There is a relatively solid consensus that when it comes the movie and television, Marvel is kicking DC around the play ground. It’s not absolute by any stretch. I hold the Nolan Batman films above anything on the Marvel slate and a lot of people inexplicably (to me at least) hold Arrow in high regard, while Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD thoroughly shit the bed its first season despite a dedicated core that will detonate in the comments that the second season was so much better.
I finally started watching Daredevil this weekend and got thoroughly sucked into it. It’s just a good story, deeply introspective and terrifically acted. In a lot of ways, it steps right onto the exact niche that Nolan claimed with his films, and betters them at their own game, on the turf of their own themes.
The difference between Marvel and DC, at least the one I want to talk about since others have pointed out many other subtle distinctions, is that of its attitude towards the common man. There’s a scene from the beginning of The Dark Knight in which Batman beats down a whole group of vigilante home grown batmen. And it’s something that the films never really manage to deal with successfully. Batman is allowed to be Batman because he’s special. No one else is allowed to do what he does, because they should have to follow the rules.
Daredevil throws that out the window entirely. Yes, Murdock is special because he effectively has superpowers, even if they’re of a far more mundane variety than those his world considers superheroes. But he is still a normal person. And the same goes with those who surround him, Foggy and Karen, Claire and Ben. They fight, in their own ways, but in ways that require spines with steel to humble someone who fights with mere fists. There’s a moment in The Avengers, that sort of quiet moment that Whedon always has nailed so well, when an old man stands defenseless before a god, awaiting death for refusing to kneel, simply saying “there are always men like you.”
And that simple bravery is the microcosm for what Marvel is getting so right.
Of course the Marvel universe has superpowered beings, but it’s the world’s relationship to them that is so special. It’s one not of subservience, but of inspiration. Where DC shows us a world in which problems can only be confronted and solved by the exceptional, Marvel shows us a world in which the exceptional are the inspirations for everyone to stand up and fight.
There is the old quote from Brecht that I’ve always loved, a statement and an answer:
Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
No, unhappy is the land that needs a hero.
DC would have us believe the former, Marvel embraces the latter. For heroes that are but gods fighting other gods are just the storm that blows itself out. And we are the infinite drops that carve the canyon.