Category Archives: Daredevil

Daredevil’s Righteous Anger: “I’m asking forgiveness for what I’m about to do”

More often than not recently, many people have come to know Marvel superheroes through Netflix, the MCU, and now Disney+. That sets up tension between the recent fans and those of us coming from a comic book background.

I am a Marvel reader and collector from the 1970s, and fell in love with Daredevil when his comic book was co-titled with Black Widow. I also grew up a Marvel fan when shows such as The Incredible Hulk hit mainstream TV.

Once CGI allowed superhero movies to look the way we now-older fans always hoped, I have been mostly thrilled with the mainstreaming of Marvel comics—despite the many problems with that different universe compared to the too-often rebooted and jumbled universes of comic books.

I am also one of those fans who loved the Netflix Daredevil series because it captured almost everything that makes the Daredevil character and narratives nearly equally compelling and deeply problematic.

Matt Murdock becoming Daredevil incorporates the traditional silliness of superhero origins (a chemical spill doesn’t kill young Matt, but renders him superhuman) as well as some refreshing and compelling elements (Matt develops many of his superhero qualities because of his character, one grounded in a relentless righteous anger than is more than vengeance).

Although Daredevil is one of the earliest Marvel creations, debuting in 1964, and has endured almost 60 years and numerous reboots over 7 volumes, in many ways, the character is a low tier one, if not a top tier two figure in the Marvel Universes (certainly a notch down in the MCU).

Daredevil, however, is currently trending regularly on social media because, as many of us Netflix Daredevil fans have wanted, the character is being reintroduced to the Disney+ and MCU versions—although at a glacial pace. With that, we comic book fans who have been stung many times by various types of reboots have been fretting about a Disney+ series ruining the Netflix version, one that is incredibly violent (Kingpin’s car door scene, for example, is very not Disney) and one that owes a great deal to Frank Miller’s reboot of Daredevil that boosted Miller to superstardom and laid the foundation for his heralded Batman work.

Many comic book fans also fretted about Moon Knight, a much more clearly second tier Marvel superhero. However, in some ways, I think, the success of Moon Knight tempered our fretting about how Daredevil would be recreated (again).

Another element of the relevance of Moon Knight and Daredevil in the MCU is religion. Moon Knight being Jewish has been examined with the Disney+ series, in terms of how relevant his faith was portrayed in the series. Matt Murdock, and the entire ethos of Daredevil, Man without Fear, is grounded in Miller’s emphasizing Murdock’s Catholicism.

In similar ways to concerns about Moon Knight being Jewish, it seems important to interrogate whether or not Murdock’s Catholicism is being trivialized or honored in the MCU. Some fear Murdock’s faith is mere “stained-glass window dressing” (Cressler, 2022, p. 113).

The Born Again trade paperback’s cover has reached iconic status, thanks to Miller emphasizing Catholicism and David Mazzucchelli’s run as artist.
Daredevil 15 (v5) reflects Miller’s Man without Fear. (Artwork by Dan Panosian)
Daredevil 34 (v6) pays homage to the Miller reboot, and Chip Zdarsky’s version reads strongly grounded to Miller’s vision as well.

Ironically, Matt/Daredevil’s righteous resolve is the antithesis of glass. In many ways, people find Daredevil compelling because his superpowers are certainly skewed closer to being human, thus frail, than other superheroes such as Luke Cage, The Hulk, or Superman. Yet, Daredevil is often the most determined human in any conflict, counting on his ability to suffer and persevere—because he is certain (usually) that he is right.

That brings me to Matthew J. Cressler’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and White Catholic Masculinities. Like Miller, Cressler centers Murdock’s Catholicism and interrogates how that faith drives Daredevil in relationship to how well any version of Daredevil acknowledges his devoutness.

