Adaptations of comic books are the fastest-growing division of fiction in the world of television. Though series like Smallville and other animated series have flourished in the past, the CW’s success in its adaptation of The Green Arrow and Marvel’s recent big screen successes have launched a new age of TV shows derived from comics. Arguably, Arrow has been the most successful in terms of both viewership (relative to its network) and critical acclaim. Despite minor success with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, Marvel never seemed to be in the same league as DC as far as television was concerned. However, with the breakout hit Daredevil on Netflix, Marvel has finally created a tonal and qualitative match for Arrow.
Possibly my favorite aspect of Daredevil was its setting: Hell’s Kitchen, New York; a few years after the Battle of New York as seen in the Avengers. Most stories set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) following 2012 acknowledged the climactic events of the movie but failed to really show consequences. Real people lived in that city, so what has happened to them since?! Daredevil is entirely fueled by the conflict that swirls throughout the city after this battle. There is money to be made and people to be taken advantage of in the new, darker city, and the blind lawyer Matt Murdoch takes to the streets at night to try to save people from the hell that they now live in. Rounding out the cast are his best friend, Foggy, his secretary, Karen, a journalist named Ben, Claire the Night Nurse, and a villain who goes by the name of Wilson Fiske. All fall into classic comic tropes but still manage to be well-rounded characters defined by their relationships with other people and the city they live in.
Perfectly paced, eloquently plotted, earnestly acted and aesthetically breathtaking, Daredevil is everything anyone should want from a television show, and definitely one that Marvel fans would be pleased with. Real life prevented me from watching the series as quickly as I wanted to, but know that had I been able to marathon the entire series in one setting, I would have. It possesses that addictive quality that other genre shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Battlestar Galactica were known for and that Netflix is trying to capitalize on. Since Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the entire superhero genre has gone several shades darker, but Daredevil is the first Marvel project that almost fully plunges itself into the blackness. This works in its favor for the most part, and as much as I love the more fun sides of the genre, it felt really satisfying to see Marvel take a break from the lighter aspects of heroes saving the day.
Daredevil also brings visible disability into the world of superheroes. Due to an incident with a radioactive substance (of course), Matt loses his eyesight. However, all of his other senses are heightened to the point where he can hear heartbeats from across the room or smell what a person ate for lunch yesterday. Matt’s blindness quickly likens him to the character Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Like Matt, Toph is blind, but her blindness enhances her other senses in a superhuman way. Neither Matt nor Toph are written as tragic, but are portrayed as real people who must live differently from others. Matt’s disability is never ignored by the writers, and they always acknowledge the way it complicates his life. Blindness makes Matt’s everyday life more difficult, but as an adult he doesn’t regret the trials he’s undergone, nor does he wish away his disability. He accepts it, and works with it.
I feel conflicted over the way the female characters were treated on Daredevil. The two female leads, Karen Page and Claire Temple, are both damsels in distress and love interests at some point for at least one of the two male leads, Matt and Foggy. That’s not to say that they are only there to serve those purposes, but those roles are significant. Karen does a lot of work trying to single-handedly take down Fiske, and Claire has life and responsibilities outside of caring for Matt. They’re likable, smart, and probably the least morally bankrupt characters on the show without being saintly. However, Claire gradually fades into the background and never seems to do all that much of consequence in the larger narrative. Karen clearly suffers from PTSD, but seems to brush aside the symptoms at the end of the show. She admits that she’s changed, and that her outlook on life is darker, but that’s it. The writers might dig deeper into the characters of Karen and Claire in the second season. But for now, they fail to set a new standard for the women of the MCU.
If I have one gripe about the writing, it would be that all of the characters, especially Fiske and Matt, seem to spend an awful lot of time taking a break in the story to give speeches about morality or the meaning of life. One or two speeches like that can work well, but Daredevil uses the technique to such an extent that it bogs everything down. At times, these speeches feel especially redundant since the character development they supposedly represent has already been made clear by the actions of the characters. But this is one minor quibble in what I honestly believe was a near-perfect story from start to finish.