In anticipation of the series release, I went back to the Marvel archives and mainlined the old stories. With the new year, I began re-reading back issues - starting with Kevin Smith's Guardian Devil arc through the Civil War events. I devoured a little more than 90 issues in an attempt to remember the characters and personas in preparation for the day Daredevil would be streaming on Netflix.
That day was today. The show's producers have rewarded fans for the wait. The first couple episodes have been completely engrossing and I am looking forward to finishing the rest (as well as the other Netflix/Marvel series currently in development). A few thoughts crossed my mind while watching and I thought I would share here before bingewatching the rest.
1. Thank you for not beating us over the head with yet another origin story.
Sure, the opening shots of the first episode follow Battling Jack Murdock as he pushes his way through the crowd to find his son Matt lying on the pavement. We are there long enough to see that toxic chemicals have been spilled and hear an elderly pedestrian explain that the boy pushed him out of the way and saved his life. Then the young Matt begins to panic as he realizes that he can't see. That's it. The next scene features a grown up Matt sitting in a confessional booth asking the priest to forgive him of something he is about to do.
Sequels aside, superhero films tend to linger far too long on the hero's origin. Perhaps this is due to a fear that audiences are not smart enough to follow the plot if they don't know why their hero is a hero. Granted, this exposition is sometimes valid. In last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy, we needed to know how Peter Quill became Star-Lord. We needed to see Tony Stark's transformation from the head of a weapon's manufacturer to a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist dressed in iron armor to help make sense of the first Iron Man movie.
But how many times do we need to see Bruce Wayne's parents get shot in a dark Gotham alley? How many times do we need to see an infant Kal-El sent away from the planet Krypton to crash land near a Smallville farm where he's adopted by the Kents? Reboots are the worst with origins - frequently retelling the same story while the previous iteration is still fresh in viewers' memories. Sometimes even sequels over-do this - like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 which added to the origin story as if they didn't explain enough in part one.
Marvel's Daredevil gets this right. The opening scene establishes just enough for us to know that Matt Murdock is blind and has a self sacrificial personality. That's it. The rest of his history is told through flashback sequences in ways that contribute to the story rather than as a distraction.
2. Is that the Dread Pirate Roberts?
The black suit and mask featured in the first episodes for Marvel's Daredevil is not the costume comic fans are used to seeing. It isn't the red spandex bodysuit with the horned cowl. But it isn't a departure from the comic books either. This black outfit is based on Frank Miller's Man Without Fear books. Looking at it, I can't help but think how much he looks like Westley dressed as the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. To be fair, it is far more intimidating than the more common red devil outfit. If I was a low level mafia thug, seeing the blindfolded man in black jump out of the shadows would be enough to put the fear of God into me.
Photo courtesy Marvel Television
3. It is all connected.
The new Daredevil series does not exist in a bubble. It is connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe just like ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. While the tone of Daredevil is darker and grittier than the typical Marvel outing, there are reminders that Matt Murdock lives in the same world as Captain Rogers, Black Widow, and Agent Phil Coulson.
In the real world, Hell's Kitchen is far safer than the NYC neighborhood represented in the comics. Today, you're more likely to find tourists than mob violence. To remake the dangerous version of Hell's Kitchen, Daredevil's producers and screenwriters tapped into the finale of The Avengers. The fallout of the movie's alien invasion of New York is played out into Daredevil's world and referred to as an "incident" where death and destruction fell from the skies. It is explained that the battle between the Chitauri and Earth's mightiest heroes damaged half of the buildings in Hell's Kitchen and there is a government capital program set up to rebuild.
Due to these events, Matt and his business partner are able to find an office location to open their law practice at a cheap price. But it also opened up the doors for criminal activity to take advantage of federal funds pouring into building projects. One crooked contractor states that having masked vigilantes is actually good for their business because they get more money from the government every time a hero pushes a thug through a wall.
The connections don't stop with ties to The Avengers. In a flashback, Battling Jack is asked to take a dive in a boxing match against Carl "Crusher" Creel. Creel is a young up and coming boxer whose name should be familiar as the older version is the Absorbing Man - a villain from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I hope to see more of these connections as the series continues.
Writers involved with Marvel's movies and TV shows are smart; they know how to weave their stories into a tapestry without ham-fisting characters and plot lines into places they don't belong. They have stated that Murdock could show up in the movies if the Netflix story does well. Considering Daredevil's inclusion in the Civil War comics, the potential for crossover could be beneficial.
4. This is what superheroes would look like if they existed in our world.
Matt Murdock doesn't have superpowers. Sure, his sense of smell and hearing are heightened - but this is a product of training and diligence more than it is through supernatural gifting or technological enhancement.
When looking at the rest of the Marvel universe, an unpowered hero is an abnormality. Tony Stark wears an armored suit that helps him fly and fires a multitude of weapons. Steve Rogers was enhanced by the super-soldier serum. Bruce Banner was blasted with gamma radiation. Thor comes from an alien race that is so technologically advanced that ancient vikings considered them to be gods. Star-Lord's companions are a talking raccoon and a sentient tree. Coulson was revived with alien blood, and his protege Skye is an inhuman.
Even in costume, Matt Murdock is still painfully mortal. His abilities are the same when he is a lawyer as they are when he is the Daredevil. His blindness is apparent, even when fighting off a half dozen armed goons. He is strong and skilled in martial arts, but he is also fully human and as fragile as any other normal person walking this planet. Falling from a second story window causes him to black out and leaves his nose and lips bloody. He needs medical intervention after walking into a trap. His bones can break, bullets and knives can inflict serious wounds, and fist fights sap his endurance.
In a stunning single shot sequence at the end of episode two, Daredevil infiltrates a secure location to save a kidnapped boy. He is injured from an encounter the previous evening but he does not hesitate to fight. Through the scuffle, he is slammed into the walls, punched several times, thrown to the ground, and is bruised and bloodied. As the scene progresses, you can see the character slowly grow more and more winded. He has to stop and catch his breath a couple of times before continuing the brawl. By the time each of his opponents are unconscious, he is limping and barely has any strength left to escort the boy to safety.
We're not the only ones to notice his imperfections. The night nurse tells Matt that he isn't very good at being a superhero. She later confronts him to debunk his claim that he enjoys the pain he inflicts as a vigilante. People frequently reach to shake Matt's hand, forgetting that he can't see them. The priest at the beginning of the first episode tells Matt that he is doing confession wrong. Even Matt's attempt at preemptive confession reveals his intellectual conflict between wanting to do the right thing, but knowing that the methods he uses are morally sketchy.
5. Daredevil fights something real.
Through most of the MCU, the heroes fight off things of fiction: monsters and aliens and robots. These villains make entertaining stories but at the end of the credits, we know that those bad guys don't exist in the real world.
In contrast, the enemies Daredevil faces are just as realistic as the injuries Matt endures while dressed in costume. The main criminal activity that Daredevil disrupts in the first couple of episodes is human trafficking. He rescues women and children who are about to be sold into the sex trade. This is a very real problem in the real world. Organizations all over the globe - even in the United States are fighting against human slavery.
A well told fictional story can have great impacts on actual issues we're facing in real life. We've seen it happen before. This could be the case with Daredevil. It is encouraging to see a TV show intended to entertain step beyond the role of fiction to shine a light into a dark and depraved corner of humanity. I hope that as people watch this show, they realize that the problems in Daredevil's Hell's Kitchen also happen every day in the real world. I hope they understand that this isn't something that only exists in Eastern Europe or China or Thailand - that it also happens in America.
And maybe, just maybe, viewers will respond by supporting organizations that are helping people escape slavery and are fighting against human trafficking.