Netflix Set The Bar For Grown Up Comic Book TV, Will Disney Step Up?

By Becca Caddy on at

A tortured hero in a mask torn between two lives, a sociopathic villain hellbent on power at all costs and plenty of prolonged shots of a dark and moody cityscape. Daredevil may have all the ingredients for a comic book story come to life on the screen, but with one major difference - it has a soul.

More and more superhero stories are released onto the big and small screens every year. But, like its main character, Marvel TV’s Daredevil has no fear. It explores the depth of human emotions felt not only by the characters but the world they inhabit in a way that many other comic book movies and TV shows haven’t even come close to.

If there was any doubt after the first two seasons that Daredevil was different, the recently-released third season made it official. Performances were powerful, gut-wrenching and award-worthy, fight scenes were a ferocious spectacle (one particular fight scene during a prison riot was filmed in one relentless 11-minute take that should go down in history), the narrative twisted and turned and every character had their beliefs tested and emotions pulled inside-out throughout.

It was no surprise that it received acclaim from both fans and critics alike, which is why it was a huge blow that Netflix cancelled the show last week. But, as shocking as the news was, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Love And War

Netflix had already cancelled Iron Fist and Luke Cage earlier this year, and it’s probably only a matter of time before Jessica Jones and The Punisher are cancelled too after their new seasons air in 2019.

Although the big why hasn’t been officially revealed, it’s not hard to guess. With a new Disney streaming platform called Disney+ on the way, it might be a case of getting rid of the competition, doing away with the series and starting fresh or (fingers crossed) bringing Daredevil and the rest of the Marvel TV characters to Disney+. After all, it’ll be home to all the Marvel movies, so why not?

Although this may sound like the dream scenario, it isn’t looking likely. The fact the back catalogue will still belong to Netflix will create friction. Marvel Studios also seems more focused on creating live action TV shows starring movie characters, as a Loki show with Tom Hiddleston has been confirmed and another about Scarlet Witch is rumoured to be on the way. Furthermore, there’s an alleged disconnect between Marvel TV (the brains behind Daredevil) and Marvel Studios that could make one big happy Marvel family on Disney+ difficult.

And, maybe most importantly, Disney+ is being touted as a family-friendly service. That means Daredevil with all its ninja-slaying and car door-bashing violence might just be a little too much for younger audiences. For that reason there are plenty of rumours that it might end up on Hulu instead, exist on Disney+ with a different cast, a different name, or as something else entirely.

But even if it doesn’t look likely right now, here’s why Daredevil truly deserves to live on.

Why we need a Daredevil Resurrection

If there’s one thing that stood out the most throughout all three seasons of Daredevil, hands-down it’s Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as Wilson Fisk.

Never before have I seen an actor get so under the skin of their character. Fisk’s towering menace as the underworld mastermind of Hell’s Kitchen was felt viscerally through physical ticks and twitches that hinted at a wellspring of volcanic rage, barely kept in check and constantly simmering under the surface.

But he wasn’t just a one dimensional bad guy. As an audience we felt flashes of sympathy for him throughout. And this sympathy, and at times even admiration for his genius manipulation of characters and events, felt deeply uncomfortable when just moments later his violent, relentless quest for power left a trail of broken bodies and broken minds in his wake.

For me, this performance cements D’Onofrio’s Fisk as one of the greatest villains of the MCU. Scrap that, one of the greatest villains of all time. And for all of those reasons, I don’t think I’m ready to see the last of him.

Vincent D’Onofrio tweeted: “@Daredevil @netflix canceled. Yet Daredevil is still out there blood stained high up poised in the moonlight. Movement below him on the street. A flash of white moving through the sea of darkness Hell's Kitchen. This image folds into a black suburban screeching into the night.”

Although Fisk arguably lit up the screen the most throughout Daredevil, I could easily write with the same levels of high praise for the entire cast.