Cressler admits a concern I raised above (with the Netflix series a notable exception):

The extent to which Murdock’s religiousness features in any given story—and indeed, whether it features at all—depends of course on the artists involved. Some center other elements of the Daredevil mythos (secret ninja societies, for instance). Most of the time Catholicism seems more like stained-glass window dressing, offering a thematic or aesthetic palette without much depth: fistfights in front of altars, vaguely religious themes, jokes about Catholic guilt. (p. 113)

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and White Catholic Masculinities

What makes Cressler’s analysis compelling is using Catholicism as a lens for understanding not only Matt/Daredevil but also portrayals of Daredevil as that intersects with who is drawn to the character and why. Citing Andrew Greeley and others, Cressler asserts, “Daredevil’s abilities accentuate what is often cited as the distinguishing feature of Catholic Christianity: the sensuousness of its religious culture,” including violence (p. 116).

But even more significant, I think, Cressler notes that Catholicism reinforces a central motif of most portrayals of Daredevil, suffering. In the Netflix series, for example, a motif of the show is how often people express disbelief in the amount of suffering Matt can and does endure. Nearly even more so than his blindness, Matt’s willingness—even eagerness—to suffer defines him.

Daredevil 2 (v7), by Chip Zdarsky (writer) and Marco Checchetto (artist), embraces the ever-suffering Daredevil who always gets back up—to kick ass.

Among the most informative aspects of Cressler’s analysis is his explaining how Miller’s own working-class Catholic background builds on the origin of Daredevil: “Daredevil thus presents a working class twist on the classic comic book origin story” (p. 120).

Miller’s working-class Catholicism, I think Cressler demonstrates compellingly, contributes to both why Daredevil is an enduring character (maintaining Miller’s stamp) and a very problematic one as well.

The best analogy I have is that Miller-influenced Daredevil (Netflix and Disney+ versions) are similar to why so many people are drawn to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul despite the deeply problematic elements. When the craft is high, the work soars, but often with any work, the flaws of the artist and the world seem to inevitably creep in:

This reluctance to call white Catholics white and have that word signify something substantive is particularly problematic when talking about the era in which Miller came of age and eventually began a career in comics. In the 1950s, white Catholics defended “their turf” against Black migrants in the urban North. In the 1960s, some fled to federally subsidized and racially segregated suburbs while others fought on the frontlines of resistance to integration. The so-called “Catholic vote”—by which pollsters meant working-class white Catholics—helped usher in a half century of conservative rule, first as part of Nixon’s “silent majority” and then as members of the “Reagan revolution.” Born Again bears this influence….

By the time Frank Miller began drawing Daredevil in the late 1970s, white Catholics had thrown bricks at civil rights activists in Chicago, firebombed school busses in Boston, and brutally quelled a prison uprising in Attica, just to name a few notorious instances of white Catholic violence. (pp. 124-125,127)

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and White Catholic Masculinities

Miller’s own misogyny and bigotries grounded in his upbringing tarnish even the best aspects of his run on Daredevil. Like too much of the comic book world, stereotypes often populate Miller’s narratives in the most reductive ways.

Yet, as Cressler explains, we must acknowledge the key role of Catholicism:

When Frank Miller said Daredevil “had to be Catholic,” the Catholic he created was a white working-class Irish American Catholic man prepared to save his woman and defend his block with brute force. This is the Catholic Daredevil brought to life in Marvel’s Daredevil. And this is not merely a work of fiction. (p. 127)

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and White Catholic Masculinities

Ultimately one of the most interesting tensions here is between Matt’s devoutness and his righteous anger turned violent:

Daredevil’s religiousness, reviewers seem to say, can be found in biblical quotes, religious images, and theological themes. Violence is another matter, one that has to be forgiven in the confessional and reconciled with faith. (p. 128)

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and White Catholic Masculinities

However, as Cressler shows, Matt—notably in the opening scenes of Netflix’s Daredevil—has fully embraced both his faith and his violence:

If we resist [the] urge to separate the two, however, it quickly becomes clear that religion and violence are bound together for both Frank Miller and Netflix’s adaption of his work. Recall how the series opens. We meet Matt Murdock in confession, where he admits “I’m not seeking penance for what I’ve done, Father. I’m asking forgiveness for what I’m about to do.” (p. 128)

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and White Catholic Masculinities

The portrayal of Matt/Daredevil, by Charlie Cox in the Netflix series, I think, is at its best when viewers can see in the acting that Matt/Daredevil has switched to “violence is the only solution”—sometimes accompanied by a slight head tilt. And we feel a little rush of adrenaline as we anticipate that despite all the odds against him, Daredevil will leave the “bad guys” regretting not only their immediate actions but also being bad guys.

