Something wicked this way comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since Iron Man 3, things have been getting progressively darker in the on-screen world of Marvel Comics, and Avengers: Age of Ultron looks to further that trend. But this isn’t grittiness for the sake of grittiness; rather, it seems like the MCU is aging up with its audience, tackling more complex subject matter as it continues to expand. Nowhere is that evolution more evident than in Marvel’s Daredevil, the first of four series that Marvel is bringing to Netflix. With fewer restrictions in terms of content and running time, the streaming platform has allowed the architects of the MCU to push the envelope in terms of storytelling and tone. Based on the critical and popular praise Dardevil has already received, their little experiment is paying off.
Recently, I sat down with one of those architects, Jeph Loeb, the executive producer of Daredevil and Marvel’s Head of Television, to talk about expanding into new territory like Netflix, how the series fits into the large tapestry of the MCU, and where they intend to go from here.
Nerdist: More so than anything else we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil feels more mature in tone and subject matter. Is that a direction you guys were looking to push into with some of these Netflix series?
Jeph Loeb: It certainly is something that we want to do with these characters. I think the way that it has been discussed from the very beginning is what’s appropriate for the story? What’s appropriate for the character? And when we first sat down and started talking about this section of the Marvel universe, what we refer to as the street-level heroes, it lends itself more towards a bit more of an edge, a bit more of a realism to it. A world where New York City plays a very strong part. In fact, we see New York City as a character in the show. Certainly Hell’s Kitchen – how that affected Matt’s life, and Foggy’s life, and Karen, and that world – and to really tell that story the best way that we can.
Now, look — there’s lots of different ways of telling Daredevil stories. When I wrote Daredevil: Yellow, it is much more of a swashbuckler, happy-go-lucky man. What Mark Waid is currently doing is that kind of world. But for many people, the Frank Miller/Brian Michael Bendis crime drama of that character was not only unique, it also seemed to work. It seemed to click very well.
And so when we first started talking about the idea that The Avengers are here to save the universe, the street-level heroes are here to save the neighborhood, and because television or Netflix or whatever we want to call it, is such an intimate experience — the way that you view it is, in many cases, on your laptop or on your phone — we wanted to make sure that this was something that really brought you in, and that you found very addictive, and that you could, when you’re given the assignment of “How do we best tell 13 hours of a story?” – you know, a movie gets to wrap it up very nicely in two hours! “Come along on a roller coaster ride, and here we go!” And no one does it better than the movie studio people.
The television division is its own division; it has to have its own identity. The shows that we’ve done at ABC, Agent Carter and S.H.I.E.L.D., absolutely came from that world, but I think really have cut their own little mold out as spy, espionage, that kind of world in the Marvel universe.
When this first happened, I remember the moment. I was watching The Avengers movie in the theater for the fifth time or something, and there’s this great battle sequence at the end that’s in Grand Central Station, and the Hulk is smashing into walls, and whales are coming out of the sky. And as I was watching it — because I am a Marvel geek at the end of the day — it occurred to me that if you go a few avenues over and a few blocks down, there’s an area called Hell’s Kitchen that has its own adventures going on, that has crime, and it has villains like Wilson Fisk running around in it. He’s not coming out of the sky on some giant ray gun.
Nerdist: Exactly. It needs to be different.
JL: Right. So how do we tell that story? How do we make sure the people understand that the Marvel universe has that in it? In the same kind of way that eventually someday we’re going to get into the supernatural universe, and what is that like? The horror universe – I mean, there’s lots of different places that we go. And so Guardians of the Galaxy broke down lots doors for us, in terms of the cosmic universe.
So what’s great about working at Marvel is that it has this incredible opportunity for everybody to be able to see that it’s not just 9,000 characters that are in New York, beating the heck out of each other. There are different tones, different genres, different ideas, different characters that lend themselves to different kinds of storytelling. Daredevil lent itself to this particular kind of storytelling, and absolutely our feeling is that if we’re going to tell – people know that the next one up is Jessica Jones, which is also a fairly dark story at the end of the day.
