Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-receivedbig-screen adaptation in 2003 and a critically-successful Netflix series. Still, he’s one of my favourite Marvel superheroes so what better excuse to pay homage to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” than by spending the day celebrating the character?
Released: 7 May 1989 Director: Bill Bixby Distributor: New World International Budget: Unknown Stars: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Rex Smith, Marta DuBois, Nicholas Hormann, and John Rhys-Davies
The Plot: Back on the run and having lost all hope for a cure for his green-skinned alter-ego, Doctor David Banner (Bixby) wanders into a city under the control of crime boss Wilson Fisk (Rhys-Davis). After witnessing Fisk’s men accost Ellie Mendez (DuBois) on the subway, Banner transforms into the Hulk (Ferrigno), framed for the crime, and subsequently arrested. Refusing to stand trial lest the Hulk be unleashed, he offers no co-operation to his blind lawyer, Matt Murdock (Smith), but the two find themselves teaming up against Fisk when Murdock is revealed to be the masked crimefighter known as Daredevil.
The Background: I’ve mentioned it at length before but, long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) dominated cinema screens, Marvel Comics had a decent amount of success with live-action adaptations thanks to the iconic Incredible Hulk television series (1977 to 1982). The show, which coined the unforgettable line “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, ran for eighty episodes before finally coming to an end on 12 May 1982 and firmly entrenched the Green Goliath in the cultural consciousness thanks to standout performances by stars Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, who would go on to voice the character for years to come. About six years after the end of the series, the first of three made-for-television movies was produced; although intended as a backdoor pilot for a Thor (Eric Kramer) spin-off, The Incredible Hulk Returns (Corea, 1988) was, apparently, a ratings success and a second feature-length film was produced to capitalise on the renewed interest. The Trial of the Incredible Hulk was one of my first exposures to the Incredible Hulk show; like The Incredible Hulk Returns, the feature debuted another Marvel superhero, Daredevil, in the hopes of producing a spin-off that never came to pass and also featured Stan Lee’s first ever onscreen cameo in a Marvel production. Overall, though, the film seems to have garnered mixed reviews, with the general consensus being that it didn’t quite deliver on its title or premise.
The Review: Rather than open with a version of the traditional, iconic opening from the television show, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk begins with a morose narration from David Banner (now using the pseudonym “David Belson”), who catches any newcomers up to speed with his current predicament (literally just a case of, “Gamma Rays turned me into a monster” with a few shots from the pilot episode). We then join Banner, now sporting a thick head of hair and full beard, working a demeaning job digging a trench or a ditch or some such. When a co-worker attempts to rile him up and Banner is barely able to keep his anger in check, he once again regretfully hits the road and heads towards the city, despite warnings that he could “get lost there”.
Haunted by his many years on the road and inability to cure his unique condition, Banner remains a lost, tortured soul who drifts from place to place and job to job, refusing to put down any roots and to keep himself to himself and on the move. Despite this, however, he is unable to stand idly by when Ellie Mendez is hounded by a couple of goons on the subway; for his troubles, not only does he transform into the Hulk once more but he also winds up in jail and accused of attacking the woman. Although he knows he is innocent, he adamantly refuses to stand trial out of fear of the damage he might do lest the stress trigger another transformation, and feels that prison is a fitting place for him. The city (which, despite never being named, appears to be New York City) is a bustling metropolis and home to blind lawyer Matt Murdock, a seemingly unassuming man who regularly makes light of his condition with his co-workers. He also has a friendly banter with his staff, Christa Klein (Nancy Everhard) and Al Pettiman (Richard Cummings Jr.), whom he wows with his enhanced senses (which they put down to him making wild, if uncannily accurate, guesses). At the heart of the city is Fisk Tower, a large and ominous structure that dominates the city skyline, and Matt has made it his solemn vow to tear the building down, and Fisk with it, once they have concrete proof that he is involved in the city’s underworld.
Matt’s suspicions about Fisk are entirely well-founded as the criminal mastermind directs, via radio and video, two of his henchmen in the systematic robbery of a jewellery store. An enigmatic and authoritative figure, Fisk conducts all of his business with precision and immaculate detail, directing every movement and having the entire operation planned to the smallest detail. Untouchable and in full control of the criminal underworld. Fisk’s operation is put at risk when his goons accost Ellie on the subway; when Banner gets involved in the matter, Fisk begins targeting them both in order to avoid linking him to the crime. When Matt is appointed as Banner’s lawyer, he sees this as the perfect opportunity to get a lead on Fisk and is confused and angered at Banner’s unwillingness to co-operate and refusal to divulge his true name and origins. When the stress of an impending trial, Ellie lying about the subway attack (due to Fisk threatening her with reprisals), and his position in general trigger a transformation, Banner is convinced to trust Murdock when the lawyer reveals his duel identity as the masked vigilante Daredevil. Although Banner has reached the end of his rope and lost all faith in the science that was once his life, he finds himself reinvigorated by Murdock’s plight since he was transformed by the better by radioactive substances and he leaves the film far more optimistic and content to have a “brother in the world”.
The Nitty-Gritty: The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is a relatively inoffensive little extension of the television show but nothing massively spectacular, though I never really watched the show as a kid as it wasn’t really on TV over here in the United Kingdom, as far as I am aware. As a result, I remember being somewhat impressed with the film back then since it wasn’t as if live-action superhero productions were as accessible as they are today. Even now, it’s still pretty entertaining; sure, it doesn’t deliver on its premise at all (the “trial” only happens in a nightmare of Banner’s and seems to refer more to the emotional trial that Banner is going through) but it’s an interesting time capsule of a bygone era when live-action superhero adaptations were certainly ambitious, if nothing else.
As is the case with much of the Incredible Hulk TV show, the Hulk himself is unquestionably the star of the film. Sadly, he gets very little screen time; Banner doesn’t even transform into the Hulk for the finale but, when he does turn green, it’s treated as a pretty big deal. This is, however, par for the course for The Incredible Hulk; the episodes I have seen generally focus much more on the drama surrounding Banner, the people he meets, and his weekly attempts to find a cure for himself or help those in need and the Hulk appears very sporadically as a result. While the Hulk’s rampage in Banner’s nightmare is a standout moment in the film, and is a great showcase of the Hulk raging against a room full of people for a change, it’s still just a dream sequence. Luckily, there’s a particularly decent follow-up scene later on when, having witnessed Daredevil be pummelled by Fisk’s men, Banner transforms to save him and, in the process, forms a kinship with the blind crimefighter.
This, coincidentally, brings me on to the subject of Daredevil; Daredevil’s presence is hinted at early in the film as graffiti carrying his name adorns the walls of the city and the film spends a great deal of time setting up Murdock’s day-to-day life, introducing his enhanced senses (although the depiction of his radar sense is a bit questionable), and making him a prominent figure all before he first appears in an all-black ninja outfit to save Ellie’s life. Despite the fact that his outfit is disappointingly barebones, I appreciate that Daredevil is sporting a look straight out of “The Man Without Fear” (Miller, et al, 1993), one of the first Daredevil stories I ever read. Daredevil is something of an urban legend in the film but he is also unofficially sanctioned by police chief Albert G. Tendelli (Joseph Mascolo), who even has a direct line to contact Daredevil when he needs help outside of the normal confines of the law, and allies like Turk (Mark Acheson) to feed him leads. Rex Smith may not always be performing Daredevil’s few limited fight scenes or acrobatic feats (which are incredibly limited) but he does a decent enough job in the role; while the film alters his origin somewhat to have him begin his training as Daredevil as an adult and after being inspired by Tendelli, he undergoes a trial of his own when Fisk’s men put a severe beating on him and leave him feeling humiliated.