I do not see Daredevil as a base vigilante bouncing from act of vengeance to act of vengeance. I am compelled by the character Daredevil because of the tensions created through Matt being a lawyer and his Catholic drive to rid the world of evil (starting, of course, with saving all of Hell’s Kitchen). Cressler referencing Birzer notes that Daredevil embodies “righteous violence meted out in defense of moral order” (p. 129).

The Disney+ era of Daredevil has been announced, Daredevil: Born Again. There is no doubt that Miller will be lurking there, but what remains to be seen is how seamlessly the Disney+ era will grow from what Netflix established.

Will we have to endure mere “stained-glass window dressing,” or will we feel the hair raise on our arms anticipating Daredevil single-handedly pummeling the bad guys down a cramped and dark hallway?

Super Sex: Body Objectification and Superhero Narratives

I want a perfect body

“Creep,” Radiohead

She’s suddenly beautiful
And we all want something beautiful
Man, I wish I was beautiful

“Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows

Superhero comic books have a long and troubling history of xenophobia, racism, cultural appropriation, sexism, and nearly any negative -ism you can imagine.

The comic book industry is obsessed as well with rebooting as an industry mechanism and rebirth as a recurring plot element. Whether reboot, resurrection, or adaptation, however, superhero narratives seem unable to shake the very worst aspects of cliche and reductive storytelling.

The adaptation of The Punisher (Netflix) and yet another rebooting of Daredevil, volume 6 (2019), share even more examples of failing to take advantage of starting over.

Season 2 Episode 1 of The Punisher puts Frank Castle, masquerading as Pete, in a dive-bar in Michigan.

Ever stoic, Frank cannot avoid trouble, interjecting himself between a crude bar patron and the bartender, Beth, who has remained nearly equally as distant as Frank. When the bar bouncer moves to expel both the creep and Frank, Beth intervenes, and despite her protestation that she doesn’t need any help, she ultimately makes the move on her knight in shining armor, offering a nightcap at her place.

As Beth and Frank (Pete) walk to her car, Beth asks Frank to assure her he isn’t an “asshole”; Frank replies, “Isn’t that the kind of thing an asshole would do?”

Soon, Beth and Frank are entwined in Hollywood montage sex, interspersed with some dialogue where Frank confesses his name is Frank, and not Pete as he has told her.

Once again, Beth struggles with a reasonable concern about whether or not Frank is an asshole, just another creep, one whose body is riddled with scars.

And for the second time, Beth just goes with a feeling and accepts Frank is essentially a good guy.

Not blessed/cursed with superhero powers, Frank is one of the mostly human superheroes although gifted with skills and the prerequisite rage-motivation: a well-trained killing machine spawned by the military and then driven to incessant vigilanteism by the slaughter of his entire family.

Castle and Mad Max were cast from the same mold.

The Hollywood montage sex of E1 is much less about the sort of sex people have on one-night stands and more about the objectification of bodies in superhero narratives. And these narratives never stray too far from the unexplainable magnetism of the white male saviors that nearly always sit in the center.

Superhero sex is a compelling topic when those superheroes have exceptional powers like Superman needing to be human to be with Lois (see the Christopher Reeves films) or the violent and destructive coupling of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage in the Netflix adaptation of Jessica Jones.

But Castle, The Punisher, is all rage and training so the super sex is titillating but mostly secondary to the standard messages being sent about Frank as white male savior and sexually irresistible.

In both the Marvel comic book universe and the Netflix universe, Castle/The Punisher and Daredevil/ Matt Murdock are paired as different sides of the same vigilante coin—Frank the-ends-justify-the-means Castle juxtaposed with Matt Batman-lite Murdock.

With Daredevil being resurrected once again in the comic book with 2019’s volume 6, on the heels of the Death of Daredevil and three seasons of Daredevil on Netflix, we are immediately confronted with super sex and body objectification.

While superheroes such as The Punisher and Batman are essentially humans with super abilities gained through training and trauma, Murdock is a step above since he does possess super powers, although his physical strengths are mostly acquired. In other words, Murdock/Daredevil does not pose the same sexual threats as Superman or, say, the Hulk.

