The Daredevil All the Time
The now-culturally acceptable practice of revisiting Netflix's Marvel's Daredevil.
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Picture me sitting in a packed theatre for a screening of Spider-Man: No Way Home sitting next to my mother awaiting the inevitable: gratuitous cameos and appearances from a couple of guys from those other movies and/or TV shows. That TV shows bit is in reference to someone in particular. Everything feels like a reference to something else, and not in an Abed from Community way.
So there I am, after J. Jonah Jameson facilitated the doxxing of a teenager by disgruntled Stark Industries employee Guy From All Too Well, and I gasped so embarrassingly loud that I got looks from the family sitting in front of us. I gasped because Charlie Cox was in the film as Matt Murdock giving Peter Parker legal advice. Matt Murdock! Of the law firm Nelson and Murdock! The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen! Daredevil himself! He caught a brick and gave a quip and was still the thing I remembered the most about that film!
Of course, I immediately started thinking about how Aunt May would know Mr. Murdock. Does he help out with her soup kitchen/shelter? Do they order larb from the same Thai joint? Do they get brunch together? These are the questions I want answers to. I would actually watch several hours of Charlie Cox and Marisa Tomei doing mundane things around New York. But I digress.
Like any regular person would, I started rewatching Daredevil on Netflix. Or rather, Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. The politics of Netlfix-Disney-Fox-Sony rights disputes are both depressing to me and incredibly boring. Media and entertainment as we know it are receding into a sexless version of Old Hollywood’s studio system—all dollar signs without the drama, leaving everything so perilous for goons such as myself to break into the industry. Everything feels so sanitized, divisive for all the wrong reasons, and bland. Daredevil, to me, is the last great American on-screen superhero. And Charlie Cox is British.
Daredevil follows lawyer-by-day and vigilante-by-night Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as he tries to juggle keeping his native Hell’s Kitchen safe from evil, be it in the courtroom or on the streets. Murdock (as Daredevil) never wants to kill his enemies, only wound them or get them off the streets. He is also a big slut1.
The appeal of Daredevil is that he’s this sexy blind lawyer who had it hard growing up, pulled himself up by the bootstraps to essentially refuse to live like his father, a troubled boxer who was done in by organized crime, and wrestle with his own inner demons as well as the kind of people that killed his father. He is a Catholic before he is a vigilante, before he’s anything else, really. He’s a relatively regular person, unlike (as Luke Cage put it) “the big green guy and his crew”. Matt isn’t bankrolled by some billionaire (yet) nor is he a fancy scientist, spy, or former army brat. Matt lives in the real world and gets by with his fists and Russian acrobat parkour as opposed to Stark-brand gizmos, serums (skincare notwithstanding), and whatever the hell it is Hawkeye does.
Matt is just a Catholic boy from Hell’s Kitchen, and he will never let you or himself forget it2.
Accompanying him on his perilous world of cosplaying Law & Order: SVU is college body and legal partner Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson (Elden Henson) and office manager turned journalist Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). At night, when he’s bloodying his fists on the street, he requires the help of Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a night nurse at Metro-General hospital. Later on, we meet blasts from Matt’s past like former lover Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), mentor Stick (Scott Glenn), or even his ideological nemesis Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher (Jon Bernthal).
Both as Matt and Daredevil, he tries to take down crime lord Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) or thwart the nefarious plots by a secret society only known as The Hand. He faces off with The Hand in The Defenders, the most ambitious crossover event since That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana, alongside fellow super New Yorkers Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and a white guy on a gap year in Asia—I mean Iron Fist (Finn Jones).
I was reading this piece in The New Yorker by Parul Sehgal (on recommendation from last week’s Maybe, Baby by Haley Nahman) called The Case Against the Trauma Plot. All I was able to think about reading it—aside from how many stories in the last twenty years have been centered around traumas of all kinds—was Daredevil.
The Case Against the Trauma Plot posits that the trauma plot would and could (if it hasn’t already) become so formulaic—“into a set of symptoms”—that it would take away from any dimensions to the character instead of adding it. That a character’s trauma has become interchangeable with their backstory, that stories are now exploring if not fixated on the past as opposed to its present or its future.
Of course, this does reflect how trauma affects the psyche and body—it consumes you, all-encompassing, by definition “too much, too fast, or too soon”. We can’t help but talk, think, or skirt around it. The Body Keeps Score and what not. Sehgal notes that we’ve just gotten better at identifying trauma in everyday life—especially now, in global health crisis and its reprecussions across every facet of our lives. No wonder we’re running to old comforts, nostalgia, and familiarity. Shit has just gotten too damn unprecendented. But even “precedented” times, the argument for “escapism” isn’t something we can easily dismiss nor are we exempt from being swept up in it.
There are some exceptions and exemptions to the case against the trauma plot; where the characters’ traumas aren’t the center of the story, merely the beginning and not necessarily the catalyst. Daredevil sits at the center of that Venn diagram—as much as Matt, Karen, Elektra, or Frank are driven to avenge their loved ones or themselves, carrying the weight of their traumas, that’s not all their stories hinge on. It could be argued that it’s because of their traumas that their stories unfold, and yes, their backstories obviously inform their decisions and reactions to the world around them but the driving force of their journeys are rooted in the present, with their futures looming and precarious.
While Murdock occupies the classic dead parent to superhero pipeline archetype, marred by personal loss and obstacle after obstacle, he isn’t the shiny, resilient, marketable hero that we’ve become oversaturated with. Matt can be a huge dick, as evidenced in Season 3. He can be indecisive, bordering on unfaithful, rigid, and stubborn. He’s interesting, unfortunately refreshing, and he feels real. I would believe you if this guy was actually running around Hell’s Kitchen. There is depth and dimension to him and it’s so sad that that’s the bare minimum I want from my superheroes now.