Undeniably, though, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is elevated by the presence of the bombastic and alluring John Rhys-Davies; despite never using the name “Kingpin”, Rhys-Davies is perfectly cast as Fisk and brings just the right level of authority and scene-stealing charisma to the role to make him larger than life but also threatening. Even better, he’s not just some one-dimensional gangster, either; he’s incredibly lenient with his right-hand man, Edgar (Hormann), even when he has a change of heart and helps Ellie escape from Fisk’s captivity. At the same time, though, Fisk is absolutely ruthless; having grown weary of Daredevil’s interference and wishing to consolidate his power over the city’s underworld, he presents his rivals not just with a number of jewels but also video evidence of Daredevil’s beating. While he fully believes that this has resulted in Daredevil’s demise, his plans are ultimately ruined when Banner and Daredevil crash the party and force Fisk to flee to fight another day.
The Summary: In many ways, it’s a bit of a shame that The Trial of the Incredible Hulk didn’t lead to a spin-off for Daredevil; even back then, a TV show about a black-suited vigilante had to have cost less to make than one about a scientist who turns into a musclebound strongman. However, I can kind of see why a Daredevil spin-off wasn’t produced; as much as I enjoy the character, his portrayal in the film, and the magnetic presence of John Rhys-Davies, Murdock and Daredevil are nowhere near as compelling or visually interesting as the Hulk. It’s equally a shame, then, that the Hulk has such limited screen time in the film but I can forgive a lot of that as, again, the main focus of the show was always the drama surrounding Banner and the film does a serviceable job of trying to introduce Daredevil and make us care about him. Ultimately, while it’s probably the most boring interpretation of Daredevil you’ll see, I can’t help but have a soft spot for The Trial of the Incredible Hulk; it was my introduction to the TV show and a vital part of my childhood so I have a lot of nostalgic affection for it and it’s worth watching for John Rhys-Davies’ performance alone, to say nothing of the dramatic allegorical and physical trial that Banner and Murdock, respectively, endure in the film.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Have you ever seen The Trial of the Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it and its portrayal of Daredevil? Were you a fan of the Incredible Hulk TV show back in the day and what did you think to the feature-length films? Do you think including other Marvel Comics characters benefitted these films or do you think they took the focus away from the Banner/Hulk conflict that made the show so memorable? What do you think of Daredevil as a character and which storyline of his do you think is the best, or the worst? How are you celebrating Daredevil’s debut this year? Whatever you think about Daredevil, drop a comment below.
Released: 30 November 2004 Originally Released: 14 February 2003 Director: Mark Steven Johnson Distributor: 20th Century Fox Budget: $78 million Stars: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, and Joe Pantoliano
The Plot: After being blinded by radioactive waste as a child and discovering his other senses are superhumanly keen as a result, Matt Murdock (Affleck) works as a lawyer by day and devil-garbed vigilante by night. While falling in love with the mysterious and beautiful Elektra Natchios (Garner), Daredevil draws the ire of Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Duncan), who hires the assassin Bullseye (Farrell) to rid him of Daredevil’s interference once and for all.
The Background: Following his creation in 1964, Daredevil has been no stranger to multimedia ventures; while Angela Bowie’s 1974 proposal for a television movie was never produced, the character made his live-action debut in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk(Bixby, 1989), portrayed by Rex Smith, and made occasional appearances in various Marvel cartoons, particularly in the nineties, and a live-action movie was in the works since as far back as 1997 but could never quite get off the ground thanks to Marvel Comics’ legal issues at that time. Development finally gained traction in 2000, with 20th Century Fox (who would also find success with another of Marvel’s properties, the X-Men, around this time) distributing the film and Mark Steven Johnson signed on to both write and direct.
Taking inspiration from the “Guardian Devil” (Smith, et al, 1998 and 1999) storyline and Frank Miller’s celebrated work with on the character, Daredevil was poised to be one of the darker, grittier superhero films of its time. Despite turning a sizeable profit, making nearly $180 million in worldwide gross (and having a rocking soundtrack that propelled one of my favourite bands, Evanescence, into mainstream popularity), Daredevil was less-than-favourablyreceived upon release, with even star Ben Affleck speaking out against the film after its release (despite all the positive comments he had made to market the film…) The “Director’s Cut” of the film (which restored an entire sub-plot, swear words, and was far more violent) released about a year later, is generally regarded by many (including myself) to be the definitive version of the film, however, though the critical and commercial failure of spin-off Elektra (Bowman, 2005) and Affleck’s refusal to revisit the role put an end to any hopes for a sequel and Daredevil would not reappear in live-action until Marvel Studios regained the rights to the character about ten years later.
The Review: Daredevil was released at a time when superhero movies were just really starting to hit their stride; they weren’t the multimedia juggernaut they are today thanks to the efforts of Marvel Studios and Disney so, while there were many highly regarded and influential superhero films released in the early 2000s, not all of them were guaranteed smash hits and even the ones that were haven’t exactly aged well (or have been done better) since then. As a result, most superhero films tended to feature a major focus on the character’s origin, a lot of fast-paced and frenetic action scenes, and a plot that moved at a relatively brisk pace to cover a lot of ground as quickly as possible. They, like many other action films of the time, were also heavily influenced by (or blatantly ripping off) The Matrix(The Wachowski Brothers, 1999) so black leather, “wire-fu”, and CGI were plentiful during this time and, of all the superhero movies released in the early 2000s, perhaps nowhere are all these now-cliché elements more apparent than in Daredevil.
Daredevil begins in medias res with the titular vigilante wounded, seemingly fleeing from the police, and seeking sanctuary at Father Everett’s (Derrick O’Connor) church. As he lays incapacitated and hurt, Murdock begins to narrate his childhood and life up until that point under the illusion that his life is flashing before his eyes as he dies; this flashback-heavy first portion of the film separated Daredevil from its contemporaries as, while the Spider-Man films (Raimi, 2002 to 2007) featured a bit of narration from the main character, most superhero films started at the beginning and progressed from there, with us following the hero along his journey and learning alongside him/them. This technique, though, means that we experience Daredevil from a uniquely different perspective, that being through the haunted, tumultuous memories of its main character.
We’re thus introduced to Murdock first as a battered and injured vigilante and then, very quickly as a young kid (Scott Terra) from Hell’s Kitchen who is constantly harassed by a gang of local youths. These bullies like to rag on young Matt because his father, Jack Murdock (David Keith), is not only an over-the-hill, washed up prize-fighter who once fought under the name “The Devil” and wore a devil-themed robe to the ring but has now taken to working as an enforcer for Fallon (Mark Margolis), a local mob boss. Matt, maintaining a staunch belief in his father’s glory days, accolades, and abilities, stands up to such bullies and trash talk and takes a beating as a result, much to the dismay of his father. Jack, however, wants more from Matt and discourages him from fighting, wishing instead for Matt to devote himself to his studies and to make something of himself and it is clear from their brief scenes together that the two have a very strong relationship, one built on mutual trust, respect, and dependency.
Jack is determined to have Matt grow up unafraid, to be the best version of himself, and to not be a “bum like [him]” but this goes so far that he is too ashamed and too despondent to admit that he really has been forced to rough people up on Fallon’s behalf in order to provide for his family. The very next scene shows Matt witnessing this and, distraught and heartbroken, he flees from the sight only to end up narrowly avoiding a collision and being blinded by a biohazardous waste product as a result. Similar to Spider-Man, an elaborate CGI sequence shows us the effect this has on Matt’s DNA and, when he awakens in hospital, he is immediately bombarded with sensory overload as, while he has been rendered permanently blind, his remaining senses (particularly his hearing, which gets the most attention) have been augmented to near-superhuman levels.
