In the interest of full disclosure, my headfirst dive into the world of comic books was because of an interest in DC superheroes. I knew who the big Marvel heroes were of course, but they hadn’t managed to captivate me the way that most DC characters had managed to do so. So when I started buying comics in 2011 with DC’s New 52 Relaunch, it was a while before I even considered seeing what the other company had to offer.
There were three comics that caught my eye. The first two were Wolverine and the X-Men and The Uncanny X-Men, which I both picked up because of my childhood love for the characters. The other was a comic that had a lot of buzz after winning the Eisner Award for best comic, and that was Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. My exposure to Daredevil had been somewhat limited but I knew that he was the one Marvel property that had a grounded and more realistic tone. So I decided to give it a shot, and I have to concur with with the fine people who give out the Eisner Award.
Mark Waid’s Daredevil book is nothing short of comic book perfection. It is a mix of the swashbuckling colorful adventures of Daredevil’s early adventures and the gritty, brutal realism of the 1980’s Frank Miller era. The book also features one of the best artists in the business, Chris Samnee. Reading this book immediately established Daredevil as one of my favorites and opened the door for me to try other Marvel characters.
Needless to say, I have a lot of sentimental attachment to ol’ Horn-Head. And it really bothered me that most casual comic book fans would only know Matt Murdock and his masked alter-ego from the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and Michael Clarke Duncan. While far from the worst comic book movie ever made, it is one of the least original, mixing elements of the two most successful comic book movies to that point: Spider-Man and Batman. And while it isn’t entirely off base to summarize D.D. as a mix between those two heroes, neither of those movies were good examples of how to make a quality Daredevil movie.
But like “Battlin'” Jack Murdock, the Daredevil property has shown that it can take a knockout punch and get back to its feet, bloody but not defeated. Marvel was able to get the film rights to the character back after a decade without another Daredevil film. Rather than create a blockbuster movie, Marvel decided to expand their Cinematic Universe in a new way by partnering with Netflix to create a thirteen episode series starring the man character. Once it was announced that the series would be rated TV-MA, it was clear that Marvel was willing to break new ground in order to present Daredevil in the best way possible.
So does the show do Matt Murdock justice?
The short answer: it absolutely delivers.
Marvel’s Daredevil is a grounded, bloody, and most importantly, character driven masterpiece. Fans of the comic book character will find it difficult to point out what is lacking. In his civilian identity, Matt Murdock is a young lawyer fresh out of college, starting his own law firm with his best friend Foggy Nelson. As a child, Matt rescued an elderly gentleman from being run over by a truck carrying radioactive chemicals, and in the process was blinded when the chemicals got in his eyes. While Matt could no longer see, his other senses were heightened to superhuman levels, making him more aware of his surroundings than he was when he still had his vision.
Matt spends his nights as a vigilante in a black mask, using his superhuman abilities and fighting skills to protect innocents from the criminal element of his hometown, Hell’s Kitchen. A suburb of New York City, Hell’s Kitchen was nearly destroyed in the Chitauri invasion that took place in Marvel’s The Avengers and the most powerful crime lords are making their moves to make the profits of rebuilding the city. Matt’s conflict with two Russian brothers and their human trafficking run soon puts him up against every major criminal in the city, and eventually against the Kingpin of crime, Wilson Fisk.
While he started as a Spider-Man villain, Wilson Fisk has been synonymous with Daredevil comics for a long time. They have one of the most personal and heated rivalries in comics and truly despise one another. So it is fitting that the Kingpin character is the main antagonist of this show. Yet even with this long established history, this show manages to tread new ground with a remarkably sympathetic take on the character. Fisk is given as much focus and development as Murdock, and the characters mirror each other throughout the series as they both rise to the top of Hell’s Kitchen.
The show excels in presenting characters who are flawed and complex. Matt is shown to have anger issues and struggles with the decision of whether it’s morally right to kill someone to prevent the suffering they are causing others. This is not just an internal dilemma as Matt’s Catholic faith is given its proper spotlight. On the flip side, Fisk is presented as a very human character who believes that he is trying to help the city. There is also a well-developed romance subplot between Fisk and a woman named Vanessa, an art dealer who believes that he is someone special.
The show stars Charlie Cox as Murdock and Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk. Both actors embody the characters fully and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the roles. D’Onofrio in particular is nothing short of amazing and has made sure that Wilson Fisk will command as much respect among Marvel fans as big screen baddies Loki, Red Skull and Thanos. But that does not mean that Cox should be overlooked; he perfectly balances Matt’s grief, his dry wit, his moral and religious struggles and ultimately the conviction that makes him a hero.
The supporting cast includes Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Deborah Ann Woll as murder suspect Karen Page, and Vondie Curtis-Hall as reporter Bill Ulrich. There are also a couple of smaller roles with more famous actors; Rosario Dawson is a nurse named Claire who serves as a potential love interest for Matt, and classic Daredevil villain Leland Owlsley is played by Bob Gunton of The Shawshank Redemption fame.
This is not something you want to miss. If you have Netflix, there is no reason not to watch this show. Daredevil is one of the best products that Marvel Studios has released to date. It does justice to the character and to the hard work of everyone who has made him one of the most interesting characters in comics.