Marvel transforms ‘Daredevil’ into dark, gritty television series

In case you somehow missed the massive viral marketing campaign, television spots and billboards, Marvel (creative home of “The Avengers”) has adapted the long-running adventures of its character Daredevil into a 13-episode Netflix series.

Created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in 1964, Daredevil is Matt Murdock, a lawyer blinded in a childhood accident involving chemical waste, who gains superhuman radar senses.

Murdock maintains a law practice by day with his partner, Foggy Nelson, and dawns a horned cowl at night to fight crime and corruption in New York City.

While never reaching the popularity of fellow street-level NYC hero Spider-Man, Daredevil, the “man without fear,” has been a fixture on comic book racks for half a century, boasting work by some of the industry’s most celebrated creators including Frank Miller, Gene Colon, Mark Waid, David Mazzucchelli, Brian Michael Bendis, Wally Wood and John Romita.

While firmly set in the same universe as the Avengers, who are passingly referenced throughout the series, the Netflix version of Daredevil distances itself from the popcorn family-friendly format of the Marvel’s other films and reaches into the darkness.

It is a gritty, edge-of-your-seat crime drama first and a fun superhero story second. To use an overused but relevant cliché, Daredevil holds no punches.

The fight sequences are rough, real and unlike anything seen yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The single-shot hallway fight in the second episode will leave you gasping for air. This show is not for the squeamish.

It avoids the linear origin story format and moves the current story ahead and flashes back when needed.

The series format lends itself very well to a superhero story, allowing for so much more depth and nuance to the characters and situations than is capable in a two-hour movie. There are truly heartbreaking moments and a sense that no character is safe.

The series embraces the darkness brought to the character by “Sin City” creator Miller but doesn’t ignore moments of levity (especially in interactions between fledgling business partners Nelson and Murdock), a hallmark of the early years and Waid’s current run.

The character work is the heart of the show. Each character is introduced as a fully-formed human being. The series doesn’t suffer from unsure characterization, common in many first seasons.

The writing, helmed by veteran television writers Drew Goddard and Steven DeKnight, is informed by 50 years of comics and complemented by excellent casting and acting.

Charlie Cox’s Murdock is a charming but guilt-ridden Catholic trying to atone for his sins and save his city. Elden Henson’s Nelson is a goofy, likeable everyman. Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page, the lead female protagonist, experiences tremendous growth throughout the season and is vital to the plot.

The character relationships are constantly growing and being challenged by the events of the story. The two standouts of the series are Vondie Curtis-Hall’s Ben Urich, a tired reporter weighed down by his journalistic convictions, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, the childish monster Kingpin of crime. D’Onofrio, turns in a menacing performance which, though lacking super abilities or weaponized armor, establishes Fisk as the most terrifying villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Daredevil is a brutal thrill ride through the dark corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which cannot be missed.