Unlike in the character’s debut appearance, where Matt barely flinched at being blinded, very little time was spent dwelling on how he or his father felt about it, and where Matt never once struggled to adapt to his new abilities, Daredevil adds a few wrinkles to this turn of events. Firstly, because Matt’s accident happened as a direct result of him running away from his father, Jack feels a tremendous amount of guilt and shame about the accident; secondly, Matt is overwhelmed to the point of terror at his newfound abilities and struggles to get them under control. However, the two have such a strong bond, love, and dependence upon each other that Matt doesn’t bare a grudge and the two resolve to redouble their efforts to overcome their limitations, with Jack getting back into training and back into the ring and Matt continuing his studies using Braille and discovering that his echolocation provides him with a version of sight. In experimenting with his newfound abilities, he loses all sense of fear as he easily traverses rooftops and overwhelms his tormentors (who “dare” him to fight them) with little more than his walking stick and his dexterity.
Of course, Daredevil is still a superhero story and what superhero origin is complete without a dash of tragedy? It turns out that Fallon has engineered Jack’s comeback and threatens both him and Matt to coerce Jack into taking a dive in his next fight; with his son in the crowd and refusing to compromise his principals, Jack refuses and wins through heart, determination, and brute strength/force of will. However, Fallon’s goons jump Jack after the fight and beat him to a pulp before an unseen third assailant delivers the finishing blow, beating Jack to death and leaving a red rose on his bloodied corpse. Tragically, Matt hears it all and is absolutely heartbroken when he comes across his father’s beaten and bloody body. He resolves to keep his promise to his father to help those that others wouldn’t and seek justice one way or another, with the film glossing over his time in college and law school and jumping ahead several years to find him fully grown into Ben Affleck.
The older Murdock is a haunted, heavily conflicted individual; in order to block out the constant barrage of noises, he sleeps in a sensory deprivation tank and regularly chews a number of pills and painkillers to dull the constant pain from the many wounds he has suffered in his nightly jaunts. The effects of his double life can be immediately seen not only in his weary expression but also the multitude of scars, bruises, and injuries his body exhibits; though Matt’s abilities make him faster and stronger than the average man, he’s still human and we constantly see him suffering blows and injuries during his activities as Daredevil, taking hard shots to the ribs and even losing a tooth during the film’s first big action scene. I’m no fan of Affleck (largely because of the way he crapped all over this movie after professing to be such a big fan of the comics during its marketing) but he’s actually really great as Murdock; the special contact lenses he wears are only a small part of selling him as a blind man as Affleck assumes a slightly skewed posture and thousand-yard stare, always positioning himself in such a way that you can tell he’s lacking his sight. Additionally, Murdock uses Braille to identify his belongings, and even folds his notes in certain ways to recognise them (though it’s not entirely clear if he needs to do this, since we know he doesn’t, or if it’s all part of playing up his persona as a simple blind man), all of which go a long way to showcasing how a blind man might life his life.
Affleck is also able to showcase a multitude of emotions with a surprising amount of nuance; Murdock is a pragmatic, yet passionate, bastion of the innocent in the court room, has a fantastically realised love/hate relationship with his friend and colleague Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Favreau), and transforms into this violent, sardonic, brutal vigilante when donning the incredible blood-red leather outfit of Daredevil. It’s clear that Murdock is a man of many conflicting emotions and suppressed rage and that Daredevil is his outlet for those sensations; he takes deep offense to those who flaunt or break the law or who are under the clear influence of the mysterious Kingpin of Crime and takes it upon himself to bring such individuals to justice. His methods to achieve this are vicious and violent, involving the unrelenting beating of any law breakers and even more direct and indirect murder as he moves fast enough to avoid bullets that other thugs then take and not only willingly knocks Jose Quesada (Paul Ben-Victor), an obvious rapist and all-round bad person, to a gruesome death by train but even takes the time to mock him before his grisly dismemberment.
Clearly a tortured, haunted individual, Matt keeps others at arm’s length and actively sabotages his relationships because of his unwavering commitment to bringing criminals to justice as Daredevil and his unresolved issues. Foggy makes this abundantly clear as he calls Matt out on his bullshit time and time again while still being in quiet awe of Matt’s adaptability, dedication towards helping those in need even when they receive very little payment (or payment in fluke or sports gear, which makes for an amusing running gag), and his capability in the court room. Their relationship is a real highlight of the film, with the two sharing banter, matching wits, pulling pranks on each other, and even using Matt’s disability to wind up strangers or to win the sympathy of the jury. Any time these two are onscreen together, it’s a joy to see; Favreau is instantly charming and likeable as the goofy Foggy and, while he was always able to stand out by questioning Matt’s approach to the women in his life, the Director’s Cut expands Foggy’s role and gives him a character arc where he is able to resolve Dante Jackson’s (Coolio) case and help lead the authorities to the Kingpin.
Speaking of Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin…how amazing was Michael Clarke Duncan? The man had such a charisma and a presence not only because of his massive frame but also his charming smile and deep, dulcet tones. Though traditionally a white character, Duncan is a perfect fit for the role and exudes power, charisma, and a commanding respect from the moment he is introduced in the film garbed in a flashy suit and puffing away on a chunky cigar. Though the character was an eloquent and calculating individual in the theatrical cut, the Director’s Cut goes even further in establishing Fisk’s threat when he is seen viciously bludgeoning two of his underlings (one with his massive cane and the other by first throttling and then breaking his neck), which makes it all the more ominous when he later lays a seemingly innocent hand on the shoulder of Nikolas Natchios (Erick Avari) and gets his large hands on Daredevil in the film’s conclusion. The added runtime afforded by the Director’s Cut also adds further nuance to Fisk’s character; on the one hand, you could argue that we don’t really learn much about him and that he’s every typical, one-note criminal mastermind but, on the other, you can really see a number of layers to Duncan’s performance. Like Murdock, Fisk is keeping his raw, animalistic urges and primal rage at bay with a suit (literally a business suit); he explodes in a burst of rage and pure, unbridled power then immediately calms and composes himself and is so eager to put his abilities to the test against Daredevil for the climatic final fight that he all but invites the vigilante in to take him on man-to-man. Cold, calculating, but also articulate and oozing menace, Duncan portrays Fisk as a man at war with his clearly street-smart upbringing and the sophistication required of his role. Indeed, while he takes immense pleasure in the suffering of others, he also maintains that none of his actions have ever been personal; it’s with a glimpse of regret, maybe even sorrow, that he admits to Daredevil that his entire criminal enterprise has only ever been “business” and nothing more.
Fisk’s “business” finds itself somewhat compromised not only by Daredevil but also the continued attempts by reporter Ben Urich (Pantoliano), whose speciality is urban legends, to expose the Kingpin. Fisk solves that problem by hiring Bullseye, a charming, animalistic, cold-hearted, sadistic, masochistic hitman, to kill Natchios. Unlike Murdock and Fisk, we learn very little about Bullseye save that he is a ridiculously good shot who talks little, kills on a whim, and has a flair for the dramatic. Like Fisk, Bullseye enjoys killing but takes a perverse pleasure out of it rather than revelling in his power like Fisk does; he’s also incredibly egocentric and takes it personally when Daredevil causes him to miss a shot, happily accepting an extended contract to take out both Daredevil and Natchios’ daughter, Elektra.
Of the three main characters in the film, it’s Elektra who I feel brings the weakest performance; I’m not really a fan of Jennifer Garner and find her to be a bit of a blank slate who is sleepwalking through the film. She phones it in well enough to portray Elektra as a strong, independent, and forceful character when she needs to be but her romance with Matt is incredibly rushed and convenient. He basically becomes infatuated by her on scent alone and they have an absolutely cringe-worthy flight/flirt in a neighbourhood playground that seems more like Matt stalking and forcing himself upon her than a genuine attraction. However, she respects Matt’s ability to perform heavily choreographed wire-fu enough to give him her name and the time of day. To be fair, Elektra is a fairly layered character; she hates being under the constant supervision of her father and her bodyguards and wants her independence yet is incredibly devoted to him and her family. She is feisty and strong-willed but also lonely and you get the sense that her relationship with Matt is the first time she’s really been able to open up to someone. After her father is killed, though, she turns into a cold, venge-seeking individual, blanking out Matt’s pleas to turn away from vengeance and showcasing her formidable martial arts and sai-based combat skills in preparation to take out the man she believes responsible for her father’s death: Daredevil.
