Daredevil is the first of five original 13-episode series based on a tier of Marvel characters that includes Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, with the four protagonists slated to team up in the fifth program, The Defenders. It’s the small screen equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which it is connected to, and also exists in the same realm as Marvel’s two ABC-TV shows, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter.
But Daredevil is like none of the movies or the two network programs; it is dark, violent and grounded in urban despair and injustice. It is the story of one man, a blind lawyer named Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox), who dons a mask and ultimately a costume at night and uses his enhanced other senses and fighting skills to battle crime (personified by Vncent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin) in ways that he can’t do legally by day – possibly at the cost of his own soul.
Daredevil intersects with the Marvel movies in ways both big and small, and that’s one of the topics that came up in a recent roundtable discussion with Marvel head of television and executive producer Jeph Loeb and executive producer Steven S. DeKnight, who also spoke about bringing this “little dark corner of the Marvel Universe” to life.
At what point did you decide on the tone of the series? It’s obviously a little darker than what we’ve seen from Marvel, while still feeling very much in that world.
Jeph Loeb: It was something that was discussed really at the very beginning. Not just about Daredevil but also about all of the Netflix shows that we were going to be doing. And it really wasn’t a question of whether or not we were going to do it just to do it. It was that Daredevil warrants that kind of storytelling. Marvel starts with story and what is appropriate for that character, what is appropriate for the kind of story that we’re going to tell on Netflix in 13 hours.
Beginning in that place, when we first started talking to Drew (Goddard, who developed the show before leaving to write and direct the next Spider-Man movie) and then ultimately with Steven, it was important that we all saw it the same way. There really wasn’t any other decision to be made. It was what was appropriate for telling a story about the rise of a hero and the rise of a criminal empire. We always set out — I’ve said this before — to do a crime drama first and a superhero story second.
Steve DeKnight: When I came on it was already set in that gritty, grounded world and, you know, I threw a little bit more dirt on there. But also, we never wanted to take it all the way to R. We all agreed that Daredevil didn’t warrant going all the way to R-rated. I think it’s what — PG-15 I think it is technically.
Loeb: It’s TVMA. We never hid that…because at the end of the day Daredevil takes place in Hell’s Kitchen and we wanted to make sure that it felt very much like New York City and that it was a different kind of New York City than we saw in the world of Tony Stark and the world of The Avengers. From the very beginning we always saw that the Avengers were here to save the universe and that the street level heroes, as we like to call them, are here to save the neighborhood. And in order to make that work you had to see the neighborhood, believe the neighborhood, get to know what was going on, and the kinds of movies we were referencing at the very beginning when we started talking about this.
Then Steven came in and agreed with that same vision which was, you know, from the early 70s when filmmakers were doing different things. So films like Taxi Driver and French Connection and Serpico, those were the films that really influenced where we were, because they also were the films that were influencing Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis. So it all sort of filtered together in order to come up with where we landed.
Did you pick certain storylines from the comics to find that balance between staying grounded and also being part of the larger universe and dealing with the aftermath of events in that universe?
DeKnight: It goes to character, character, character. While we didn’t pick any specific storyline from any of the runs on Daredevil, we definitely were spiritually influenced, me especially, largely by Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis’s run with Alex Maleev.
We were also very much influenced by Alex Maleev’s art — we looked at that and said that’s the look of the show. I mean, that really captures it.
What are the appreciable differences between working for a network and Netflix?
Loeb: I don’t know that it is so much about network vs. Netflix as much as it is what story are you going to tell. We wouldn’t have done a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Netflix. It was something that was created as something that spun out of The Avengers. We had at its heart and core Phil Coulson — Clark Gregg playing that role. Joss Whedon and Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and Jeff Bell, when they first sat down and started talking about the show, it had a certain tone and elegance to it that we loved and felt very much of that world.
