Sure, everybody loved Netflix’s Daredevil and most people liked Jessica Jones even more, and the outpouring of adoration was well deserved, as the streaming giant’s take on its own shared Marvel Universe finally proved that a small screen superhero series can be comics accurate without camp, mature without stooping to R-Rated vulgarity, and play in the big boy’s sandbox without contradicting or distracting from what’s currently and coming soon to theaters. But Marvel’s “Knights” haven’t always had it this good, especially the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen. Here are the (somewhat) embarrassing speed bumps on Matt Murdock’s road to streaming superhero stardom…
The Trial of The Incredible Hulk (NBC, 1989)
Spared the nightmare fuel version of the character that Angela Bowie threatened to unleash on unsuspecting audiences in 1975, the first TV Hornhead wasn’t much better, and far less potentially interesting. Clad in a black ninja outfit, which I’m sure the creators thought was more believable in a real world setting, but screams “budgetary constraints” (and would reappear later to further enrage fanboys in Netflix’s otherwise excellent series) , 70‘s soft rocker and future soap opera star Rex Smith assumes the Daredevil mantle to aid the iconic TV Hulk (Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno) after he’s wrongly accused of a jewel heist perpetrated by The Kingpin (Lord of the Rings’ John Rhys-Davies, awesomely cast but ultimately given little to do). Both this made-for-TV cheesefest and the previous year’s Thor-centric The Incredible Hulk Returns were meant as backdoor series pilots for Murdock and the Thunder God respectively, but despite better than expected ratings these Marvel Team Ups didn’t gain much traction with late 80’s TV execs and resulted in no further contemporary small screen shenanigans for either hero. Valhalla, no one was calling.
“Framed” and “The Man Without Fear” – Spider-Man (Fox Kids, 1994)
Fox’s early 90’s Spider-Man cartoon got a lot of things wrong but it’s treatment of The Man Without Fear wasn’t one of them, with Daredevil debuting in a two-parter that pretty closely mirrored our previous entry, Peter Parker getting caught up with the Kingpin and Murdock helping him by day while the Devil uncovers the real truth in the darkness. Despite never having his own animated series, Daredevil made several appearances in other Marvel ‘toons over the years, most notably portrayed by Transformers Voice Actor extraordinaire Frank Welker in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. In the 80’s, ABC had plans for a DD solo series that would’ve added a guide dog named Lightning to the Murdock menagerie. Thankfully that Devil never made it out of development hell, I think even Matt himself could see what a horrible idea that was.
Daredevil (20th Century Fox, 2003)
Maligned by current tastemakers but perfectly serviceable in its time, and a hell of a lot more faithful and reverent to its source material than it’s theatrical contemporaries (looking at you, Singer’s X-Men and Raimi’s Spider-Man), Daredevil’s lone trip to the box office was hampered by Bennifer fatigue, Colin Farrell’s scenery chewing as Bullseye and a woefully miscast Jennifer Garner’s complete and utter lack of charisma, but still comes out as a decent little adaptation of Frank Miller’s lauded mid-80’s run on the DD comics (Miller himself even makes a cameo). Affleck has since put his mid-aughts fallow period far behind him and become a highly consistent writer, director and actor on several critically acclaimed dramas, but a true geek can never leave the funny books behind, and he’ll return to the spandex scene later this month in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Daredevil (Netflix, 2015 to present)
What more can you say about Netflix’s near perfect take of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen? Last year we said it was “damn near perfect, and belongs in the apex of Marvel’s cinematic output right alongside Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, and things look to be continuing on in fine form as The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal straps in as a perfectly cast and lethally badass Punisher with Charlie Cox’s morally malleable Hornhead directly in his crosshairs. If the similarly outstanding Jessica Jones has shown us anything, it’s that Marvel and Netflix definitely know what they’re doing with this gritty, urban, street level, small scale “Defender-verse”, and with “Heroes For Hire” Luke Cage and Iron Fist next in line for the spotlight, and a huge earth shattering team-up on the horizon, the best may be yet to come.
Daredevil: Season 2 debuts this Friday, March 18th on Netflix.