All-in-all, Daredevil’s cast is pretty solid, ranging from top notch to mediocre performances that do a serviceable job given the film’s run time. And there is a lot happening in this film, especially in the extended Director’s Cut, yet the film’s pace is relatively speedy all throughout, glossing over such things as how Matt was able to construct his suit, multi-purpose cane, and the “Devil-Cave” compartments of his apartment and often padding out action scenes or stunts with some very dodgy CGI. I remember the effects not being that bad at the time but they really haven’t aged well now, with the CGI Daredevil, especially, looking particularly rubbery and cartoony as he ludicrously jumps from building to building or battles Bullseye up a ridiculously large church organ. The film is at its best when the action and fight scenes are simple, raw, and gritty, such as the one-on-one action between Daredevil and Elektra, Bullseye, and, especially, Fisk. Perhaps because of the success of Spider-Man, though, and definitely because of the popularity of The Matrix, Daredevil seeks to portray not just Daredevil but also Elektra and Bullseye as being capable of performing incredible, physics-bending stunts. While this is somewhat fitting for Daredevil, who is generally about as agile and adept as Spider-Man in the comics, it definitely feels like the film would have benefitted from downplaying the more nonsensical stunts and focusing on more dark and gritty action and fights.
The Nitty-Gritty: In contrast to the beliefs of some, one of the best things about Daredevil, for me, has always been its soundtrack; sure, either the score or a host of licensed tracks are usually playing over every scene in the film but Daredevil boasts some rocking tunes and uses them to really help establish the mood or the character onscreen at the time. Murdock drowns out the sounds of the city with some Seether, for example; Nickleback’s “Learn the Hard Way” plays while Daredevil kicks the crap out of Quesada and his goons (who all need to “learn the hard way” that their actions have consequences), Fisk is introduced to the sounds of N.E.R.D.’s “Lapdance”, the appropriately-named “Man Without Fear” by Drowning Pool and Rob Zombie brings a manic energy to Bullseye’s elaborate motorcycle chase against Natchios, and, of course, the iconic “Bring Me to Life” and “My Immortal” by Evanscence feature prominently to set the stage for Elektra’s grief and her thirst for vengeance. Honestly, I don’t give a damn how much music is in the film because when a film’s soundtrack is as bad-ass as this one, all you can really do is sit back and rock out!
Fittingly, Daredevil is also rife not only with references to some of the character’s most influential writers (John Romita, David Mack, Joe Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis all get name dropped, Frank Miller and Stan Lee pop up for brief cameos, and, most egregiously of all, Kevin Smith has the gall to appear as a coroner named “Jack Kirby”) but also with religious imagery; the opening of the film provides a perfect excuse to recreate that iconic shot of Daredevil clinging to a cross atop a church, Matt is only able to control his newfound abilities by focusing on the ringing of a church bell, the Director’s Cut features a handful of quasi-dream sequences where Matt is visited by a Nun (actually his deceased mother), Daredevil subdues Bullseye by causing a sniper’s bullet to pierce his hands in the style of the stigmata, and Matt frequently finds solace in Father Everett’s church. In the theatrical cut, Everett was the only other person who knew of Matt’s dual identity and he strived to turn Matt towards a more righteous path; here, this role is largely the same but slightly different as the film focuses more on Matt’s dark path and the violence of his life. We’re led to believe that this comes to a head when he spares the Kingpin but, arguably, Fisk deserved to die more than any of Matt’s other victims. Instead, Matt is happy (or, at least, willing) to kill small fry like rapists in the opening but not the primary crime lord of New York simply to serve a wonky character arc and to set up sequel bait.
One thing the Director’s Cut really brings to light is just how conflicted and full of anger Matt is; his violent double life is clearly at odds with his Catholic upbringing and is taking its toll on him, as expertly seen by a new scene where Matt is literally haunted by the screams and suffering of those he cannot help in the city. He lashes out at criminals when under the mask and takes his anger and frustration out on both them and his Devil-Cave when he is unable to save Natchios and, unlike in his original debut, Matt is a flawed and fundamentally broken character; he struggles with his newfound abilities at first and his quips are more like cruel taunts than light-hearted whimsy. There’s a sense that he does what he does out of a sense of duty to his father and because of his abilities but it’s also pretty clear that he’s using Daredevil to exert all of his emotions and rage; when he sees a child cower in fear of him, he is stunned and desperately tries to convince himself that he’s “not the bad guy”. Finding little solace in Father Everett’s talk of faith, Matt struggles to reconcile his actions and inner turmoil and he is noticeably tetchy and short with Foggy the next day as a result. This all goes to great lengths to explain why he was unable to get through to Elektra at the funeral since Matt is hardly a bastion of virtue. How can he hope to convince someone not to seek vengeance when he does it every night?
Another thing I always enjoyed about Daredevil was its dark and gritty aesthetic and the costume design; when taking to the streets as Daredevil, Murdock dons a thick, uncomfortable-looking but super bad-ass leather outfit that is a fantastic blood-red and is one of the few live-action superhero suits to actually use lens over the eyes. The practicality of this suit might be in question but it sure looks awesome (…when it isn’t rendered in shitty CGI), though I do find myself questioning how Matt was able to make it and the many duplicates hanging in his Devil-Cave. Matt also, of course, wields his multi-purpose cane (seriously, it’s a baton, nunchaku, a grappling hook, and even an axe!) but I find it hard to believe he could do both to such a high standard and exactly how does Matt manage to change into Daredevil in the middle of the city? There’s no way he’s wearing that suit under his clothes and he can’t be that close to his apartment all the time so either it’s a convenience for the sake of keeping the film’s frenetic pace going or Matt has stashed spare costumes all over the city!
Bullseye and Elektra don’t fare quite as well as Daredevil on the costume front, unfortunately, with both opting for black leather and relatively simple attire despite Bullseye demanding a “fuckin’ costume” from Fisk. Still, Bullseye makes up for it with a preposterous bullseye scar on his forehead and an absolutely gorgeous Matrix-style trenchcoat that he even uses to disorientate and distract Elektra during their fight. This whole sequence is a bit of a let down, to be honest; earlier, in their civilian clothing, we saw Elektra and Matt go toe-to-toe and that they were largely evenly matched until Elektra got the better of him. Considering Matt’s augmented strength and reflexes, this is a pretty impressive feat and, overwhelmed by hatred and her desire for revenge and helped by the fact that Matt refuses to fight her, we see Elektra again able to best Daredevil in a fight, incapacitating him with a stab to the shoulder that, for all intents and purposes, leaves Daredevil seemingly near death! After discovering the truth about her father’s murder, though, she immediately redirects her anger towards Bullseye, a man we have seen exhibit absolutely not fighting prowess up until that point, and is summarily overwhelmed! Seriously, I get that Bullseye is agile and all about the misdirection and the perfect shots but he toys with Elektra all through their fight and kills her without barely breaking a sweat!
Daredevil’s fight against Bullseye isn’t much better as not only are they depicted as being physical equals (though at least Daredevil has the excuse of being badly wounded), the fight is hindered by the worst instances of CGI in the film that sees them leaping and hopping up about the place like in a videogame, Daredevil catching all of Bullseye’s shurikens with swift movements of his club, and Bullseye expertly snagging every single shard of broken stained glass and tossing them at Daredevil (who avoids them all with a superb series of well-timed backflips). It really hasn’t aged too well and is ridiculously over the top for what should have been a simple, brutal affair. Thankfully, the climactic fight between Daredevil and Kingpin makes up for this even more in the Director’s Cut; in the original version, this fight is depressingly short but, here, it’s noticeably longer and stands out from the rest of the film by beginning with the simple, raw sounds of the two adversaries kicking the crap out of each other. Thanks to his immense strength and Daredevil’s wounds, Fisk is able to subdue Daredevil with a concussion-induced blow to the head and a rib-breaking toss into a concrete pillar; like the bullies of Matt’s youth, Fisk is incredibly amused to find that his rival is “the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen” but finds himself on the back foot when Matt uses the sprinkler system to focus his radar sense and brutally bring the Kingpin to his knees. Driven to the floor in pain and at Matt’s mercy, Fisk is spared and handed over to the police despite promising that he’ll get out, and tell others of Daredevil’s identity. Matt, however, is unfazed, believing that no one would believe Fisk’s story and vows to be ready for Fisk when he gets out, setting the stage for a rematch and an escalating conflict that, sadly, we never saw. Like when Matt threw Bullseye out of the church window and to what should have been his death (he survived but was left in a full body cast so I guess that makes it okay…?), this is treated as a heroic, character-defining moment as Matt finally choose the higher, more noble and heroic path…despite the fact that he’s killed before, both directly and indirectly, and leaving Fisk alive is arguably more dangerous to both him and the city.
