The original Daredevil TV series on Netflix (before making its new home on Disney+ this past spring) was a triumphant reinvention of the superhero in live-action akin to writer Frank Miller’s shift of the character out of the ’70s and into the ’80s that influenced his source materials to this day. And even though Kevin Feige and Co. at Marvel Studios didn’t have a direct hand in the show’s production, they still felt compelled to acknowledge its acclaim by getting the band back together for Daredevil: Born Again on Disney+.
2003’s live-action movie certainly didn’t set a high bar, but the show took cues from some of the best source material on the hero to tell a more grounded, crime-noir take on Daredevil’s corner of the Marvel universe that proved to be some of the best superhero TV. It’s akin to how the days of zany over-the-top campiness in the character’s comics in the ’70s were waning and veering toward cancellation. Though it seems like keeping that same atmosphere from the show on Disney+ is apparently too much to ask, there are still plenty of top-notch comics to make Born Again another great solo outing on its own merits.
Frank Miller made a name for himself in the comic book industry for his groundbreaking work on Daredevil, which carried over to the likes of Batman at DC Comics, and influenced later Marvel writers on the Man Without Fear from Ann Nocenti, David Mack, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, and more. Comics like The Man Without Fear and Born Again were pivotal pieces of reference material for seasons 1 and 3 especially.
However, despite the upcoming Daredevil revival and spiritual sequel sharing the same name as Miller’s landmark comic, it’s best not to expect that same tone. Aside from those story beats largely being adapted in spirit during season 3, it’s likely grittier than Marvel Studios and Disney would feel comfortable with on its dedicated streaming platform.
Should that indeed prove to be the case, though, Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee’s celebrated run on Daredevil would be an excellent compromise in terms of tone. One of the things that Daredevil’s comics have been collectively praised for is how he’s managed to become arguably the most consistently well-written superhero in the genre and industry.
That being said, Waid’s run was particularly praised for how he changed to a refreshingly lighter pace compared to the brooding feel of what’s come before while still being compelling.
His tenure with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen saw the character turn into the Devil at Bay, as Matt Murdock moves from New York to California to start fresh. Matt — alongside the likes of Spider-Man — is known by fans as one of the most unfortunate characters in this universe, and Waid uses this story arc to try and get Daredevil to move past his traumas.
The run featured a varied cast of supporting heroes and villains in more colorful and swashbuckling adventures that hearkened back to the days of Stan Lee and Bill Everett. However, while it brought back a splash of camp and color, a big part of how and why this tonal change worked so well was because it didn’t turn into borderline slapstick comedy and challenged the characters with genuine, intimate, and even dark character drama.
MCU projects have been increasingly and understandably criticized in recent years for tonal imbalance and undercutting moments of drama and emotion for laughs, so Waid’s work should be key reference material for how to tastefully balance vibrancy with street-level grit.
Whether it is stated outright or not, what Miller started can be felt in the current run of Marvel’s Daredevil series. Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Marco Checchetto’s ongoing stint with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen has been widely acclaimed for its take on the character’s gritty world and having something interesting to say about Matt’s character development.
That’s especially impressive considering that putting Matt through the physical and psychological wringer has been commonplace. The original Netflix series covered a lot of that ground as well, with Daredevil struggling with his moral alignments as a good little Catholic boy and lawyer — who also happens to be a vigilante that takes the law into his own hands at night.
Meanwhile, season 3 put him in some of the lowest psychological places he’s ever been in an amalgamation of Miller and Bendis’ work, but Zdarsky’s writing could be another good template for borrowing similar and popular themes the character deals with while doing something new enough with them.
Blending Waid’s Matt that adopted this lighter personality as a coping mechanism to mask his corrosive depression with Zdarsky’s iteration that’s grappling with the morality behind what he and those like him do would make for an exciting dramatic cocktail.
Likewise, the level of maturity in the tone of Zdarsky’s run could conceivably work in Disney+’s ecosystem. His writing takes things back to a darker and grittier setting, but not to the extent of Miller, Bendis, or Brubaker’s bleak yet gripping crime-noir sagas. Daredevil doesn’t and never did need overt gore to tell a relatable and immersive story.
What Born Again needs to retain is the thematic substance and Zdarsky’s comics balance that with flashy comic book action masterfully in a sandbox that can certainly be done in a TV-14 format as opposed to the original’s TV-MA. And given the show’s impressive 18-episode first-season order, both of these writers’ runs on Daredevil could also show how to tastefully integrate supporting heroes into the protagonist’s story without stealing his spotlight.
Combined and punctuated by the unforgettable action choreography of the first show, the upcoming revival should be able to achieve a satisfying story that’s equal parts drama and spectacle.
Marvel Studios’ Daredevil: Born Again will be streaming on Disney+ in spring 2024.
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