Thursday, November 17, 2016

Exploring the Marvel Netflix Shows: Part One (Beginnings and Daredevil Season One)

I grew up a comic book fan, beginning with Marv Wolfman's Teen Titans in the 80s, with my interests moving over to Marvel and Chris Claremont's X-Men as I hit adolescence.  Although I stopped reading comics during the early 90s (for a variety of reasons), I never lost interest in the genre and since the advent of the Marvel movies I've started reading them again.  What I like about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that it is designed a lot like comic books themselves, with interweaving threads of stories and characters.  Out of all the current expressions of the MCU the Netflix shows are my favourite--the ultimate highlight of the format.  The fan service surrounding these shows lack collated, contextualized, and expository material, so what follows addresses those elements.

The Marvel Netflix project was announced in 2013—five years after the MCU debuted with Iron Man, and roughly at the same time as ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (AoS) hit the airwaves.  Much like the beginnings of the movie-MCU, there were many unknowns venturing into the Netflix world of Marvel properties.  Most of the characters involved were obscure and the one known property (Daredevil) had a long sequence of previous failures (in 2012 Marvel tried to make a deal with Fox that would allow them to retain the rights in exchange for Galactus and Silver Surfer).  It's not unfair to say that Netflix was the place for castaways, particularly as it was given much less direct movie support than ABC's AoS.  It's somewhat ironic that the neglected side of the Marvel TV universe has become far more successful than its network brethren.  When the Netflix announcement was made, only Daredevil was popular enough to support his own comic book (all four characters shared a connection having been members of the New Avengers (2010-12), written by Jessica Jones' creator Brian Michael Bendis).  The original Netflix plan was a solo season for each of the street-level heroes DaredevilJessica JonesIron Fist, and Luke Cage, leading into The Defenders team-up (the latter two titles were flipped in order of appearance to capitalise off of Mike Colter's popularity post-Jessica Jones).

As for the idea of The Defenders itself, it's an interesting choice, as the comic book versions of the team and its mission are radically different.  The Netflix lineup is much closer to Heroes for Hire, but it's easy to see why Marvel wanted a more dramatic team title for its heroes (especially as an echo of The Avengers).  As for the adaptation of the characters themselves, each show has stayed close to the core of its character, with changes more apparent in the stories themselves and the supporting cast.

The conceit of the MCU is that it's all connected, but there's been a disconnect between the television side and the movies.  Jeph Loeb is the head of the television arm of the MCU; because of the way Disney does things, he does not report to MCU movie mogul Kevin Feige, but rather to the much-maligned Ike Perlmutter.  It's difficult to see Perlmutter's fingerprints on the Netflix shows, unlike his interference with the movies, but I believe the acrimony between Feige and Perlmutter are at the heart of why the movies refuse to acknowledge the TV side of the MCU (particularly evident in all the drama surrounding the Inhumans).

There has been no direct crossover between the network Marvel shows and Netflix as yet, and very few references (only Daredevil has any for AoS, which is the same in reverse--the first such AoS reference of a Netflix property is explained below, another is here, and the final one is to the Punisher character Micro).  According to reports the failure to have the characters crossover is a result of red tape (although Jeph Loeb has teased the possibility).

There's a clear effort at increasing diversity in the shows, with various characters changing race (and in one case, gender); eight in total by my count, as well as plucking obscure characters from the Marvel files to better reflect actual diversity.  I think the Netflix approach is a good one in this respect--meaningful changes are made without pandering.


Daredevil Season One (April 10, 2015)

Chronologically the show fits between Guardians of the Galaxy and before Age of Ultron in the MCU.  Daredevil is one of Marvel’s oldest characters, debuting back in 1964 (created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett).  A well-known property, compared to the other three characters he was the safest pick; both seasons of his series have felt closest to their comic book counterpart.  I believe the primary reason Daredevil was available for television adaptation was due to how poorly the 2003 Ben Affleck Fox-vehicle was received.  Unlike the other three characters, Daredevil has appeared in live action media before, such as the TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989, played by Rex Smith, whose ninja-like costume was subsequently borrowed by Frank Miller and is used throughout most of the first Netflix season), as well as the aforementioned film.