The Summary: While many of the CGI shots and fight/action scenes haven’t aged too well, there’s actually a lot to like here; Daredevil’s suit is incredible and, while the costumes are very Matrix-y (as are the fights), they still work and allow each character to stand out from each other. The cast (with the exception of Elektra) is also really strong; Affleck may have talked shit about the role but he’s really good, shaking off a lot of his boy scout persona and really selling the idea that he’s a blind man and an emotionally tormented sole trying to do good through violent actions and getting lost down a dark path, and Duncan is phenomenal as the Kingpin. He has a real weighty presence, exuding power and intimidation but also layering the character with subtle nuances; it’s like he’s constantly keeping his anger and brutality in check through the veil of civilisation and decorum and is itching to let his emotions loose. Daredevil allows Matt to do this but Fisk has few opportunities to do it; the only one not hiding behind some kind of a mask is Bullseye, who is unapologetically sadistic through and through The soundtrack is also incredible; sure, music and songs fill nearly every scene but the hard rock, metal, and nu-metal tracks are a welcome inclusion for me. It’s not perfect; the plot is kind of all over the place, even in the Director’s Cut, and full of conveniences and contrivances but it does a really good job of establishing this world and it’s a shame we never got to see this cast all come back for at least one more film. Seriously, we got two mediocre Fantastic 4 movies (Story, 2005 and 2007) but we couldn’t get a sequel to Daredevil? As much as I loved the Netflix series, I still think that’s a real shame since the intention was clearly to do something akin to “Born Again” (Miller, et al, 1986) in the follow-up.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
What did you think about Daredevil: Director’s Cut? How do you think it compares to the theatrical version? What did you think to Ben Affleck in the title role, and the film’s cast in general? Did you enjoy the film’s soundtrack or did you find the constant influx of songs distracting? How well do you think the film holds up compared to its modern equivalents? Perhaps you prefer the Netflix series (I mean, who doesn’t, right?); if so, why and what are some of your favourite moments from that? Do you have a favourite Daredevil character or storyline you’d like to see adapted into live-action? Whatever your thoughts on daredevil, feel free to leave a comment down below.
Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-received big-screen adaptation in 2003 and a critically-successful Netflix series. Still, he’s one of my favourite Marvel characters so what better excuse to pay homage to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” than by dedicating a few days to celebrating his auspicious debut.
Story Title: The Origin of Daredevil Published: April 1964 Writer: Stan Lee Artist: Bill Everett
The Background: The 1960s were a golden age for Marvel Comics; in collaboration with such legendary names as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee created some of the most iconic superheroes, including such names as the Fantastic Four, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, and Spider-Man. At this point, Marvel were largely beyond introducing their new superheroes in the pages of other, unrelated or obscure comics and tended to debut them in a first issue devoted solely to Lee’s newest brainwave. Created by Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett (with some influence from Jack Kirby), Matt Murdock/Daredevil debuted on 1 April 1964 in his own, self-titled comic (which, judging by the cover, actually seems to be titled Here Comes… Daredevil – The Man Without Fear!) that blatantly leeches off the success and popularity of Lee’s other creations Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four on its front cover. Though Daredevil produced numerous challenges for Lee as a writer and editor since he was the first superhero Lee had a hand in creating with a physical handicap (in this case blindness), Daredevil would go on to be one of Lee’s most popular and enduring characters, featuring in numerous other media and adaptations over the years.
The Review: Daredevil #1 leaves nothing to the imagination by immediately proclaiming that Daredevil is destined to be the next big comics character in the same vein as Spider-Man and that his debut issue is sure to be as much a sought-after collector’s item as The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (of course, these boisterous and flamboyant claims turned out to be true as this issue is now worth up to several thousand dollars).
If you’ve watched the Netflix series, or only have a cursory knowledge of Daredevil, you might be surprised to find that the colourful masked crimefighter is on the hunt for a mob boss known only as “the Fixer” rather than Wilson Fisk/Kingpin. To that end, Daredevil interrupts a poker game being played by a bunch of the Fixer’s goons, easily taking them out with his incredible agility and physical strength, all while spouting exposition (comics characters loved to narrate what they were doing as they were doing it back in the sixties) and quips very much in the same manner as Spider-Man (only without the webs and constant referral to his superhuman strength and abilities).
After depicting Daredevil thoroughly trouncing his opponents and impressing the reader with his fighting ability, the story then flashes back to 1950 where a young Matt Murdock is basically ordered by his father, Jack Murdock, to put aside sports or other physical pursuits in order to dedicate his every waking moment to studying and books. Jack, an over-the-hill boxer who performs under the name “Battling Jack Murdock”, promised Matt’s mother before she died that he wouldn’t let Matt throw away his education as Jack did and, desperate to please his father, Matt heeds Jack’s advice, despite believing that he would be just as good as the school’s best players.
Watching with envious eyes from his bedroom window as the neighbourhood kids play and wrestle in the streets, Matt soon becomes frustrated when the local kids taunt and jeer at him, giving him the derogatory nickname “Daredevil”. In his anger, Matt strikes one of his Dad’s punching bags so hard that he knocks it clean off the chain and begins a vigorous training session involving both weight training and cardio in order to stay in shape when he isn’t studying. Because physical strength and aptitude can, apparently, be passed down genetically, Matt excels at his workout as well as he excels in his studies, developing both body and mind in order to both please his father and indulge in his desire to engage in physical activities. While Jack is proud of his son’s dedication to his studies, he’s facing hard times as he’s been unable to get a fight for some time due to his age; in his desperation, he signs a contract to become one of the Fixer’s hired fighters and is promised that he won’t have to throw a fight. Overjoyed at what he perceives to be his big comeback, Jack hurries home to share the news with his son only to find that Matt isn’t home.
Matt, it turns out, had been studying at the library like a good little nerd but, on his way home, spots an old blind (and, presumably, deaf) man wandering into the path of an oncoming truck! Reacting with “the speed of thought” (another common colourful statement of comics from this time), Matt rushes to the man’s aid, pushing him clear of the truck but is subsequently blinded when a canister of radioactive waste falls from the truck and splashes across Matt’s face. Though Jack is despondent at his son’s condition, Matt remains optimistic and cheerful; he’s even told (in a minor, throwaway line that I feel is often forgotten and overlooked) that an operation may be able to restore his sight in a few years’ time. Matt continues both his studies (by switching to Braille, which he apparently learnt to read with little issue) and his training unabated; in fact, while exercising, he notes that his remaining senses now seem to function at a near superhuman level.