Fresh from the edge of death and the hospital, like Frank in S2 E1, Matt in issue 1 (2019) moves from the bar to the bedroom:

IMG_1892.JPG

The panels preceding these are the comic book version of Hollywood montage sex, but this dialogue is significant for the ways this reboot approaches well and then fails the super sex motif.

In the early episodes of Netflix’s Daredevil, Foggy chuckles about Matt’s being blind but always attracting beautiful women. This adaptation remains uncritical in its use of the blind motif in Daredevil, which the comic book has tended to do since the early 1960s.

The scene above does complicate the blind motif when Matt implores: “Please don’t make my disability your fetish.”

However by the final panels of that page, the dialogue and artwork paint a disturbing, and far too predictable picture.

Matt’s partner in a one-night stand is aggressively establishing her seeking out his body. But she is drawn pencil-thin, and both she and Matt concur—despite her being attracted to Matt’s blindness (“I picked you up with my charm“): “I don’t have to worry if I am pretty enough,” she explains. “And yet,” Matt parries, “you’re beautiful.”

“And yet,” she echoes, “I’m beautiful.”

Superhero narratives remain compelling because they have potential, often underachieved potential, but potential none the less.

The Punisher and Daredevil are characters with moral and ethical imperatives about justice, but also embodiments of vigilante themes that are pursued uncritically.

They share as well the lazy super sex plot elements and body objectification that is reductive for women characters who are equally diminished by their capitulation to the irresistible white savior appeal of Castle and Murdock—stoic, scarred, and chiseled.

Real-life sex is almost nothing like Hollywood montage sex, and superhero narratives could benefit from realizing that as well as exploring the full physical and emotional complexity of humans, even when they have superpowers or especially when they are merely human in the presence of the superhuman.

Netflix’s Daredevil Adaptation: Miller Lite

The origin story for superhero comic books rests in the 1930s and 1940s, but those creators remained in relative obscurity, often with little or no financial reward. However, the 1980s and 1990s ushered in an era of comic book creators as superstars.

One of the most iconic and influential superstars from that period was Frank Miller, who built his comic book capital on a staple of the industry—the reboot.

Miller reimagined the canon for and resurrected Daredevil (Marvel) as well as Batman (DC). Some argue that his work on Batman: Year One (with David Mazzucchelli) and The Dark Knight Returns (with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley) is among the best in the history of superhero comic books.

Batman-Year One (cover).jpg

Miller’s artwork also proved to be a visually impressive source for film—notably his Sin City and 300.

Superstardom for Miller hasn’t avoided stumbles (his script for RoboCop 2) or controversy, as Sean Howe detailed in 2014:

But, as if Miller were one of his own antiheroes, his stark individualist philosophy has also led him down some lonely corridors. He’s written graphic novels that many of his fans recoil from—including one that WIRED called “one of the most appalling, offensive, and vindictive comics of all time.” And he followed that up with ferocious online musings that provoked an outcry, even from some of his most stalwart supporters. In recent years, he’s withdrawn from the public eye.

One of the newest renditions of  Miller’s work has itself been mostly hidden from the public eye: Miller’s The Man without Fear and his “Born Again” arc as source material for Netflix’s now cancelled Daredevil series.

Charlie Cox in Daredevil (2015)

The Many Universes of Superheroes: Netflix’s Miller Lite Adaptation

While rebooting characters and entire universes became a standard convention of comic books at Marvel and DC, the adaptation of superheroes from print to film sputtered throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s.

Marvel has mastered the film adaptation, and many in the public are far more familiar with the film Marvel Universe than the many universes of the comic books. Concurrent with the feature film success of Marvel and struggles with DC-based films other than Batman, Netflix launched serialized superhero adaptations in conjunction with Marvel: Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher.

These adaptations, I thought, held much greater potential than feature films; they matched the current generation’s lust for binge watching, but they also maintained one of the most compelling features of comic books, extended serialization.

The Netflix approach was well-suited to Jessica Jones since the adaptations downplay some of the main conventions of superhero comic books, such as elaborate and identifiable superhero costumes.

