Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A love letter to Daredevil

Cover art to Daredevil #65 by Greg Land.
I can remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. It was a cold wet winters day at school which meant that the lunch hour was a wash out and myself and a few friends (behave, I did have some) were sat in my school's excuse for a library chewing the fat, as only 10 year old geeks can do. Having exhausted all conversation, at least for a while, on the latest instalment of Doctor Who, The Six Million Dollar Man, 2000 AD and the actual air dynamic effectiveness of an X-Wing fighter, talk progressed onto the subject of superheroes. To be specific, Marvel superheroes.

We had little or no time for that DC lot, it was the one thing that my little geeky group always agreed on. I'm pretty sure that if the occasion had ever arisen that someone may have gone to the DC side, then the consequences would have been immediate ejection from the safety of the group. You may laugh, but this was an extreme measure. Back in those dim and distant days of the late 1970's & early 1980's it wasn't almost cool to be a geek as it is now, no sir, not at all. I'm not saying that we were physically threatened by others in regard to our rampant nerdyness, but we were often ridiculed beyond what was probably acceptable. So it was a case of safety in numbers, or at least, comfort in numbers.

Anyhoo, as I said the conversation moved onto superheroes. Now for some reason that we were unable to fathom, we had never actually discussed who our own personal favourite superheroes were so this seemed like the perfect way to spend the next hour. By the time it came to my particular turn to explain who my particular favourite was the usual list of suspects had been named. Ian had gone for Iron Man (he loved the suit), Paul explained he had an obsession with Spider Man (even though he had a phobia of Spiders), David was a Hulk aficionado, Jack was well and truly a Thor man and Nigel was belonged wholeheartedly to Wolverine. As each of them stated their hero, each of us nodded sagely and respectfully, this was important stuff. 

I remember thinking that my choice might elicit a slightly different response, after all, he never really seemed to ever be included in any ones top ten, let alone, their absolute favourite. When I said the word 'Daredevil' the response was totally unexpected, instead of mocking derision the reaction to man (or boy) was "Daredevil....never thought of him......that's such a cool choice!" Therein lies the rub, because few people ever put the softly spoken blind lawyer by day and red costumed ninja-style warrior by night at the top of their personal all-time list. However, what never fails is that as soon as you mention the name to anyone of a comic book minded way, suddenly they realise just how much of a fan of the devil of Hell's Kitchen they are actually are.

Daredevil #184 (July 1982). Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.
In truth, I can't quite remember why Daredevil resonated with me to such a degree to begin with. I had come upon the first comic I owned of his quite by chance. The town where I grew up had no comic shop of it's own so people like myself had to simply make do with what our local newsagent decided to sell. I remember one day buying the one and only Marvel comic they had on sale. It was an issue of Daredevil (no shit Sherlock, I hear you say). It is though to my eternal shame that I can't remember exactly what issue it was. I then remember a year or two later when re-organising (yet again) my comic collection and suddenly realising that the editions that I had somehow managed to obtain of DD far outnumbered any other Marvel superhero - The Defenders series was a very close second, but that's a different self-indulgent story for another time (sorry about that).

I came to the story of Matt Murdoch/Daredevil obviously many years after he'd initially debuted in 1964 “Daredevil” No. 1, by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. For the foolish of you who don't know the story: Matt as a young child is blinded after an accident involving a radioactive liquid material, though the blindness is accompanied by a selection of 'superhuman-esque gifts' as his other senses become improved to such an extent that they more than compensate for his lost sight. Matt decides to dedicate his life to fighting social injustice after his father, the not so successful boxer Battlin' Jack Murdoch is murdered after crossing the local mob after refusing to throw his fight. Ahhh we've all been there; Boy has loser dad, boy is blinded by radioactive substance, boy can hear heartbeats from a mile away, boy's father tries to impress boy, boy's dad is knocked off by mobsters, boy decides to become a lawyer by day and a costume-clad vigilante by night.

I've stayed loyal to the comic book Daredevil as long as I remember from that initial purchase in my local newsagent. By the time I 'discovered' him the character had just gone through a period where comic book sales had dropped to a level that meant for a time the issues were downgraded to a Bi-monthly status. In fact, if the stories are to believed, there were plans afoot by Marvel to completely discontinue the story altogether and consign him to an already large contingent of Superheroes gone bye bye. However as luck would have it, the story of Daredevil was about to enter perhaps my favourite of his periods, the much darker tone employed by Frank Miller which was to become for many, the greatest of all DD's incarnations. 

One of Marvel's greatest skills is to regularly change and at times completely re-write a character's story arc. While this may alienate some die-hard fans of a superhero what it does do is to constantly refresh and reinvigorate what in some cases may have become stale and lacklustre. This in essence is what Frank Miller did when taking over previous pencilling incumbent, Roger McKenzie who had began taking the Daredevil character down a noticeably darker road than he had travelled before. In fact not only did Miller continue the  character transformation he actively ignored virtually all of DD's previous story arc from the very beginning - for example, the previous depiction of Matt's dad as a caring and engaging father figure were completely changed to him being depicted as a drunk and a bum who would regularly beat  and abuse his son. This change thus totally changes Matt's initial reasons for choosing a career in law. In addition, numerous other changes were made to supporting characters and villains alike. The fans loved this new anti-hero version of Daredevil and the move to an almost crime-drama feel rather than superhero adventure.....and so did I.

