If anyone has shown a dedication to the long game in big-budget storytelling lately, it’s Marvel. The latest addition to the ever-expanding Cinematic Universe is the Netflix series Daredevil, chronicling the early days of lawyer Matt Murdock and his crimefighting alter-ego. In many ways Daredevil is the best thing to happen to the MCU in a long time. Not only is it far superior to Marvel’s other television ventures Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, but it often packs more of a punch — physically and emotionally — than the majority of the MCU films. The lack of cable television limitations or MPAA ratings means the show can be as dark as it needs to be. Most importantly, though, Daredevil shies away from the typical overblown grandiosity of many MCU ventures and opts instead for a very human drama.
It’s still a hero vs. villain thing we’re dealing with here, of course, but Daredevil is at its strongest when it plays away from that (striking the super– prefix from both hero and villain). Murdock gets his ass handed to him on a regular basis, Wilson Fisk is diabolical and yet relatable, and the street-level politics of the show are far more interesting than the end-of-the-universe Avengers stories. This is true of the comics, too, and as with live-action Daredevil it took a while to get the character right. There are a whole host of comic book influences for the Netflix series — primarily the Frank Miller tales The Man Without Fear and Born Again —which we’ll dive into now. Ye be warned: spoilers abound.
First up: The Man Without Fear. The 1993/94 series penned by Frank Miller and drawn by John Romita Jr. is arguably the greatest influence on the Daredevil series, and likely the most obvious. The black ninja garb that Matt Murdock wears before designing the iconic red costume is straight from MWF:
The red suit does appear at the end of the first season just as it appears at the end of Man Without Fear, with Murdock standing victorious on the rooftops of his city:
I always thought those last lines had a distinct Grapes of Wrath ring to them. In any case, the suit at the end of the Daredevil series resembles battle armor more than an acrobat’s tights, which is a bit disappointing considering all of the set-up in Man Without Fear and the ostensible parallels in the series:
While the “Battlin’ Jack Murdock” moniker does find a comic book analogue in Zeb Wells’s 2008 limited series of the same name, I prefer the gleefully cartoonish “Devil” nickname. In the Netflix series a young Matt Murdock asks his father to describe his boxing robe and seems delighted when he hears that it’s red, and the stage is set for the eventual adoption of the iconic suit. But when he finally dons the thing in the last episode, it’s more black than red. It looks fairly clunky, and to be fair Daredevil has sported clunky black-and-red suits in the comics, too:
So the long game here — which will extend to a Defenders miniseries and hopefully many more seasons of Daredevil — might still hold a more traditional Daredevil suit in store. What might that long game be, exactly? The seventh episode “Stick” is probably the best indicator, and the final shot of that episode was an additional callback to The Man Without Fear:
That’s Stick in the background and Stone in the foreground — I know, I know —and both serve The Chaste, a ninja order working against the evil organization known as The Hand. Daredevil‘s red ninja Nobu is very likely a member of The Hand, and so the Defenders miniseries might utilize that group as a primary antagonist. The hero Iron Fist is one that will join Daredevil in the Defenders series, and the primary Fist antagonist was teased here as well:
Fist, like Daredevil, deserves a hard-hitting series free of ratings limitations. Daredevil is violent as hell, with a beautiful hallway fight scene in the second episode to rival that of Oldboy. “We’re Murdocks,” says Jack to his son, “we get hit a lot.” It’s true — Matt gets beat to hell almost as much as Ben Linus from Lost. That street-level intensity just isn’t a part of the larger-scale Avengers flicks, and it’s Frank Miller who brought that to Daredevil in Man Without Fear, his early-’80s run with Klaus Janson, and his Daredevil masterpiece Born Again.
There aren’t as many plot-point parallels in Born Again (although it is the better of the two miniseries, and one of Miller’s best books in general), but the influence is there nonetheless. There’s Ben Urich, played masterfully here by Vondie Curtis-Hall (isn’t it a shame we’ll never see him working at the Daily Bugle?); there’s the characterization of Wilson Fisk (who is now the MCU’s best villain) as an out-of-control child, including Fisk’s predecessor Rigoletto and his confidante Wesley; and that package of heroin with the Steel Serpent insignia on it could come back and be the very thing that sparks a Born Again storyline in a future season of Daredevil. Oh, and that fight scene with the bowling ball is another nice wink:
Daredevil isn’t a great series because of these callbacks, cool as it might be to trace every little thing back to the comics. Daredevil is a great series because it realizes that you need to have more than just the influence. If the first season had simply adapted the plot of The Man Without Fear it might still have been fun to watch, but it wouldn’t play into Marvel’s long game with nearly as much intrigue. The storyline here is a fresh one with a lot of potential for expansion, and the characters feel new enough that the influences and tie-in films almost cease to matter. So lest we get carried away talking about the comic books, let’s breathe a massive sigh of relief at the fact that Daredevil is a heck of a lot of fun even without the trappings of the MCU, and that Charlie Cox kicks a hell of a lot more ass than Ben Affleck ever could.