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The Subtle brilliance of Daredevil begins with "Into the Ring"

Before I dive into my 13-part review of Marvel's Daredevil, I want to give you a bit of history. As a 10-year old in the summer of 1981, I lived and died by my weekly comic book purchases. There wasn't a week that went by that I didn't ride my bike to the local pharmacy, and stare for hours at the spinning rack of brilliant covers. I bought the known commodities, loading up on Spiderman and Batman, consuming them over-and-over at a break-neck pace.

Until one day, a brilliant cover was staring me in the face. The cover was of the Kingpin, who I knew all too well from Spiderman, holding Daredevil in his hand. Daredevil...The Man Without Fear...The Kingpin Must Die!

Now I'm not going to weave you a story of how "this comic book changed my life." It didn't. It did, however, immediately steer me towards Daredevil, and ultimately, led me to follow Frank Miller, who was both writing and penciling the story at the time.

The local store had several Daredevil back issues, and I was hooked. From Elektra to Stick to Bullseye to The Hand, and always...the Kingpin, there wasn't a storyline I didn't love

When Miller left (and came back, and left again), I stayed with Daredevil, for awhile, until comics started to fade into the background of my life. Still, I followed Miller, buying several of his books over the years during that time, and since, including the quintessential Batman, "The Dark Knight Returns."

But for me, it was always about that damned blind lawyer, Matt Murdock, and his alter-ego, Daredevil. No, he wasn't a millionaire, like Bruce Wayne. No, he wasn't snarky and amusing as Peter Parker's Spiderman, but somehow, Miller managed to wrap Daredevil up into a package of both.

He somehow infused the darkness of the Dark Knight, with the vibrancy of Spiderman, and for a short time in the comic book world, there wasn't anything bigger than Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.

While you'll get reviews from your typical places, Daredevil means something to me. To do this right, they have to capture the dynamics of Miller's brilliance. The failures of the 2003 Ben Affleck movie were a direct relationship to that very morsel: it just wasn't Miller's Daredevil. I mean, how do you capture the balance that Miller so masterfully built into a comic book?

Surely, it's impossible, right?

So...how in the hell did Netflix and Marvel do just that?!?

Let's dive into the first episode, and over the next few weeks, I'll show you exactly how they've managed to do it...

Warning, there are spoilers for the Marvel Daredevil's "Into the Ring," although no true "give-a-ways..."
"I'm not seeking penance for what I've done father. I'm asking forgiveness...for what I'm about to do."
In the opening seven minutes of Netflix new original series, Marvel's Daredevil, it's clear that this superhero take on one of Marvel's most storied franchises isn't your everyday, run-of-the-mill, comic book jaunts.

The irony is that it's clear that this series, or at least this episode, is a clear homage to Frank Miller's Daredevil in general, and specifically, to Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.'s 1993 miniseries, Daredevil: Man Without Fear. The fact that current Daredevil head honcho Steven S. DeKnight so clearly was able to create an on-screen world so similar to Miller's immediately will make the comic book geeks like myself ecstatic.

Where this series could go above and beyond anything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that beneath the veneer of comic book superheroes, is a gritty and brutal crime story in which one man seeks to protect his home.

Yes, Daredevil is a superhero. Yes, Daredevil has unique powers. But, there's a realness to his story that everyone can understand. He's a boy-turned-man who lost his sight doing something good, but from his "disability," came extra-senses that let him overcome.

In the land of underdogs, there isn't anyone better than Daredevil. This is where he's different from his two biggest comparisons, Batman and Spiderman. While there isn't some supersensory superhero climbing the Empire State Building, there's a part of you that thinks there could be.

Frank Miller made Daredevil real, and so does DeKnight.

It's gritty, and while that word and this show is almost cliche at this point, it's true. It's filmed in both the darkness of Murdock's Hell's Kitchen, as well as in his life as a blind man. It's a street level look at a hero who was led to protect his streets, as opposed to the global issues taken on by the cast and crew of the Avengers. The irony here is that it was the Avengers "incident" during the first Avenger's movie, that led to the destruction and destitution that has plagued New York in general, and Hell's Kitchen in particular.

If you were to place a bet, Daredevil likely wants to kick the asses of the rest of the MCU.

Past that thought, the simple connection to the current MCU storylines is brilliantly done. In the original comic book, Miller's Hell's Kitchen was portrayed as the dark and destitute of New York City, simply because it was. In the Netflix original, Hell's Kitchen is trying to rebuild after nearly being completely destroyed. It's a time to rebuild, but in the meantime, something else is going on...something bad...and something that Matt Murdock wants to fix.

You can almost smell The Kingpin from here, can't you?

We're introduced to Matt simultaneously as a boy entering the world of blindness, and as a man entering the world as both a lawyer, and a vigilante. It's a dichotomy that's played over-and-over in this episode, and while a cliche for a superhero story, is done well here.

It's just plain brilliant television.