Originally Drew Goddard was picked as the showrunner, but he left the project to helm Sony's Sinister Six (which never came to fruition).  Steven S. DeKnight replaced him, with Goddard serving as a consultant (and writer of the opening two episodes).  Goddard has returned to the Marvel Netflix family as an executive producer on The Defenders, but although DeKnight expressed interest in The Punisher he lost out to Steve Lightfoot.  Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, who served as a writers for this season, would co-run season two (as they will The Defenders and Daredevil season three).

There’s a heavy Whedon-verse presence among the writers for this season (perhaps an echo of AoS, where Joss' brother remains in charge), as both the showrunner and two other writers have that background (collectively writing seven episodes).  Daredevil also has a strong crime show element and two of the writers brought that experience to the table (Gage and Gage).  DeKnight said he wasn’t interested in following a specific comic storyline, but rather taking elements and themes and moving forward with that (I've seen people argue that this season owes a lot to "Marked for Death" (Daredevil 159-164), but other than the origin story I don't see it).

Credited Writers (with selected prior credits)

Steven S. DeKnight (showrunner; writer on Buffy; he wrote, produced, and directed Spartacus)
Drew Goddard (another Buffy alum, Lost, writer/director of The Cabin in the Woods and later screenwriter of The Martian)
Marco Ramirez (Sons of Anarchy, would become the co-showrunner for season two)
Douglas Petrie (Buffy alum who would become the co-showrunner for season two)
Joe Pokaski (comic book writer, but also a writer on Heroes)
Christos Gage (comic book writer who also wrote for Law & Order SVU)
Luke Kalteux (worked on both Hangover movies)
Ruth Fletcher Gage (Law & Order SVU, Numb3rs, and Breed)

1 – “Into the Ring” Drew Goddard
2 – “Cut Man” Drew Goddard
3 – “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” Marco Ramirez
4 – “In the Blood” Joe Pokaski
5 – “World on Fire” Luke Kalteux
6 – “Condemned” Joe Pokaski & Marco Ramirez
7 – “Stick” Douglas Petrie
8 – “Shadows in the Glass” Steven S. DeKnight
9 – “Speak of the Devil” Christos Gage & Ruth Fletcher Gage
10 – “Nelson vs. Murdock” Luke Kalteux
11 – “The Path of the Righteous” Steven S. DeKnight & Douglas Petrie
12 – “The Ones We Leave Behind” Douglas Petrie
13 – “Daredevil” Steven S. DeKnight

Notable Easter Eggs

[I've noted which episode these occur via brackets--so (1) refers to episode one]

We see Rand Corps (an Iron Fist reference) on the truck that spills chemicals on Matt Murdock (1); Carl Creel (Absorbing Man in the comics, an original Daredevil villain who had already appeared in AoS) is referenced in a poster (2); there's a nod to Bullseye via a playing card used by a sniper (6); Asano Robotics appears on a shipping container (7) and is a Steel Serpent (Iron Fist) reference; Saint Agnes orphanage (7), where Murdock is raised after his father's death, is also the orphanage where AoS's Daisy Johnson (aka Quake) grew up; the symbol and name Steel Serpent (Iron Fist) is used on the heroin Madame Gao is selling (9/12); Leland mentions "Richmond" (9), referring to Kyle Richmond (Nighthawk); there's an Elektra reference (10) that actually fails because of the casting for season two (she's clearly meant to be the Greek girlfriend Matt had); the Roxxon Corps (10) is referenced (having appeared in AoSAgent Carter and Iron Man); Cornelius Van Lunt (Taurus) is mentioned by Owlsley (10), whose name also appears on the door of Nelson & Murdock (12); Stilt Man's legs (13) are shown in Potter's shop (another original Daredevil villain)

Total number of overt and subtle nods to the other Marvel shows (including characters noted below): Iron Fist: 4, Agents of SHIELD: 2, Luke Cage: 1, Jessica Jones: 0

There is no set-up for Jessica Jones (nor did season two link to Luke Cage); there are, however, notable Iron Fist links (originally the third series to debut).  Another oddity is that Daredevil is the only Netflix show to reference AoS (doing so in both seasons, with those efforts reciprocated).

