Daredevil 101

Written by: Laura Sneddon


A new Daredevil is on his way, eight years after his last outing met mixed reviews.  Speculation is rife: which comic will inspire the new film? The main contender is Frank Miller’s Born Again – gritty and dark, a noir tale of madness and redemption.

For those of you who only know of Daredevil through the last movie rather than the comics (how dare you), here’s a Daredevil 101.

Daredevil

Unlike the majority of superheroes, Daredevil had a unique aspect to him right from his inception in the 60s that allowed the audience to really empathise with him. Sure, his swinging though the streets of New York and heightened radar sense was all a little similar to a friendly neighbourhood webslinger, and perhaps his smitten secretary and clumsy pal was a tad reminiscent of a certain man in an iron suit, but one thing Daredevil did have that no other hero could lay claim to, was his working class background. Daredevil was a poor kid who had to climb out of the gutter to reach success. And for superheroes, that was pretty much unheard of.

Daredevil’s whole focus is on the area he grew up in, Hell’s Kitchen: a gritty neighbourhood of Manhattan known for its high population of the poor and uneducated. And unlike his super pals, Daredevil has never taken on the whole world or even the whole city, which perhaps adds to the realism that exists around the character. Whichever storyline is used in the new film, the setting will be here.

Like Spidey, Matt’s transition to superheroism comes through a dose of radioactivity. Saving an old man from being run over by a truck, young Matt is blinded by the radioactive waste that falls from the vehicle. In the original comics, Matt’s other senses compensate far beyond what any normal person could achieve, though this was later scaled back to be more believable (though he can still read writing by running his fingers across ink. With gloves on). Shortly afterwards Matt’s boxing star father is killed for not throwing a fight due to his son being in the audience, and his son sets out for great justice.

As with most Superheroes, Matt keeps his secret identity, well, secret. Mostly. By day he is a hotshot lawyer, determined to bring justice to the people by whatever means necessary. The death of a parent or guardian as motivation for justice is a common enough trope: Batman and Spider-Man are two notable examples. But unlike others, Matt takes his day job just as seriously as his night-time antics, and he soon has his own law firm with his best pal Foggy Nelson.

Early Daredevil was like much of early Marvel: camp and silly, but always fun. In 1979 everything changed, when upcoming artist Frank Miller lobbied to get himself a spot on the Daredevil team; by ’81 he was the writer and penciller for the title. Miller infused Daredevil with his own film noir style (he would sit for hours on rooftops sketching to get in Daredevil’s mind), the stories and themes becoming darker by the issue, and it’s really from this point onwards that we can see the stories that transition best to the big screen.

The bad guys became more realistic too; the costumed superpowered villains were shown the door while the Kingpin and his cohorts in organised crime moved in. It was Miller too who introduced ninjas to Daredevil’s world, showing how the sensei Stick had guided young Matt after his blindness took hold, and trained him as a ninja warrior. Matt possesses no actual super powers and the best Daredevil comics are those that steer clear of those who do.

Miller also created Elektra, a ninja assassin who stole Matt’s heart and made an appearance in the last film. Daredevil’s penchant for the ladies is perhaps his greatest weakness; time and time again he has fallen for the bad girl only to lose her. Dating Matt is dangerous business: four of his squeezes died during or after their relationship with Matt, while out of the others, one was beaten badly by Matt and two were driven insane. There’s a term in comics called “Women in Refrigerators” which was coined to register the dismay at how many female characters were killed or hurt solely as a plot point for a male character. Daredevil has a very large refrigerator. Whatever plot is chosen for the film, love interests will not be short on the ground.

Director David Slade has made clear that his upcoming Daredevil feature will bear no resemblance whatsoever to the last outing. This could well be an indication that we will see a new interpretation of the origin story and the villains, or we could still be jumping straight into the action this time around. Either way we live in hope that the costume will be less shiny.

There are plenty of comics that could inspire the new screenplay, and really you should be reading these comics anyway. Right now. After Miller took the reigns, Daredevil has never looked back; a modern collection of old hornhead is one of great stories and fabulous art.

Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli remains the top Daredevil title, and also the best comic to start with. This is the arc that Miller returned for, and the closest (until recently) that Matt had come to complete paranoid insanity. Kingpin executes a grand masterplan for destroying Matt’s life after extracting Daredevil’s secret identity from one of Matt’s past loves. Karen, now a heroin addicted porn star (ahem, refrigerator calling) comes back to warn Matt and as the action gathers pace we even see a brief visit from Captain America. With Matt (and Daredevil) being completely discredited and tormented before inevitably fighting back, and the snappy tagline “a man without hope is a man without fear”, it’s easy to see why this is a frontrunner.

Daredevil: The Man without Fear by Miller and John Romita Jr is probably what the last film should have been. Matt’s relationship with his father, his torment at the hands of bullies, and the accident that changed his life are all laid bare here. This is essential origins reading, and could well be combined with Born Again for a complete origins to redemption tale.

