Monday, June 29, 2015

W.B. as couch potato: Marvel's Daredevil

Over the closing credits of the television program Marvel’s Daredevil is a “thank you” to Brian Michael Bendis, Gene Colan, Klaus Janson, Alex Maleez, David Mazzucchelli, Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, John Romita Jr., John Romita Sr., and Joe Orlando.
And appropriately so: The series oozes with the imagery those creators pressed into the classic comic book stories that pushed the envelope of what comic books stories could be.
I needed to pause after watching three episodes of the 13-episode first season (available since April via Netflix) because of the over-the-top violence of these TV stories, which were faithful to the original. When I moved on, I had to watch alone because my dear companion does not have the tolerance to watch such scenes of simulated butchery and inhumanity, no matter how compelling the overriding story is.
After watching that third episode, “Rabbit in a Snowstorm,” I wrote:

A story that begins with a man’s head being crushed with a bowling ball concludes with the murderer killing himself by jamming his eye into a sharp spike. The fist fights are graphic and prolonged and quiet save for the grunts, shouts and screams of pain and the sound of bones cracking and snapping. This is entertainment?
The mystery and intrigue are extremely well done, but the violence is over-the-top graphic. Perhaps this is good – too often comic book violence is sanitized to the point where it looks like inconsequential fun – but one has to ask whether the well-told story is worth enduring the extreme realism of the violence.
When what passes for entertainment crushes the soul, is it entertainment anymore or some variation of pornography? I need to decide whether the story is worth enduring the ugly parts.
This is certainly not the kind of story I want to create – I need to consider whether it’s the kind of story I want to finish watching.
The awful violence of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (*the Swedish version) served the story of that outstanding film. To this point the awful violence of Daredevil seems gratuitous to me.
On the other hand, the show’s creators dare to be out on the edge – they know this won’t appeal to everyone but choose to tell this story this way.

And so I soldiered on through episodes 4-13, slowly because I had to find times both when my beloved wasn’t around and when I was in the mood for watching a violent TV program. In the end, I’m glad I stuck around to watch.
The cast must be applauded. Charlie Cox makes Matt Murdock/DD the role of a lifetime, conveying incredible emotion with his eyes hidden almost all of the time. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson bring to life characters who are astonishingly faithful to those we followed on four-color pages all those years ago.
(Wally Conger says this may be the most faithful interpretation of a comic book series onto the screen ever. I don’t disagree.)
When I first saw the words “And Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk,” I knew the show had the potential for magic. Few actors portray disturbing characters with the depth and humanity that D’Onofrio brings to the screen, and my highest expectations were met. D’Onofrio’s Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) is true to the vision that those 10 comic book creators crafted through the years.
Although his name is on the opening credits from the start, D’Onofrio does not actually appear until that third episode, in a stroke of creative genius. And even then he only appears in the final sequence, a scene that only hints at what is ahead. My desire to watch Fisk unfold may be the reason I decided to proceed to the fourth episode and beyond.
Daredevil – especially as reinterpreted starting with the Frank Miller issues and most especially starting around issue #170, when Miller reinvented the Spider-Man villain as Daredevil’s nemesis – inhabits the darkest corners of the Marvel Comics universe, and so this is a dark, dark show. No one gets through this fight unaltered or unhurt. It’s often painful to watch, but ultimately it is a spectacular triumph, one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen.

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