This is a term that most people probably wouldn’t use to describe Marvel’s “Daredevil” TV show, the darkest and grittiest show/movie that Marvel has done to date (which will almost assuredly be passed by “Jessica Jones” soon, but whatever). But it’s true: Marvel’s “Daredevil” is clearly superversive, and not only that, it is strict Lamplighter superversive as well.
Spoilers for the series throughout. Watch it, it’s great.
Let’s go through the criteria:
- It must have good storytelling: This means that the good prosper, the bad stumble, there is action, motion to the plot, and a reasonable amount of sense to the overall structure.
Good prosper/bad stumble – Check. By the end of season one the Kingpin is in jail, his empire has crumbled, and the Nelson-Murdock legal team have won a total and unambiguous victory.
Action – Check. The series has some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen – but we’ll get to that later.
Motion to the plot – Check. While the pacing lags a bit in the middle section of the series, circumstances continually change and new developments threaten our heroes and alter the course of action the characters take. So no question about that.
Sense to the overall structure – absolutely check. Season 1 tells a complete story, with a clear beginning and ending and a logical plot that is fairly simple to follow, some loose ends here and there notwithstanding (the secret ninja society?).
So the good storytelling requirement is definitely checked.
- The characters must be heroic: Daredevil is a flawed hero who perhaps struggles with sadism, but he risks his life on a regular basis to take down villains ranging from human traffickers to child molesters. His heroism is obvious. Foggy, too, risks his life to save his neighbor Elena in an explosion, and Karen convinces several people to go up against the extremely dangerous Walton Fisk, risking her life in the process. All three of the main characters (minus our villain) are heroes. So, definitely a check.
- Superversive fiction must have an element of wonder: This is the most difficult requirement of superversive fiction, and is the reason that I repeatedly refer to Lamplighter superversive fiction as having strict requirements.
In fact, this is such a specific piece of criteria that I’ll just quote Mrs. Lamplighter’s article directly instead of trying to rephrase it in my own words:
Specifically, the [type of wonder found in superversive stories is the] kind of wonder that comes from suddenly realizing that there is something greater than yourself in the universe, that the world is a grander place than you had previously envisioned. The kind of wonder that comes from a sudden hint of a Higher Power, a more solid truth.
So, does “Daredevil” have this moment of wonder, this hint of a higher power?
I think so, and if you permit me to do an in-depth analysis of my favorite scene in the series I think I can make my point. It is, however, NOT a conventional or expected example.
One of the best episodes in the series thus far is episode 2, “Cut Man”, a brilliant episode and the episode that made me stop and say “This might be something special”. The episode opens with Daredevil found in a dumpster, beaten half to death. A nurse finds him and takes him into her apartment, where she nurses him back to health. She follows his requests not to call the hospital because she realizes he is the mysterious “Man in Black” who has been spotted in Hell’s Kitchen rescuing women from attackers and beating up human traffickers.
During the course of the episode Daredevil slowly recovers, enough that he can fight again, though in a much weakened state. Daredevil and the nurse with him, Claire, together find out through a Russian trafficker that the Russians have set a trap for him: They have kidnapped a boy, and a whole group of men are hiding in the basement of a restaurant, waiting to take Daredevil out when he comes in for the rescue.*
Instead of fleeing the trap and coming up with a way to take on the Russians later, when he can take them by surprise, Daredevil knows that the life of the kidnapped boy is at stake: He must go now, despite the fact that he is still severely weakened from his earlier beating.
What follows when Daredevil enters the Russians hideout is the best fight scene I have ever seen, shot in a single take, where Daredevil takes on six of the Russian traffickers at once. You can actually see Daredevil getting steadily weaker as the fight goes on. He stops, leans against the wall for rest, uses it as leverage for kicks, falls backwards on men hanging onto his neck, and generally develops a whole new fighting style to suit his progressively weakening state.
And he wins. The episode ends with Daredevil picking up the young boy and walking out of the restaurant: Victorious, barely, and alive to fight another day.
There are four things about this scene that make it truly outstanding:
– Daredevil has already been beaten up earlier in the episode. We know he is not invincible. Unlike Captain America, he has lost a fight.
– He is still far less than 100% when he enters the restaurant, but he does it anyway, because he is a hero, and will do whatever he has to to get the job done and save the day.
– As the fight goes on, he is clearly getting progressively weaker; his earlier injuries are obviously affecting him, and he is forced to adapt his fighting style in order to win, making use of chairs and walls and using the weight of his attackers against him.
– He wins the fight. If Daredevil had lost, the scene would have been a disappointment, almost a trick. But no: He walks out with the boy. And wisely, the episode decides to end there. What happens next is superfluous.
This, my friend is wonder: It is awe. It is a lone man, human, broken, nevertheless willing to fight for the weak and downtrodden, and despite all his failings and faults, to come out victorious. And THIS is how you display such a thing, make it convincing, make the audience believe that you have just witnessed a victory won only after a monumental struggle. You see how he needs to brace himself before he enters that restaurant. You know the pain he is in well before he walks in the door.
And when he walks through that door, holding the boy, don’t try and tell me that you’re not in awe of Daredevil.
Don’t tell me that in Daredevil, you didn’t see the hand of God. Briefly perhaps, through a glass darkly, but nonetheless there.
And THAT is how you create superversive fiction.
*Looking back on it, if he knew a gang of Russian traffickers had kidnapped a boy and knew exactly where they were located, why didn’t he call the cops? Granted, at least half or more were corrupt, but he didn’t actually know that at the time. Oh well, great scene anyway.