Daredevil Vol 1-3 by Miller contains the whole of Miller’s run and really is a must read for both fans of Daredevil and fans of Miller. The writer is perhaps best known for The Dark Knight Returns comic which inspired Nolan’s Batman trilogy; it would be wise indeed for the new Daredevil team to look to the master for cinematic success.

Daredevil: Yellow by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale provides an alternate origins tale, taking a more tender approach to Matt’s formative years and relationship with Karen. This does contradict The Man Without Fear in parts, but it is a loving homage to the original Daredevil of Stan Lee years, and Jeph Loeb is always a writer worth reading. The focus on the early romance between Matt and Karen adds extra tragedy to the later stories, which would translate well on screen.

Daredevil: Guardian Devil by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada sees Matt turning to his Catholic faith after Karen leaves him, and becoming the unwilling caretaker of a baby who he is told is either the Messiah or the Antichrist. It’s a bit of a departure from the previous comics to say the least, but when Karen returns to reveal she has been diagnosed with HIV, and his best friend Foggy is arrested for murder, it all starts to feel very familiar. The ending makes this an unlikely choice for the film, but there are some great aspects to this one that can easily be lifted; the torment of Matt’s mind, combined this time with his guilt over his faith, along with the heartbreaking resolution of his relationship with Karen are all great plot points.

Daredevil: Fall of the Kingpin by D.G. Chichester, Lee Weeks and Al Williamson is a little harder to get a hold of but certainly worth tracking down. While Born Again saw the Kingpin seek to destroy Matt, here the tables are turned as Daredevil increasingly steps over the line on a revenge mission to utterly tear down the crime boss. This is a pretty intense one, with Matt veering dangerously close to villainy while the Kingpin becomes almost victimised. Matt’s treatment of Typhoid Mary in particular is hard to stomach, but the clever plotting makes this a must read instalment. If Matt does turn to the dark side on the screen, there is a lot of inspiration to be found here.

Daredevil: Parts of a Hole by David Mack sees the introduction of the popular character Echo, a deaf woman who can perfectly mimic any movement she sees, including fighting styles. Echo was raised by the Kingpin after the crime boss murdered her father; he later tells her that Daredevil was the culprit but she falls in love with Matt while unwittingly enacting the Kingpin’s plans. On discovering the Kingpin’s lies, she confronts him and wounds him badly before fleeing. If the new film were to accept that the Kingpin has already been introduced and has deduced Daredevil’s identity, this could play very well.

Daredevil: Underboss by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev is another success from Bendis but is honestly worth reading for Maleev’s outstanding artwork alone. The now blind Kingpin is betrayed by his lackeys, stabbed Caesar style, and a contract has been put on Daredevil’s head. This is a gritty non-linear crime noir, and perhaps one of the best arcs yet. The fanboys (and girls) went absolutely wild for this; the dialogue and atmosphere of this one has much to offer any new screen outing.

Daredevil: Out by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev follows on directly from Underboss. The new crime lord in charge soon finds himself out of his depth and runs to the FBI to divulge his most valuable secret: the identity of Daredevil. The press get a hold of the story and Matt’s cover is well and truly blown. There’s only one thing to do: fight as only a lawyer can! Deny, deny, deny. The outing of a superhero hasn’t really been covered before on screen and would make interesting viewing indeed.

Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark had a hard act to follow, but with the Captain America writer at the helm this was a runaway success. Hailed as one of the best runs since Miller, this arc sees Matt incarcerated in the Ryker’s Island prison for superhumans. Confronted with the various villains he has helped imprison, Matt has to try and convince everyone that he is not the vigilante Daredevil. Back in Hell’s Kitchen, someone else had donned the costume for unknown reasons. This tense prison drama doesn’t really fit for the next film, but there is a lot of great character work in Brubaker’s run that is fine inspiration for an edgier Daredevil.

After that we’re into the more up to date Andy Diggle run that takes us through the Shadowland mini-event, but as the focus there is split across many heroes it’s unlikely to be taken into account for movie making at this stage. But if this film is a success, and we are all hoping it will be, who knows how many of these might just make it to the cinema?




Author: Laura Sneddon

Freelance writer. Comic geek, film addict, metal head, book worm, gamer. I sell books and write. I'd prefer to write books and sell. Known for writing about women in comics: www.comicbookgrrrl.com

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Responses to Daredevil 101

  1. ChristineNo Gravatar

    Great summary! Let’s hope they can really make this movie work.

    A small comment though: Matt takes his gloves off to read these days (and has for the last decade at least), and thank God for that. 😉

  2. Laura SneddonNo Gravatar

    Thanks!

    Ah, good to know. I remember raising my eyebrow about that in the past but couldn’t remember if he had (or hadn’t) done it in more recent runs!


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