode. I started watching shortly after it was uploaded, though I got distracted by other things, but returned to it recently with the release of the second season earlier in 2016. Coupled with the first season of Jessica Jones from 2015, Marvel had made a real strong foray into the realm of serialized television entertainment and Daredevil was leading the charge.
I won’t get too much into recapping the Daredevil narrative (if you want to know more about the character, I would direct you here) but the very, very abbreviated of this story is that Hell’s Kitchen resident Matthew Murdock (portrayed in this series by Charlie Cox) is blinded after being hit with radioactive waste but, in turn, is given super powers and abilities that make up for that lack of sight (and then some) and as an adult chooses to use his abilities to fight against crime and injustice. Season 1 provides us with that origin along with Matthew’s first forays into vigilante crime fighting and his first battle with Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin (played here by Vincent D’Onofrio) as he also struggles to deal with his “normal” life and friends such as Foggy Nelson and Karen Page. Season 2 expands upon the universe that has been created, introducing characters from the comic book run of the character such as Frank Castle (or the Punisher), Elektra, and the enemy known as The Hand, as well as setting up for the incorporation of characters like Jessica Jones (who already has one season of her own Netflix series that I’ve been meaning to watch), Luke Cage (the feature character of another very well-received Netflix series), and Iron Fist (that resulted in a Netflix series that was met with, shall we say, some negative criticism) in The Defenders.
These two seasons of Daredevil have been standout to me, making me interested both in superhero media as well as going back to reading comics (with a special shoutout to Marvel Unlimited and Comic Book Herald for helping out with this process). What makes the Marvel shows on Netflix, and Daredevil in particular, stand out is how realistic they are. OK, maybe realistic isn’t the best term since anything with people possessing superhuman abilities will not be entirely realistic, but it’s certainly more grounded in the real world. Matthew Murdock is not a kind of demigod or superhuman but rather someone who is gifted, both with human and what we might understand as superhuman gifts, but one who is incredibly human and must deal with all that reality presents and challenges him with. It is this quality I like so much about the character of Daredevil, particularly how he’s portrayed in this adaptation, as he’s something like a private investigator almost in the Sam Spade-Philip Marlowe model. He’s one who is acting alone but is not fighting against the good. From this quality to the cinematography and the general aesthetics, there is definitely a noir-ish feel to the show. It is a show that’s of the streets and it feels like that, rather than something that feels like it’s happening in an overly polished and scrubbed up version of reality.
But beyond just being a well made and unique approach to the filmed superhero adaptation, I found myself particularly interested in and engaged by Daredevil the character. The picture I’ve included with this post will perhaps tip you all off as to why. The character of Matthew Murdock, throughout the majority of his comic book existence and in a much more pronounced way in the more modern iterations of his character, is a Catholic and that informs him and who he is. Now I’m not interested in getting to a discussion of how Catholic Matthew is or whether he’s a good Catholic or what have you. That can be debated to no end and, in many ways, doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that Matthew approaches the world, and thus his work as Daredevil as well, through the eyes and perspective of a Catholic and thus it makes it a show (and Matthew as a character) one that is in some way engaging or reflecting certain Catholic ideas. For quite obvious reasons, this is something that makes the show and the character most interesting to me.
I also think it reflects what makes this series good, by which I mean that there is a thematic substance that exists. It’s doing something more than just adapting for the sake of adapting (and to make boat loads of money I would imagine) and it’s engaging with ideas that go beyond the superhero and Marvel universe for the sake of continuing a franchise. In other words, even if one doesn’t have much familiarity with the character of Daredevil or the super hero/comic book world, they can still get a lot out of this. This is what these Marvel products, and all super hero-centric products in general, should be doing, striving for a… not broader audience necessarily but for making things that are interesting beyond merely being adaptations of familiar characters. Shows like Daredevil show how good a comic book adaptation can be and other directors and show runners would do well to follow the model it has created.