Select Character Notes and Impressions

Personal history: despite being an avid comic reader in the late 80s and early 90s, I read very little  Daredevil at the time (during the bulk of Ann Nocenti's run).  Despite not reading very much directly about the character, I was very aware of him and came into the series knowing a great deal.  Since then I've caught up with the relevant parts of the comic book.
  • Matt Murdock/Daredevil: the titular character is a blend of comic versions (rather than a slavish adaptation of a particular one); his origin is largely from Roger McKenzie's Daredevil 164 (with a change of Matt's age when it happened); the performance by Charlie Cox is excellent, only overshadowed by D'Onofrio's Fisk
  • Wilson Fisk/Kingpin: an entirely new origin was created for the long-time Marvel villain (who originally debuted in Spider-Man), with nods to his comic book origin (such as Rigoletto, created by Miller in his 90s run, whose operation Fisk takes over); his powerful portrayal is matched only by Kilgrave's in Jessica Jones and I can only hope we get to see him again as the central villain
  • Franklin "Foggy" Nelson: very like his comic book counterpart; he's a weak link this season (improving considerably in season two), but not so much that he hurts the narrative
  • Karen Page: she has a very tumultuous comic book history (particularly in Miller's "Born Again"), but the darkest elements are smartly ignored here; the show does a good job of giving strength to a character whose purpose isn't punching people and could easily have fallen into the "damsel in distress" category
  • Claire Temple: a minor Luke Cage character who became Bill Foster's (aka Giant Man) wife; here the name seems like a fill-in for Night Nurse (Christine Palmer, Linda Carter, or Georgia Jenkins), as Netflix was not allowed to use that character because one of her namesakes was appearing in Doctor Strange (Christine Palmer)
  • Ben Urich: long running ubiquitous supporting character is race swapped (he's white in the comics); he's still very much alive in the comics and debuted as a Daredevil character; the performance here is excellent (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and his death at the hands of Fisk is a tough loss
  • Jack Murdock: hearkens back to the original version of Matt's father (which is also Roger McKenzie's and Jeph Loeb's), rather than the darker retcon during Frank Miller's run
  • Father Lantom: an obscure, fairly modern (2005) Runaways/Cloak & Dagger character with no direct connection to Daredevil (a suitable add given the Catholic element of Matt's character)
  • James Wesley: simply "Wesley" in the comics, where his connection to Fisk is similar (he also has a connection to Frank Simpson (Nuke, who appears in Jessica Jones) that isn't used here); he's not dead in the comics; the performance was excellent (Toby Leonard Moore) and I'm sad we won't see more of the character
  • Madame Gao (aka Crane Mother): an Iron Fist character slated to appear in the upcoming show; she's a fairly new creation (2007)
  • Leland Owlsley (the Owl in the comics): originally a Daredevil villain who is still alive in the comics (as opposed to his death by Fisk); his TV son remains a possible link to the costumed version; I enjoyed Bob Gunton's performance
  • Nobu Yoshioka: in part based on Kagenobu Yoshioka from the comics (who appeared twice in a little known 2004 Elektra comic--his permanent death in season two echoes his death there), but also borrows from Frank Miller's Hand assassin Kirigi (although he is destroyed by fire in the comic, which he survives here); Peter Shinkoda's performance is pretty cartoony, albeit that fits most of what we've seen from the Hand
  • Vanessa Marianna: her comic book inspiration recently died (2016); she's been adapted somewhat, as in the comics she disapproves of Fisk's criminal work, whereas in the show she embraces it (a welcome change to my mind); she's more independent in the show
  • Melvin Potter (the Gladiator in the comics): plenty of hints at his costumed identity; he's also an original Daredevil villain
  • Turk Barrett: very similar to his comic book version (he's another Daredevil original character)
  • Brett Mahoney: an obscure and fairly new comic character (2007) with no connection to Daredevil
  • Mitchell Ellison: created for the show as Urich's boss (who would be J. Jonah Jameson if they followed the comics, something impossible here); I think his role as a foil for Urich is poorly thought out and makes his behaviour in season two difficult to follow
  • Marci Stahl: has no precedent in the comic (Foggy has a wife he ultimately divorces, but the character is completely different); they've continued to use her in season two and I think she has potential for growth
  • Josie: a Daredevil character who simply hasn't appeared enough to be compared to her comic book counterpart
  • Stone: briefly seen member of the Chaste, he's a Daredevil character who we haven't seen enough of to know if his portrayal will be the same
  • Randolph Cherryh: the corrupt senator is straight out of Miller's Daredevil
  • John Healy: a show-creation (unless he's a nod to Hawkeye villain Oddball), I bring up this one-episode villain only because I really enjoyed the performance (Alex Morf) and was sad to see him killed off
The Ranskahov brothers, Elena Cardenas, Carl Hoffman, and Christian Blake were all created for the show