Charlie Cox’s performance of Matt Murdock added a deeply tortured human element to the superhero stereotype. Sure we’ve seen plenty of conflicted heroes before, but his performance combined with Murdock’s past, his visual impairment, religious doubts and normal day-to-day life, meant he became a superhero that felt anything but super. And despite his many flaws, he was intrinsically good. He became a character we could genuinely know, love and root for that stood in perfect stark contrast to Fisk’s embodiment of evil and menace.

Guardian Devil

Similarly, Karen Page, played by Deborah Ann Woll, had a character arc worthy of her own series. She was consistently the light and reason amidst so much immorality, and yet deep guilt and shame ran through her veins. The episode dedicated entirely to her backstory in the third season felt jarring and heartbreaking in all the right ways, giving us a deep insight into her character that felt cathartic in its tragedy.

Deborah Ann Woll tweeted: “I’m so sad that we won’t be continuing this story. Mostly I’ll miss seeing the friends I’ve made everyday. Thank you to every person who contributed to this series over the years.  And to @erikoleson because of you we are going out on a high. @Daredevil #Daredevil.”

However, women weren’t just damsels in need of rescue in the Daredevil story, which was another reason it felt special. Karen Page insists on writing important stories for the New York Bulletin in the same way Vanessa Fisk, played by Ayelet Zurer, insists on her right to have power over her husband’s empire.

Both women make decisions. They may not always be the right ones, but they’re not forced or coerced into roles by men. For all of Fisk’s moves to protect Vanessa, he questions whether he’s too broken for her and instead she chooses to be with him, she insists on it in the same way she chooses to have a visible, active role in his criminal activities. Both women have depth, choice and agency.

It’s not only the cast we’ve known since the beginning that deserve another season. Ben ‘Dex’ Poindexter’s descent into darkness at Fisk’s hands is one of the most horrifying, heartbreaking and topical stories throughout the whole three seasons. He’s moulded into a villain that’s played with disturbing presence, force and menace by Wilson Bethel and to not have the opportunity to further explore his character as the fully realised Bullseye, as well as his dualism with Matt Murdock, is another travesty.

Last Rites

Whenever a show ends it feels painful to bid farewell to the characters we’ve come to know and love, and the stellar cast behind them. But what stands out the most about losing Daredevil is that it deals with - and forces us to look at - important real world problems in a way that no live action superhero TV show or movie quite has - and that’s saying a lot given how many there have been.

This is why it could be the perfect addition to Disney+’s catalogue of Marvel movies, adding a gritty layer of real world realism for adults who want comic book films - and younger audiences who could do with a dose of the issues it deals with.

Where Christoper Nolan’s The Dark Knight brought us moody darkness, Daredevil brings us the same tone but places it in a world that feels more real than Gotham ever will. And in that way, all of the Marvel TV shows have set such a high bar for real world villains, action and themes.

Daredevil deals with authentic issues of grief, isolation, trauma, redemption, corruption and responsibility, among so many others. Similarly, Jessica Jones deals with domestic abuse and PTSD. And, try as they might, the Marvel movies haven’t dealt with any of these. At least not with any lasting impact or with the level of heartbreaking authenticity, nuance and depth that makes Daredevil’s story so much more than a fight between good and evil with a man in a mask.

That’s why Daredevil deserves another fight. Let’s not forget it deals in darkness that isn’t just emotional or personal, but explores the threat of evil and corruption on a macro level too. In season three Wilson Fisk slowly marches up to a podium filled with press microphones. He speaks with sociopathic conviction as he rallies the masses to side with him, promising to take control, clean up the city and, oh would you look at that, destroy fake news! It’s a scene that felt eerie for all the wrong reasons, but one we should force ourselves to engage watch with our eyes wide open.

Redemption

Whether you’re a fan or not, you can’t deny that Daredevil (and the other Marvel superheroes that followed on Netflix) has redefined the comic book stories we’ve seen on the screen  – and that should continue. Because comic book stories and superheroes aren’t an excuse to escape from reality – they never have been.

Instead, they’re the opposite. These stories are a way to explore, examine and understand very real issues and the emotional toll of trauma and violence – just with an escape cord. And no other story in the MCU has managed to explore those depths of darkness quite like Daredevil.