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Daredevil – The Man in the Box (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Throughout the second season of Daredevil, major characters debate the nature of Frank Castle.

In Bang, Frank Castle is introduced as a force of nature; he is presented akin to an old horror movie monster. In New York’s Finest, Frank tries to argue his case with Matt; Frank suggests that he simply offers a more permanent variation of the justice that Matt dispense. Indeed, Regrets Only seems to suggest that Karen has a more sympathetic perspective on Frank; Foggy dismisses him as obviously insane. In Semper Fidelis, Matt and Karen argue about whether Frank could be considered a hero.

"You should put that on a t-shirt or something."

“You should put that on a t-shirt or something.”

As the second season of Daredevil marches on, the series continues to offer excuses and justifications for what Frank does. The show goes out of its way to avoid any potentially challenging read of Frank Castle, tying everything neatly back to the death of his family. Guilty as Sin implies that Frank is a victim of “sympathetic storming” that keeps the death of his family constantly fresh in his mind. Seven Minutes in Heaven makes it clear that Frank still has a lot killing to do to avenge his family. Frank is presented as a brutal avenger, rather than a violent serial killer.

However, as the second season of Daredevil enters its final act, the show tips its hand. The Man in the Box makes it clear that Frank Castle is not an anti-villain. He is not even an anti-hero. Frank Castle is a straight-up hero. As the show moves into its final stretch, it becomes clear that the production team have crafted a thirteen-episode superhero origin story for Frank Castle. That gets to the root of the problems in his characterisation.

Sai.

Sai.

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Daredevil – Shadows in the Glass (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Much like Stick, Shadows in the Glass emphasises the relatively episodic nature of Daredevil.

If Stick was “the mystical ninja tie-in episode”, then Shadows in the Glass is the obligatory “villain episode.” This is evident in the choice to open with a teaser dedicated to the morning routine of Wilson Fisk. It is a nice structural choice to repeat the sequence two more times, once at the midpoint and once towards the end. The second iteration of the sequence plays much the same as the first, but the third version plays out with both Wilson Fisk and Vanessa Marianna, suggesting that Fisk is no longer as alone as he claimed to be in Rabbit in a Snowstorm.

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Daredevil is a show that really does take advantage of its format to flesh out and develop the world of Matthew Murdock. It would have been easy to structure Daredevil as a simply thirteen-hour origin story with a reasonably high budget. However, the show capitalises on the extra space afforded to a thirteen-episode season. None of the Marvel films could afford to devote fifty minutes of character development to the antagonist, and even Loki has never been given as much narrative attention as Fisk. (Only Michael Fassbender’s Magneto can compete with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk.)

Shadows in the Glass provides Wilson Fisk with a supervillain origin story very clearly designed to mirror that of Matt Murdock.

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Daredevil – World on Fire (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Having paused to catch its breath – and properly introduce the character of Wilson Fisk – World on Fire and Condemned restore the season’s sense of forward moment. The clutter of the Russian mob is tidied away, allowing the series to throw Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk into proper conflict with one another. It is no coincidence that Matt and Fisk first talk to one another in Condemned, the episode that brushes aside the last remnants of the Russian mob. World on Fire is largely about setting up all that, serving as a bridge from In the Blood into Condemned.

It is a testament to all involved that it works as well as it does. Charlie Cox is fantastic as a conflicted Matthew Murdock, Rosario Dawson does great work as Claire Temple. Once again, Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson are trapped in a somewhat generic subplot that exists to explain why Hell’s Kitchen might be worth saving in its current state. Vincent D’Onofrio and Ayelet Zurer continue to have an endearing chemistry, portraying a fairly convincing love story about power and justification – the show never seems confused about what Wilson Fisk and Vanessa Marianna see in one another.

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All the formal elements continue to work very well. The writing staff do an excellent job mirroring Matt and Claire with Vanessa and Fisk; one couple separated by the anger and drive of the protagonist, another intoxicated by those same qualities in the antagonist. Although it is easy to take the show’s camera and stunt work for granted after the climax of Cut Man, there is an impressive long shot in the middle of the episode that is executed beautifully as Matt intercepts a drug delivery to the Russians.

At the same time, there is something a little bit forced about the plotting and structure of World on Fire, which is largely a result of its transitional state. The first season often felt like it was spinning its wheels as it set Matt against the Russians – neither Anatoly nor Vladimir felt like fully-formed or fleshed out characters, in spite of the teaser to In the Blood. As a result, a lot of World on Fire feels like necessary housekeeping before the show can really get down to business.

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Daredevil – In the Blood (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is something very functional and formulaic about stretch of the season running from Rabbit in a Snowstorm through to Condemned.

After a great opening set of episodes, it feels like the show stalls a little. It pulls back, taking the time run through some stock superhero origin plot elements before pressing ahead. This might just be a result of the thirteen-episodes-in-one-go format of the series, or it could be a result of the transition from original showrunner Drew Goddard to new showrunner Steven DeKnight. Whatever the reason, it feels like the first season slows down its plotting for Matt Murdock so that it can catch up on developing Wilson Fisk – a character who spent the first two episodes of the season as a phantom.

