Marvel's new television experiment begins today with the release of Daredevil, a 13-episode series hitting all in one day exclusively on Netflix. But if you don't read comics, you may have no idea who Daredevil is outside of the mediocre 2003 film starring Ben Affleck.
As always, Polygon's got your back. Despite his lower-tier status compared to big-hitting superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America, Daredevil is actually one of the most interesting and darkest superheroes in Marvel's roster. There's a lot of reason to be intrigued at the possibilities in Netflix's new series.
Let's dig through Daredevil's checkered past to explain why. Keep in mind, there will be HEAVY SPOILERS from throughout Daredevil's comic book career, though none for the TV show specifically.
One need only look at the cover of 1964's Daredevil #1 (above) to begin to get a sense of how different Daredevil is from other Marvel heroes. The cover simultaneously beckons readers to believe two opposing facts: first, that Daredevil is "a worthy companion" to other Marvel creations like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, and second, that he is "different from all other crime-fighters."
Of course, it's not entirely wrong. Daredevil has one gigantic difference from any other superhero of the time: He's blind.
We'll get to that, though. Let's take a step back. Despite being an origin story, Daredevil #1 actually gets to the action right away, opening up with our titular hero bursting into a room full of gangsters.
Ignore the garish costume. That will change eventually, promise.
In the fight that ensues, Daredevil takes out the criminals with ease using a mix of acrobatics, hand-to-hand combat and a billy club to even the odds when one of the thugs pulls a gun.
As the fight ends, the masked man reveals that his name is "Daredevil," which I'm sure means nothing to the dazed bad guys. However, the comic uses it as an opportunity to jump back into the past and get the true origin story going.
Daredevil has one gigantic difference from any other superhero of the time: He's blind
We move back about 14 years to see a young Matt Murdock talking to his father, a successful boxer known as "Battling Murdock." We quickly learn that Matt's mother has been dead for some time, and his father made a promise that the boy "[wouldn't] be an uneducated pug like me!" Matt, however, loves his father and also wants to take up a career in punching people.
To make his father happy, Matt decides to focus on his studies, becoming "top student in his class, forsaking all sports, all athletic activities, though his heart aches for the thrills of the baseball diamond and the gridiron." We're then treated to a montage of scenes where Matt is wistfully watching other kids play or do sports, and where he gets bullied for being a big nerd. Poor guy.
Finally, Matt decides to hell with it and begins secret physical training using his dad's equipment.
Yep, those are what those things are. Thank you for the clear labels, comic book!
Also, while we're on the subject of his struggles between schoolwork and athletics, look at what a smug jerk Matt is already as a kid. This will become something of a trend later on:
Meanwhile, we get some backstory into Matt's father. As he gets older, Battling Murdock is having more and more troubles finding a manager that's interested in him. In desperation he turns to the one manager he swore never to do business with: a shady gentleman named The Fixer.
Yes, The Fixer. Yo, I feel like the cops shouldn't have a ton of trouble finding this guy.
Against his own gut instinct, Battling Murdock signs a deal with The Fixer and rushes home to tell his son how he's going to be able to afford to send him to college. Unfortunately, tragedy is about to strike, as Matt has just witnessed a blind man struggling across the street amidst some wild traffic. If you're familiar with Marvel superhero origins, you might be able to guess where this panel is headed.
"Without a moment's hesitation ... his supple muscles responding to the emergency with the speed of thought," the narration says of Matt in the next panel. I mostly wanted to point out how it calls his muscles "supple," and that's kind of creepy.
Anyway, Matt Murdock saves this blind stranger's life, but in the process a cylinder flies out of the truck and hits Murdock across the face.
Matt is blinded by the accident, and his father mourns and wishes he'd been there instead. He also informs him that they may be able to cure the blindness with a special procedure after the tissue has healed.
By this point, though, Matt is discovering that he may not need to be cured.
LOOK AT THAT SMILE.
"It's as though nature made all my senses far more powerful, to compensate for my blindness," Matt says to himself while training. "I wonder ... could the radioactive elements which struck my eyes have anything to do with my increased powers??"
Gosh, Matt, I just don't know.
"Could the radioactive elements which struck my eyes have anything to do with my increased powers??"
It's worth noting that in addition to his suddenly advanced perception (presumably related to the radioactive stuff), he also has superlative fighting skills thanks to all that secret training he did. Basically, Daredevil has no fully supernatural powers, but he's the full package when it comes to advanced versions of regular people skills like punching and hearing things.
