A Brief History of ‘The Defenders’: Daredevil

Mike Delaney
TV Marvel
TV Marvel

The Avengers saved the world from Chitauri invasion, but New York City is all but destroyed. The city rebuilds, but there’s a new war being waged in the streets by organised crime. This battle calls for a new kind of hero. Four, to be exact: Daredevil. Jessica Jones. Luke Cage. Iron Fist. Together again, for the first time.

The Defenders

As the release date of Marvel’s The Defenders draws closer, it is time to look back at the comic book and television history of each member.

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear

Matt Murdock is Daredevil: the Man Without Fear. He is the oldest of the Defenders, having made his debut way back in 1964, and was created by Marvel Comics artist Bill Everett and professional cameo artist Stan Lee. Jack Kirby also lent his considerable design talent. But despite this pedigree, Daredevil is most often associated with Frank Miller.

Miller took over the writing duties in the 1980s and turned Daredevil into an anti-hero. The writer introduced iconic supporting characters like Matt’s ninja sensei Stick and ninja ex-girlfriend, Elektra (seeing a pattern yet?).  Miller’s run also established the ninja clan the Hand as a recurring enemy and repositioned Spider-Man villain Kingpin (surprisingly not a ninja) as Daredevil’s nemesis.

Matt Murdock is committed to justice both in his civilian life and as Daredevil. By day, he is a lawyer who works with longtime friend Franklin “Foggy” Nelson to deal with criminals inside the confines of the law. When the law fails, Daredevil metes out his own brand of justice. But he has one rule: he refuses to kill.

Blind Catholic Ninja Lawyer Superhero

Matt Murdock is many things. Blind as the result of a childhood accident, radioactive chemicals robbed Matt of his sight and heightening his other senses. Matt’s enhanced senses combine to form an impression of the world around him.

Second, Daredevil is also extremely well trained in martial arts. From a young age, Matt studied under the tutelage of Stick, the blind ninja who leads a clan known as the Chaste. Stick taught Matt to use his enhanced senses to their full advantage and trained him as a warrior.

The inspiration for Daredevils’s career choice is his father, the boxer “Battling Jack” Murdock. But the reason behind this choice depends on which version of Daredevil’s origin you subscribe to. In the original, his father taught Matt the importance of education and nonviolence and wanted his son to be a better man than him. Frank Miller’s Jack Murdock abused his son, turning this part of Daredevil’s origin on its head.

Matt Murdock is also defined by his faith. The superhero is a Catholic who struggles between what religion teaches and what he feels is the right course of action.

Daredevil Created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Sort Of)

Fun fact: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Daredevil share an origin story. In the early 80s, TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird set out to create a comic book featuring four ninja-trained turtles. They planned it as a parody of four of the most successful titles at the time – Daredevil and New Mutants from Marvel, Cerebus created by Dave Sim, and Frank Miller’s Ronin.

The Turtle’s origin story begins with a truck carrying radioactive ooze, and the resulting chemical spill mutates four ordinary turtles and a rat in New York City’s sewers. Master Splinter‘s name is a homage to Stick. And then there are the Turtle’s enemies, the Foot Clan.

Don’t Mention Affleck

In time, Daredevil appeared in cartoons, video games, television, and movies. Rex “Street Hawk” Smith was the first actor to play a live-action Daredevil on television in 1989. In The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, David Banner is arrested and charged with a crime and Matt Murdock is the lawyer defending him. This leads to the Hulk and Daredevil teaming up to defeat the Kingpin (John Rhys-Davies).

Ben Affleck brought Daredevil to the big screen in 2003. While the film adapted certain elements of the Daredevil mythos faithfully – his red costume, his Catholic guilt, the addition of fan-favorite characters Elektra and Bullseye – it was not well received. On the plus side, the late Michael Clarke Duncan played a genuinely menacing Kingpin.

Marvel’s Daredevil

Marvel’s Daredevil was the first of its series to be produced and sets the tone for the related Netflix shows that follow. Major characters introduced in Daredevil return in The Defenders, including Stick and Elektra. In the wake of the Chitauri invasion depicted in The Avengers, New York City is recovering and rebuilding. It is here we find Matt Murdock – the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.

Daredevil’s first season sees Matt take on Wilson Fisk, a shadowy crime boss who wants to help Hell’s Kitchen rebuild – he just wants to do it his way and damn the casualties. Matt goes from burgeoning vigilante to fully fledged crimefighter in the space of thirteen episodes, culminating in acquiring an MCU makeover of his traditional costume.

The second season ups the ante. Matt is more comfortable in his role as Daredevil, but the arrival of violent vigilante Punisher and his ex-girlfriend Elektra tears his life apart. By the end of the season, Foggy ends their legal practice, and Elektra is dead at the hands of the Hand. Struggling to reconcile his two lives, Matt makes the decision to reveal his secret identity to Karen Page. Those who remember their comic history know this may not be the smartest move that Matt could have made.

Mike Delaney
Star Wars fan and general pop culture addict. Only two beverages worth drinking are tea and whisky.
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