After successfully graduating from high school, Matt ends up sharing his college dormitory with Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, who is in awe of Matt’s intelligence and ability. While Matt credits this to his father and his years of study, he also goes into a long internal monologue detailing how the radioactive substance may also have played a part since his hearing is now so acute that he can hone in on heartbeats, his sense of smell is so finely tuned that he can recognise and remember people on scent alone, his sense of touch is so keen that he can judge the weight of objects, read ink through skin contact, and perform all manner of superhuman acrobatics without fear, and his sense of taste is so augmented that he can tell “exactly how many grains of salt are on a piece of pretzel”. Perhaps most astounding, however, is that Matt has developed a kind of built-in radar, a sixth sense of sorts that allows him to be acutely aware of his surroundings at all times. Similar to Spider-Man’s spider-sense, Matt can tell where objects and hazards are and instinctively move to avoid them, meaning he’s far more aware and perceptive of his surroundings than fully-able people. This isn’t portrayed that well in this debut issue and would be refined over the years into something more akin to echolocation that effectively allows Matt to “see” through a sonar effect that registers movements and sounds to his mind’s eye.
Meanwhile, Jack’s many victories over the years have resulted in him earning a fight against the number two contender; although the Fixer orders Jack to take a dive in the first round, he is determined to make his son (who is in the audience with Foggy) proud and, spurred on by this motivation, he manages to overwhelm his foe and score the surprise victory. However, for defying the Fixer, Jack is killed by gunshot later that night, leaving Matt devastated but nonetheless determined to graduate as class valedictorian. Thanks to Foggy’s father, Matt and Foggy quickly set themselves up as attorneys at law in New York City, even hiring an attractive secretary, Karen Page. However, Matt is tormented by his need to see his father’s killer brought to justice but torn between the promise he made long ago to use his head, rather than his fists, to solve his problems. It’s then, in a flash of madness inspiration, that Matt decides to put his superhuman senses to work in creating a costume and a masked persona through which he can put his skills to use while still honouring his promise to his father. Rather than constructing the iconic red suit that has long been associated with the character, Matt uses primarily yellow and black fabrics for his first suit and takes the name Daredevil to turn the jeers of his neighbourhood kids into a moniker to strike fear into evil-doers everywhere. If you thought Matt’s sewing skills were implausible, you won’t believe his ability to take something as normal and unassuming as a walking stick and turn it, with relative ease, into a versatile combat device. Thanks to just a few hinges and a flexible handle, Matt’s stick becomes an all-purpose weapon, doubling as a billy club, a hook to swing from, and to give him a bit more leverage when he’s jumping and flipping about.
The only lead Matt has is a name, the Fixer, so he debuts his new costumed persona at the gym his father frequented, which brings the story back to where we left it in the opening, with the Fixer’s goons all beaten up. The Fixer immediately and unceremoniously walks in and Daredevil demands answers from him about Jack Murdock’s death, which causes another fight to break out. This fight goes about as well for the Fixer and his mooks as the first fight did, with Daredevil using his uncanny senses and heightened physical abilities to easily wipe the floor with them all. It’s also in this part of the story that we learn that Daredevil’s radar sense is so acute that he can tell when a person is lying simply by listening to the changes in their heartbeat. As great as Daredevil’s senses are, though, his emotions get the better of him and he is abruptly (and hilariously) shoved out of an open window (…funny, I honestly didn’t realise/couldn’t tell that they weren’t on the ground floor). Luckily, though, he’s able to use his fast reflexes and trusty cane to swing back up into the room from a convenient flag pole. Having identified that the Fixer’s goon Slade was the gun man working on the Fixer’s orders, Daredevil shoos out the other goons and attempts to get one (or both) of the men to confess to the murder of Jack Murdock but, in his overconfidence, is completely felled when the Fixer suddenly (and literally) pulls the rug out from underneath him!
Although the Fixer and Slade escape out on to the streets, and Daredevil has “wrenched” his arm in the fall, Matt is easily able to track them from the smell of the Fixer’s cigar smoke. Quickly switching back into his Daredevil costume, Matt confronts the two one last time down in the subway, tripping Slade with his billy club and using a trash can to race after the Fixer. However, the stress and excitement of it all is too much for the Fixer, who collapses from a fatal heart attack…which Daredevil is surprisingly nonchalant about. Daredevil then leads the transit police to Slade and tricks him into spilling his guts, finally ensuring that his father’s death won’t go unavenged and making his debut as a costumed crimefighter before (a division of) New York’s finest. I, personally, love how the cops are immediately accepting and trusting of Daredevil upon sight; the Marvel universe is really weird like that in that cops and the public are fine with guys like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four but cannot stand Spider-Man and the X-Men half the time, as though there’s anything about them that’s really different enough to warrant such a response.
Satisfied, Matt returns to his office and his friends where Foggy reveals that he’s already turned down an offer to act as Slade’s defence attorney since he (as in Foggy) was convinced that Slade is guilty. Matt is, obviously, perfectly fine with this but it seems a bit unethical to me; surely lawyers are duty-bound to represent anyone and everyone to ensure that they get a fair and just trial? Plus, the implication seems to be that without Matt or Foggy acting as his council, Slade will definitely be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, which is a bit of a stretch when we haven’t even seen these two in a court room yet!
The Summary: “The Origin of Daredevil” is a pretty sub-par and by-the-numbers story, if I’m brutally honest. It’s bright and colourful, as comics tended to be back the, and full of near-endless exposition, dialogue, thought- and speech-balloons, and long-outdated slang and clichés but it’s appealing enough. I guess, at the time, readers hadn’t really seen anything quite like it as, while Daredevil acts and even looks, to a degree, like Spider-Man (even borrowing one of Spidey’s most recognisable abilities), he’s still a distinctive and unique character in his own right. Daredevil is, clearly, the stand out character of this story (and rightfully so given it’s his debut and origin issue) but I can’t say that I actually find Matt to be that appealing or interesting a character. Thanks to his Dad, he’s a massive swot, a well-read bookworm who thus excels at almost everything since he’s so smart. Not only that but he’s immediately fantastic at boxing, weight-lifting, and other exercise, attractive and charming enough to appeal to and win Karen over after barely sharing a panel with her, and is seemingly infallible in every respect.
Obviously, you probably don’t want to debut your new character as a flawed or unlikeable individual but Daredevil only makes mistakes when the plot requires it and that’s purely just to show off his quick reflexes and physical aptitude. It does help separate him from his closest counterpart, Spider-Man, who is also a massive nerd who loves to flip all over the place dropping quips and one-liners, though. In that regard, Murdock seems like a more adult character since he is a little older than Peter Parker and has an actual, stable job and Daredevil seems to be his way of releasing all of his tension and pent-up adrenaline. There’s a lot of unique aspects to the character thanks to his blindness affording him near-superhuman abilities but, to be honest, that’s not really focused on all that much in his debut issue; blindness seems to be little more than an inconvenience for Matt as we never seem him struggle to adapt to it and, instead, he revels in the heightened abilities it affords him. Again, this does little to endear me to his character as it just makes him seem like a braggart and an annoyingly foolproof, flawless character but, thankfully, later writers would bring a dark, gritty edge to Daredevil that helped to make him far more appealing while still retaining his more impressive attributes.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you ever read “The Origin of Daredevil”? Do you, perhaps, still own a copy of Daredevil #1 and, if so, could you sell it and send me the money? What did you think of Daredevil’s dynamic debut and how do you think the story has aged after all these years? What do you think of Daredevil as a character and which storyline of his do you think is the best, or the worst? How are you celebrating Daredevil’s debut this year? Whatever you think about Daredevil, drop a comment below.
Superheroes may dominate television screens these days, but it all started back in the seventies. Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) took cinemas by storm and drummed up enough cash to sink a small cruise liner, Marvel Comics had ventured into live-action adaptations of their comics books by licensing their properties to studios like CBS and Universal Television. This produced the iconic Incredible Hulk (1977 to 1982) television show that firmly entrenched the Green Goliath in the cultural consciousness and produced tropes that became synonymous with the character for years to come.