Comic Book Story Influences

There's not much direct borrowing for the main plot (Fisk's disinclination to have people say his name seems inspired from Miller in Daredevil 170).  Matt Murdock is not Frank Miller's anti-hero, although his creations the Hand and Stick appear largely as-is; Miller is also the one who made Wilson Fisk a major Daredevil villain, and many elements of his version of the character (Daredevil 170-172) are here, such as his fanatical devotion to Vanessa.  Fisk's desire for a better Hell's Kitchen is an excellent show-creation, as is his family background and presumed rise to criminal power.  Matt's origin is largely borrowed from Roger McKenzie's Daredevil 164 and Jeph Loeb's "Daredevil: Yellow", rather than Miller's "The Man Without Fear" (which includes physical abuse and Jack being a criminal).  Just like the 2003 Ben Affleck movie (and "Man Without Fear"), Jack dies while Matt is still a child (as opposed to when he's graduating high school or in law school).

Critical Reception

Rotten Tomatoes (RT) score (critics/fans): 98/96
These scores aren't the be-all, end-all of assessment, but simply an indicator of critical and fan reaction.  I'd take the critical score with a grain of salt (AoS somehow has 100% each of its last two seasons, which is absurd).


As would be the case for all the Netflix shows, the directing, cinematography, and caliber of acting is excellent.  The fight choreography was extremely good with the hallway fight this season mirrored by all other shows/seasons save Jessica Jones.  The narrative flow and plot through-line is very effective, suffering none of the disjointedness of the following season.  Charlie Cox is unquestionably the best Daredevil to date, but Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk is the ultimate standout.  I thought the show did a good job avoiding making Karen a damsel in distress (we see none of the craziness of Miller's "Born Again"), and this solicitude for supporting characters is another staple seen throughout the Netflix shows (albeit Daredevil doesn't have as many secondary plotlines as, for example, Jessica Jones).


There's not much to criticise about the season.  Elden Henson's (Foggy) performance was wooden (his best moment is in episode five interacting with Marci Stahl), as was Scott Glenn (Stick).  I wasn't a fan of Turk Barrett being involved with human trafficking, which is a step further than his typically bumbling character usually goes.  Otherwise I have no complaints.

[If you spot any errors or omissions, please let me know!]

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)


  1. This is well researched and insightful. How did they compare to the old comics that you have? You seem to say the are as good as the original series.

  2. They're generally better than the source material (the comics)