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Daredevil – Seven Minutes in Heaven (Review)

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

The relationship between the first and second seasons of Daredevil is quite complicated.

There is an obvious reason for this. The show’s production team changed between the first and second season, with the role of executive producer shifting from Steven DeKnight to Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie. As a result, there is a clear change in emphasis and storytelling style; much like there was a shift from the two episodes overseen by Drew Goddard at the start of the first season to the later episodes overseen by DeKnight. Different producers bring a different perspective to their material. It is only natural.

"None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you... you're locked in here with me!"

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you… you’re locked in here with me!”

So there are major differences in the content and themes of the first and second season. Recurring elements that had been important to DeKnight are shuffled in the background to afford attention to aspects that intrigue Petrie and Ramirez. Matt’s Catholicism is less important than it was; Matt’s career as a lawyer is more central than it had been. Even the structural emphasis of the season shifts. DeKnight put Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk on a collision course. Petrie and Ramirez prefer to have their characters running in parallel.

That said, there are moments when the first season bubbles through. There are strange thematic links that pop up from time to time, but are truncated or brushed aside. More striking, however, is how closely Ramirez and Petrie hew to the structural elements of the first season. In many ways, this is not surprising. One of the most consistently intriguing aspects of the second season is the energy that it expends on structure rather than plot or character. That is particularly true with Seven Minutes in Heaven.

A Punishing schedule...

Orange is the new dead.

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Daredevil – Guilty as Sin (Review)

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

Part of what is so infuriating about the second season of Daredevil is that fact that there is a lot of good material here.

The issue is nothing as simple as saying “good ideas, terrible execution”, or anything as trite. There are good ideas that are executed well and bad ideas that are handled with a surprisingly deft touch; there are also good ideas that are needlessly squandered and bad ideas that turn out to be exactly as terrible as they initially appear. It isn’t even that there are clearly discernible unambiguous flaws. Everything is a mix. For all the issues with the writing of the Punisher and Elektra, Jon Bernthal and Elodie Yung do great work with the material afforded to them.

Let us pray...

Let us pray…

The second season of Daredevil is very much a curate’s egg of a television season. There are good bits and bad bits. There is breathtaking ambition and incredible miscalculation in equal measure. The series is not entirely a failure, but it is far from a success. With Guilty as Sin, the show clumsily repositions itself as a morality play about the conflict between good and evil within the soul as Elektra Natchios. However, there is a similar conflict brewing at the heart of the show.

Even in the season’s strongest moments, there are clear weaknesses shining through. Even in the season’s weakest moments, its strongest elements are frequently in play.

Eye see.

Eye see.

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Daredevil – Semper Fidelis (Review)

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

There is probably no greater single missed opportunity during the second season of Daredevil than the trial of Frank Castle.

The show does not necessarily do a great job with Elektra, but that character was always going to be deeply problematic owing to her comic book origin. Ironically, the changes that the show makes to her arc do little to alleviate the issues with the character, just shunting them around a little. The Hand are also ill-served by the second season as a whole, but it is hard to imagine how the Hand might have made a credible and organic season-long threat in the first place. Even Frank Miller made a point to tie them into his larger character/thematic arcs.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

In contrast, the trial of Frank Castle is a legitimately good idea. In fact, it is a brilliant idea. On paper, the idea of “the trial of Frank Castle” is one of the smartest concepts applied to the character in recent memory. The season has struggled with the challenges posed by Frank Castle, opting to smooth the rough edges off the character by having him walk through a familiar “avenging father” arc three times over the course of the year. Building a trial arc around Frank Castle goes a long way towards mitigating that; it is a story about Frank that doesn’t need to soften him.

More than that, it is an arc that seems designed to shore up some of the season’s weaknesses. The second season of Daredevil suffers from a lack of generality, a feeling that Matt and his cast exist in the tapestry of a larger New York; not the version of New York seen in The Avengers, but a real place inhabited by real people somewhat disconnected from undead ninjas and blind devil vigilantes. By providing a public spectacle, the trial of Frank Castle provides the opportunity for Daredevil to anchor itself back in a living and breathing New York.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

It also ties neatly into Matt Murdock’s secret identity as a defence attorney, in a manner that is more interesting and engaging than simply offering a half-assed impression of Law & Order. By its nature, “the trial of Frank Castle” is a plot that is only really possible in the shared fictional space of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it is a concept that is a more intriguing application of the shared universe than “… gee, I hope Iron Man shows up.” It plays with some of the genre’s core ideas in a way that is fairly novel and ripe for commentary and metaphor.

