It's hard not to compare Netflix's first Marvel show, Daredevil, with Fox's Gotham. Both are based on superhero comics that are relatively well known, and both are kind of experimental in a way. The former is Marvel's first foray into video-on-demand programming through US Internet subscription service, Netflix, and the latter is a Batman show without Batman. However, both of them share a strong crime drama bent; they focus more on the crime and corruption in their cities, rather than the superhero aspects of their heroes.
After watching 5 episodes of Daredevil, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that Marvel's experiment succeeded, while DC's has failed incredibly.
I gave Gotham a shot, but it suffered from so many issues that I could never get into it. Start with the fact that it is a prequel, so we essentially know what's going to happen (Bruce Wayne grows up to become Batman and he fights all the supervillians). Nothing really feels like it matters since we know Penguin's going to live, Catwoman's going to become a super-thief, E. Nygma becomes Riddler, and eventually the Joker's going to show up somehow. Oh, and Gordon won't ever die, because he's supposed to be Commissioner.
On top of that, it feels like the showrunners never had a plan for the show. They came up with this high concept gimmick, "Hey, what if we saw what Gotham was like before Batman?", and didn't layout any kind of overlying plot to give people a sense of continuity. As a result, the series is episodic, as if they write it on the fly.
Thankfully, Daredevil doesn't suffer from the same lack of vision.
In the series, Charlie Cox plays Matthew Murdock, a lawyer who helps those who live in his hometown. Growing up in Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood in New York City which provides transport, medical, and warehouse infrastructure to Manhattan, young Matt saves an old man from being hit by a truck carrying toxic chemicals. Hurt in the accident, Matt loses his eyesight but gains enhanced senses that grant him abilities beyond most men. Learning that the law can't always help those in need, Murdock takes matters into his own hands as a masked vigilante.
The first episode sets the tone for the series right off, and it's not the campy superhero show of the CW DC universe. The Netflix Marvel-verse is tied lightly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and mention of the alien invasion that devastated Manhattan sets the scene of the first season. In the void after the attack there are new heads of organized crime, and they've bought out the politicians, the police, and the media.
This is a straight up crime drama.
Matt is assisted in his crusade by Foggy Nelson, his partner in the new law firm that he's started in the center of Hell's Kitchen. Elden Henson plays Foggy well, and is a prime example of how none of the characters in this series go to waste. Foggy is Matt's heart, keeping him on the straight in his moral path.
Others help Matt from time to time as well. Deborah Ann Woll plays Karen Page, Nelson & Murdock's first client. Framed for murder, she is saved from a prison sentence by Foggy and Matt and becomes their secretary. Vondie Curtis-Hall plays Ben Urich, a reporter dead set on exposing the corruption in the highest levels of the city government. Rosario Dawson is Claire Temple, a nurse who patches up Murdock after his nights on the town.
On the flip side, we have Vincent D'Onofrio playing Wilson Fisk. He's never called "The Kingpin" in the show, but his performance was every bit worthy of the name. He plays the role like an animal just barely kept in check by the trappings of civilization, and he becomes more and more unhinged as his plans for the betterment of his city are torn away.
Because the show isn't on network TV, it has a license to be more intense and grittier than other programs. One benefit of this is the foul-mouthed Stick, Murdock's mentor who appears towards the middle of the season. He's ably played by Scott Glenn, and is one character I want to see more of in future seasons (or in the coming follow-up, Iron Fist).
You also see this freedom in the brutal fight scenes. Each episode has at least one well choreographed and well shot set piece. If you've watched The Raid, or Old Boy, you'll find the fights very familiar. There's one single-take hallway fight that is just sublime. Murdock's style is less super mystic ninja, and more down and dirty bar room brawler. There's a roundhouse kick or two somewhere, but most of the time he's taking damage as well as giving it. Not an episode goes by where he's not injured in some way or other.
Which makes the show all the more human. He's not super-powered, just very, very ornery.
I was never one of those that really hated the Daredevil movie. It was entertaining, but I realize it never aspired to be anything more than that. Its approach to it was that it was a campy comic book, but from my admittedly meager knowledge of the character, that was never the tone of the original material. Frank Miller, famous for his dark take on Batman, also did some seminal work for Daredevil. Other creators have also taken a pass at the character and it's more of a noir piece than anything else.
The themes of the book, the questions about morality, Matt's Catholic guilt, his father's influence on his life, and the all encompassing corruption are the same aspects that make this series probably the best comic book adaptation out there. I'd put it even above Nolon's The Dark Knight.
And I haven't even mentioned the subplots that the series has hinted at. There's easter eggs about The Chaste (an ancient group of samurais), The Hand (an ancient group of demon ninjas), and the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven (warring mystical cities that tie this in closely to the Iron Fist mythos). Exciting stuff!
To sum it up, Marvel's Daredevil is by and large worth the 11 hours or so that it'll take you to binge-watch the entire first season. Since it's a Netflix show, all 13 episodes were released last week, which is a good thing.
It just sucks that now we've got to wait a year to see any more of it.