To their credit, Netflix adaptations have been character driven, often as much about the everyday person as the superhero alter-ego.

Season 1 of Daredevil traveled that muted approach to superheroes, and found the perfect source in Miller’s arc, later published as a graphic novel, The Man without Fear, written by Miller with dynamic artwork from John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Al Williamson (inks).

This first season follows a softened and tweaked Miller narrative and draws significantly from Romita Jr.’s art, notably the black non-costume Matt Murdock dons in most of the season:

Daredevil: The Man without Fear 5 (John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson)

While I have examined The Man without Fear and its relationship with the Netflix series [1], I want below to look at Season 3 and the use of the “Born Again” arc as more Miller Lite.

Daredevil Born Again, and Again

The “Born Again” arc (Daredevil vol. 1, issues 227-231, and often including 232-233) features Miller and Mazzucchelli, who also paired on Batman: Year One. This storyline builds on the rebooted Daredevil fashioned by Miller and includes some powerful religious imagery and themes.

Daredevil Born Again.jpg

Daredevil as a mythology and narrative has survived, I think, like other major superheroes because in its essence that mythology has compelling elements—structural justice versus vigilante justice, tensions surrounding the idea that “justice is blind,” etc. However, the serial rebooting of the character and the adaptations of the comic book medium into feature films and serialized filmed formats suggest at least that these essential elements have not in some real way been fulfilled.

This is where the differences between the source material and the adaptation come into play. Netflix’s S3 of Daredevil uses “Born Again” as the primary frame, as S1 used The Man without Fear. But S3 also pulls directly and loosely from other sources in the comic book universes as well.

Jesse Schedeen offers 9 changes made in S3 to the comic book sources:

  1. Schedeen focuses on Karen Page’s role in Wilson Fisk/Kingpin discovering Matt Murdock is Daredevil; Karen is manipulated into revealing Murdock’s secret in “Born Again” because Miller has reimagined her as a drug addict and failed-actress-turned-porn-performer. I want to add and emphasize here that the Netflix version of Karen is an important shift from Miller’s trite and reductive Karen. Netflix’s adaptation has clearly sought ways to keep Karen flawed (her backstory revealed in S3 is brutal and dark) but maintain a far more complex and fully human character than Miller has allowed. Like Matt, Karen feels a great deal of guilt and self-loathing in S3, but this adaptation resists a common flaw in comic book narratives to reduce women to one dimension.
  2. Another change involves pulling from a different source, “Guardian Devil” from 1998, as Schedeen notes. This change fits into my point above, I think, in that S3 character Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter (an adaptation of the Marvel character Bullseye) kills Father Lantom instead of Karen. Again, I see these changes allowing a richer and more complex version of Miller’s Karen Page and the wider Daredevil contemporary canon (in this case crafted by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada).
  3. S3 maintains the “Born Again” reveal of Matt Murdock discovering Sister Maggie is his mother, as Schedeen details, developing more tension in the adaptation version.
  4. The teasing out of Wilson Fisk/ Dex (Bullseye) and another assassin, Nuke, between “Born Again” and S3 demonstrates how the Netflix series often streamlines source narratives and characters while also in many ways blunting superhero elements.
  5. One of the most distinct differences is the use of Dex, and dropping the name “Bullseye” as well as the superhero uniform, in S3. Netflix’s adaptation has chosen to emphasize Dex as mentally unstable, paralleling, I think, in many ways the motif throughout the series concerning childhood trauma (shared by Dex, Fisk, and Murdock) and authority conflicts—the parent/child pattern seen also with Karen.
  6. The paralysis of Bullseye is shared between S3 and the comic book source, and as the Netflix S3 ends, Dex’s surgery clearly was designed to propel the series into another season.
  7. One of the key characters in the Daredevil myth is Foggy, and the Netflix version also develops from the foundational source character into a more complex and even realistic person, a necessary change, I think, in terms of how Foggy parallels Karen as they interact with Matt.
  8. Fisk’s love interest, Vanessa, proves to be another interesting adaptation in S3, much like the changes made with Karen. As Schedeen explains, “In the comics, though, Vanessa has a much more complicated relationship with her husband and his criminal empire.” Here, I think, the viewer of S3 is forced to consider Vanessa as a more fully human and independent character, again in similar ways to how we view Karen. In comic books, as in literature, women are often reduced to being merely symbolic or muses for men as heroes, or villains.
  9. Similar to Dex (Bullseye), Fisk (Kingpin) is essentially drawn from the comic book Marvel universe, and “Born Again,” but the superhero/villain elements are greatly muted. The “Born Again” Kingpin projects the sort of large ego we see in S3, but the fights and outcome for Fisk vary substantially in the adaptation. Schedeen adds, “Fisk doesn’t suffer quite so resounding a defeat in ‘Born Again.’ He does overplay his hand in his attempts to destroy Matt Murdock, eventually causing the deaths of dozens of Hell’s Kitchen residents when he unleashes the out-of-control Nuke.”