It is a shame that the show messes up this plot point so spectacularly.

Trial be there.

“Absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty.”

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Daredevil – Penny and Dime (Review)

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

Penny and Dime closes out the first act of the second season of Daredevil.

It effectively brings an end to the “Daredevil vs. Punisher” section of the season, excluding a brief reprise in .380 towards the end of the year. It does so by offering perhaps the most straightforward “Punisher” story of the season, with Frank Castle effectively finishing the task of dismantling the Kitchen Irish so that his family might rest in peace and he might be remanded in custody. Bringing the arc to a close so early is a fairly bold move from producers Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie. The temptation would have been to run the arc across the full season.

That's not creepy.

That’s not creepy.

In theory, the idea of structuring a thirteen-episode season of Daredevil as a collection of mini-arcs that coalesce makes a great deal of sense. In some respects it is a very “comic-book-y” way of structuring the season. It recalls Scott Snyder’s structuring of mega-arcs like Black Mirror or Zero Year into easily-digestible three- or four-issue chunks. The idea of spending four issues introducing the Punisher before moving on to another run developing his arc and introducing Elektra is a clever storytelling idea. It helps establish “binge-able chunks.”

Unfortunately, this is a rather mixed bag in practice. The second season of Daredevil is full of very clever ideas and is very meticulously crafted, but it lacks a sense of purpose and a commitment to realising these ideas. While Penny and Dime is a very neat episode in theory, it is fairly clunky in practice. It becomes even clunkier in hindsight.

Yeah, that's not creepy at all...

Yeah, that’s not creepy at all…

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Daredevil – Dogs to a Gunfight (Review)

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

Dogs to a Gunfight is the only episode of Daredevil to engage with the Punisher on a philosophical level, and it does so only fleetingly.

This is largely because the Punisher still exists as an abstract menace at this point in the narrative. The character stalked through Bang, but was largely remote. The Punisher gets a bit more to do in Dogs to a Gunfight, but is still largely unknowable to the audience. The name “Frank Castle” has yet to be uttered. Although his victims all fit a pattern that will be articulated in Penny and Dime, and expanded upon in The Man in the Box, those facts are concealed from the audience.

Coming up with these puns on a daily schedule promises to be a pun-ishing endeavour...

Coming up with these puns on a daily schedule promises to be a pun-ishing endeavour…

As such, deprived of characterisation or development, Dogs to a Gunfight can present the Punisher in his purest form. The Punisher is a man with a gun who kills bad people. That is a fairly potent vigilante motif, particularly in the current social and political climate. The Punisher is a very loaded concept, tied into broader questions about justice and violence in a way that is more relevant than undead ninja assassins or blind radar-guided superheroes. The Punisher is something very primal and very basic; but also something unsettling in the modern world.

Watching Dogs to a Gunfight, there is a sense that the Punisher might easily have provided a window into a broader cultural debate. Jessica Jones was able to use Kilgrave to jumpstart a clever and insightful discussion about gender issues, so it makes sense that Daredevil might be able to use the Punisher to spark a discussion about contemporary cultures of violence. Unfortunately, it seems like the show sees this discussion coming and runs very quickly.

"The Punisher's just a mad dog. I want whoever let him off the leash."

“The Punisher’s just a mad dog. I want whoever let him off the leash.”

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Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil – Season 2 (Review)

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

The second season of Daredevil is a dysfunctional mess.

Unfortunately, it is not a particularly interesting mess.

daredevil-380b1

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Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto’s Run on The Punisher, Vol. 9 (Review)

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!

The Punisher isn’t really a complex character.

Indeed, despite his popularity and appeal, there’s really only so much you can do with the character before it feels like you’re repeating yourself. He is a vigilante who brutally murders criminals, possibly because criminals killed his family. That’s part of the reason why Rick Remender’s Punisher run was so exhilarating. It genuinely felt unlike anything that had been done with the character before – even if Remender had to take Frank Castle off the reservation to do it.

Writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto came up with their ingenious way of making the Punisher seem novel again. Realising that readers have probably become a little too over-familiar with Frank Castle and his world, Rucka and Checchetto shrewdly decide to look at Frank Castle from the outside, treating the Punisher as something like a force of nature, a terror glimpsed fleetingly as he stalks the concrete jungle.

A smoking gun...

A smoking gun…

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