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'Daredevil' on Netflix: Geekly Mailbag

We all had some thoughts about Marvel’s blind superhero

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Marvel/Netflix

Last week, I watched Daredevil and you watched Daredevil and probably everybody watched Daredevil, because what else are you going to do when Game of Thrones isn’t on? Readers responded with their own thoughts about Marvel Studios’ first attempt at making a TV show without the word “Agent” in the title. (For further reading, make sure to check out my learned colleague Kevin P. Sullivan’s recaps of Daredevil and his exploration of the already-legendary hallway fight scene.)

Let’s get mailbagging!

Hey Darren

Gotta straighten you out on one point:

The end of the Stick episode wasn’t about Iron Fist and K’un Lun. It was about the war against the Hand. Stick is interested in Fisk’s shady Japanese associate, so there’s a strong chance he’s a Hand leader. Stick is the leader of the Chaste, a faction diametrically in opposition to the Hand. The character he’s having the conversation with at the end is Stone, a Chaste disciple of his whose power is that he becomes impervious to any attack he can see coming. The big hint to this are the scars on his back (obviously the blind spot for this superpower).

Now I don’t presume to know how their gonna script out this story arc. Who knows? Maybe Iron Fist does get introduced via this Stick/Chaste v Hand storyline. In ways it’s a rather natural fit given all the Eastern mysticism and martial arts prevalent in both. But as far as what we’ve seen so far (up thru the Stick ep., anyway) it’s the Hand, Chaste, and (most likely) Stone. That’s straight outa DD canon.

salut,

Cheapshot

I am incredibly thankful to Cheapshot for this clarification. (I’m assuming “Cheapshot” is his superhero name, and his superpowers are the incredible ability to clearly and concisely explain which comic book storylines are being teased in Marvel Studios adaptations.) Full disclosure: I’ve read a bit of Frank Miller’s initial run on Daredevil (mostly early Elektra stuff) and his collaboration with the great David Mazzucchelli for “Born Again.” I love the Bendis/Maleev run from the early ’00s, and I’ve been a huge fan of Mark Waid’s complete-opposite-of-Frank-Miller current run on Daredevil. But I wasn’t a huge Daredevil guy when I was initially collecting comics in the ’90s, so all the Hand/Chaste stuff kind of passed me by.

I guess this speaks to the weirdness of watching something like Daredevil. Like, I think I’m a fairly typical comic book reader: There’s some stuff I know ridiculously well, some stuff I occasionally read, and some stuff (Legion of Superheroes) that confuses and frightens me. So watching Daredevil, there were some things I clearly recognized from the comics, some things that they twisted in exciting ways (THEY KILLED BEN URICH!), and some things that were totally new to me. The “totally new” stuff could have been Stuff That Was Actually New or Stuff About The Chaste.

All that being said, I also agree with Cheapshot’s retcon argument that I was accidentally right: Somehow, Iron Fist’s storyline will tie in with the Hand. I’m not sure if the Marvel-Netflix-verse will tie him in directly—perhaps making the Hand an offshot branch of K’un Lun renegades—or if it will be an indirect tie-in, like how the Cosmic Cube from Captain America was created by the Asgardians from Thor.

The point is: Canon or not, that episode sucked.

I so agree with both of your inner voices.  Thank you for sharing your inner thoughts. I just want to add that I loved every minute of the Daredevil series. I agree they should have have Rosario Dawson in more episodes; other than that it I am very happy with this series & hope it returns for a second season.

Be well! 

Most kind regards

m

Saying “Rosario Dawson was great” is redundant, kind of like saying “the sky is blue” or “the ocean is wet” or “Zack Snyder sure likes Frank Miller.” But Rosario Dawson was great, will continue to be great, and will hopefully be a much larger part of the future of Daredevil.

Email Subject Headline: Some Daredevil Comments…

…that I was going to leave as Comments following the article, but after I skimmed that section imagine my surprise when I didn’t want to jump into that cesspool w/ anything short of the latest Stark suit on me.

-Were I to go by the commenters as representative (fully likely to be at least half-foolish), it seems I’m in quite the minority Reviewing the Reviewer.  I enjoyed the style of your article and how it mirrored my own interest/opinion swings (e.g., pro:  Elden Hensen’s performance; con: too little courtroom activity) while binging the series, and I have been happy to share the article w/ others I know who are binging the series too.

My main quibble, and I’m sure you have and will continue to hear no small amount about this one, regards this line:

The best thing about Daredevil is how Marvel explicitly silo’d it off from the rest of the Marvel Universe.

