On the DVD of 20th Century Fox's notorious 2003 "Daredevil" film, there is a documentary about the hero and why he's one of the best.
"Daredevil has always been the Grateful Dead of comics," director and comic-book writer Kevin Smith says. "He's always had hardcore fans who'd follow him everywhere or anywhere, but he doesn't have the breakthrough playability of the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. I think the movie will definitely break him through into the mainstream, hopefully for better and not for worse."
The movie didn't pan out. Despite earning a defensible $180 million and entertaining yours truly, it was panned by critics who called it cliché and boring. But a character this good deserves a second chance on screen, and he'll get one in April, when Disney's Marvel Television will release a new series on Netflix.
The basic concept of Daredevil, created in 1964, is interesting, even if it's a small part of what makes him great: Matt Murdock is a Manhattan attorney who also fights crime as costumed vigilante, with no powers others than extensive training and enhanced hearing, touch, smell, and taste — a not-too-distant fantasy for yuppies everywhere — and he does it all despite being blind.
"How many superheroes are known for what they can't do?" writer Frank Miller asks in the documentary. "Daredevil is blind. He can't see. That's his distinguishing feature. I fell in love."
Miller recognized in this flaw the potential for a deeper and gritter superhero story and developed it in a legendary run in the 1980s.
"This guy is perfect. He could be the perfect hard-boiled superhero. Along the way I decided he had to be a Catholic, because only a Catholic could be a vigilante and an attorney at the same time," Miller says.
The high point of this run was a 1986 arc called "Born Again," beautifully illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, that saw Murdock driven insane in a city overrun by crime.
"This lawyer-vigilante thing, it's always been shaky ... and so I thought, break it down, destroy him, and then have the real deep hero emerge," Miller says. "What I thought was the winning idea was I got rid of the costume for a good long time, and so he wasn't wearing the tights, and you realize the hero wasn't the costume. The costume was just dressing around the hero."After this run, Daredevil has become a showcase series for star creators to tell their own ambitious and often dark stories.
Miller returned with artist John Romita, Jr. for a complex new origin story in the 1993 "Daredevil: The Man Without Fear"; Smith and artist and future Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada played off "Born Again" in the 1999 "Guardian Devil" arc; Brian Michael Bendis led one highly acclaimed run in the 2000s; Ed Brubaker led another. The current run by Mark Waid, who has made a point of telling a brighter story, has won an Eisner Award and widespread acclaim.
"The thing that you really can't get across to a non-comic book reader or the general public is what a fascinating and layered character Daredevil is, and that's based on his internal monologues that the book has usually been famous for," Smith said.
"I still to this day thing Daredevil is the best character Marvel has," said John Romita, Sr., who was an artist on the comic soon after its launch.
Will the Netflix series be any good? While there nothing inherently good about stories about Daredevil, we can hope that so rich a creative legacy inspires filmmakers to make something special. Developer Drew Goddard, a Joss Whedon protégé known for "Cabin In The Woods," is a good candidate to make it happen. It would certainly be good for Disney if the company could extend its superhero success to smaller, riskier projects. If not, we'll always have comics.
Here's a preview for the new series, to be released on April 10:
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