I’ve wanted to write for Marvel comics ever since I was a teenager. I’ve dreamed of creating my own stories in the longest lasting and largest continuity in history. After watching season 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil, I have an all new reason to want to write them. I want the chance to put, in writing, in continuity someone saying “the Punisher is an @$$#013.” It’s not that I’m just now realizing this fact. I actually thought the Punisher was an @$$#013 the first time I saw him and I hold him responsible for being the prototype for the pouch and gun era of comics in the 90’s (I’m looking at you pretty much every character created by Rob Liefeld.)
No, it’s just that I’ve seen him a lot more while watching season 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil and was given a distinct reminder of just how much of an @$$#013 he is. I suppose I should have said “spoiler alert,” and there will be spoilers later, but you would have to have been living under a rock or purposefully avoiding any news about it to not know that Punisher was going to be in season 2, or that he is an @$$#013.
You’d also have to be living under a rock not to know that Jon Bernthal was going to play the character. The role couldn’t have been cast better. I’m going to assume that Bernthal is a perfectly nice, likeable fellow in real life and is just a fabulous actor because he plays an amazing @$$#013. In fact, he has some impressive range playing @$$#013s, since his portrayal of the Punisher is a notably different sort of @$$#013 from his portrayal of Shane in The Walking Dead.
Shane always hid behind the excuse that he was just doing what had to be done to survive and that the world didn’t have any rules after the zompocalypse, and he felt like that was all the justification he needed. The Punisher feels no need to justify what he’s doing. While there are rules, they don’t work so there is no reason to follow them. Yet, he is also tormented by the constant feeling that what he’s doing isn’t quite right, only the best he can do.
It’s this tension that makes the Punisher such a nice contrast to Daredevil and is an excellent character to explore some of the central themes of the series, namely, exactly where the line between vigilante and villain lies. In the first season, the Kingpin was clearly a villain, though one who felt just as justified in what he was doing as Daredevil did. After all, while Kingpin was breaking the law (or having others break the law for him) Daredevil was, too. Both men were trying to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place, in their own way and to their own ideal. The Punisher also feels just as justified as Daredevil as well and, like the Kingpin, looks down on Daredevil for his naiveté. It’s nice to see this particular plot develop and that the writers are digging deeper and deeper into this theme. Part of the core of any Daredevils story is that the world is not black and white but infinite shades of gray and that, even the heroes are only doing the best they can. If the trend continues, they’ll keep introducing characters that split the difference between Daredevil and his arch-villain, Kingpin until they find one who is no different from the hero.
Don’t get me wrong, I commiserate with the Punisher. If I had the training and my family was massacred right in front of me, I just might go nuts and start gunning down bad guys, myself. But that doesn’t make him a hero and I wouldn’t consider myself a hero if I did it, either.
Sorry…spoilers again, but only you’ve never read a Marvel comic or seen approximately 90% of the movies made by Marvel before the year 2000. This is a spoiler, though – they add traumatic brain injury to the mix in the Netflix version of the Punisher so there is a physical reason behind his vigilante killing spree.
That takes some of the edge out of the Punisher for me. While I don’t like the character, I do respect the fact that his particular brand of insanity is a willful one. But then, this is another theme of this season. The question of makes a person do what they do is central to the second season. Is it upbringing? Is it environment? Is it fate? Is anyone free to actually decide what they want to do or is it all predetermined by factors out of their control, including physical changes to their brain? And if it is the latter, should anyone be punished for anything they do? These are, of course, interesting questions philosophical questions at any time. They get more than a little uncomfortable in a world where even the best of people break the law and solve problems with their fists.
Though the Punisher is an important part of the second season, and his character adds to these questions, his role is surprisingly small. He dominates the first few episodes but just as his story arc is reaching a crescendo, a new player appears.
Elektra is another familiar face to any fan of the comics. Just like in the comics, she is an old friend and flame of Matt Murdock. It isn’t long before she proves to be much more as another old friend and familiar face, Stick, pops up as well. It turns out that Stick and Elektra are fighting Daredevil’s enemies from last season, the Hand and that they are engaged in a centuries long war.
