Netflix’s Daredevil series is something of a groundbreaker. Marvel’s blind superhero has long been a critical favorite and, it seems, the darker the comic got, the more popular it became.
The series, created by Drew Goddard – who wrote the first two episodes and is credited as an executive producer, captures the feel of the versions of the character popularized by the teams of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson and Brian Michael Bendis (Powers) and Alex Maleev. It’s a kind of Mean Streets take on Hell’s Kitchen’s best known costumed hero.
Marvel’s Daredevil gets it right – from Matt Murdock’s heroism and ensuing blindness to his father’s refusal to throw a fight so that, just once, his son can cheer for him; from Murdock’s training by blind mercenary Stick (Scott Glenn) to his college days with Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson (Elden Hensen); from his first, less than spectacular efforts in a makeshift costume to his ultimate brawl with Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).
Creator Goddard left the series because of film commitments but Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) stepped in as showrunner, writer of key episodes and director of the finale. Between the two men’s efforts, the devil of Hell’s Kitchen works and works well.
Of course things are tweaked and rejigged in the transferring of comic to live-action, but always in service of making the story work in its new medium. There are plenty of Easter eggs for fans of comics but nothing that doesn’t contribute to the plot or character development. No one element is aimed any one part of the potential audience at the expense of another.
One intriguing tweak that makes the series fresh is that there is a romance – but it is the romance between Fisk and art gallery owner Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer, Man of Steel). Murdock (Charlie Cox) comes close, but his relationship with nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) somehow manages to be more of professional nurse/patient one.
For Murdock, the most important relationship is with his college buddy-turned-law partner at Nelson & Murdock, their fledgling legal firm. It is also the relationship that is tested the most in the thirteen-episode first season.
In the comics, Foggy was usually comic relief as well as being a damned good lawyer. He starts out that way here, but events eventually put him through a wringer almost as much as Murdock.
Another key relationship is between Nelson & Murdock’s secretary/office manager Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll, True Blood) and reporter Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall). The bad things that are going on in Hell’s Kitchen affect her personally and as she tries to deal, she comes in contact with Urich, who is persuaded she has a real story.
In a lovely bit of parallel development, just as Murdock have Nelson, Fisk has Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore) – his right hand man and, quite possibly, his only real friend.
Everything is put in motion by Fisk’s attempts to save New York by destroying Hell’s Kitchen to create something beautiful in its place. He is allied with Chinese Triads, Japanese Yakuza and Russian mobsters and someone in the wrong place at the wrong time causes an action that starts wheels inexorably spinning.
The result is a fast-paced, thrilling ride. Daredevil is terrific. So’s his Netflix series.
Final Grade: A+