Poster of Daredevil

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has already expanded from theaters to television with ABC’s prime-time series Agents of SHIELD. Now it’s entering another increasingly-popular medium — online streaming services — with the Netflix-exclusive Daredevil, a 13-episode series starring a blind vigilante named Matt Murdock who’s a lawyer by day and fights crime with his superhumanly-enhanced other senses by night.

  And they seem pretty confident that they’ll succeed here. So far Marvel and Netflix have announced not only the just-released Daredevil (which was confirmed for a second season before it had been out even a month) but also shows for Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, to culminate in a Defenders mini-series.

  But why go the streaming route when parent company Disney has a major broadcast network in their pocket? It’s a question whose answer becomes clear pretty early on in the series. Daredevil is a street-level hero, one whose nemesis is no more than a brilliant crime boss with anger management issues named Wilson Fisk. He doesn’t fight supervillains, and while his enhanced senses definitely put him in the superhuman category, he doesn’t have a metal suit or super strength. His powers make him exceptionally good at punching and kicking with a side of torturous interrogation. The fights are bloody and raw and far from one-sided. His is a world of realistic people who drink and curse and sometimes get brutally beaten, and releasing this series through Netflix gives them the freedom to, like Murdock himself, never pull any punches.

  But Daredevil isn’t gritty for the sake of grittiness. Murdock, played by Charlie Cox, has an inner conflict that’s deliberate and clear, the conflict of a devout Catholic who worries that taking lives may be the best answer but fears crossing that line. (There’s a parallel here with some of Batman’s best stories, which may not be entirely coincidence: Some of the defining stories of both characters came from writer-artist Frank Miller.) His best friends Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) are adorable and funny and completely sympathetic even when dealing with the dangers of trying to take Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) down through legal channels. Characters die and are appropriately mourned. It’s dark without becoming mired in it. It feels human in a way superhero stories often fail.

  It’s also multicultural and multilingual in a way that helps ground its setting in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. Not only does Fisk deal with Russian, Chinese and Japanese criminal organizations, all of whom speak primarily in their native tongues, there are also a lot of Spanish-speaking residents. And the terrible goal Wilson Fisk has gone to such great lengths to attain is no more than dramatic gentrification, using organized crime to gather the money and influence to have the tenements of Hell’s Kitchen torn down and replaced with buildings more suited to people who share his upper-class tastes. At its core Daredevil is a story of class warfare, of people fighting to keep their neighborhood safe from developers.

  The only nagging problem with the series is how slow it is to take up its own mantle — Murdock doesn’t don his iconic costume or get called “Daredevil” until the end, and Fisk is never referred to by his comic moniker “The Kingpin.” But if you think of it as an origin story, one that’s already planned to continue, it’s forgivable.

  If you’ve got a Netflix subscription, Daredevil is one of the best shows you could spend a rainy spring afternoon with. Just pretend that Ben Affleck fiasco never happened.

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