It’s at this point that the new season becomes a prototypical Daredevil story. Matt Murdock is quickly pulled in two directions at once. In his civilian life, Nelson and Murdock have taken on the defense of the Punisher, a trial squarely in the public spotlight and with a lot of implications for what it means to be a vigilante and how the justice system is going to deal with them. Meanwhile, Stick and Elektra are trying to pull him, as Daredevil deeper into their war. And, oh yeah, he’s just started a romantic relationship with Karen Page.
This tension between his professional life, his personal life and his other professional life is at the core of all good Daredevil stories. Daredevil is the prototypical hero who extends himself too far because his sense of justice and duty won’t let him do anything else. He feels the need to save, or at least help everyone, and, like all mortals, always falls short. Of course, he has to sacrifice himself even to fail. It doesn’t take long in the season before he is all beat to Hell, both physically and emotionally.
Karen and Foggy are not passive participants in their relationships with Matt, though. Karen, especially, really expands beyond Nelson and Murdock. She becomes all but obsessed by the Punisher and the cover up that soon becomes apparent regarding his case and is his biggest champion. Even when Foggy and Matt no longer able to pursue the case, she strikes out on her own, even becoming an official reporter for the local newspaper in her zeal to follow the trail.
Foggy lands on his feet, professionally. His impressive performance on the Punisher case gets him a lot of attention and a job with Jeri Hogarth’s law firm, and the same firm his ex-girlfriend from the first season works for. Even beyond what he does in the courtroom there is more than one occasion during the season when he proves that being a smart, gutsy, honest lawyer can do as much to solve a problem as throwing some punches.
Carrie-Anne Moss reprises her role as Jeri Hogarth and the character is still clearly reeling from the events that took place in the first season of Jessica Jones. She isn’t the only one making a return appearance. Rosario Dawson returns as Nurse Clair, her character from, both the first season of Daredevil and the first season of Jessica Jones. As previously mentioned, Stick returns and plays a large role in the 2nd season. But, perhaps surprisingly, enough, so does the Kingpin. Vincent D’Onofrio once again delivers the sort of barely restrained physically intense performance to be expected from Wilson Fisk. Though, his part is relatively small this season it has enough impact to ensure he is not gone and should not be forgotten.
Season 2 should feel uneven since it begins as an exceptionally gritty morality tale and ends up being a slightly more fantastic morality tale. There are supernatural elements but more as plot points and there is no overt magic or metahuman abilities. Even Daredevil’s super senses play a relatively minor role. The transition from one story to the other is smooth and seamless. Really, the only flaw in the story is the love triangle that feels wedged in. Actually, it starts as a quadrangle for a bit. Foggy shows interest in Karen but it quickly proves apparent that she is interested in a different partner in Nelson and Murdock, and Matt reciprocates.
Of course, his activities as Daredevil interfere with his romantic life and with his personal life in general, leaving Karen disappointed and hurt. But he also has an attraction toward Elektra when she shows back up…sort of. Actually, he says repeatedly that he is not interested in Elektra or rekindling their past, dysfunctional relationship. Spoiled, self-centered, and bloodthirsty to boot, Elektra is like a ninja Kardashian with a stabbing fetish. At best, she is one of those girls that guys like Matt are interested in because he thinks he can fix her. In fact, that’s what he tries to do for most of the time he’s around her, while continuously resisting her attempts to pull him into her world. And yet, he ends up spoiling his relationship with Karen, a woman who shares his sense of justice and duty, to pursue one with Elektra. Perhaps his sense of duty and his need to help people just overwhelmed his sense of romance and common sense, for that matter. It is a minor quibble, but the whole romance between Matt and Elektra seemed forced rather than organic.
While Jessica Jones is still my favorite of the Marvel series so far the second season of Daredevil extended and improved on the story and themes from the first season. Seeing season 2 of Daredevil only makes me more excited for the rest of the Marvel Netflix series.