There have been lots and lots of live action TV programs based on comic books, starting with the Adventures of Superman in the 1950s. Ever since then, we’ve had Batman, the Green Hornet, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Shazam/Isis, Superboy, the Flash (the original), Lois & Clark: the New Adventures of Superman, Birds of Prey, Mutant X, Smallville, Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Constantine and Gotham. (We’re not including animated series in this.) We’ve even had one-shot TV movies like Dr. Strange, Justice League and Aquaman. Most of these shows were entertaining—to a greater or lesser degree—in their own way. Some of them were very successful. Batman was a top-ten network show for its first two seasons. Smallville ran for 10 years. But none of these shows had a freshman season comparable to Daredevil or the Flash.
The Flash has an average critical rating of 85 and Daredevil of 90. Criticwire argued that the Flash should be the standard against which other super hero shows should be judged. Entertainment Monthly says that Daredevil has set the bar for future Superhero shows. Both series have proven to be very well-written and interesting in year one. Has there ever been any other TV show based on a comic book that started off on such a high note as these two? Even though Agents of SHIELD ended its first season on a powerful climax, the bulk of the year was mediocre. Most of these shows either peaked after the freshman season ended, or only ran one year. The Adventures of Superman, Wonder Woman and Arrow were admittedly at their best in their first season, but none of them attained the heights of Daredevil or Flash.
One of the most interesting things about Flash and Daredevil is that they both reverse the usual DC and Marvel formulas. The Flash, for instance, is a DC program, but contrary to the usual DC “No jokes, folks” mandate, the Flash shows us that DC still remembers what they used to know waaaay back when they made Superman: the Movie…that it’s okay for super heroes to be fun! The show is a light, adventurous romp, with sufficiently amusing banter and a geeky charm. Daredevil, on the other hand, is a Marvel show, but it foregoes the standard exuberance and humor of the customary Marvel formula. While there is a certain amount of likeable banter between Foggy and Karen, the show has a DC style dark intensity.
Which had the better first season? They are very different shows, obviously, and hard to compare, but let’s try to break them down into categories. First of all, let’s look at the two heroes. Both were inspired by the death of a parent. Barry Allen, AKA the Flash, (Grant Gustin) is a Peter Parker-style lovable nerd, with an unrequited love of the beautiful Iris, and an impetuous righteousness. He relies on his science-savvy support team to help him master the use of his expanding powers, although he often under-utilizes them. Matt Murdock, AKA Daredevil, (Charlie Cox) is a determined, gritty and fierce hand-to-hand fighter, who often takes as much (or more) punishment than he delivers. He works more on his own than Flash does but often relies on his nurse friend Clair (Rosario Dawson) to stitch him up afterwards. Daredevil is obviously less powerful than the Flash but you have to give him his props for courageously taking the beatings he takes on a nightly basis. Based on this—the winner (by a narrow margin) is Daredevil for best hero.
Which one had the best main villain? The Flash had Tom Cavanagh as the Reverse Flash, while Daredevil had Vincent D’onofrio as Wilson Fisk (Not called the Kingpin here.) Both are excellent, well-written bad guys, and the actors behind the roles are refreshingly understated, resisting the usual ‘manic villain’ or ‘funny villain’ tropes. Reverse Flash, AKA Harrison Wells AKA Eobard Thawn, is a brilliant, manipulative and powerful foe from the future who develops a very complicated relationship with the Flash and his allies at Star Labs. The irony of the Reverse Flash is that he finds himself forced to create his own worst enemy in order to get back home. Early in the season, you weren’t sure whose side he was really on, but even after it became clear that he was the evil ‘man in yellow’, Thawn/Wells continued to show a certain charm that made him somehow likable even though you knew he was a murdering super-villain. D’onofrio’s Fisk is a menacing gangster who prefers to work in the shadows until his plans become firmly set in motion and then he pops onto the scene, pretending to be a saint when secretly he plays the monster. He is genuinely in love with art gallery owner Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer), and has affection for his sidekick Wesley (Toby Leonard). So who’s the best baddie? Well, it’s close but personally, I have a few small quibbles about Daredevil’s Fisk. Nothing major, but some nit-picky criticisms. He is very different from the comic version I was expecting (I was surprised by his politeness, his shyness with women and his altruistic intensions regarding Hell’s Kitchen), he lacks the traditional white suit and there’s also the fact that he is never referred to as the Kingpin. Given these pedantic carps, a slight edge goes to Wells/ Thawn. The winner here is the Reverse Flash.
Which has the best action sequences? Daredevil has to get the nod here. While I enjoy the SFX and super hero battles of the Flash, it does get annoying that the writers/directors make the hero somewhat incompetent in his battles, because if they didn’t, the fights would be over very quickly. The fact is, the Flash is so fast he should defeat his foes before they see him coming (Except for Reverse Flash, of course.) The show (and admittedly, the comics often do this as well) diminishes the hero’s effectiveness in order to make the villains seem a match for him. (Why couldn’t the Flash snatch the weapons away from Captain Cold and Heatwave before they even knew he was there?) Daredevil, on the other hand, has some excellently choreographed fight scenes, where the hero takes his lumps but manages to come out on top through determination and stamina. The fight at the end of the second episode “Cut Man” is possibly the best fight choreography even done on the small screen. The winner is Daredevil.
Now we come to the supporting cast…Both shows have a somewhat sizeable cast of regular and recurring characters—good and bad guys—and many of them are entertaining, although some have overstayed their welcome (I’m looking at you, Felicity!) Which is better? I’ll have to go with Daredevil again. The Flash’s biggest impediment is that it’s a CW show. This means that the Flash is trapped within the limited confines of the CW’s standard programming rules. For instance, everyone on the show has to be physically attractive, which limits the casting choices. CW does this on all its programs. Amanda Waller on Arrow is the perfect example. In the comics she’s a short, chubby, middle-aged battleax, but on the CW, she is played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who looks like a sexy supermodel. Imagine if Daredevil had used that same standard? They would have cast Ian Somerhalder as Fisk, Lucy Lui as Madam Gao and Idris Elba as Ben Urich. Another good thing about Daredevil is that it avoided the overused Love Triangle plots that the CW has abused in Smallville, Arrow and Flash. The relationships in Daredevil seem more realistic. Also, Daredevil has hired some prominent movie talent, such as Rosario Dawson, Scott Glen and D’onofrio. The winner…Daredevil!
There are other things that can be considered. The Flash has better production values/SPX but Daredevil has the advantage of being connected to the MCU, as well as utilizing Easter Eggs setting up future Netflix shows, such as Clair Temple (Luke Cage’s girlfriend) and hints of Iron Fist’s Kun-Lun by Madam Geo. But overall, adding all the factors together, the winner is…
DAREDEVIL is the better of the two shows and had the best freshman season of any super hero TV show ever. If you disagree (or even if you agree) leave a comment below.