When we first sat down and talked with Drew and with Steven about Daredevil, we agreed that that was the way to tell that story. Are there things that you can do on Netflix in terms of a level of violence or a certain piece of language or anything like that? Yes, but we never leaned into that in order to lean into it, and there’s no point in ever doing that.
It’s what’s best for the story. And that’s the fun of Marvel Television, that we’re able to tell different kinds of stories on different kinds of venues and let people see the richness of the Marvel universe.
Even though you’re trying to keep the Netflix stories a little bit solo, Civil War is coming, which is going to be expansive, and there are these other little nods to the universe like the mentions in the first few episodes about the “incident” (the Chitauri attack on New York in The Avengers). Will we see Civil War affect Daredevil at all or any of the Netflix series?
Loeb: I don’t want to get too specific yet. All we can say is that things that happen are things that are acknowledged, if that makes sense, and we’ll see as we go. We also don’t know when certain things are actually going to land, so you’ve got to be very careful as to how to tie your continuity together and where it goes.
What we did want to establish very early on was that what had happened in The Avengers had a very distinct effect on what happened to Hell’s Kitchen — but not in a way that if you hadn’t seen The Avengers, you wouldn’t understand it. And I remember very early on there was actually a reference to the sky opening up and aliens pouring out. We realized it sort of took you out of where you were. You were suddenly going, “Wait, there’s aliens in this world?” So that’s when it sort of became more “the incident.”
It’s the same kind of real world way that people refer to 9/11 as 9/11. They don’t talk about it being the day that the Towers fell or any of the other specifics of it. There’s a shorthand that came along, that everybody understands how horrible that experience was in a very unique and personal way.
DeKnight: That’s something that really drew me to this project, that it is part of the Marvel Universe but it’s its own little dark corner of the Marvel Universe. But with the first two episodes that Drew Goddard had written, I was immediately struck by the fact that you could be a hardcore comic book fan and be drawn into the show.
Or you could know nothing about Daredevil whatsoever and it does not matter. You can have not seen any of the Marvel properties, the comics, the movies — I don’t know how it’s possible in this day and age (laughs) — but you can come to it completely fresh and it’s all right there.
With the Defenders series that will take the four characters from these other series and put them together, I was curious about the choice of the title of The Defenders as opposed to Heroes for Hire. Was there a reason why The Defenders was chosen as the title?
Jeph Loeb: When we get there I think it’ll become apparent.
Assuming the audience likes it, is there a door open for future seasons of Daredevil beyond this first 13 episodes?
Loeb: That’s really up to Netflix at the end of the day. But I think the short answer is that we all had a really good time and we have an extraordinary cast, exceptional writers and a production team and directors that are remarkable. So it would be our hope to be able to tell more stories, but I have the same questions about every one of the shows that we do.
It’s very different than the movie business where, depending upon how the movie does at the box office, it determines whether or not there’s going to be another movie that comes after that. But that’s really Marvel’s decision to make. In this particular case these are decisions that are made by the networks themselves.
DeKnight: And the good news is there’s plenty of material.
Jeph Loeb: That’s for sure.
DeKnight: And the other great thing about the Netflix model is, you know, we didn’t have to burn through 12 antagonists. We didn’t have to bring in Bullseye and Elektra and the whole rogues gallery. That you can spend time with just one character, one antagonist, is fantastic.
Is the Punisher maybe the next character that you might think about for a TV show?
Jeph Loeb: What’s great is that this tier of characters, the street level heroes — which includes the Punisher – is a very rich group of characters. We never want to be driven by who the other character may be. We always want to start from a very simple place which is, what’s the best story for Matt Murdock? What’s the best story for Jessica Jones, Danny Rand, and Luke Cage? If we can find a way to then include something that would get people incredibly excited, that’s fantastic, but we would never do that just to do that.
DeKnight: Unless it Stilt-Man. Me and (Marvel publisher) Dan Buckley are obsessed with getting Stilt-Man in there somehow. I’m not quite sure how that’ll work but we’ll figure it out.