However, The Incredible Hulk wasn’t the only live-action adaptation of a Marvel Comics property to be produced in the seventies; in fact, there were so many productions (or, at least, so many Marvel characters) around this time that a version of the MCU can be seen to have existed long before Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) graced cinema screens. So, today, I’m going to take a quick look back at some of these productions and have a chat about the MCU we very nearly saw come together back in the days of Pink Floyd, frayed jeans, and mullets…
As I mentioned, The Incredible Hulk kicked all of this off; starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Bruce Banner, the show depicted a scientist recklessly experimenting on himself with gamma radiation in a bid to unlock the hidden strength and potential of the human body. When he absorbs too much gamma radiation, moments of stress and anger cause him to transform into the green, bestial Hulk (Lou Ferrigno), a creature of limited intelligence, immense rage, and incredible strength.
Believed dead at the Hulk’s hands, Banner is forced to wander around the country in search of a cure, helping those in need with both his intelligence and the strength of the Hulk when pushed too far, all while being relentlessly pursued by reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin). The show was famous for coining the phrase: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, which has since become so synonymous with the character that it has appeared in most Hulk adaptations. Equally popular was both Bixby’s portrayal of Banner as a wandering nomad, desperate to cure himself of his alter ego and return to normal life, and Ferrigno’s portrayal of the Hulk (a role that Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for and that originally went to mammoth actor Richard Kiel).
Ferrigno has since become so associated with his role as the Hulk that he went on to not only voice the character in the animated Incredible Hulk (1996 to 1997) television series but also collaborated with Mark Ruffalo in voicing the Hulk in the MCU and cameoed in both Hulk (Lee, 2003) and The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008), a movie that was heavily influenced by the ‘70s television show.
If there’s any downside to the show, and Ferrigno’s performance, it’s that they both popularised the notion that the Hulk is a feral, growling creature rather than a semi-to-impressively articulate individual. While Stan Lee himself may have signed off on this at the time (“I had the Hulk talking like this: “Hulk crush! Hulk get him!” […] that would have sounded so silly if he spoke that way in a television show” (Lee, quoted in Greenberg, 2014: 19 to 26)), I feel this was more a case of Lee signing off on anything for the licensing revenue. This portrayal even carried over into the MCU, where the Hulk was capable of rudimentary speech (one or two growling lines here and there) but did not properly articulate until Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017); to compare, Bradley Cooper was snarking up cinema screens as Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) before Hulk was allowed to properly talk.
In any case, The Incredible Hulk ran for eighty episodes before finally coming to an end on 12 May 1982. Banner’s adventures, however, continued in the made-for-television film The Incredible Hulk Returns (Corea, 1988). While the TV show shied away from including any Marvel characters aside from Banner and the Hulk, much less his fellow Marvel cohorts, The Incredible Hulk Returns featured two of the most unlikely inclusions you could imagine given the show’s relatively rounded approach to its source material. After successfully suppressing the Hulk for two years, Banner’s idyllic life is turned upside down when an old student of his, Donald Blake (Steve Levitt), seeks him out. Right as Banner is on the cusp of finalising a potential cure in the Gamma Transponder machine, Blake reveals that he discovered an enchanted hammer in Norway that, upon his command, releases the mighty immortal warrior Thor (Eric Kramer) from Valhalla.
When Thor upsets Banner, he briefly battles with the Hulk and damages Banner’s the Gamma Transponder, but the two (three, I guess) are forced to work together to stop criminals from stealing Banner’s research and harming his life interest, Dr. Margaret Shaw (Lee Purcell). In the end, while Shaw is rescued, Banner is forced to destroy a vital component to the Gamma Transponder and, with the Hulk’s presence catching McGee’s attention, promptly returns to the road to seek out a new cure for himself. When I was a kid, I never got the chance to watch The Incredible Hulk, so one of my first exposures to it was with The Incredible Hulk Returns, which I found to be hugely enjoyable largely because of the thrill of seeing the Hulk in live-action and the banter between Blake and Thor. Rather than transforming into Thor, as in the comics, Blake instead brings Thor forth with the hammer and is charged with guiding him in life and in the fulfilment of a number of heroic deeds so he can take his place at Odin’s side in Valhalla. It’s absolutely mental, especially as a continuation of the TV show, but Kramer is so much fun as the loud-mouthy, arrogant, meat-headed Thor that you can’t help but smile when he’s onscreen, especially when he’s drinking and fighting in a bar or battling with (and alongside) the Hulk.
I said I never really watched the show but, in truth, my first ever exposure to the Bixby and Ferrigno team was the follow-up movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1989), in which Banner, now a desolate soul who’s lost all hope, wanders into a city and, after disrupting a mugging on an underground train, is wrongfully imprisoned. As luck would have it, his appointed attorney is none other than Matt Murdock (Rex Smith), a blind lawyer who also patrols the streets at night as the black-clad vigilante Daredevil. Murdock is pursuing evidence against Wilson Fisk (John Rhys-Davies), an entrepreneur whom Murdock (rightfully) believes is a dangerous crime boss. While Banner is content to stay safely locked up in jail, the idea of being put on trial causes him to Hulk out and, eventually, team up with Murdock/Daredevil in bringing Fisk to justice.
The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is notable for a couple of reasons; it features Stan Lee’s first-ever live-action cameo in a Marvel production, it heavily adapts elements of Frank Miller’s iconic run on the Daredevil comics, and the titular trial only actually takes place in a nightmare Banner has while imprisoned. Nevertheless, Rhys-Davies is exceptional as Fisk; he’s never referred to as the Kingpin onscreen but that doesn’t stop him being a cool, calculating puppet master of a villain; his eventual escape (in a God-damn rocket ship!) is a loose end that was never tied up as the final TV movie, The Death of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1990), chose to bring an end to the Incredible Hulk series and did not feature any additional Marvel characters.
Hulk wasn’t the only one to get his own live-action TV show though; after the feature-length pilot, Spider-Man(Swackhamer, 1977), proved popular, Marvel’s web-head got his own thirteen episode series in the form of The Amazing Spider-Man (1977 to 1979). In addition, episodes of the show were edited (“cobbled”, is probably a better word) together into two made-for-television movies, Spider-Man Strikes Back (Statlof, 1978) and Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge (ibid, 1981), both of which (along with the pilot) are the only exposure to this show I’ve had. The Amazing Spider-Man starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker (with the show’s stunt co-ordinator, Fred Waugh, taking the role of Spider-Man, which was pretty obvious given their wildly contrasting size and builds) and, if you thought that this show took more from the source material than The Incredible Hulk then you’re going to be woefully disappointed.
Jonah Jameson (played by both David White and Robert F. Simon) featured quite prominently but Robbie Robertson (Hilly Hicks) and Peter’s Aunt May (Jeff Donnell) only appeared in the pilot episode and, though Spidey tussled with hypnotists, terrorists, and gangs, he never once butted heads with any of his colourful rogues gallery. Spidey (and Parker) also initially ran afoul of Police Captain Barbera (played with gruff, loveable glee by Michael Pataki), but this character was sadly dropped for the show’s second season. The Amazing Spider-Man was an ambitious project, especially for the seventies; Spider-Man is a character who requires a lot of effects and stunt work to pull off correctly and is arguably far more dependent on modern computer effects than the likes of even the Hulk. As a result, while the show featured an incredibly faithful recreation of Spidey’s origin, costume, and web shooters and did its best to portray Spidey’s wall-crawling and web-slinging through wires, pulleys, and other camera tricks, the show always came across as being far more absurd than its Universal counterpart.
There was more to come from Universal Television, however, as they also produced a Dr. Strange (DeGuere, 1978) made-for-television movie that featured Peter Hooten in the title role (I guess Tom Selleck was unavailable…) and Jessica Walter as Morgan Le Fay. This one’s especially obscure and many have probably never heard of or seen it; it actually got a DVD re-release in 2016, coincidentally around the same time as Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016) was released in cinemas. Interestingly, Stephen Strange is portrayed as a psychiatrist rather than a physician and stumbles into his destiny as the Sorcerer Supreme when Le Fay possesses one of his patients, Clea Lake (Eddie Benton). The movie also featured other recognisable faces from the source material, such as Wong (Clyde Kusatsu) and the Ancient One (Michael Ansara), which is already a bit of a leg up on the Hulk and Spider-Man outings.