Matt, the boy, is lying in the street injured; his eyes clearly burned from a chemical spill after he pushed a man out of the way of an oncoming truck. As his Dad, Jack Murdock (his name is never revealed, other than on a poster in a gym), views the spilled chemicals and tries to comfort his son, the roots of Daredevil's unique skills and connection to his father are unfolded. We watch Matt's vision fade to blackness at the age of nine, and are brought to Matt, the man, confessing future sins.

You can feel all the launch points at minute three.

It's exhilarating.

As Murdock, played by Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire), begins his confession, he connects the man to the boy, sharing a story of his father, the boxer. The pride pours out of Matt as he talks about his father, a down-and-out boxer whose 24-31 record hid a man who "was never knocked out," and while he was knocked down, "always got back up. Was always on his feet when he lost."

In the confessional, Matt brings up a saying that his grandmother, a god-fearing catholic, used to share about her son and grandson, "Be careful of the Murdock boys, they got the devil in them."

The priest asks Matt what he's about to do...

Let the Devil out indeed.

The next scene is our introduction to Daredevil, and it's clear that it's his first night "on the job." Some seemingly common street thugs are in the midst of kidnapping several young women, with a man, watching it all happen, eating a sandwich. The thugs are on a loading dock, throwing the girls into a shipping container when we first catch a sight of Daredevil.

There's no slow, drawn out wait for our hero, like in most movies. It's something that they could have done with a 13-episode arc. It's something that most shows would have done, because it's just what you do in a comic book show.

Not here.

There's no wait for Daredevil. He's wearing black ninja gear that was made famous in the Miller mini-series, and by minute six, he's kicking ass, and taking names.

No, this doesn't go smoothly. He has more skills than these crooks, but they land their punches.

So does he.

We get a clear "sense" that his senses are special when he launches himself away from gunshots, but it's damn believable. It's this scene where we see the blind man use a billy club for the first time as well, with pinpoint accuracy...a taser stick grabbed from one of the criminals...and that sandwich eating sicko is sent into the Hudson River.

Daredevil saves the night, and the girls, and it turns out that this seemingly random kidnapping is connected to a scheme of bigger proportions.

These scene bleeds into the opening credits, which is as slick as they come. I'm not going to wax poetic for 200 words about an opening credit scene, but it befits this show in it's care and composition. It's special, and it's clear that this series, the opening of the five series Defenders' arc, is being treated as special.

From this point on, the story weaves in and out of several relationships of both people, and points in the show.

We meet Matt Murdock's law partner and friend, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Elden Henson--the Hunger Games), as they rent their first law office, and we see how close they are, and are immediately shown Nelson's desire to make money when he offers a street cop "friend" cigars for his grandmother, in return for potential interesting cases. Like the comics, Nelson's balance between making dollars provides the contrast to Murdock's desire to do the right thing. They work well together in this first episode.

We meet Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll--True Blood), Matt Murdock's love interest, in the comics at least, with a bloody knife in her hand and a dead body in front of her. You guessed it, it's Nelson and Murdock's first client. While it's not clear what role she'll play going forward, it's clear that she has a connection to both Murdock and Daredevil, but also to Nelson as well.

We meet a crime conglomerate, that connects the beginning fight scene to the murder scene Page was at, as well as several other happenings throughout the episode. It appears as though someone bad is trying to "rebuild" Hell's Kitchen, and using it to launder their crime in the seedy underpinnings left behind from the Avengers movie.

And where is The Kingpin? He's everywhere.

Without giving up too much of the plot, "Into the Ring" is bookended by two telling fight sequences. The first, which I've mentioned above, and a second, in which he's fighting against a much more skilled assassin. It's clear, in the second sequence, that Daredevil is a long way from becoming the red-suited vigilante that's known in the comics today. It's what makes this show so special right out of the gate.

His senses are showcased brilliantly in the show, and particular in this scene. His hearing is intensified...but he can hone in on specific sounds when he focuses. It's subtly played out, and main conversations are still taking place. When he's listening to Page's heartbeat earlier in the episode while she's discussing the murder, and later, whether she has something that could be helpful (a human lie detector), the conversation continues audibly, giving the viewer and understanding of his heightened, yet muffled powers.

During the ending fight scene, the ninja-clad Daredevil senses the air movements of a knife, and the hi-def, slow motion movements are brilliantly done.

It's clear that he's skilled. It's apparent that he's smart. We get that he's trying to help his city. We also understand immediately that he's flawed to the core. He knows what he's doing is wrong in the language of the law, and yet he's a lawyer. He understands that he's going to take a beating, and that he's likely going to get knocked down, and sometimes out.

He also knows that he's always going to be standing in the end...even if he loses.

The fact that he can lose makes this show different than all of the rest.

In the end, I couldn't rate this show high enough, and please don't take that with a grain of salt. I've been a Daredevil Fan for 35 years, and a "Miller-Daredevil" fan to boot. My standards are high, and this show met every expectation, even with the fairly large and brilliant build-up.

And the best part?

We haven't even gotten started.

No Stick.

No Fisk.

No Red.

That's still to come, and I, for one, can't wait.

Tune in over the next several days for an episode-by-episode review from a fan who knows Daredevil better than most. Strap in folks...this is going to get good.
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