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Finn`s Wake : Daredevil: Been There, Done That
© Mark Finn
March 23, 2003

It has taken a month to really figure out what it was about the Daredevil movie that didn’t sit well with me. It’s not that it was a bad movie; the effects were pretty, the action was fast, it was moody, and well, for a bit of Cliff’s Notes-style abbreviation, it was the Daredevil/ Elektra/ Kingpin saga.

Then again, I low-balled it going in. I had a hunch that it wasn’t going to be quite up to snuff, and not for a lack of effort on the part of anyone involved. Everyone was real sincere in all of the interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes that hit the media in the weeks before and after the movie’s release. Both the actor and director were big fans of the comics. The director used The Crow as his palette for the lighting and look of Daredevil. By all accounts, it should have killed. So, why was I vaguely disappointed?

Let me break down the plot of Daredevil without any proper nouns. It’s about a kid who loses his father via a criminal and begins a quest for vengeance. He has a dual life, one that no one else would expect. There’s also a reporter who is investigating his hero persona as an urban myth, and the cops aren’t being very helpful. Then our hero’s love interest shows up, and they do some clever sparring to show how much they are attracted to each other. The villain gets another villain to help destroy the hero, and they frame him for a crime, sort of. The reporter figures out who our hero really is, as does our love interest. Meanwhile, the hero figures out that the villain he’s been chasing the whole time is the same one who killed his father. Everyone fights a lot. Now the villain figures out who the hero is, but it doesn’t matter, because the hero wins anyway. The love interest, who we think died during the climax, may really be alive, after all. The reporter decides not to tell anyone about the hero’s secret. And our hero exits like he came in; alone, so he can keep fighting the good fight.

If I were to go back in to the above paragraph, I could put in names from the first two Batman movies and it would read just fine. This is where my disquiet came from. It wasn’t so much that I had seen it before, because no one had seen DD on the big screen, but it was hitting plot points that I was really familiar with. Daredevil shares an awful lot in common with Batman, as he does in the comics. The difference is, comics aren’t movies. It’s much easier to compare movies with movies. This, I think, is what the Geek Nation was on about in their reluctance to embrace Daredevil, and rightfully so. It’s been ten years since we’ve seen Batman and Batman Returns. That doesn’t mean we don’t still remember the movie.

Was it Daredevil’s fault? Not really. Not if the movie wanted to be faithful to the source material. I can’t think of any way to change the details and retain the flavor without jumping through a lot of needless hoops that would have been offensive to the “core comic book audience.” Talk about a nebulous concept . . .

Comic sales are among the lowest in the last twenty-five years. With top selling books pinging in at over 100,000 copies sold per month, it would seem as though that’s a pretty good indicator of the population of the comic fan across the country.

Except that Wizard Magazine, which is ABOUT comics and the comic industry, sells over 350,000 issues every month. So, then, maybe that’s the real comic book audience, right?

Well, hold on, now. The Death of Superman issue sold 4.7 million copies. Even if you average out all of the issues to two per customer, that’s still a couple million fans. Maybe THAT is the real comic book audience.

No, that can’t be right. The Spider-Man movie shattered box office records. It was a phenomenon, unprecedented. Clearly the theaters were full of Spider-Man fans . . . and yet, we just know in our heart of hearts that only a fraction of them were current comic book readers. Obviously, there were a lot of old comic book readers in attendance, too, but still, how many? It’s like trying to count the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The comics that are currently printed in no way relate to the number of people who consider themselves comic book fans that are out there right now.

In short, there was NO WAY they could have predicted how many people could have shown up for Daredevil. Maybe they were looking in the wrong place. After all, these are movies, not comics. Tons of people packed theaters to see The Crow who had never heard of the comic book before (and incidentally, sales of The Crow graphic novels went through the roof at comic book stores). I wonder how many newly converted Daredevil fans stumbled in off the street? I suspect if anything, all it did was bring old fans back to see what was currently being published. From a bookstore perspective, we saw only a slight increase in DD graphic novels. Far more people bought Spider-Man . . . . but in most cases, it was dads buying the reprints for their kids.

It’ll be interesting to compare the three Marvel movies this year. I expect X-Men II to bury the first X-Men movie, and then I expect The Hulk to bury that and actually get up into the Spider-Man range of returns. After a hot sequel, and a pop cultural touchstone, Daredevil is going to seem like a failure.

So, what does Hollywood do about it? Well, it’s Hollywood. As a collective, it’s a blind-idiot god, flailing mindlessly about (there go the Lovecraft references again). Hollywood won’t do a damn thing. If I were running things, I’d make sure that outside of mainstream pop cultural icons like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and The Hulk, that the super heroes chosen for films aren’t too similar to other heroes that people know a lot about. Unfortunately, that means no more dark and gritty vigilantes. That vein has been mined to death. It would mean more Marvel movies than DC movies (not including Vertigo, which, apart from Sandman, should all convert into movie and TV projects). It would also mean looking at the mistakes of the past and never, ever repeating them again.

More on this next week.

Mark Finn is the author of Gods New and Used and Year of the Hare, available from your local bookstore or from www.amazon.com.

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