Look away folks, nothing to see here.....
When it comes to film or TV adaptations DD has either been chronically under-represented or downright mistreated. This may on part be due to the movie rights being controlled for a good while by Fox and in part due to never having any form of Christopher Nolan type visionary who has a sympathetic feel for the character or his universe. 

The much maligned Ben Affleck transfer to cinema from 2003 is a prime example of a film that could have and should have been so much better that it turned out to be. In truth, while the film in parts is pretty dire (yes I'm talking to you Colin Farrell) the subsequent directors cut a couple of years later added a good deal of the darker Miller feel to the plot. The revised version of the film may well be an improvement on the original, it's still pretty poor and a million miles from where a true representation of the Daredevil universe.

So when I heard some time ago that Marvel has re-acquired the rights to film DD's story and that a TV series was being mooted, I was more than a little excited. However that excitement was continually tempered as the words Ben, Affleck, Colin and Farrell were whispering in my ear all the while saying 'don't get excited Stuey, this is going to suck......again". So I decided to wait, do very little prior research and simply just hang around for it to appear, thus avoiding either getting my hopes up or falling into pits of despair. I also had a hundred million (well a few) questions; Would it be nicely dark and film noirish or would it be fluffy duffy DC lite? Would it take a chance and risk the DD not so happy endings or go for a fluffy duffy DC lite everybody-lives-happily-ever-after? Would the guy playing Matt/DD be a Mark Ruffalo or a Ben Affleck?

Can you imagine my delirious delight when I learnt earlier this year that not only had the first 13 episode series been filmed and would be showing in April on Netflix, but also that the whole series would be available in one god almighty delicious 13 episode lump sum? It was like every darned Christmas had come in the one go...... or rather two 6 hour plus lump sum sittings over this last weekend. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.


In my dreams I look this cool....
Quite simply, the series is a triumph. Think gritty, think dark, think somber, think violence. Think Frank Miller. 

For a start the character development throughout is almost note-perfect - and not only in case of the main man himself. The complex character and philosophies of Matt Murdoch are given ample time to mature throughout the series, in part due to the use of intelligent flashbacks but also in the pacing of each episodes where the metamorphosis of DD is given air to breath and mature.

It helps too that portrayal by British actor, Charlie Cox is both sympathetic to DD lore but has a layered textured feel that perfectly conveys the regular conflicts of emotion and inner turmoil that the character experiences. The one scene where he as Matt confesses to the quite outrageously delicious Deborah Ann Woll, who plays Karen Page,  just how utterly alone he feels, is simply stunning in its effectiveness.

I'm not too sure how the US audiences will feel as yet another Brit actor makes an American icon his own, but if other reactions are currently anything to go by, he may well have won them over.


Mad, bad & dangerous to know....but I like him
The supporting cast too are excellent, in particular the always magnificent Vincent D’Onofrio, as Wilson Fisk, who is given the chance for once to add levels of complexity to the big bad guy. This quite simply is inspired casting - It's no secret with those who know me well that since Full metal Jacket I have been a huge fan of D'Onofrio's work. As a consequence I was expecting a fine performance, I wasn't though expecting the tour-de-force that actually takes place.

All too often the arch-villain is portrayed as a one dimensional psychopath (yes, once again I'm talking about you, Colin Farrell) who has few redeeming qualities and even fewer shades of grey. Here, both the writing and performance of D’Onofrio provide a plethora of personality shades that at times have the viewer downright empathising with Fisk in regard to his obvious vulnerabilities and genuine feelings of affection towards some of the people he trusts. However, sometimes just a moment later, we can then witness horror and revulsion in regard to the extreme violence that he can be capable of and the sheer terror he can inspire.

More often than not, the arch-villain simply acts as a cliched parody in order to highlight the qualities of the good guy, but feeling sorry for, and at times even liking the villain is unusual in the extreme. If the immensely powerful performance from Vincent D'Onofrio doesn't receive award recognition in due course I will eat my keyboard. 

Filming in New York certainly also helps in providing the delicious dark and gritty effect, both in tone and also in a literal sense. Many of the fights take place in dimly lit sections of Hell's Kitchen. The episodes look wonderful, its as simple as that. It's heartwarming to see that nods in visual style of the Frank Miller era of shadowy dark visuals have been made to such an authentic level.

I cannot wait for the second series.

At last Daredevil, the greatest superhero of them all, has has the film treatment that he deserves. It's enough to make me root out my comics and read them .........yet again.

























2 comments:

  1. So many things to love about the series. I loved how DD sagged between bouts. I loved how so few hits were one-and-done; DD had to put real effort into beating each foe into submission. D'Onofrio has made Fisk his own creation. Anyone who wants to portray Kingpin from now on will have to respond to his version. Same with Foggy; Elden Henson's version is now iconic. Everyone was excellent. But those two stand out.

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    1. Mr Teufel - many thanks for your comments. I completely agree with with you concerning D'Onofrio now making Kingpin his own with his wonderfully layered performance - as I mentioned in the piece, if he doesn't win some form of award then there is no justice.
      You're also spot on about Elden Henson, who for some reason I didn't mention. DD is a genuine example of a fine ensemble cast with no obvious weak link throughout.

      Stu

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