While I appreciate part of your point, there is the matter of the construction boom and opportunity to remake Hell’s Kitchen, to paraphrase, “after what happened.”  

Marvel has consistently referred to the damage done during Avengers 1 to its NYC “properties” I’ll call them and, in this series, the damage is alluded to w/ shorthand (knowing its audience).  

This nod to continuity becomes even more than a point of emphasis; it looms early and often—like the always excellent D’Onofrio—over the whole series.

I’m a lifetime DC mark w/ far less Marvel knowledge and I missed further holes of arguable size in the silo, e.g., what you point out re: Iron Fist and what one commenter points out as a reference to Elektra (an allusion I wouldn’t have picked up on countless re-views).  

So I think Marvel’s just introducing Daredevil slowly and—not unlike Arrow (though by different means)—letting the rest of the universe creeeeeep in, at least initially, around the edges even more slowly, but the there’s definitely there…even if some of the creeping things are unnamed, just as Fisk was never called “Kingpin” (unless my attention failed me at some point). 

Other than this, I found your article to be an entertaining and provocative post-binge read, so thanks Darren.

Cheers,

David Malone

To be fair, quite a few commenters jumped on a phrase that I worded in the absolute worst way:

But great TV shows don’t need to feature the entire cast every week. Gotham doesn’t need to find something for Alfred to do every week. And especially since Daredevil’s on Netflix, shouldn’t we expect it to be MORE adventurous in its storytelling, not less? 

When I started writing that paragraph, I was going to bring up some great shows that don’t feature their entire cast every week—ie, Lost after season 3, Game of Thrones after season 1, Mad Men since forever—as a counterpoint to a very, very bad show, Gotham, which SHOULDN’T need to find something for Alfred to do every week, but usually does, because Gotham is terrible. But I didn’t include that other sentence, so it looks like I’m saying “Gotham is a great show!”

I want to be clear on this point:

Gotham is not a great show.

Gotham is a horrible show.

Gotham represents the moment when what we used to call geek culture—what we used to presume was a “niche” culture, in the same sense that people who enjoy jam bands are a “niche” culture and people who know the difference between The Hand and the Chaste are a “niche” culture”—when “Geek Culture” just became normal pop culture, and someone could make a TV show out of ambient Batman mythology that was somehow as dull as a fifth Law & Order spinoff.

So I was a bad writer there. I could try to justify this with “Oh, but like maybe one side of my brain likes Gotham!” And I could also try to say: “Listen, I had a complicated argument about Daredevil, and it’s pretty pedantic to pick out one single sentence as an example of everything wrong with that argument.” But no side of my brain likes Gotham, and if someone told me they liked Gotham, I would buy them the complete run of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central. I failed. I failed! So: Bring it on, commenters.

On to David’s point: As I pointed out in my initial review of the first five episodes of Daredevil, one of the things I liked most about the show was how it treated the events of Avengers seriously. In a weird way, it basically turned the alien attack on New York into a vaguely 9/11-ish event for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: An attack on a major American city by outside forces, which leads to a rapid shift in America on both macro and micro levels. On the “macro” level, Marvel has explored this shift brilliantly in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which vaguely replays the post-9/11 decade as a Hydra takeover, and in Agents of SHIELD, which keeps trying to drift off Winter Soldier‘s fumes while also setting up Inhumans.

I loved how, on the micro level, Daredevil used the attack on New York to justify its central fantasy: that Hell’s Kitchen right now is Hell’s Kitchen circa 1975. Modern Hell’s Kitchen has some great restaurants; Daredevil‘s Hell’s Kitchen has predatory real estate developers working with five different mobs.

But I also loved how, after Daredevil established that, it completely struck its own course. Besides the Stick episode and the mysterious Madame Gao departure, Daredevil was about Daredevil. There were no cameos, no drop-ins from more famous members of the universe. Now, in fairness, some of this requires a suspension of disbelief. Everyone I know always has the same gripe: Why don’t the other Avengers help out in a solo superhero film? Where’s Iron Man while a fleet of Star Destroyers is attacking DC in Winter Soldier? Where’s Captain America when the Mandarin destroys Iron Man’s house? Where’s Black Widow when the dark elves attack London with antimatter, or whatever is happening at the end of Thor: The Dark World?

The simple answer to that question is: Shut up. The term “universe” gets thrown around way too much now—there is an Insidious universe now—right alongside the other popular term, “mythology.” Universes and Mythology are fun to talk about. But they are not what’s important. What’s important is story. And most of the great superhero stories are about single superheroes, or single groups of superheroes, or even single cities of superheroes. I would argue, in turn, that most of the great superhero stories represent the work of a single creator, or a single in sync creative team: Frank Miller, or Miller/Mazzucchelli, or Bendis/Maleev.

