It could be argued that “Daredevil,” the first of four TV series collaborations between streaming service Netflix and Marvel Comics, is the best superhero show ever made. It’s being praised by longtime fans and newcomers alike for its gritty action and its down-to-earth drama. Of the countless comic book adaptations hitting movie theaters and TV screens these days, it’s clearly the most reverent to its source material. Speaking as someone who has been reading “Daredevil” since about 1978, I’d say this is as good an incarnation of the Man Without Fear as anyone could hope for. So what is it about this show that works so well?
Know your history: At this point in time, just about any comic book adaptation coming from big players Marvel and DC has 40 or 50 years’ worth of published material to fall back on. Why reinvent the wheel? Why come up with new stories when decades of tried-and-true story lines are at your fingertips? Netflix’ “Daredevil” draws a bit from Stan Lee and Bill Everett’s original run on the series starting back in 1964. The triangle between main characters Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) can be traced directly to those first comics. The bulk of Daredevil’s season-long battle with criminal kingpin Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) comes from the issues written and drawn by Frank Miller in the ’80s. The heavy Catholic imagery, the return-to-roots in Hell’s Kitchen and Karen’s dark backstory are all lifted from the “Born Again” story line by Miller and David Mazzucchelli. What producers of the show did was find the absolute best Daredevil stories and distill them together into one perfect version. There’s a reason these comic books are popular. Maybe Hollywood should read more of them.
What producers of the show did was find the absolute best Daredevil stories and distill them together into one perfect version. There’s a reason these comic books are popular. Maybe Hollywood should read more of them.
If it ain’t broke: Not only did producers, writers and directors turn to the comic book for inspiration, they respected what they found there. If someone had taken this story to Hollywood 10 years ago, some idiotic midlevel executive would have immediately recast downtrodden print journalist Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) as a hip, young internet blogger. Hollywood’s always looking for ways to update things. “Daredevil” maintains the status quo. There are plenty of conversations over the course of the 13 episodes about how Urich’s industry is dying and how no one will pay attention to a newspaper exposé of Fisk’s crimes. But that only adds to the tragedy of Urich’s character—which was created all the way back in 1978 by Roger McKenzie and Gene Colan.
Style and substance: Marvel has really nailed this aspect. The company knows that each of its characters are unique. Although they exist in the same universe, they look and feel different. (Unlike the folks at DC, who believe Batman should be dark, brooding and monochromatic—and so should Superman.) Avengers: Age of Ultron is an epic, WWE-style beat-’em-up. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a serious,’70s-style political thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy is a funny, space-age romp. “Daredevil” is a pulpy crime drama—like “The Wire,” but with costumes. “Superheroes” is not a genre. If all adaptations of comic books were stamped out of the same template, audiences would quickly get tired of them. “Daredevil” provides a perfect lesson in how to keep these movies and TV shows fresh, exciting and binge-watchable for decades to come.