I read a lot when I was a kid but during those pesky teenage years, for various reasons that probably involve hormones and stupidity, I got out of the habit.
One man got me back into fiction big-time: Brian Michael Bendis (https://twitter.com/brianmbendis).
At the time, he was writing Ultimate Spider-Man, Alias and Daredevil for Marvel Comics. I still love all those stories but there's a single moment in Daredevil that changed everything for me. Comics were very simple growing up: The hero had a real life and a secret identity and much of his or her time was spent trying to conceal who they were from loved ones.
Daredevil switched that up that in a single panel by revealing Matt Murdock's identity to the world.
Reading that and the subsequent storyline, which has ramifications in the Marvel Universe almost 15 years later, changed the way I thought about how stories could be told.
I've loved Daredevil ever since, delving back to read obvious things like Frank Miller's run on the title, plus the more recent ones such as Ed Brubaker's and Mark Waid's. Matt Murdock is a great character – which has now been proven beyond all doubt by the incredible Netflix series.
I am a bit of a Marvel geek and, as well as the comics, have watched Agents of SHIELD diligently, plus the movies. Age Of Ultron is around the corner and I’m really excited about Captain America: Civil War, plus the appearance of Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe. I’d never read Guardians Of The Galaxy before but James Gunn’s (https://twitter.com/jamesgunn) 2014’s movie blew me away, so I’ve been reading that ever since (it is written by Brian Michael Bendis after all).
None of that prepared me for quite how good Daredevil would be on screen, however. It’s so terrific that it’s difficult to know where to start – but I guess the casting is a good place.
Charlie Cox is a perfect Matt Murdock – and not just because he can wear a pair of tinted glasses. He carries Matt’s burdens in his expressions and body language, despite playing a blind guy. He’s magnetic, compelling to watch. I’d love to know how many of the stunts are done by him.
I hope it’s not a sleight on him to say, when it comes to casting, the titular character probably should be spot-on. A casting director can only pick the lead once so, if anything is right, it has to be that.
Where the love really shines, however, is with Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson. Foggy is Matt’s lawyer colleague, his best friend, the person in whom he has the most faith and trust. In many ways, he’s the bedrock of the comic. He’s the reader’s eyes and ears into a world that isn’t ours. None of us can know what it’s like to be a superhero, especially one with Matt Murdock’s particular skillset, but Foggy can at least give us a window into what it’s like having an extraordinary friend.
It’s easy to gloss over that, to think that Matt’s is the only story to tell, but by getting Foggy so right in the television show shows how much the creators understand the heart of Daredevil’s world. Elden Henson is wonderful as Foggy. He’s a little clumsy and awkward but funny and charismatic in his own way. He looks right, he sounds right – and it’s on him that the heart of the show hangs.
Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page rounds out the key trio. When they’re on screen together, be it in the cell in episode one, or chatting in the pub in later ones, there’s clear chemistry between them. They seem like old friends, which allows us as the viewer to feel a part of the story, too. Karen is not a typical, clichéd dumb blonde. She’s smart, with her own storyline, her own ideas. The three of them complement each other – as they should.
All of that, I guess, is what I would have hoped for from the series but what I didn’t expect was the darkness. Marvel is shiny and bright. Aliens invade New York but Hawkeye and Iron Man still get one-liners. Loki can snarl with Shakespearean wit but then Hulk bashes him around.
Daredevil brims with the shadows that make the comics work. There’s a scene with a spike in an early episode that left me gasping in a way I hadn’t since that spoilery thing happened to King Joffrey in Game of Thrones.
The other thing that Daredevil gets so right is the fight scenes. It’s something that, though a staple of the superhero world, I’m not sure the movies have ever quite nailed. Man Of Steel is perhaps the worst offender. Its lengthy fight scene between Superman and Zod is a mess, with many parts in which it is nearly impossible to tell what’s going on. This guy brings down a bunch of buildings, killing thousands, then snaps Zod’s neck – and yet he’s the hero?!
I’ve never seen action scenes like those in Daredevil – either on TV or in a movie.
The choreography and directing is exemplary. Not only is it clear what’s happening, but you can feel every blow, wince at every crunch. The violence feels authentic – as it should. No spoilers but when Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin (played by Vincent D'Onofrio), first gets his fists dirty in episode four, well…I gasped once more.
One final thing that’s impeccable is the pacing. It would be too easy to throw everything at the screen. No second series has been confirmed, so it would have been simple to get Bullseye in there. Chuck Elektra in. Typhoid Mary, The Hand, Stilt Man(!) – and so on. It could have been a villain-of-the-week show but it isn’t.
Daredevil unveils its cards at a seamless pace. The Owl is there, so is Ben Urich and the Night Nurse. Elektra is alluded to in a proper geek-out moment. But nothing is blown, no characters wasted for a cheap storyline. Everything plays out authentically to the point that, when Fisk shows his hand in episode eight, it changes the tone of the show.
There’s even time for a slower, more personal pit-stop with Matt and Foggy in episode ten. Even when it’s just them with no action, the chemistry between the actors still makes it captivating viewing. There are a few scenes with them in college, walking through a park and then sitting on some stone steps, just chatting. Everything about that is so flawless, wonderfully capturing the spirit of the characters, and yet it would have been so easy to get wrong. Or to edit out and replace with a run-jump fight scene. But, no, the series is allowed to breathe.
As with all literary loves, it’s always a worry when the announcement comes that they will soon appear on screen. As a fan, you hope for something good and you really want it to live up to those cherished stories. When it matches – exceeds – your expectations, it becomes something special.
I’m in awe of creator Drew Goddard, showrunner Steven DeKnight (https://twitter.com/stevendeknight) – and the rest of the team – for getting it so right.
Next up for Netflix/Marvel is AKA Jessica Jones, another character with whom I have a great affinity. So much so that I, er, borrowed her name for my series of crime books.
After that, there is Iron Fist, Luke Cage and The Defenders. Then…I really hope there’s more Daredevil. The show is in such good hands, after all.
Renegade by Kerry Wilkinson is out today