Monday, April 27, 2015

The Man Without Fear

I've been a fan of Daredevil since 1981...since before I knew what a ninja was. But that was when I picked up my first Daredevil comic (#175)...a story about a blind dude who could kick a lot of ass while relying on his other four senses...and for the record, I'm being literal here. Issue #175 comes at a point in Daredevil's career where his "radar sense" has been temporarily removed so he IS really, effectively blind (rather than have the 360 degree sensory perception that usually makes him so badass)...yet he doesn't let his "new blindness" stop him from continuing to go after the bad guys. He truly is The Man Without Fear.

Personally, I have always been a man WITH a lot of fear...real confidence is not something that has come easily to me, and self-doubt has plagued me throughout my life. Oh, I've been assertive when I've needed to be...mainly as a matter of necessity...and I can speak and act with authority in areas where I have cultivated expertise. Oh, and I'm stubborn as hell a lot of the time, which can sometimes look like ballsy-ness. But I've never felt myself to be especially courageous or brave...usually the opposite. Over the years I've had to find ways to mentally "trick myself" in order to get up the guts to do things, ways to ignore what it is I'm afraid of so that I can act without stopping myself. Similar to the way Arthur Dent learned to fly by perfecting the art of "throwing himself at the ground and missing."

I'm not saying this to be self-deprecating; I'm just explaining one of the things I've always admired about Daredevil. He's got a certain tough-mindedness to him that, sure, a lot of "low-powered" comic book heroes have...but despite the Green Arrows and Batmans out there, Daredevil stands (for me) as one of the more realistic masked vigilante-types. After all, it's not like he's some billionaire playboy with a death wish.

[Batman and Green Arrow are, unfortunately, a product of their origins as pulp action adventurers. It's not their fault they started out as playboy was a trope of their time, allowing them access to wealth and secret bases and high-tech gadgets. But still: wouldn't they be able to do more good for the "common man" by being wealthy philanthropists instead of beating the hell out of muggers? Their stubborn adherence to "crime-fighting" in the 21st century just makes them delusional, Don Quixotic-types, if not outright jokes. One of the reasons I find Batman '66 so excellent is that, like the 60s television show that inspired it, it doesn't take itself seriously and is very light-hearted]

Daredevil does what he can, on a scale that he can, in his own neighborhood. He's like some psychotic, ultimate NIMBY. His tragic childhood loss, and subsequent career choice, make so much more sense to me than Bruce Wayne. He at least tries to do good as a low-cost attorney for the poor folk of Hell's Kitchen...I've known people like that. Real people...idealists who are fighting an uphill battle. And doing it anyway. With all the money at Wayne's disposal, the best thing he could think to do was come up with a bunch of bat-themed toys? Not to mention his interest in "young wards."

[again...product of his original times. I should go easy on the old man. He IS my son's favorite superhero, after all]

So Daredevil is recognizable (to me). He has a lot of human frailty...and not just his "handicap" of blindness. He gets beaten and bleeds. He has screwed up relationships. He has his "Catholic guilt" thing. He has ideals that just can't be met with the way the world is and with the limited resources he possesses.

He ends up suffering a lot. I've always admired the suffering hero. I've always enjoyed watching the way the suffering hero gets up from a beating time and again. It's not some inherent sadism in me...I want to see how a person can endure. I want to see how they define themselves by their endurance. The greater the suffering, the greater the enduring, the greater the hero.

As said, I've never been very brave, myself. But I've always had a great will to endure. And I'd like to think that gives me a bit of heroism...I think most of us would like to see at least a little "hero stuff" inside ourselves. We'd all love to have the super powers of Captain Marvel: say "SHAZAM!" and become super smart, super strong, super fast, etc. I know I would. But realistically, Daredevil is about the best to which we can aspire: the ability to rise after getting knocked to the ground.

SO...Netflix new series, Daredevil. I started watching it Saturday night, and I've gotten through the first seven episodes (man, I love being able to do that with those Netflix series...still need to finish up House of Cards). Great, great show. Live-action superheroes on the scale of "TV show" don't always work...that is, they have difficulty balancing the demands of the medium while being true to their original medium (usually they fall short on one side of the balance). If Daredevil is lacking, it's a little less comic-booky than the comic book...the horned costume has yet to make an appearance, and there hasn't been a single masked super villain (though, honestly, who gives a rip about Stilt-Man?).

He's not this heavy in the show.
But it's hard to say Daredevil is "lacking." It's great, compelling television. The first episode was a little had to include a lot of the mandatory "backstory" stuff. But the second episode ("Cut Man") was a heart-ripper...just truly, truly excellent stuff. And everything since then has been great.

Some highlights regarding the casting:

Vincent D'Onofrio is a guy whose work (i.e. acting working) I've enjoyed for years: from The Player to The Blood of Heroes to The Whole Wide World to Full Metal Jacket to Ed Wood. He is fantastic as Wilson Fisk ("the Kingpin"). Part of this is the writing...the character is so well-written, so likable even in his menace, that I find myself rooting for him, even though he's the main antagonist of the show (like Swearinger in Deadwood, or Spacey's character in House of Cards). He's understated, and powerful, and'll notice that he's first guy I bring up, even though he doesn't actually appear in the series until episode 3 or 4. He's a spotlight character, and while he's the master manipulator behind the scenes, there's nothing hidden about him by the writers...there's no secret agenda that we're waiting for the show to "reveal" to us in some long drawn-out fashion (one of the reasons I stopped watching Arrow was that I got tired of the flashback "reveals" of the protagonist's backstory). I love seeing the subplot with Vanessa. He's awesome.

