Way back when, I wrote something about Netflix’s new series Daredevil. It had just started, I hadn’t seen much of it, so I talked a bit about Daredevil from the comics, how it was influential on other things I read, etc.
The first season was great, it just took a long time for my wife and I to work it into our television-watching schedule. (We usually try to get shows cleared off of our DVR first, since Netflix isn’t necessarily going to make their original shows unavailable.) So it took awhile, then we were done, and I was in the middle of doing my Game of Thrones hiatus/therapy blogging and the time wasn’t right to write about Daredevil.
(Sorry, this is way more detail than you needed. I’m clearly just making excuses for being a slacker. But here’s that article I promised.)
The second season of Daredevil is now available on Netflix, and I need to get started on watching that, but I did want to actually write about Season One before I started on the next adventures of blind lawyer Matt Murdock. I already mentioned that the first season was great and I meant that, but I wasn’t in love with it. At first, I couldn’t really put my finger on why I wasn’t crazy about it.
The casting was great, I enjoyed the action, and I respected that they tried to shy away from over-explaining Matt’s ability to maneuver through the world. I felt that they showed great respect for the character of Wilson Fisk, giving him a backstory rich enough that the show could have been called Kingpin.
Occasionally, I can be self-reflective, and I speculated on what might explain my hard-to-grasp slight-disappointment. Maybe I wanted some more courtroom stuff, which was often a solid element of the comics. Maybe if the pacing had been different (some of Fisk’s scenes with the other syndicate heads felt a bit too repetitive.)
Maybe if Karen’s story had been more compelling. I felt the “smoking gun” of Fisk’s mother not all that much of bombshell, based on her in-and-out mental state. But I’ll admit to being a fan of the actress, one of the bright spots of the otherwise trainwrecky True Blood.
Andy, one of my friends who shares my love for comic books and adjacent properties, tried to watch the show but gave up. It was too violent for him (we all have different thresholds of what we want to see, I respect that.) He also felt that the show was too dark. Not in the sense of lighting and cinematography, but in tone.
I thought about the validity of his statements. I’d read a lot of dark, depressing Daredevil comics. Andy elaborated that since the show was presenting the debut of Matt Murdock as Daredevil, my friend had wanted to see something that reminded him of the early Daredevil comics. When the acrobatic hero was more quippy. And had this sense of joy about him, despite his tragic background.
I realized that I was subconsciously missing something in the show’s tone, the thing that was the basis of my still-liking the quality of the show but not fully loving it.
As Andy had pointed out, Daredevil was joyless.
For me this is a big deal, because Daredevil’s nickname is the Man without Fear. So what does joy have to do with this? I’ll get to joy in a moment, but let me first talk about fear.
Big Emphasis on the Devil in Season One; Not So Much on the Dare
The name Daredevil has the connotation of daring, of taking risks. Fear is something that complicates risk-taking, and usually fear is something that gets dealt with by a person’s courage, the ability to manage fear and not let it get in the way of getting things done.
Matt Murdock is blind, but his enhanced senses (plus something extra) compensate nearly 100%. And there is an additional advantage. Humans are wired to respond to visual stimuli, to recoil from things we see with which we’ve had some kind of fear association. The extent of this varies from person to person: we all know people who aren’t necessarily afraid of bugs, but we also know people that are almost unreasonably afraid of spiders for example, and can’t bear to even see a picture of one.
Matt doesn’t have these problems, because he is faced with no visual information. He perceives his surroundings in a less emotionally charged, more neutral way, which helps when he needs to jump down an elevator shaft or leap across alleys without hesitating.
So, what about joy? I mentioned that courage is a way of managing fear, and that quality is not really fear’s opposite. I might allege that a very brave person by definition is also very, very afraid but is managing that fear. If they aren’t afraid, are they really that brave?
Someone might be too foolish or unaware to recognize risks so stupidity might be the opposite of fear, and I don’t want to discount that, but to me joy is an emotional force that reduces fear. It’s hard to be afraid when one is having fun. Which might explain roller-coasters.
Certainly, Matt Murdock has the intellectual capacity to recognize dangers and weigh risks, even if he is not emotionally afraid of the situation. (I wanted to establish that Matt is not foolish or unaware.) But joy would reduce that intellectual fear.
But why am I alleging that Matt Murdock should be joyful? He’s had a tragic life. That’s a fair point, but in his first appearance in Marvel comics, Matt was an optimistic young man, despite his accidental blindness, despite the tragedy of his father’s death.
There was an exuberance found in him, and it would manifest in entertaining ways, like his fondness for traveling across rooftops as Daredevil with his (apparently wrinkle and stain proof) professional clothes wrapped in a ball and bounced along his path or flung into space as a challenge for him to recover in mid-air.
Often his fights would present him as being as fond of quips and banter as Spider-Man. (This might be an artifact of how the Marvel writers wrote dialogue for archetypes, and not actual humans.)
Daredevil was a very smile-prone character. I think early on, he had reserves of joy, and when combined with his blindness made him the Man without Fear. As opposed to the Man with Anxiety-Coping Skills.
The nature of Daredevil changed, I think, when Frank Miller took over. This isn’t a complaint against Miller, his Daredevil is certainly legit.
Eventually, Matt was pretty much ground down, with much of the joy squeezed out of him. But by then, he had enough confidence, experience, and maturity that he wasn’t likely to encounter a situation that would make him afraid. He’d survived so much, and being fearless was nearly second-nature. (Maybe that’s a cousin to stupidity, in a way. Maybe I’ll think more on post-Miller Daredevil.)
I guess I have to get used to the TV Daredevil skipping over the pre-Miller years, with its lighter tone.
I guess it’s something I miss since the show has gone all-in on Matt and his Catholic upbringing. The show certainly embraces the guilt associations, which is good because Matt’s confessional interactions with the local and sympathetic priest gives our hero the chance to articulate what would otherwise be presented as thought balloons. But religion is more than just a thing that makes one feel guilty. (Or so I’ve been told, I’m pretty non-religious. Feel free to challenge my assumptions.) It can be a source of joy or strength, and if you have a hero with religion, then the stories should try to leverage that in more ways than one.
As it is, we get a lot of the devil going on, and very little of the corresponding angel. (My wife told me that watching Daredevil reminded her of watching Joss Whedon’s Buffy spin-off Angel, with an equally brooding hero. And lawyers.)
The grimness isn’t enough to put me off the show, and I can respect the show runners wanted a specific tone for their seasons, one that will be in sync with the gritty stories that they want to tell.
I probably sound like I’m complaining, but I really don’t mean to be.
I just don’t see the need to talk about all the things that I liked, which are numerous. Probably the things that I found great about the show, everyone else has found great as well.
I haven’t read much about season 2 (and have seen none of it so far), but I certainly have heard no complaints about Elodie Yung as Elektra. Maybe there is some joy for Matt on the horizon.
And also tragedy. Then depression. That’s inescapable. Particularly without joy.
Images from Marvel’s Daredevil (both television and the comics)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved