Who is Daredevil? A Pre-Netflix Primer
At midnight, Marvel will extend its successful Cinematic Universe with its first of five planned Netflix projects. First up is Daredevil, a new series about the titular Man Without Fear. Oh, that’s the guy from the bad Ben Affleck movie? Yes, but there is so much more to Matt Murdock’s story. Lets catch up before the series starts.
As with most enduring Marvel characters from the 60s, Daredevil was created by Stan Lee along with Bill Everett. Jack Kirby, another Marvel icon, also helped on the earlier drafts creating Daredevils most recognizable weapon, the extending billy club which doubles as his walking stick. The origin story usually goes like this; at a young age Matt loses his vision after radioactive waste from a car accident, where he saved a man’s life, goes into his eyes. As a result, his other senses become raised to superhuman levels. Later as an adult, Matt becomes a lawyer fighting for the little guy before the murder of his father, a boxer, makes him take it one step further as a superhero. Matt only intended to avenge his father but after seeing what he was capable of, he decided to become Daredevil, the defender of Hell’s Kitchen.
The Daredevil of today, and undoubtedly the Netflix version, is drastically different from his early days: a lighthearted and whimsical character that cracked jokes, hung out with Spider-Man and dated Black Widow. Readers blew hot and cold with this Daredevil with sales going on a rollercoaster ride until finally Marvel was ready to cancel the book.
Having seen potential in the character and with cancellation looming, now legendary comic artist and writer, Frank Miller asked to take lead on the Daredevil title. His ideas led to a reboot of the franchise which defines the character that we know today. Daredevil became a grittier, violent, almost anti-hero character. Similarly the origin turned darker with Murdock’s father now being a belligerent alcoholic who beat him regularly, inspiring him to become a lawyer. A new character, Stick, stepped into the role of Matt’s father figure training him to fight despite his disability. This also changed Daredevil from a boxer type brawler, like his father, to be more of a martial artist type fighter. Miller also introduced Kingpin as Daredevil’s Big Bad and nemesis. This change helped Kingpin to flourish away from the Spider-man comics and become a fan favorite.
The darker Daredevil caused quite a stir in the beginning; he was a different beast. No more wise cracks or hanging out with Spider-Man — Daredevil was now violent and no nonsense. From beating criminals to within inches of their lives to crippling and murdering Bullseye, he was defending Hell’s Kitchen at any cost. The readers loved it with sales picking up and soon after, Daredevil became one of Marvel’s best titles.
Miller would leave the character in 1983, returning in 1986 for Daredevil: Born Again, a story where Daredevil’s secret identity was sold for cash. More importantly, Miller would return again in 1993 for the legendary Man Without Fear storyline. This retelling of Daredevil’s origin tale would once again bring the darker themes to the forefront ensuring that Miller’s mark would continue as part of Daredevil’s legacy.
After Man Without Fear, Matt Murdock continued on his dark path; ninjas, mental illness and once again, having his identity revealed. A notable run from Brian Michael Bendis from 2001 to 2006 included the introduction of romantic interest and future wife Milla Donovan, the outing once again of Murdock’s secret identity, the reemergence of the Kingpin, and Daredevil’s surrender to the FBI.
It wasn’t until writer Mark Waid took over Daredevil in 2011 that the tone of the comic would shift again. Carefully balancing the darker Miller-esque side of Matt Murdock and the carefree nature of his first incarnation, Waid managed to give us the best of both worlds. Waid would also introduce to the page Daredevil’s echolocation (shown as sound waves or circles radiating outward from the character). Perhaps to distance him from his dark past, Waid moved Murdock away from Hell’s Kitchen to San Francisco. This arc, currently running, would see a more lighthearted Matt enjoying his new found fame as the “superhero lawyer”.
Want to read more?
A character created in 1964 surely has too much history to be summed up in one article so if you are interested in reading more, here is the place to start. Daredevil: Man Without Fear by Frank Miller, as mentioned above is where it turned around for Daredevil. The darker origin story will probably sync up with the TV show if you want to flesh out the character more after your binge watching. This story also debuts the black street clothes style suit that has been shown in the Netflix trailers.