Eldon Henson (as "Foggy" Nelson) is an actor with whom I'm not familiar, and part of my initial "slow" reaction to the series might have been getting used to his interpretation of Foggy, Murdoch's geeky friend and law partner. However, by the second episode I was sold on the character, both as written and performed. This Foggy...quirky, confident, and upbeat...makes an excellent compliment to the blind lawyer's understated, somewhat Sad Sack demeanor. If Foggy was written to be the bumbling, pessimistic guy I remember from the comics, it would be "too much the same." Henson is great.

Vondie Curtis-Hall (as Ben Urich) is fantastic, and again really well-written; the character is richer and more nuanced than the tired trope of "tough investigative journalist," Jack McGee-type that this could have been. I find Curtis-Hall to be magnetic, and his scenes a lot of fun to watch...the "newspaper guy" scenes aren't just throwaway bits for exposition as in most superhero-genre shows, and (unlike those other shows) I don't find myself counting the seconds till the camera cuts away to 'more interesting' stuff. He is interesting, and I want to see more.

Which brings me to a notable point. Curtis-Hall is an African-American actor, making Urich's character a black man (different from the caucasian comic book character)...though I actually had to look that up to remember. This Netflix series is chock-full of juicy roles for actors of all races and ethnicities, and considering its New York City, this is a welcome change...the place looks like New York, and sounds like it, too. It is filled with people whose native language is not English (my wife asked me why I was watching the show in Spanish...I had to explain to her that it's NOT in Spanish, just that many of the characters...both major and minor, speak Spanish as a matter of course), and despite being "street-level supers" it has a very international feel. Organized crime cuts across all cultures, after all.

Rosario Dawson (as Claire Temple) and Deborah Ann Woll (as Karen Page) are good, though I wouldn't call them especial standouts. I mean, Dawson is talented and beautiful and does her "normal" level of work; I find it hard to distinguish Woll terribly from her very memorable role in HBO's True Blood. Both suffer a bit of the O-I'm-A-Damsel-In-Distress-But-Still-Show-Signs-Of-Being-A-Capable-Human-Being syndrome that we see a lot of in the Old Comics Rebooted category of television. However, Claire (who was a romantic interest of Luke Cage/Power Man in the comics) figures to feature prominently in future (planned) Marvel Netflix series. It's possible that Cage is already part of her (Daredevil) character's backstory.

It's been fun to see Turk make an appearance...I'm hoping to see Grotto in one of these episodes.

Scott Glenn is the perfect (perhaps only possible) choice for Stick. I love Glenn in this kind of role...when I saw the casting choice I thought it excellent and he didn't disappoint.

Finally, we come to the man himself, Charlie Cox, as Matt Murdoch/Daredevil. Great, great casting choice. His Murdoch isn't just spot on, he fills out the stiff shirt of the superhero's alter ego. So often (well, at least back when I was reading comics in the 80s) you see heroes only truly express themselves while in their masked personas: their loves, their passions, their personalities. Their egos are suppressed when dressed as their secret identities, pretending to be something that they aren't (mild-mannered reporters, millionaire dilettantes, etc.). But so much of Daredevil is specifically due to who he is as Murdoch...his upbringing, his neighborhood, his line of work, his friends, his relationships. Elektra isn't someone Daredevil met while roof-hopping as a costumed vigilante...and the guy's not flying off to other galaxies in his DD-themed rocketship trying to save the Earth. Hell, he's not even traveling uptown. The "masked man" facet of Matt Murdoch is a minor aspect of the character as a whole, and the series treats it as such. There's no length expository given regarding his "radar sense;" the character doesn't sleep in some sort of sensory deprivation chamber. The focus the show (and Cox) brings to Murdoch the man is great.

It's not perfect. I haven't had a close relationship with any legally blind folks, so I can't speak too much to Cox's portrayal in this regard, but at times I feel the actor makes physical gestures that seem inconsistent with a person unable to see. That being said, the attention paid and attitude towards the character's blindness seems admirably done. Forget the superhero bit for a second...the show deals frankly with Murdoch's blindness, as the big deal it is. And not in terms of what he's lost, but in terms of how he lives, positively and undeterred. He lives in a different fashion from folks who can see (reading braille instead of print, for instance), but he's still living: with a job, an apartment, friends, lovers, relationships. The chemical heightened senses and ninja-training may give him the ability to be an ass-kicking machine...but it has jack and shit to do with the rest of his life. He's not portrayed as an "exceptional" blind person...and at the same time it's not ignored as a "non-issue" by the other characters in the show. I dig it.

And as to the ass-kicking: I dig that, too (of course). Some of the scenes are a little too dark for me (especially when it comes to catching the visuals of bouncing projectiles). Other scenes are truly exceptional. Again, I'd draw your attention to Episode 2 when...well, I don't even want to describe it; it really is too good to spoil. And it literally chokes me up just thinking about it (but then, I'm a sucker for certain types of on-screen mayhem). Do yourself a favor and watch it. I'm sorry that means you need to sit through the semi-slow start-up of Episode 1 (just to grasp the characters), but I think you'll be glad you did. Heck, I might just re-watch it again before hitting Episode 8.

In fact, I think I'll do that now. Later, gators.


  1. I really loved the show as well. Possibly it's my favorite superhero on screen adaptation I have seen so far, including all the movies.
    The only thing I couldn't accept was the big turn in episode 12 compared to the Marvel Universe. I won't spoil of course but really didn't understand.

  2. Yes, that fight in episode 2.

    Show's not dark enough in my opinion.

    And hey, brother? What's with lumping the girls together? Don't think you've given enough credit to either one, nor given the writing time each deserves. Go back, think on it and write what the characters deserve.

    Pretty shoddy gloss over there.