What scuppered Dr. Strange, though, was, again, the fact that it was produced at a time when special effects simply were not up to the task of doing the character justice. It also didn’t help that the film was criticised for being overly long and boring and lacking any real urgency. In all honesty, there really isn’t much to see here that’s worth you rushing out to watch except the novelty of seeing a C-list character like Strange get a live-action movie well before his time.
CBS also had one another Marvel character to offer the seventies; Captain America (Holcomb, 1979) brought the star-spangled Avenger to life on television screens and…dear Lord, is this a sight to behold! Reb Brown starred as Steve Rogers, a former marine-turned-artist living in the present day whose patriotic father was known as “Captain America”. After he’s nearly killed by an attempt on his life, he’s inexplicably chosen to be administered with the super-serum F.L.A.G. (Full Latent Ability Gain), which turns him into a superhuman. He then decks himself out in a horrendous version of the Captain America costume and takes to the streets on a modified super-cycle so massively over-the-top with gadgets and features than even K.I.T.T. would blush!
Luckily, by the end and the sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon (Nagy, 1979), Rogers adopts a more faithful version of the costume and uses his abilities to oppose the plans of General Miguel (inexplicably played by Christopher Lee!), who desires to create a dangerous chemical. I’m actually far more familiar with the equally-lambasted Captain America (Pyun, 1990), which is still a guilt pleasure of mine. Nevertheless, both films were released on DVD and, while Dr. Strange was lost to the mists of time and obscurity, these films appear to have at least partially influenced the MCU as Cap (Chris Evans) does favour a motorcycle (but, to be fair, so did the comics Cap…).
Both The Incredible Hulk Returns and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk introduced Thor and Daredevil with the intention of setting them up for spin-off shows of their own but, for a variety of reasons, this never came to be and that’s a bit of a shame. Smith is no Charlie Cox but, while his Murdock was quite dull and boring, he gave a pretty good turn as Daredevil and it would probably have been easier and far cheaper to produce a Daredevil TV show than a Hulk or even Thor one. Similarly, I love the portrayal of Thor in Trial; sure, he doesn’t look or act anything like his Marvel Comics counterpart, but it could have been pretty fun to see him tossing fools around, getting into bar fights, and learning lessons in humility on an episodic basis. One thing that is equally unfortunate about all this is that the inclusion of Thor and Daredevil really took a lot of the focus off of Banner and the Hulk; sure, in the show, he was often a supporting player in a bigger story and other character’s lives, but these movies devoted so much of their runtime to pushing and establishing their new characters that it’s easy to forget that Banner and Hulk are even in them. The Death of the Incredible Hulk rectified this, but at the cost of killing both characters off in what was, while emotional (as a child, anyway), probably the lamest way imaginable.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much love shown to The Amazing Spider-Man over the years; it’s never been released on home media outside of a few VHS tapes and, while Hammond appears to have been the basis for Parker’s design in the Spider-Man (1994 to 1998) animated series, he’s never returned to the character or the franchise again, not even for a quick cameo or a voice role (though I’m hoping the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman, 2018) will rectify that). Interestingly enough, there were apparently talks in 1984 to produce a movie that would see Spider-Man cross paths with Banner and the Hulk, with Spidey even donning the black costume during the film. There were, apparently, also talks of an additional made-for-television Hulk movie, The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk, which would have seen Banner (somehow) revived and forced to recreate the accident that turned him into the Hulk (or be reborn as the Hulk with Banner’s intellect, depending on what you read) but neither of these ideas ever came to fruition and were ultimately halted when Bixby sadly died in 1993.
However, none of this changes the fact that, sometime around 1978 to 1979, there were all these Marvel characters running around on television screens at about the same time, all produced by two studios and, in some cases, airing on the same networks. What this effectively means, then, is that it’s easy to imagine an alternative world where negotiations never broke down and the shows and movies proved popular enough for Spider-Man to crossover with the Hulk and, by extension, interact with Thor and Daredevil. So, what if…? What if there were a threat so big, so far beyond petty street crooks and one-note villains that these heroes would be forced to band together? Dr. Strange was heavily steeping in magic and mysticism, which was already (however unfitting) be proven to be a part of The Incredible Hulk’s world; hell, even The Amazing Spider-Man dabbled in the paranormal at times.
Perhaps the threat would involve Fisk waging a war against Daredevil and all costumed heroes? The city is never named in The Incredible Hulk Returns but it could easily be New York City, the same New York City that Spider-Man swings around in. Perhaps this would be a chance to do a supervillain team-up, of sorts, between Fisk and Le Fay or to introduce other classic Marvel villains, such as Loki and the Red Skull. I would have loved to have worked Nick Fury (David Hasselhoff) into this imaginary Marvel team-up but it’s difficult to do that seeing as Bixby died in 1993 and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Hardy, 1998) didn’t release until 1998 but what if…? What if Bixby hadn’t suffered from cancer, or had beaten the disease and Banner had been resurrected in The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk? Perhaps we would have seen a version of the Professor Hulk or Grey Hulk personas, one that merged the brawn and the strength together, and Fury could have banded these heroes together to fight a common enemy.
Personally, though, I would have preferred to see Banner and Hulk as they were portrayed in the television series; Bixby would have been the veteran actor who held this team up together and I would have limited his Hulk outs to two or three occurrences. Have him be the team’s moral compass, the hesitant advisor who learns to reconcile with his enraged alter ego through working with the other heroes. Murdock, as the older of the two, could have also acted as a kind of mentor to Spider-Man as the two are often portrayed as friends in the comics and have a lot in common with their “everyman” approach to super heroism. While the effects would not have allowed us to properly see the two swing across the New York rooftops, I think they could have cobbled together enough to produce some semi-decent, maybe even slightly acrobatic, fight scenes between the two.
You’d obviously think that Captain America would be the natural leader of this group but, remember, this isn’t the war-tested superhero we all know and love and I am not proposing an Avengers movie; Brown’s Cap is more of a secret agent, an enhanced super soldier who hasn’t nearly a fraction of the combat experience that Cap is usually known for. Because of that, I’d imagine him as the public face of the group and (in the absence of S.H.I.E.LD.), a source of the group’s intelligence resources. Perhaps Cap prefers to work alone and he has to learn to work with a group, rather than tackling everything head-on.
Instead, I’d have Doctor Strange be the de facto leader of the team by virtue of his age and power as the Sorcerer Supreme. His arc, perhaps, would have revolved around him needing to shift his focus from the bigger picture to factoring in the smaller issues that his peers face on a daily basis, effectively making himself both a public figure of the superhero community and improving his interpersonal skills. And then there’s Thor (and Blake, of course); Thor would be the group’s hot-headed jock, the guy who runs in, hammer swinging, trying to fix every problem with brute strength. This team up would be the perfect opportunity to teach Thor proper humility, to accept that he must work alongside mortals and lead by example rather than being a blundering buffoon. While he learned some of this in The Incredible Hulk Returns, it was clear that there was more to tell with his story and, perhaps, this team up and his learning of humility would be the final heroic act that would earn him his place in Valhalla, allowing Blake to, however sorrowfully, begin his life anew.
In the end, for as hokey and cringe-worthy as a lot of these seventies Marvel shows were, it does disappoint me that we never got, at least, to see Spider-Man, Hulk, and Banner crossover onscreen. There was a lot to like about each of these, from the impressively realised costumes to the heart-felt emotion, to even the woeful action scenes and I would honestly have loved to see all of these characters come together to battle a common enemy. What do you think about Marvel’s television show and movies from the seventies? Do you have fond memories of The Incredible Hulk? Do you also wish that The Amazing Spider-Man would get a release on DVD? Perhaps you hated the monotony and ridiculousness of these shows. Whatever your opinion, leave a comment below and get in touch.