Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How the Man Without Fear Got Here

When Daredevil debuted in April 1964, he represented the last of the first great wave of Marvel superheroes that we readers already knew we couldn’t get enough of,
At age 9, I immediately liked him — even that yellow costume that everybody else seemed to hate (I love that sunny color). I did hope that Matt Murdock would eventually regain his sight, not realizing how integral his disability was to the drama Stan Lee had in mind.
We’d had blind, or rather quasi-blind super-heroes before in the Black Bat and Dr. Mid-Nite. And Daredevil’s Golden Age namesake had been mute.
But with his other senses heightened, Daredevil’s blindness became central to the storyline. It represented another application of a trick Lee liked to pull, using an obstacle as an advantage.
The disability shadowed Daredevil’s relationship with Karen Page, bringing a note of tragic stoicism to the feature. It helped preserve the secret of his identity, because no one would believe Matt Murdock could be a superhero. It provided a satisfying underdog counterpoint to contrast with and underline the heroics Daredevil performed.
Daredevil’s blindness-related super powers, carefully thought out, were dramatically more subtle than the more common wall-smashing variety, but equally effective.
His sensory abilities enabled him to hear distant trouble, overhear secret conversations, dodge and deflect projectiles and punches and, appropriately enough for a moral crusader, detect lies. And they remained a hidden asset, invisible to the public.
In fact, the character was so well conceived that a half-century later he became the protagonist for what is arguably the best superhero show that has ever appeared on television. Daredevil’s Netflix series strikes a perfect balance between the fantastic and the credible without ever losing sight of the adventure and the moral struggle that is central to the superhero genre. The show keeps Daredevil (Charlie Cox) in fairly constant and convincing peril, something that rarely happens in stories where your hero is a superman.
Lee had confidence in Daredevil’s TV potential from the beginning, and in fact Daredevil nearly made it to the tube in 1971.
“We made a deal with Warner Brothers TV and Stirling Silliphant,” Lee told David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview. “Stirling proposed writing a pilot script for Daredevil and went to the ABC network. And they loved the concept.”
Ultimately, however, in Silliphant’s hands, that concept evolved into an ABC show about a private detective named Longstreet, blinded and made a widower by criminals. Mike Longstreet’s heightened remaining senses could pick up clues others missed, and he could fight with spectacular martial arts abilities taught to him by Bruce Lee.
I wondered if Longstreet wasn’t a Daredevil pastiche even back then. The actor James Franciscus even looked like Matt Murdock.
Daredevil had another run at television in 1989, in the TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Played by Rex Smith in a ninja-like costume, the superhero was so effectively used that he essentially took over the story. The late Bill Bixby also starred, and directed.
Yet Daredevil was born late, literally. Lee tapped Bill Everett, creator of the Sub-Mariner, to draw the first issue. But Everett got behind on the project, and to fill in Lee had to scramble for a new title.
He called it The Avengers.

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