Anyway, Matt makes it through high school and goes on to State College, where he becomes roommates with Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, an important side character in the series. Through some inner monologue, Matt reveals that lack of sight aside, his senses have only grown more acute.
He says he can tell whether people are in the room by hearing their heartbeat and can tell who is in the room because he remembers their scent. He even claims to be able to tell how many bullets are in the barrel of a gun based on its weight, which seems questionable to me and also why were you playing with guns, Matthew Murdock, where did you learn about this, young man?
Here's the creepiest panel of the whole origin story, though:
Okay, creep. Real cool superpower, whatever.
I want to make something clear here: While Matt's sudden, apparently radioactive-tinged powers may sound ridiculous already, this is only the tip of the ludicrous iceberg. Elsewhere in the issue, Matt is able to recognize that Foggy is approaching him by the weight and distance between his footsteps as they come near. He is able to read a newspaper headline "by running my finger over the page and feeling the impression of the ink."
I know it goes without saying in a superhero comic, but gosh, I really hope you're ready to suspend some disbelief.
While Matt spends college enjoying his newfound abilities, his father is mysteriously experiencing a huge upswing in his career despite his age. How strange! I wonder if The Fixer could have anything to do with this?
Unfortunately, Battling Murdock's luck runs out. He's put in a huge match against Dynamite Davis where is finally asked to take the fall. But Matt just happens to be in the audience, and Murdock doesn't want to lose in front of his son. He wins anyway.
The Fixer is, as you might expect, displeased. Not long after the fight:
You can't have a Marvel superhero without some tragedy to drive them, and that's doubly true for Daredevil. This huge death is the first of many to come in his life.
After the tragic death of his father, Matt graduates college and opens a law firm with Foggy and Karen Page, his secretary and love interest. Things are looking up for Matt.
There's one problem: He finds himself unable to focus on his life as a lawyer while knowing that his father's murderer is still out there.
Finally something snaps. Matt promised his father he would never use force, but he comes up with a pretty ridiculous way to break that promise.
Matt stitches together a costume and takes on the name Daredevil, referencing it as one of the insults bullies in his neighborhood used to hurl at him. That ... feels pretty tame for a schoolchild insult, but whatever.
Matt also modifies the cane he uses to help him get around day today, turning it into the very same nightstick we witnessed being used against the thugs at the start of the issue.
And wouldn't you know, it turns out that fight we saw at the beginning is part of Daredevil's efforts to bring The Fixer to justice. Most of the rest of Daredevil #1 is devoted to a lengthy action sequence with the hero bringing down the bad guys one by one and even outsmarting them as they try to escape into a crowd.
The best moment is when he uses a trash barrel to catch up to a fleeing Fixer:
Don't smoke cigars, kids.
The Fixer actually happens to die of a heart attack before Daredevil can bring him in peacefully. Our hero smugly remarks that this "will save the state the expense of a trial." Jesus, Matt, you're supposed to be a lawyer.
While The Fixer is dead, the actual gunman who pulled the trigger on Matt's dad is alive. Daredevil manages to catch the thug named Slade and gets him to confess to the crime in front of the police.
Matt Murdock isn't done breaching the ethics of his field of work, though, oh no. Not by a long shot. The comic ends with this shocking conflict of interest:
WOW. Say what you will about ethics in game journalism, but these comic book lawyers are real scumbags.
One of the most interesting issues with Daredevil is immediately apparent in this first issue: He's a very schizophrenic character. At once obsessed with serving the law and ignoring it, his stories often bounce back and forth between light-hearted adventure and devastating personal tragedy. This is true of all Marvel heroes to some extent, but Daredevil's history is darker for lack of a better word, with many of his best stories heavily inspired by film noir.
Daredevil's history is darker for lack of a better word, with many of his best stories heavily inspired by film noir
These feuding tones have led some creators to mess with the origin story we just laid out, tweaking elements to fit their vision for the character. One of the best examples of this is Frank Miller, who had a critically acclaimed run with Daredevil in the '80s that lifted the character, however briefly, out of obscurity.
Miller introduced the huge character of Elektra Natchios, a college classmate of Matt Murdock's who the future Daredevil falls in love with. If you've seen the aforementioned Affleck Daredevil movie, you may recall Elektra as a character played by Jennifer Garner, who received her own much-worse spin-off film in 2005.
