by: Michael Shields
Frank Miller’s influence, once again, breathes new life into a fallen franchise….
Everyone loves the Fixer. In film, in print, wherever. The person who confidently steps into a sticky situation and makes what’s wrong, right. One whose bravado, poise and fortitude is intoxicating. Who can forget George Clooney as Michael Clayton? Or Clooney, once again, as Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air? How about James Caan’s turn as Joe Sarno in The Way of the Gun? Or Mr. Wolf who handled with dashing certainty the “corpse in a car minus a head in the garage” in Pulp Fiction? Fixers are the ones with the answers, the undaunted souls who guide you through the darkness unto the light. Not only is a Fixer someone you need around when the going gets tough, but they are also a special breed of person who is so exceedingly capable that every iota of your being wishes to be them.
But who do you call when what is in need of repair is a franchise? In particular, a comic book franchise which has been drug through the mud by uninspired writers, directors, and actors? No ordinary fixer will do in this situation. Time and again, in terms of comic book adaptations that have gone astray, the man whose work has been leaned on for inspiration has been Frank Miller. And he has righted the wrong. Every. Single. Time. Without him the world would not have had the opportunity to experience Christopher Nolan’s uncompromising Dark Knight series. If not for Miller (and Chris Claremont), we wouldn’t have traveled with Logan to Japan in the 1982 four issue Wolverine miniseries which inspired the film The Wolverine. And now, Frank Miller’s gutsy, bold new vision of everyone’s favorite blind superhero Daredevil, has been brought to life by Netflix. Yes, Frank Miller, the ultimate fixer, whose dark and gritty stylings are harnessed when the coolest motherfuckers on the planet, superheroes, need to be reminded how to be cool again.
At last year’s Comic Con in San Diego, prior to the Marvel Unlimited Plus Panel, Marvel’s Executive Editorial Director for Digital Media, Ryan Penagos (known by nerds across the world as simply, Agent M) dropped a hint of epic proportions. He advised all the fans in attendance that Frank Miller’s take on Daredevil from the 1980s “might be something to read in the next year or so if you want hints about something else we are doing.” The Internet went bananas, and in time it became clear that Agent M was referring to the Marvel Studios/Netflix Daredevil series that was set to release in 2015, that would not only revitalize an embarrassed franchise still mocked after all these years after what Ben Affleck in Co. had done to it, but also launch the Defender series featuring four other series focused on other Marvel mainstays such as AKA Jessica Jones1, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. In this way, Daredevil is Netflix’s Iron Man, the cornerstone character utilized to cement a universe’s larger franchise. And so it was crucial that they nailed Daredevil, to set the stage adeptly for what was to come. And I am here to tell you that this is indeed the case. Emphatically so.
Daredevil, is based almost entirely on Frank Miller’s (and John Romita Jr.) work as a writer and artist for Marvel’s Daredevil: Man Without Fear miniseries that was released in 1993 and explored the superhero’s origins. When the series was first announced, it was done so by using an image of Miller’s Daredevil, clad in all black with a menacing mask pulled taut over the uppermost portion of his face. Miller’s Daredevil was fierce, dark and the graphic novel’s narrative explored Matt Murdock’s formative years. It considered the all-too fine line between good and evil, while inciting a debate about the complicated nature of justice. His work thrust the character of the Daredevil into the spotlight, elevating him in stature from a second-tier figure into one of the most renowned in the expansive Marvel universe.
With Miller and Netflix’s retelling of the Daredevil tale, we are whisked into a rotted cesspool of a city, directly into the heart of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. A city that is trying to dig its way out of the rubble following the city-wide destruction incurred during the intergalactic battle at the conclusion of the 2014 blockbuster, The Avengers. Daredevil tells the story of a New York City lawyer, Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox, whose duality as a charming ladies man lawyer by day and treacherous vigilante by night is pitch perfect), hellbent on restoring a measure of order to the city crumbling all around him. After an unfortunate accident robbed him of his sight as a child, Murdock found a way to tap into his other senses, and these heightened sensitivities function as a sort of superpower that make him a capable foe for those terrorizing the city. Through his training with a sensei named Stick (Scott Glenn), Matt Murdock becomes a vigilante, a man with the burden of a whole city resting on his shoulders, who brandishes a unique brand of justice on those who attempt to pervert the law.
Miller’s New York City is far more dark and dangerous that the one where Spider Man weaves his webs, and his shadowy vision is brought to life impeccably in the series by Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel alum Steven S. DeKnight, Daredevil’s show runner2. Miller’s vision in Daredevil was always exceedingly cinematic, pulsating with shadowy atmospherics, and DeKnight invokes this notion wholeheartedly, resulting in a series with stunning noir landscapes. The New York present in Daredevil is quivering with menace, a towering skyline flecked with haunting water towers and awash with forlorn shadows where criminals, such as the sophisticated yet brutal Kingpin (Vincent D’onofrio, in a wonderfully nuanced performance), plot their dastardly schemes.
One of the more impressive aspects of Daredevil is the stunt coordination. The fight scenes are raw, visceral, and strikingly coordinated. Like Batman, Daredevil’s humanity leaves him exposed to the brutality of fighting crime. As Daredevil engages with his adversaries, he is sliced, tazed, riddled with ruthless arrays of fists, stabbed, and his bones are broken. And all the while, he fights on. And it is here where we feel his pain and come to understand his unflappable resolve. Highlighting this adeptness is a fight scene at the conclusion of the second episode taking place in a cramped hallway. It’s moments like this, a one-shot fight scene inspired by the neo-noir thriller Old Boy3, where it is made clear the level that Daredevil runs at.
In the 1980s Frank Miller became a comic book god. But who could have anticipated at that time that he would go on to become a legend not only in print, but in film? Daredevil is only the most recent example of his prodigious influence, and fortuitously there is more to come. Currently, he is back at it, proving that he not only has the ability to revitalize a franchise but to triumphantly advance it as it has been announced that Miller is returning to write a second and final sequel to his prominent Batman series, The Dark Knight Returns. This 1986 graphic novel forever changed how people thought about comic books, and rumors have it that the new series will be called The Dark Knight Rises III: The Master Race, and will be released twice a month starting in late Fall 2015. Tireless, Frank Miller continues to awe comic book fans with his gritty realism, and if one were to find themselves with a franchise that has been utterly ravaged, he certainly is the man to call.