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As a result, it is rather unsurprising that Fisk’s plot should be the most interesting part of In the Blood. This is the audience’s first extended encounter with the new crime boss of Hell’s Kitchen, as we join him on an awkward first date right before we are reminded of just how violence he can be. As ever, Daredevil provides a nice sense of contrast with its characters, offering a striking juxtaposition between the well-meaning and innocent version of Wilson Fisk presented to Vanessa Marianna and the brutal and violent version of Wilson Fisk who decapitates Anatoly Ranskahov with a car door.

The problem, then, is the plotting as it relates to Matt Murdock. While the show is making up for lost time by developing Wilson Fisk, it seems like Matt is relegated to level-grinding against the Russian mob. These are villains so generic that it seems like everybody in Hell’s Kitchen just refers to them as “the Russians.” To be fair, the teaser to In the Blood does give us some sense of back story for Vladimir and Anatoly Ranskahov, but they feel rather transparently like a stalling tactic designed to eat up time before the show can get to the interesting stuff.

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The situation is not aided by the decision to play out the cliché “attack the hero by targeting a female acquaintance” plot as the centrepiece of Matt’s arc in the episode. In the Blood cleverly underscores the parallels between Wilson Fisk and Matt Murdock by juxtaposing their relationships with Vanessa and Claire respectively, but this structural cleverness is undercut by the decision to reduce Claire to emotional leverage. Victimising a female character to drive a male character to action is also a risky plotting decision, but particularly so when it feels like the show is just marking time.

In the Blood is a perfectly functional episode, albeit one that works much better when it focuses on its villain than when it focuses on its hero.

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Punisher MAX by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

“This was the only way Frank’s story was ever gonna end,” Fury remarks in the closing issue of Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s Punisher MAX run. Picking up the threads from Garth Ennis’ celebrated run, Aaron decides to offer a definitive account of the end of Frank Castle’s one-man war on crime. It’s interesting that this is a story that had never really been told before. Even Ennis’ The End was set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future to write an allegorical conclusion to Frank Castle’s campaign of terror.

Aaron might not have as firm a grip on Castle as Ennis, but he has a pretty compelling hook. More than that, though, Aaron’s irreverent and playful style suits the book quite well. Aaron has a tendency to write cartoonish and larger-than-life characters in his mainstream superhero work, and Punisher MAX is decidedly cartoonish and larger-than-life. That’s part of the appeal. In many ways – and not just in his choice of artistic collaborator – Aaron’s Punisher MAX feels rather like Garth Ennis’ Marvel Knights: Punisher run written with the sex, violence and brutality of his Punisher MAX work.

It’s a potent cocktail.

Very armed and very dangerous...

Very armed and very dangerous…

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Ultimate Spider-Man – Vol. 12 (Hardcover) (Review)

You know, Jeph Loeb actually managed to make quite the impression on Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics. While his Ultimatum was intended to serve as a “shot in the arm” to a comic book line with waning sales and interest, it’s telling that Marvel organised another event almost directly afterwards, with The Death of Spider-Man serving to reorganise that fictional universe once again. This collection, the twelfth in the Ultimate Spider-Man line, sees author Brian Michael Bendis guiding the book between Ultimatum and The Death of Spider-Man. (Indeed, the next book in the set is the Death of Spider-Man omnibus collection.)

As such, it’s not too surprising that these fourteen issues feel a bit disjointed and uneven, as Bendis deals with the aftermath of one radical status quo change while gearing up for another. That said, I still think that Ultimate Spider-Man represents the single most consistent run on the title, and Bendis still manages to keep things interesting, even if this collection doesn’t quite compile the author’s strongest run of issues.

Spider-Men…

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Acts of Vengeance: Daredevil vs. Ultron (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

In celebration of the release of The Avengers, this weekend we’re taking a look at the massive 1989-90 crossover “Acts of Vengeance”, which pitted various villains against some unlikely heroes. I’ll be looking at some of the most fun match-ups. This arc is collected in the companion omnibus.

I’ll confess that I haven’t read all of Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil run. I’ve just read the issues contained in various crossover collections like Inferno, Mutant Massacre or even Fall of the Mutants. While any run on Daredevil is going to rest in the shadow of Frank Miller’s character-defining work, I find it interesting that Nocenti managed to so effectively tie the book back into the heart of the Marvel Universe. Miller defined the book as a noir adventure, and the tendency has been to follow that approach. While Nocenti writes the same Matt Murdock that Miller defined, she cleverly tends to put him in a different context, producing rather interesting and engaging results. Nocenti’s Daredevil is very much a superhero book, even though it follows Miller’s characterisation, and that gives it a unique flavour.

Stickin’ it to the man…

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