Miller was also the mastermind behind a much bigger change to Daredevil's origin story. In 1981's Daredevil #176, Matt finds himself without his radar senses after a recent adventure. His current love interest, Heather Glenn, begs him to give up his superhero identity, but Matt has other ideas:
Daredevil takes off into the night, followed by a frantic Heather. And Heather is followed by Elektra, now the sworn enemy of Daredevil. And Elektra is followed by Kirigi, a superpowerful ninja controlled by a sect known as The Hand that is looking to kill off Elektra.
As Daredevil rushes around town clumsily taking out thugs, Elektra always pops in at the last second to ensure he isn't killed due to his lack of enhanced skills. And Kirigi is always just one step behind Elektra, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
In one particularly great series of scenes, one everyday thug has his boring night at home interrupted first by Elektra, then a random criminal from earlier seeking revenge on Daredevil, then by Daredevil himself and finally by Heather. All four ask him the same question, leading to this wonderful exchange by the time Daredevil shows up:
When Daredevil finally finds Stick, the reveal is also pretty fantastic. It turns out Stick is a lovable character:
In the next issue, Daredevil #177, the suggestion about Stick's part in Daredevil's past is made explicit. This old man who is also blind helped train Matt Murdock. In other words, his incredibly heightened senses and honed radar abilities weren't due to the radioactive waste in that car accident — not entirely, at least.
With Stick's help, he's able to once again regain his powers and continue his crimefighting career. And while Daredevil would cross paths with many villains over the year, one of them stands out as his primary antagonist: the Kingpin, who will also be the main bad guy of Netflix's Daredevil series.
Kingpin actually made his Marvel Comics debut in 1967's Spider-Man #50, a classic issue wherein Peter Parker ever-so-briefly decides to hang up his webbed suit and quit being a superhero.
While Spidey may have had good reason for taking a vacation, other sinister forces in New York City view it as an opportunity:
After menacing Spider-Man for some time, Kingpin hops over to the Man Without Fear in Daredevil #170 — also a Frank Miller-penned story. Miller was wise with this choice. Kingpin makes more sense here; Daredevil is more of a street-level superhero than even Spidey, and he's got a special interest in organized crime.
Also, how rad is this cover for the first issue of Daredevil where the Kingpin appears?
What makes this first Kingpin/Daredevil confrontation particularly interesting is the setup. Daredevil hunts down a thug who spills the beans that a contract killing has been issued for Kingpin. At this point, Kingpin has already split from the country, buying a huge mansion in Japan to retire from his life of crime peacefully.
Daredevil is nothing if not constantly caught up in conflicts of interest
What Daredevil doesn't yet know is that Kingpin has been offered diplomatic immunity and a huge payoff by the United States Attorney General in exchange for information on the criminal underworld. And he intends to hire the services of one Nelson and Murdock law firm as his legal representation in this matter.
Daredevil is nothing if not constantly caught up in conflicts of interest.
From here, Kingpin returns to New York and, inevitably, takes up his role in the crime world once more, leading to constant feuding with Daredevil. Kingpin also hires Elektra as his lead assassin, which naturally makes Matt very uncomfortable.
This setup would eventually lead to one of the most iconic and tragic scenes in the series, as Elektra found herself fighting against Kingpin's other lead thug and a consistent Daredevil opponent, Bullseye. The fight goes down in Daredevil #181, culminating in this unforgettable panel:
While that looks bad, Elektra has just enough life left in her to crawl to Matt Murdock's door and die in his arms. You know, just to make it extra heartbreaking for him.
Don't worry too much, though. This is superhero comics; nobody is dead forever.
This series of events also leads to Bullseye beginning to suspect that Matt Murdock and Daredevil might be the same person. This struggle to keep his identity a secret will end up being one of the defining battles in Daredevil's career.
If you've been watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, you might be a little confused as to what the big deal is with secret identities. After all, in that series, Tony Stark publicly reveals himself to be Iron Man in the first film. It seems to set a different status quo from the comics.
Murdock has to convince his two best friends that he secretly had a twin brother named Mike
However, as a lawyer whose business often gets mixed up with his, er, extracurricular activities, keeping his identity secret is essential. The idea of having his name exposed publicly becomes one of his greatest threats.
This is true even as early as the '60s, when Murdock has to convince Foggy and Karen, his two best friends, that he has secretly had a twin brother named Mike all along, without ever mentioning it. He keeps that up for over a year. Seriously.