She has – she’s very broken, and she has to triumph over that. In order for us to tell that story in a truthful way, we have to be able to tell the story in a way that is different from maybe what you’ve seen before, but it should all feel like Marvel. You should never, ever step away and go – you may be surprised, you may say “That was unexpected. I didn’t know Marvel would go there.” But I think the reaction has been – and it’s something that we’re very grateful for – people are seeing “Wow, it feels like Marvel, and yet it’s now a new flavor of something that we’re getting.”
N: Exactly. And that’s what leapt out to me. It still feels evocative of the Marvel universe. I would watch a 13 hour Avenger movie, for sure, but limiting the scope makes for a more compelling story.
JL: I think when you populate it with characters that, first of all, have been around for close to 50 years, when you start with your lead, who is a blind super hero – immediately, you’re intrigued. He’s blind, how is that possible? What is he doing? And then you marry him with characters like Karen and Foggy, and then we’re lucky enough to have a cast like Charlie Cox and Elden and Deborah Ann, you’re starting off in the best place that you can be, and hope that everybody else sees it the same way.
And then to get Vincent D’Onofrio to be able to play your nemesis, and have Rosario Dawson come in in order to sort of stir the pot and ask all the hard questions – it’s a very well-constructed story, but you can have all the construction that you want – if you can’t pull it off, people aren’t going to come along. What we’re extremely grateful to is that people seem to be addicted to it, and want to see more.
N: I was fiending when I saw that they only gave me five episodes to watch [in advance of this interview]. I wanted more right away.
JL: Look, as you probably can guess, we sit biting on our nails, hoping that they’re going to make it through the first episode. What’s been really, really rewarding is hearing the number of people saying “Excuse me – can we have more?” The good news is that it is more, it gets bigger. It has equally complex themes. The characters you get to know on a deeper and richer way, and hopefully will leave you wanting – our goal at the end of the day is to get you to want to see more Daredevil, but to also then go “What’s the next Marvel show? Is Jessica on? What’s that going to be like?”
Because we also know, and it’s not a surprise to anybody, that of the group — Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones — Daredevil is the best known character, so he in many ways is our ambassador into this world, in the same kind of way that it was the right choice to have Iron Man be the first Avenger that you met, that would take you through into that world.
Many people feel like Captain America is the first Avenger, but you need to get there. You need to be able to understand, OK, here’s Iron Man, here’s Hulk, here’s Thor, oh, here’s Captain America, here’s The Avengers. We wanted to be able to start off with Daredevil and let people get very comfortable in this world and these characters, and see what it’s going to be like, so by the time we do get to our next show, hopefully there is an incredible hunger for that.
N: Yeah, and I really appreciate the connective tissue that it seems like you’re setting up. How will this inform the other Netflix series building up as we head towards Defenders?
JL: Each show needs to have its own voice. It has its own show runner, and everyone works very closely with us, and we are very careful to make sure – there are some small things, like we want to make sure we’re not repeating stories and repeating themes, but by the same token, it should feel very much of the same piece. The example that I give constantly is, I cannot think of two films that are less alike than Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy, and yet they both feel like Marvel.
What we’re hoping is that the street level shows that we’re doing at Netflix feel like they’re of a piece, so that when they do all get together in Defenders, you’re not sitting there going “Wait – one’s a this and one’s a that and one’s a this.” What we wanted them to feel like is I cannot wait until these guys, who philosophically, who physically, who action-wise, who character-wise, are very different people, and I think you’ll be shocked – shocked! – to find out that when they do get together, maybe they don’t get along so well.
N: Awesome! Thank you very much!
JL: My pleasure.
Marvel’s Daredevil is now streaming on Netflix.
Read our Daredevil interview coverage and full reviews!