With the Netflix run of Daredevil finished, in midstream, we can see how Miller’s version has provided a powerful and compelling frame for the adaptation. But we should also recognize the potential and purpose of adaptation from one medium to another.

The Netflix series as Miller Lite presents an important argument for the urge in the comic book universe to reboot and retell. Daredevil as a foundational superhero myth has extremely important characters, motifs, and themes, but too often the array of creators positioned to soar with those elements has tended to flutter, falter, and even fail.

S1 of Daredevil was exciting in its potential, even as I found the filming too dark (although the dark tendency of the comic book with some artists, such as Alex Maleev, has been among my favorite qualities). By S3 and the abrupt end, I was increasingly hopeful that this adaptation was working its way in the right direction.

While episode 13 of S3 charged viewers with Matt’s “man without fear” speech at Father Lantom’s funeral, we are left once again with less than we had hoped for.


[1] Thomas, P.L. (2019). From Marvel’s Daredevil to Netflix’s Defenders: Is justice blind? In S. Eckard (ed.), Comic connections: Building character and theme (pp. 81-98). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield; Thomas, P.L. (2012). Daredevil: The man without fearElektra lives again; science fiction.  [entries]. In Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Daredevil in Trumplandia: “The Kingpin’s weakness is vanity”

The humanities have a long history of being discredited in the U.S. as impractical majors in college. The good ol’ U.S. of A. tends to calculate investment and return at a very simplistic level to determine when the cost of a college major can be linked directly to earnings in a career.

Business majors are destined to make bank, goes the investment/return narrative, but what you going to do with an English major?

Current times are particularly hard for the humanities, especially literature as a track of English as a major.

Here is the real-world irony in the era of Trumplandia: With Donald Trump at the center of 17 investigations, some have questioned why Trump would have pursued the presidency, which clearly opened the door to exposing his criminality.

The explanation lies, you guessed it, in literature.

While many of us found Greek and Shakespearean tragedy serious drudgery in our formal schooling, these dramas told a tale all too familiar: How the mighty are destined to fall because of their unbridled hubris, excessive pride.

Trump born into excessive and ill-got wealth has skirted along his entire life—cut to the scene where young bone-spurred Trump skips past active duty in war—without consequences for his greed, arrogance, and (to tick another work of literature) his pathological mendacity. (See also, like a good parallel subplot in Shakespeare, the Brett Kavanaugh saga.)

Keeping in mind that universal themes in literature are deeply problematic, we have abundant evidence that motifs such as the dangers of excessive pride are at least enduring, and for good reason.

Recently, I have been reconnecting with one of my favorite comic book superheroes, Daredevil.

Season 3 of the Netflix series, despite all the flaws in this adaptation and the original comic book created in 1964 by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, and Jack Kirby, represents what makes Daredevil compelling—the complex investigation of justice in the context of both human and spiritual justice. S3 draws on Frank Miller’s “Born Again” (1986) while maintaining the Netflix toned down approach to superhero narratives.

Matt Murdock as righteous lawyer and simultaneously the morally ambiguous vigilante Daredevil (the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen)*, at its best, is a much more powerful and compelling examination of justice than, for example, Batman.

While the religious debates in S3 are key elements of why I am drawn to Daredevil, picking up the Conclusion to The Death of Daredevil (612) serves well my point above about the value of literature and the enduring motif about the folly of excessive pride.

