Screen Themes: Gotham vs Daredevil

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On the Origin of Superheroes on the small screen as IA entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out Season 1 of DC’s Gotham and Marvel’s Daredevil.

IF YOU ARE a fan of superhero movies or TV shows, now is a golden time to be alive. Marvel continues to dominate the Box Office with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, while DC are in damage control after the premature leak of the trailer for Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. On the small screen we have Arrow, Flash, Agents of Shield and the upcoming Supergirl and Firestorm series. But these are two of the best.

Gotham – created by Bruno Hellar

A prequel to the Batman mythos, Gotham tells the story of a young Detective Jim Gordon and his rise to the position of Police Commissioner. Facing a massively corrupt police department as well as the rise of iconic villains such as the Penguin, the Riddler and Scarecrow, Gordon makes it his mission to track down the killer of a young man called Bruce Wayne.

An ensemble cast includes Donal Logue as the slovenly Detective Harvey Bullock, Jada Pinkett Smith as aspiring crime boss Fish Mooney and Sean Pertwee as former elite soldier now butler Alfred Pennyworth. Logue and Pertwee are both excellent in their respective roles, but it’s Pinkett Smith who really shines, displaying more acting finesse in one season as Fish Mooney than she has displayed in the entirety of her film career to date.

The biggest surprise in Gotham is star Ben McKenzie, who rose to fame playing the emotionally stunted Ryan Atwood on the OC, then followed it up with the emotionally stunted Officer Ben Sherman who wore nice shirts on Southland. To be honest the presence of formerly wooden actor McKenzie initially put me off watching Gotham, but he’s actually really good in the role of straight-arrow Jim Gordon.  

For fans of Batman, Gotham is a joy to watch. The writers do a great job of making potentially ridiculous villains (Dollmaker, anyone?) seem real and terrifying, and the sub-plot of the burgeoning relationship between Bruce Wayne and a young Selina Kyle (Catwoman) is handled with nuance and sensitivity. It’s fun to play spot-the-comic-book-reference, and the fact that the writers are presenting multiple suspects who might turn out to be über-villain the Joker makes the series all the more interesting.

Gotham can be seen on Channel Nine when they can be bothered to schedule it.

Daredevil – created by Drew Goddard

Based on the groundbreaking run by Frank Miller, Daredevil tells the story of blind lawyer Matt Murdock, who gained heightened sensory powers in the same accident that took away his sight. Accompanied by partner Foggy Nelson and paralegal/future doomed love interest Karen Page, Murdoch spends his days trying to get his fledgling law practice afloat and his nights beating up criminals as a black masked (and still un-named) vigilante.

Produced by Netflix, Daredevil has the freedom of cable TV to show as much violence as they like. Eschewing the “sex sells” approach of other quality dramas like Game of Thrones and The Tudors, Daredevil stands apart by making the fight scenes seem visceral and real — the crescendo of the second episode has a single shot fight scene that has to be seen to be believed.

Charlie Cox from Boardwalk Empire stars as Murdoch/Daredevil, bringing a disarming charm to the role that was beyond Battfleck in the 2003 movie version. The striking Deborah Ann Woll from True Blood is alternately tough and vulnerable as Karen Page, and former child actor Eldon Henson brings depth and humour to Foggy Nelson. Longtime character actor Vondie Curtis Hall adds nuance to reporter Ben Urich, while Scott Glenn adds some David Carradine style pedigree to the proceedings as Daredevil’s mentor Stick.

They say that a hero is only as good as his villain, and if that is true then Daredevil is defined by Wilson Fisk, the man who will come to be known as the Kingpin. Vincent D’Onofrio is spectacular in the role, a complex man driven by demons that periodically reveal the psychopath that lies within.

Daredevil is a good example of a character who works better in the Cable TV format than movies — viewers have time to build a relationship with the character before seeing him put through the emotional wringer. It’s the slow burn approach that makes the show work — Murdoch doesn’t even don his iconic red suit until the second season.

The first season of Daredevil is available to stream now on Netflix.

The Verdict

Over the years, many people have drawn comparisons between Batman and Daredevil. They are both heroes without super strength, the ability to fly or heat vision, yet they struggle against their own limitations to help people less fortunate than themselves.

Daredevil is a show made for fans, but with a style and production values that place it head and shoulders above contemporaries such as Arrow and Flash. Gotham has potential appeal beyond the comic book crowd, as it works well as a police procedural with only slightly weirder villains than shows like Criminal Minds.

Both series are highly recommended.

Like what you read? John’s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT.  There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out! 


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