(Note: The following is sheer geekery. I happen to like sheer geekery, but I recognize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.)
The new Daredevil series debuts tomorrow on Netflix, and I’m looking forward to this.
I was never a big Superman fan. Superman just seemed kind of boring. His powers were too much and so there never seemed to be any doubt about the outcome. You never got to the bottom of the page and thought, “Oh no! Superman is surrounded, and there’s a guy behind him with a knife!”
But Daredevil was just a guy in a suit. He can’t fly. He can’t shoot heat rays out of his eyes or blow a tornado or punch through solid steel. Bullets can stop him. He’s got superhuman senses and that radar thing, but really how much of an edge does that give him in a fight against a room full of bad guys?
For me, that made Daredevil a lot more interesting. I think it also made him more interesting for writers, which is why so many terrific comic book writers were drawn to the character and, over time, created a world and a story for him that went beyond the crude outlines of Blind Lawyer Fights Crime.
Anyway, here are five reasons I’m excited about this new Daredevil series — along with five more reasons I’m a little worried that it may be disappointing.
Five Reasons I’m Excited
1. Matt Murdock is Catholic.
I’ve linked before to this fun page from Adherents.com listing the religious affiliations of various comic book characters and superheroes. Most of these are very loose affiliations — a passing reference somewhere that the Kents went to a Methodist church, or that the Waynes were Episcopalian. But Matt Murdock is Catholic in his bones.
Daredevil isn’t so much religious as he is God-haunted — like a character from a Graham Greene novel or a Hold Steady song. His mother’s a nun and he spends his nights dressed in a devil suit. He doesn’t go to Mass, but he can’t stay away from Confession. He may or may not believe in God, but he’s inescapably Catholic.
I don’t think I’d want to see religious themes added to the stories of Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent, but they do make the story of Matt Murdock more interesting.
2. Frank Miller.
Writer Frank Miller’s two long runs for Daredevil are justifiably legendary. But Miller himself is also … problematic. He seems to revel in violence, to confuse darkness with depth, and to reduce every female character he touches into a Madonna or a whore. I don’t trust Miller the same way that Daredevil doesn’t trust The Punisher, and for many of the same reasons.
It looks like the new series will draw on many of the epic storylines that Miller created for the character, but Miller himself won’t be in charge. That’s seems about right.
3. Ben Urich, Foggy Nelson, Claire Temple and “Hell’s Kitchen.”
One strength of the Daredevil comics is the prominence of its large supporting cast of actual, non-costumed people. Sometimes Daredevil visits the more typical comic book world of superheroes and super-villains — tagging along with the Defenders or the Avengers to help save the planet. But most of the time he’s a neighborhood hero working alongside the other heroes of the neighborhood — muckraking reporters, crusading lawyers, nurses, etc.
4. Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin.
This was the casting choice that won me over. D’Onofrio isn’t quite large enough to play the Kingpin — even Michael Clarke Duncan wasn’t quite large enough, really — but I think he can play large enough.
D’Onofrio is a strange and wonderful actor. He could be mesmerizing even in the otherwise blander episodes of Criminal Intent by zigging when you expect him to zag. He sometimes makes strange, unsettling choices as an actor, and then makes them work — making it seem like the more obvious choice would’ve been wrong by comparison. When I first read he’d be playing Wilson Fisk, I thought, “Hmm, Evil Bobby Goren.” And the more I think about it, the better that sounds.
5. How this series fits into the larger Marvel universe of movies and TV.
I’m guessing this first run of Daredevil will be mostly a self-contained affair with few links to the expanding world that Marvel Studios is creating. And I’m not expecting this story to end the way it did in the comics — with the Avengers showing up to restore order after the Kingpin unleashes Nuke on Manhattan. Nor do I expect Scarlet Johansen to show up as DD’s longtime partner. But I’m intrigued by the promise of the planned string of future Netflix series, including AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders.
(And if, instead of the Avengers themselves, Agent Coulson & Co. showed up to restore order in post-Nuke Hell’s Kitchen, I’d be OK with that, too.)
Five Reasons I’m Worried
1. The comic-book trend that mistakes “gritty” for “deep.”
I’ve lost all patience with comic-book adaptations that think they need to prove their maturity by going all dark and “gritty” and morally conflicted. It’s not that I don’t sometimes enjoy stories that are dark and gritty and morally conflicted, but not when those things become an end unto themselves. When that happens, they just get morose, brooding, depressing, and — worst of all — humorless.
Look, you want to show me that your hero is morally conflicted? OK, then that means your hero has an appreciation for the irony of the human condition. And irony is funny. It may be bleakly, mordantly, bitingly, darkly funny, but it can’t be humorless.
This trend drains comic-book heroes of one of the things that makes comic-book heroes great: panache. The ability to keep high spirits in the face of high stakes. That doesn’t have to mean wisecracking all the time like Spidey, but it does require a certain flair and style. (Agent Carter got this right, in a big way.)
2. The likelihood that Karen Page will be portrayed as another Awful Girlfriend.
“A spectre is haunting superhero TV series,” Adi Tantimedh writes, “and that spectre is the terrible girlfriend”:
These girlfriends are usually introduced as someone we’re supposed to like. The audience is expected to root for them to be with the hero. They’re pretty and have winning smiles, and are always introduced in ways that signal we’re supposed to like them and want them around. However, it seems they also don’t have any personality at all, and when the writers try to inject some in them, end up rendering them as these awful, unlikable idiots. It seems to be the problem that writers – and usually male writers – have with writing Girlfriends. Girlfriends in stories are often presented as prizes for the hero to win rather than have any character of their own. In these shows, they end up as puppets trapped in the strings of Plot where they end being the Idiots Who Do Stupid Things in Order for Plot to Happen.
There’s a distressingly high danger that this pattern will repeat itself in Daredevil. I hope not.
3. Frank Miller.
IMDB lists Miller with a writing credit for the series for “unknown episodes.” I’m hoping this is largely a consulting-from-the-sidelines role that allows the series to use his comic-book story arc but doesn’t involve a more direct role.
Because with Frank Miller on board, worries No. 1 and No. 2 are far, far more likely to be a problem.
4. “You’re blind … but you see so much!”
The first trailer for this series included someone saying this line. Ugh.
People involved in the production of this series wrote that line, approved it, and selected it as something worth highlighting in the trailer. That’s worrisome.
5. How this series fits into the larger Marvel universe of movies and TV.
I’m a bit worried that these Netflix series may be relegated to a kind of separate junior-varsity area of the MCU. That might even be a budgetary necessity.
Consider that Defenders series, for example. It will follow Daredevil and Luke Cage, and that’s great — Daredevil and Power Man have both been occasional members of that team. But it seems highly unlikely that Marvel Studios will have Benedict Cumberbatch or Mark Ruffalo on board for a Netflix series, and the Defenders without Doctor Strange and the Hulk is … well, not the Defenders. (I don’t think Namor really fits into the existing MCU very well, either. But Valkyrie does. They better at least give us Valkyrie.)