Charles Soule (writer) and Phil Noto (artist) dramatize the Murdock/Daredevil duality well as Murdock seeks Daredevil as a witness to remove Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin as mayor of New York.

Four pages provide a thinly veiled indictment of not only Fisk/The Kingpin, but also Donald Trump.

When Murdock confronts the district attorney, we witness how political might trumps ethics and even the law:

DD 612 3

Murdock’s idealism is highlighted in his plea: “But Wilson Fisk is a criminal. He does not deserve that office.” And this exchange also addresses how those connected to an administration are themselves complicit; as Murdock asks the question often repeated in the real world of Trumplandia:

Can you really keep working for an administration you know is illegal and corrupt at its core when you know there’s a way to take it down?

Yes, it’s a risk. But even if you lose it all, you’ll go out as who you are, not the compromised shadow of yourself the Kingpin’s hoping you’ll be.

It is, however, Fisk on the witness stand and then alone in his office that speak directly to Trump:

DD 612 5
DD 612 6
DD 612 4

Murdock/Daredevil narrates the scene and notes:

I can hear Fisk’s heartbeat. Slow, steady. He’s not afraid. He’s like me that way.

He’s not afraid of anything, and you can’t make him afraid. That’s not the way you beat him. That’s not his weakness.

The Kingpin’s weakness…is vanity.

Fisk as an allegory of Trump is yet another tale of excessive pride, hubris.

Not afraid and certain he is above accountability, Fisk storms from the stand: “Enough. This is a farce, and I will not stand for it any longer.” Might we hear “fake news” in the background?

The dynamic page with Fisk being introspective precedes his being removed from office. It appears the fantasy world of comic books still clings to some sliver of justice even as the real world seems unable or unwilling to take such stands against criminals in office.

However, this is only appearances as there is a twist; justice, you see, is no more simple in Daredevil than in our real world of Trumplandia. The battle between good and evil is never-ending, and more things than justice seem blind—and paralyzed.

The Death of Daredevil ends: “I cannot see the light. So I will be the light. I am Daredevil. And I am not afraid.” And let us not forget, walking unafraid is a trait shared by our so-called heroes and so-called villains.


* Season 2 effectively challenges Murdock/Daredevil’s righteousness with The Punisher, and others, noting little difference among Daredevil, The Punisher, and Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin.

See Also

Thomas, P.L. (2019). From Marvel’s Daredevil to Netflix’s Defenders: Is justice blind? In S. Eckard (ed.), Comic connections: Building character and theme (pp. 81-98). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Thomas, P.L. (2012). Daredevil: The man without fearElektra lives again; science fiction.  [entries]. In Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Daredevil and Marvel Rising at Netflix

Real life origin stories have a way of being underwhelming when compared to the superhero universes of comic books—and real life origins remain relatively fixed although tellings and retellings always shade those realities differently.

My transition from childhood into adulthood is easy to pinpoint, and with the bite of a radioactive spider or an appropriate dousing in a transformative chemical, the summer between my 8th and 9th grades could have led to my wearing a different sort of lycra outfit, one donned to save the world (or at least the female of my affection).

Being diagnosed with scoliosis and having to wear a back brace from 9th through 12th grades, however, did not transform me into a superhero; it mostly hyper-exaggerated the already intense insecurities I felt as a scrawny young man wishing above all else to be a great athlete.

But the scoliosis diagnosis did lead to superheroes, specifically Marvel comics, as I began to collect and draw from the books I hoarded.

Fast forward four decades and the world has suddenly and shockingly joined me and countless nerds who didn’t need CGI and films to marvel at the alternate universes of masked superheroes. While the film explosion around comic book superheroes certainly was a significant turning point in the status of the graphic medium, I believe the rise of Marvel at Netflix is a far more compelling and promising adaptation.

Both the Daredevil and Jessica Jones series at Netflix have the time and space—serialization—to bring the most compelling aspects of comic books to viewers (something about TV series you find in HBO, Showtime, and other original programming that, I believe, is more powerful than Hollywood blockbuster film sequels).

