This week, Netflix’s remarkable Daredevil series returns for a second season. Given how well the show handled Marvel’s personal Batman last time, the new series is a cause for geeky celebration. After all, the last run was essentially a season-long origin story. Now Daredevil is finally here in full force and given the success of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones, it’s safe to say that the production team had more money to play with this time and should be able to deliver an even bigger batch of superhero thrills for fanboys and fangirls everywhere to eat up in one long and only mildly depressing binge watch.
Of course, the new season doesn’t just benefit from having a fully functioning Daredevil (crappy costume et. all). The Marvel team also added two iconic characters from Daredevil lore into the mix: Elektra and The Punisher. You may have noticed that given the overwhelming explosion of trailers and billboards announcing the characters. It’s amusing, yet not particularly surprising. After all, the first season made no bones about pillaging Frank Miller’s Daredevil comics for inspiration. That season was essentially one long n’ loose adaptation of his Man Without Fear origin story, even borrowing the transitional black ninja costume that Miller cooked up way back in the 90s (not to mention the fact that they used Miller’s reinvention of the Kingpin). Now they’re bringing in two popular characters that are part of Daredevil’s rogues gallery purely because Miller put them there.
Elektra was of course entirely Miller’s creation from his ground-breaking first run on the character that changed comics forever, while The Punisher was also someone who Miller pulled into the blind vigilante’s world purely to play off of their contrasts (in fact, Marvel initially refused to publish Miller’s Punisher storyline, eventually relenting after he’d made the book one of the most popular comics on the racks). By bringing Elektra and Punisher into the Daredevil Netflix series, the show isn’t just pandering to fans, it’s continuing its move into full Frank Miller territory. Much like how Batman’s finest foes all reflect elements of the Dark Knight’s personality, Elektra and Punisher were always twisted reflections of The Man Without Fear in Frank Miller’s eyes and it’s safe to say that’s what we’ll be seeing again on the show.
While the skull-suited crime killer was a creation Miller pulled from Marvel’s vaults, Elektra was entirely his character and one that managed to endure in the Marvel universe despite the fact that Frank went out of his way to kill her off. Not coincidentally, Elektra’s debut came in the first issue of Daredevil written entirely by Miller (he’d previously been the resident Daredevil artist who collaborated heavily with the official writer). Born out of his obsession with ninja mythology, Elektra was a specially trained assassin for hire. She also was a former lover of Matt Murdock years before he put on the red tights and cowl. They met in college and fell hopelessly in love until her father was assassinated and Elektra was taken away. It was the first woman whose life was tragically ruined for loving Matt (that guy simply can’t date without accidentally ruining his partner’s life!). That caused her to form a parallel costumed crimefighter journey to Matt; she just ended up on the other side of the law.
Obviously, once Elektra and Daredevil reunited in Frank Miller’s tale, things got messy. It was a doomed affair from the start. Sure they were both damaged warriors destined for one another, but they were divided by their morality. A vigilante, Daredevil might be, but he also believes in the law and tries to uphold it as much as a guy in tights beating up criminals in a back alley possibly can. Elektra, on the other hand, would kill for the highest bidder. Sometimes she killed for good, sometimes for evil. It didn’t really matter. Obviously, that’s the sort of fundamental difference in personality that makes for a rocky relationship, folks. It also provided a mirror for Matt Murdock to look into to see how his basest instincts could go wrong (Elektra’s murdering ways did also come out of personal tragedy after all and their fashion sense/fighting styles are remarkably similar). It was an intriguing tragic love story that made Daredevil a bestseller. Then Miller went ahead and killed Elektra in one of the most infamously shocking and brilliant single issues in Marvel history. That was a jaw-drop moment that quickly got reversed to ensure the popular Elektra could live on in the Marvel universe, where she frequently dances between good and evil and regularly torments good ol’ red horns for old time’s sake.
Hey! Speaking of Marvel characters torn between good and evil, how about The Punisher? Initially conceived as a villain before the character proved far-too popular, Frank Castle is a vigilante just like DD. His wife and child were murdered and he vowed to take vengeance on all criminals from that moment on to set things straight. However, he doesn’t just beat people up with a billy club and turn them over to the authorities. Nope, he kills the hell out of bad guys. Obviously, that’s a line that Daredevil doesn’t cross, so from the moment that Frank Miller brought them together they’ve had a real love/hate relationship. They are on the same page in believing criminals need to be taught a lesson through violence, but one guy thinks the other goes too far and one guy thinks the other doesn’t go far enough (no points for guessing who’s who). There’s an intriguing level of personal respect and resentment between the two characters that has lead to a number of fantastic crossover storylines over the years (in particular, the prison tale that Ed Brubaker cooked up for Daredevil and The Punisher is a must read). They’re always in conflict, yet often find themselves wanting to help each other. In many ways their relationship is similar to the one that Daredevil/Elektra share except for…you know…the mushy stuff.
Making Elektra and The Punisher the newest additions to the Daredevil Netflix series is a pretty clever choice. These aren’t new villains taking over the town, nor are they new Superfriends. They are characters who will challenge Matt Murdock and make him question himself as well as his own crime-fighting quests. It’s setting up a season geared towards machine gun battles, ninja fights, and inner turmoil. You know, the core elements of Daredevil. The stuff that makes him the moodiest and Batmaniest of all the great Marvel heroes. It proves that the team behind this series don’t only know what the fans want, but why. It will likely provide better brooding superhero storytelling than whatever the hell it is that Zack Snyder thinks he’s doing and should ensure that the fanbase for Daredevil (both the Netflix series and the character in general) will grow and deepen this summer. It’s a shame that they still haven’t gotten the guy’s costume right, but what can you do? You can’t have everything. I’ll take a disappointing costume over a disappointing interpretation any day.