Marvel Studios really does realize the story thing. That’s why it sent Iron Man on the run in Iron Man 3, and that’s why it seems set on keeping Guardians of the Galaxy in its own corner of the universe for at least a few more years. I’m not sure Marvel is so hot on the single-creator thing; there will always be a made-by-committee feel to the Marvel movies. There’s a top-down approach to how Marvel tells stories: Everything needs to line up with the grander plan of Phase 2, or Phase 3.

Back in the ’60s, Marvel Comics developed a structure called the “Marvel Method,” which basically worked in three steps:

1. The writer (usually Stan Lee) came up with an outline for the story.

2. The artist drew the story from the outline, transforming the macro outline into a micro panel-by-panel story.

3. The writer would take the art and write in dialogue and expository dialogue.

Weirdly, you could argue that the Marvel Studios method is exactly the same or completely different. Maybe Kevin Feige is the new Stan Lee: He tells James Gunn that Guardians of the Galaxy needs to feature an Infinity Stone, James Gunn goes and writes a script about a bunch of weirdos flying through space, and Feige checks the script to make sure there’s an Infinity Stone. Then again, you could argue that the original Marvel Method allowed for way more creative expression on the part of the individual artists. All of the Marvel movies look pretty much the same—good or bad, none of the directors are taking bold visual or narrative risks.

The cool thing about Daredevil is that it used its small scale to actually take a lot of those risks. The bad guys weren’t trying to conquer the universe; they were trying to push people out of their homes. And the chief example of law enforcement wasn’t omniscient Nick Fury and SHIELD; it was the NYPD, portrayed here as corrupt to a Serpico degree.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying I’d be pretty happy if the rest of the Marvel Universe never creeped in. But it will. Daredevil is to Marvel-Netflix as Iron Man was to the Marvel Movies. And Iron Man could’ve been its own movie, unto itself—they held off on the Nick Fury thing until after the credits. You can’t quite say the same about Daredevil: It’s very clearly setting up a few different strands.

Great conversation. I loved Season 1 as a whole. I tell people who want to watch it that it runs out of steam around ep 9 but finale makes up for lots of it. I find DD is like house of cards, bloodline,..great starts, slow in the middle, good/great endings (last 2 eps of a season).

As for Stick and the mystery figure, I think all that was setting up Defenders. I think Defenders will be a different take on Diggle’s Shadowland. I’d guess Kingpin escapes with help from The Hand.

-Jack

I defer to Jack on “Shadowland,” a story arc from a few years ago. (Broad strokes: Daredevil tries to turn the Hand into his own private army.) We should point out that, for all that Daredevil drew from the comic books, this season’s arc was an essentially original story, so it could be that the show has its own bold plans for the future.

Like, just to further an ongoing comparison, the Iron Man movies have never really had much to do with the comic books. The villains have all been reimagined, or even completely deconstructed in the case of Iron Man 3‘s Mandarin. The Iron Man films have never gotten around to some of the most iconic Iron Man stories—”Demon in a Bottle” or “Armor Wars,” for example, although I guess you could argue that the central idea of “Armor Wars” pops up vaguely in a couple of the movies. Which is good. New stuff is good!

Jack’s point about House of Cards and Bloodline is also very on point. To be honest, I find the very structure of most Netflix shows incredibly frustrating, but that might just be because I’m coming from a whole different notion of TV viewing. Netflix shows aren’t broadcast shows—they’re incredibly serialized and demand you to watch every episode, ideally in a short span of time. But Netflix shows also aren’t really recognizable as what we used to call “cable” shows. Like, we tend to call The Sopranos and Lost “serialized” shows, but you could watch a single episode of either show and consider it an entire meal. For different reasons: Lost pioneered the “character-centric” serial-sodic structure, where every episode (especially in the early seasons) told a complete story about one character’s past while furthering the grander macro-arc of the Island present. The Sopranos pioneered the arthouse-movie-of-the-week format, with episodes that dug deep into a character’s psychology and often ended on a note of melancholy or absurdist weirdness or (in the later seasons) bleak nihilism.

