Daredevil

28 04 2015

NFddThe post without spoilers…is not this post

I feel I should say something about about the Daredevil series on Netflix.

And that is, it’s excellent. (Okay, we done here?)

(Not quite.) Blogger Sean T. Collins is recapping all the episodes and extolling their glories better than I could, so I will just mention some of my favorite things about the series.

1. Universes. I know, just one post ago I was whining about having to keep up with interconnected stories all happening in one universe. But Daredevil and The Avengers enrich each other. The Avengers gets grounded in the fallout seen in Daredevil; New York is still recovering from the repelled alien invasion, and the lucrative rebuilding contracts fuel a burgeoning criminal empire in Hell’s Kitchen. And Matt Murdock’s decision to put on a mask and beat up criminals makes a lot more sense in a world where Iron Man and Captain America have already made headlines. Also; The Avengers and all the movies leading up to it (together making a series just a bit longer than Daredevil’s 13 hours) tell a sprawling, colorful epic of repulsor rays and flying demigods. Daredevil is a close, intimate, bloody tale, involving two only slightly superhuman people, both struggling to determine right from wrong. The contrast fills out the setting of both series. Together they are greater than the sum of their parts. That’s how to make a universe.

2. The Kingpin. Another thing I’ve sort of been meaning to whine about is a tendency toward non-bad-guy-bad-guys. Maybe I’ll get into that in another post. Suffice to say, I’ve been annoyed by cheaply sympathetic antagonists and essentially toothless conflicts. But as with universes, Daredevil does it right. The show gives us plenty of material to sympathize with Wilson Fisk, but doesn’t neglect his repulsive, monstrous side. Vanessa is complex enough to make their romance convincing, humanizing but not sanitizing. Most of all, while Fisk is the antagonist to Murdock, they are also interdependent; defining each other, constantly creating each other, locked in an eternal struggle that is about much more than one guy winning and one losing. That kind of narrative is the best thing about the superhero genre.

3. Violence Has Consequences. Matt Murdock’s mission as Daredevil is difficult. It would make most of the Avengers give up and run away to the Bahamas. He gets severely injured over and over. During the riveting corridor fight scene in episode 2, he repeatedly collapses in between thug attacks. HIs friends get hurt, or hurt others and face an even greater psychological toll. Murdock is a catholic, and a lawyer, and from both of those perspectives his actions as Daredevil are at best highly problematic. He knows he’s giving in to rage, and he struggles to reconcile his good intentions with his base actions. HIs priest offers him a wonderfully Manichaean solution; even the devil can serve the greater good.

4. The Costume. My one complaint about the show (and it is small) is the shying away from costumes and superhero names. Arguably the colorful costumes and names are the most childish aspects of the superhero genre, and people who want to tell sophisticated superhero stories try to avoid them. I think this is a big mistake. The name and the iconic look are integral parts of the superhero, offering a window into the character as expressed by their powers and/or tactics. No one in Daredevil ever calls Fisk “Kingpin,” which is just a missed opportunity given that he doesn’t want his name spoken aloud. Neither the name “Daredevil” nor the signature red costume appear until the final episode, in effect making the whole series an origin story, something I wish we could spend less screen time on in general. However, when Matt finally does appear in red horned body armor, it’s worth the wait. Because he looks batshit crazy. I don’t know if that was the intention, but seeing him in that mask made me feel that a line had been crossed, that whatever separates Daredevil and the Kingpin is more tenuous than anyone imagined.

Daredevil is reportedly the first of four series coming to Netflix, which will culminate in The Defenders. I’m on board, Marvel and Netflix. Don’t blow it!

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