Oddly enough, it's Karen who ends up blowing Matt's cover in the biggest way. After a few breakups with Murdock and learning his true superhero identity, Karen takes off to Hollywood to become a movie star. Sadly, that dream doesn't work out very well, and she ends up on the streets addicted to heroin. As it turns out, she knows a great way to get her next fix in 1986's Daredevil #227:
Yikes. Naturally, this information makes its way back across the country to Kingpin, who decides it's time to make Matt Murdock's life a living hell. This process includes getting the IRS to freeze his accounts, getting a bank to foreclose on his house, and ruining his career as a lawyer by paying off dirty cops to testify against him.
Curiously, all of this drama eventually ends up restoring Matt and Karen's relationship for a while. They remain on-and-off friends and lovers right up until Karen's death in 1999's relaunched Daredevil #6. The man who kills her? Bullseye, of course.
While Daredevil's identity remains, er, "safe" with Kingpin and his crew for a while, eventually the threat of being outed comes up once again. One of Kingpin's goons turns himself over to the cops and ends up offering up information on Daredevil in exchange for protection. This happens in 2002's Daredevil #32.
The cops put the pieces together, which leads to this wonderful observation:
True enough, man.
So a handful of New York City cops now know Matt Murdock's secret. No big deal, right? They're good guys ... right?
At this point in Daredevil's story, the comic is being written by Brian Michael Bendis, who took the slight film noir bent of Frank Miller's Daredevil stories and ran with it to even greater extremes. That's a fancy way of saying, of course there's at least one dirty cop in the bunch.
So this happens:
That ... that is going to be harder to deal with than one supervillain and a handful of ex-girlfriends knowing your identity.
Anyone who becomes entwined in Daredevil's life is probably headed in a bad direction
Though Murdock sues and wins the court case against the Daily Globe, this revelation of his identity as Daredevil follows him for many years to come. It also eventually leads to a brilliant story arc by Ed Brubaker where Murdock is sent to prison.
It's within this prison arc that Matt's longtime friend Foggy also dies (for a while, at least), beaten to death when he goes to visit Matt in jail. It's not just Daredevil's lovers that meet a grisly fate; basically anyone who becomes entwined in his life is probably headed in a bad direction.
Daredevil has always had shadows over his life, so it seems inevitable that he'd be pushed over the edge eventually. That finally happened in 2010's Shadowland, a Marvel special event wherein Daredevil has taken over a team of ninjas to help him control crime in an increasingly dangerous Hell's Kitchen.
A big focus of the series is around Daredevil's superhero pals debating whether or not Matt Murdock has gone too far. But for readers, that question's answer becomes clear by the end of the Shadowland #1, where Daredevil finally gets even with Bullseye for all the pain he's caused him:
While this may seem like fair game given the literal thousands of murders Bullseye has committed over the course of his comic book career, it's a shocking change of pace for a normally non-lethal Daredevil.
Of course, as Shadowland continues, it is discovered that Daredevil is merely under control of an ancient evil force tied to the clan of ninjas he's teamed up with. Never discount the ability of superhero comics to find a way to bring a hero back from any transgression in order to restore the status quo.
Most recently Daredevil has seen a shift back to the happier, swashbuckling adventures of his early career in a 2014 relaunch of the series by Mark Waid. This has included moving Daredevil over to San Francisco, where he's become a firm ally for the local police as supervillain activity increases on the West Coast.
Keep in mind that everything here is just tidbits — pieces of a few of the most important Daredevil stories from across hundreds of total issues and over 50 years. What does this mean for Netflix's Daredevil series?
All early signs point to Netflix focusing on the darker and more noir elements of Daredevil
Well, we know that this initial season is going to focus on Kingpin, with the ability to bring in characters such as Elektra or Bullseye open for the future. It also sounds like it will definitely take on the street-level focus for Daredevil, making him a quieter and more down-to-earth counterpart to the larger-than-life superheroics of The Avengers.
The Netflix series will also include Karen Page, Foggy, and Kingpin's wife Vanessa as main characters.
All early signs point to Netflix focusing on the darker and more noir elements of Daredevil. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the fight over keeping his identity secret become a major element of the series, especially if they continue with Murdock's career as a lawyer.
One thing's for sure though: We probably won't be seeing Stilt-Man any time soon.
[Information from this article has been gathered from multiple sources, including Marvel Database, Wikipedia, Marvel.com and my own wasted brainspace. I'm sure my college professors would all be very proud. Images in this piece are primarily from Marvel Unlimited and are owned by Marvel.]