So here is my nerd-confession about comic book superheroes: my favorite character has always been Daredevil (although I was profoundly shaped by the Spider-Man mythos as many who found themselves in the cult of Marvel experienced). As a result, for many years, my drawing of Daredevil hung in my parents’ living room:

Dardevil.jpg

Since I am still in advancing age struggling with the brave new world of series dumps and binge watching, I came to Daredevil (Netflix) a bit backwards after watching Jessica Jones.

Netflix’s Marvel Universe

Two 13-episode series may be an inadequate sample set, but I want first to note some patterns I have noticed watching Daredevil and Jessica Jones—sort of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

First, Netflix is offering a very muted superhero universe, not like the Stan Lee campiness but more as if Netflix is a bit embarrassed these shows are pulled from comic books. In Jessica Jones, that approach makes some sense, especially drawing as it does from Alias, but in Daredevil, the tiptoeing hurts a remarkable superhero narrative.

We wait, for example, all 13 episodes for Daredevil in his signature uniform and even the moniker “Daredevil” (and still no “Kingpin“). And the uniform? Falls short, I am afraid.

Next, just as the creative team behind a run on a comic book superhero significantly impacts the quality of the work, the Netflix series depend on the actors playing the roles as well as the writing and directing.

While the casting in Jessica Jones is stellar, I never felt drawn to the Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) or Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) actors, but I think the female roles are by far the best—Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple. Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (Kingpin) proves far more compelling than the main leads of Murdock and Nelson, also.

And while part of my preference for Daredevil overlaps with a similar preference for Batman, I am increasingly disturbed by the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale influence on all superhero adaptations to small and large screens: the relentless darkness and, worst of all, the Batman voice. Murdock/Daredevil and Fisk (Kingpin) have fallen prey to the Batman voice, and thus, the series has a flatness of tone that deteriorates the overall effect of the real gravity of the themes of justice driving the Daredevil mythos.

And here is the real weakness of the Netflix version of the Marvel universe—the Matt/Foggy characterizations and friendship. The way they are portrayed suffers from arrested development; I simply don’t care about them the way I did in the comic book of my youth.

Matt and Foggy appear to be mostly connected by their sophomoric objectification of women: Gosh, Foggy states far too often, how does a blind guy always know when women are hot? And that is neither satiric nor appealing, notably since Jessica Jones has made some efforts to rise about the historical failures of comic books in terms of gender portrayal.

Viewers and Daredevil deserve better.

Why Daredevil?

The very best part of the Netflx Daredevil is the series brings to a wider audience (and allows me to reconsider) the essential elements of what makes Daredevil an under-appreciated but powerful superhero narrative.

Matt Murdock’s origin story, his place (Hell’s Kitchen), Murdock’s profession as a lawyer, and the brilliant device of the blind superhero (justice is blind, right?)—these are what make Daredevil my favorite superhero. But in the end it is the possibility of Daredevil that compels me.

The Daredevil of my youth, and then later, included Black Widow and Elektra. Daredevil also experienced the complex touches of Frank Miller (both an important and a deeply problematic comic book creator) as well as writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev. Maleev’s artwork, for me, is a pinnacle of the Daredevil I want to see.

2-outwky8
Artwork by Alex Maleev.

So I am willing to be patient because, as we have witnessed in the utter failure of bringing Daredevil to Hollywood, superheroes are allowed many reincarnations, even within an otherwise seamless existence.

Netflix need not reboot Daredevil, but would be wise to resurrect Daredevil from the best pages of the comic book itself.

As Season 1 ended, Matt and Karen hold hands, and the eerie image of Fisk in prison signal a perfect tension between light and dark, hope and certain doom.

Netflix must continue to mine that justice is blind but keep in mind the audience is neither deaf, dumb, nor blind.

For Further Reading

Daredevil: The Man without Fear (Critical Survey of Graphic Novels), P. L. Thomas

Elektra Lives Again (Critical Survey of Graphic Novel), P.L. Thomas

Review – ‘Daredevil’ Is One Of Marvels Greatest Achievements, Mark Hughes

12 Must-Read Daredevil Stories, Evan Narcisse

Daredevil: manwithoutfear.com

Comic Books and Graphic Novels: Challenging Genres, P.L. Thomas