There’s so much more to him! He’s flawed, he wants to protect the people he loves and he pushes them away, his relationships with the people he cares about and his community are tangible, fascinating, and almost aspirationally heartwarming. Daredevil, the vigilante, sparks so much conversation among the other characters and their community at large to the point that I want to be a part of it. It’s great TV. I love great TV.
God, and isn’t it so tedious to want more from something you know will never give it to you? I need that embroidered on a pillow before I get into any more relationships. The mass appeal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is killing that quality Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and The Punisher have. The grit. If I wanted grit, why would I go see a children’s film?
Blockbusters used to have thrills, that was their grit. I sound like an idiot for wanting more from The Mouse and its machine, and I probably am. What I’m most afraid of is the—forgive me, Matty, for this—sanctity of Daredevil’s grit to be reduced to one-liners, bland colour grading, and the endless loop of references to foreshadow the next release.
Matt Murdock is also, famously, a whore. I’m not here to slutshame him. In fact, the opposite: I’m here to slutpraise him. It’s not revolutionary for a white guy, a Catholic no less, to be at the mercy of “what the heart wants”. Matters of the heart (code for dick) are difficult for our little devil. He wants to love and has so much of it to give that he knows it will only bring him and those he cares for trouble. I also watched him ask Karen if she’s “asking him as his co-worker or his girlfriend” and call Elektra “sweetie” in less than 12 hours. To be fair, Elektra was bleeding out and they have a history, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
For all the Bucky thirst tweets or sonnets about Thor’s abs in the world, they do not hold a candle to the illustrious, sensual intensity radiating from the Daredevilverse. Matt Murdock isn’t just the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, he’s the Manwhore of Hell’s Kitchen! Look at Frank Castle, look at Elektra, hell, even Bullseye (Wilson Bethel) is hot! They’re not just eye-candy either, they’re people whose stories I’ve become invested in. Them being gorgeous is just a bonus.
The Chad Daredevil vs. The Virgin Avengers. The discourse about necessary sex scenes is so tired but I think I’m in the yes camp. We need them. Daredevil needs them. The Punisher Season 2 opens with SUCH tenderness and passion before it goes into a full-blown barfight that I lost my damn MIND. I dare not touch it again out of fear for myself!
I’m afraid of Kevin Feige’s grubby baseball cap that values crowd-pleasing over real, satisfying stories. Is it so bad to want substance in a crowd-pleaser? Am I preaching to the convinced or am I making a futile and stupid gesture? I know I have nothing new to say, the same way those Marvel movies have nothing to provide outside of glib diversity and proof that they’ve won character licensing from Sony. It’s why Bernthal has expressed that he’ll only return as The Punisher with the right team behind it. And the right team is not the team that’s going to make him exchange zingers with Moon Knight3.
The moral sanitization everyone online has become so attached to in order to remain on some imaginary moral high ground has the uncritical of the lot deeming characters like Matt to be “problematic”. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, as their ‘little mew mew’. I’m of the ‘mew mew’ camp, of course. Matty is my baby. I miss him terribly and less than a minute of screentime giving legal advice to a Stark intern isn’t enough.
But Ari, don’t you love that superhero shit? I do, I do, I do! I’m a douchebag comic purist who longs for the good old days of Winter Soldier being the only good MCU film! When the Russos still had that sparkle of doing paintball episodes on national television in them! I honestly wonder where it all went wrong; is it the military propaganda? Is it pressure from a larger media conglomerate parent company and an executive who has never seen a movie shot on location before? Is it because Jon Bernthal is too sexy and would intimidate other grown-in-a-test-tube-physique Avengers?
It is insane to me that if Strange’s spell would’ve gone any more awry in Now Way Home, an unpleasant version of Matt Murdock—Jenny from the Block’s Matt Murdock—could’ve been out there somewhere.
Now that slowly but surely, everyone is revisiting Daredevil again, I hope we can remember what made it so good and so incredible to watch. It wasn’t just fun, it wasn’t just gory and violent, nor was it simply trauma exploration or character studies—it was all of that and more. To me, it did the source material justice, and more importantly: Daredevil did the audience justice. Daredevil didn’t talk down to me or treat me like I needed to be coddled. But again, apples to oranges. The show’s central tenet is just you gotta do the right thing, even if it’s the wrong thing (especially under the watchful eye of the Lord.) Even then, the watchful eye of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is enough to worry about. Well, the central tenet of the show to me is love but that’s a whole other essay (if you can call this that) to get into another time.
The piece also quotes Larissa Pham’s essay collection Pop Song: “It was 2015 and everyone was a pop-culture critic, writing for the seat of experience.” And I felt a little called out. A lot called out, really. The whole premise of Hyperfixate is exactly that: I’m communicating to you my thoughts and feelings about a particular and seemingly random piece of television, film, or pop culture because I happen to be oddly entranced by it that week. I’m writing from the seat of experience, suddenly a pop-culture critic! That’s me!
It’s a new year, and this year I want to stop worrying about having A Thing or about whether or not my Career will be Conventional, Consistent, or whatever the hell else I’ve been told it should be. Kinda want to be a little bit like Matt Murdock; a little angry, a little sad, a little horny (pun intended) and just trying to do right by the people I care about and—to my own dismay—to do right by me. And of course, to do right by you, my beloved readers.
Anyway, stream Daredevil. Let’s get us that Season 4 and let’s get that done that’s right by us.
That’s all for this week! If you’d like to support me and my work, keeping the lights on, you can support my ko-fi!
If you like what you read or you want to talk about Daredevil some more, hit up the comments:
This is still Hyperfixate, readers.
At least until Season 3.
As much as I would like to see that, I’d like to see them do it with some grit.