House of Cards and Bloodline don’t really do either of those thingsYou could argue that they’re more like books than classical TV shows: They treat episodes like chapters, and nobody ever talks about how one chapter was better than the other. Daredevil seems torn between a few different traditions, in an exciting way. Episode 2 and Episode 6 are tense, practically real-time action setpieces. Episode 9 is a Kingpin flashback episode straight out of the Lost rulebook. At the same time, Daredevil has some weirdly old-fashioned broadcast-network tendencies—hey, what’s new with Karen and Ben’s investigation this week?

—That Costume after the build up…. Bleh!  Really? Just basic red please maybe dark red?  Amazing that Kevlar protects your forearms from being hit repeatedly with a metal bar swung by an enraged King pin? Why not?

—Urich: They killed one of their best actors. Cool scene but wasteful.​

—Fisk gets laid and immediately (though we see absolutely no sign of it) the business is in trouble and his partners are complaining. Didn’t he just kill off the entire Russian Mob and increase all your profits? I did not like how the other criminal bosses (Mainly Leland) just saw Fisk’s clever tactics like asking Nobu to find somebody to deal with the Masked Man right away and explained them to the viewers like a Greek Chorus. Let the viewers do some more thinking instead of watching cliff notes to Daredevil for Dummies.

—It really is interesting how having a show on Netflix isolates it from constructive criticism. Daredevil was good popcorn TV and pleasantly darker than I expected. While it was not a masterpiece I’d take it over Agents of Shield any day. That’s just a convoluted mess. I’m rooting for Hydra to win.

-Matt M.

I’m with Matt on Daredevil’s final red costume. Given how cool the black costume was—and how resolutely UN-superherolike it was—I was kind of shocked that they decided to make DD’s ultimate look so samey-samey with the rest of the superhero landscape. But a lot of this frustration well does focus on what Matt points out: the weird idea that somehow this suit offers more “protection,” even though it clearly doesn’t.

I also agree with the weird way the other mob bosses developed later in the season. One of the things I enjoyed most about the first few episodes was how the show turned the two Russian brothers into actual 2.5-dimensional characters: We got to see them in prison, so we understood just how far they had come and how far they were willing to go. I was expecting the same treatment for Nobu and Madame Gao—but Madame Gao was clearly always supposed to be a Mystery To Be Solved In Future Seasons, and the whole notion of Nobu as an incredible warrior was only introduced so that Fisk could make sure he got killed in combat.

This gets into the biggest issue of all with Daredevil, of course. The show’s creators were smart enough to treat Fisk as the show’s co-lead, but I’m not sure they ever quite followed through on the ambitions they set out for the character. Fisk is a criminal mastermind—but his criminal empire seems to extend to one very good assistant, a lot of allied mobsters who variously try to kill him or require being killed, and some lackeys. He’s able to control the cops, except when he isn’t, and he’s completely in control of his emotions, except when he falls in love at first sight with a cool lady from an art gallery and then starts decapitating his allies.

D’Onofrio was great, and he kind of made this work. But the show seemed to think that Wilson Fisk was Marvel New York’s version of Eli Cross from Chinatown. Eli Cross’s macro plan was clear—get the water!—which made his weird psychological micro-plan—lotsa incest!—even freakier. Everything about Fisk on the micro level was great, and almost everything about him on the macro level was confusing.

What I’m curious about too is at what point did Vanessa become Team Fisk? I don’t think it’s pure power hunger as she had plenty of opportunity to achieve that in other ways. It just seemed like they were playing her as both “innocent bystander” and “partner in crime” and I couldn’t tell exactly which way it was going to go. Was she always power hungry, or was it a deep, deep love for Fisk that pulled her over the edge?

-Alice

Can we talk about Vanessa? What a performance by Ayelet Zurer! The actress has had some intriguing roles the last few years—a thankless sidekick role alongside Tom Hanks in the just awful Angels & Demons, an intriguing supporting turn in Munich, Superman’s mom in Man of Steel—but she completely rocked every scene. I would actually argue that her Vanessa raised the whole show to a different level: She actually made it seem possible to fall in love with the D’Onofrio’s monstrous totalitarian baby-man, and the way she plays the last few scenes in episode 5 made Fisk’s whole plan to “fix” New York seem oddly tantalizing.

I think she was Fisk’s partner in crime from that moment on; I love that moment in episode 9, when she picks his wardrobe for Wilson’s first media appearance. I’m not sure “power hungry” quite captures it—it seems to me like she found Fisk so beguiling, and was so taken with his mission. But I loved how Zurer played the character as someone who not only saw Fisk’s mission, but actually saw a way to improve it. It’s a bummer that she spent the back half of the season in a coma; I’m hoping that, in season 2, she essentially becomes a kingpin unto herself.