Read aborted '90s Daredevil script much better than what got filmed

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

The 2003 Daredevil film that got made, starring Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock, was not the first attempt to bring the classic Marvel hero to the big screen. An aborted '90s version almost got off the ground, and judging by the script pages right here, it looks a heck of a lot better than what we got.

It seems comic writer J.M. DeMatteis worked up a Daredevil script himself, which Marvel legend Stan Lee even approved of, and it nearly got made—until Hollywood starting mucking around with it.

"[It] seemed certain that my treatment would be approved by the Powers That Be at Fox—the company that held the DD rights—and I'd soon get to work on the screenplay. But ... Hollywood being Hollywood, the Fox executive in charge of the DD project wasn't as thrilled with my treatment as [producers/writers] Carlo [Carlei], Chris [Columbus], Stan [Lee] and the others were," he wrote on his blog. "The rights, which were coming up for renewal, were allowed to lapse and new producers, writers and directors came along, ultimately bringing Daredevil to the screen in 2003. (I like to think that somewhere, in some alternate universe, the version I worked on made it into production and there's a special edition DVD sitting on my shelf.)"

We're right there with you, J.M. If you ever find a way to universe hop, be sure to bring us back a Blu-ray.

If you're interested, you can check out the first act of DeMatteis' treatment below, which seems like a pretty awesome jumping-off point for a faithful Daredevil adaptation.

The first act is attached below, but be sure to head over to DeMatteis' blog, where he has teased he could post some more pages in the future.

Final Draft Treatment
J. M. DeMatteis


--on the Manhattan neighborhood called Hell's Kitchen, fifteen years ago, where we find a gang of teenagers strutting their stuff down the hot summer streets. The clear leader of the group is sixteen year old MATT MURDOCK...a cocky young Cagney, with energy, anger, and an attitude. He's the focus of the group's attention: their unquestioned leader.

As they strut, Matt's clear second-in-command, GENE ROMITA, asks about Matt's father. "Who's he fighting this week, huh?" Gene says with a laugh. "Michael Jackson?"

Without thinking, Matt backhands Gene across the face, knocking him to the pavement. "Shut up about my old man..."

"Hey," a defensive Gene says, wiping blood off his lip, "it's nothin' you don't say all the time..."

"I can say whatever I want," Matt growls. "You keep your fat mouth shut." Then Matt softens. An astute observer would see a flicker of regret, of shame, in his eyes. "You okay?" he asks, helping his friend up, trying hard not to sound too concerned. "Yeah, yeah," Gene says. "No big deal."
The group stops across the street from an overweight, overheated policeman, OFFICER KELLY...who's standing outside a Korean deli nursing a cold bottle of soda. "There he is," Matt says. "This ain't such a good idea, Matt," Gene says. "Kelly knows you. You cross him one more time and--"
Matt reaches into his back pocket, pulls out a ski mask. "Who says Kelly's gonna see me?" He slips it on. Stan's not convinced. It's too risky.
"That's the whole point," Matt says as he bolts. "You know me...I'm a freakin' daredevil!"
He moves, with the speed and stealth of an urban ninja, across the street, and ever-so gently snatches Kelly's billy club.
By the time the policeman realizes what's happened, Matt's just a blur, racing up the street. The policeman gives chase...as do two other cops in a passing patrol car--
--and we see that Matt, far from being frightened (this kid seems to have been born without fear), is finding a heady exhilaration in the chase. Just as the cops are closing in, Matt...with the effortless grace of a gymnast (he's a natural athlete)...grabs the bottom rung of a fire escape and, in a few astonishing moves, scales the building, takes to the roof, and runs, leaping--again, without an iota of fear--from rooftop to rooftop. He's running at top speed, approaching a between-buildings chasm that would give anyone pause--
--but Matt's eyes are alive with a recklessness, a delight in the challenge and the dare. He leaps--and in this moment he seems truly, fully alive.
Having ditched the cops...and the ski mask...Matt stands on a roof-edge, surveying the city, so full of potential and excitement and danger. This city's mine, his eyes seem to say. I can just reach out and take whatever I want, whenever I want it.
Matt hurls the stick high into the air, then effortlessly snatches it as it falls. Grins as he holds it tight in his hand: a trophy. A symbol of his youthful arrogance, his wildness. Of the devil in his soul. CUT TO:
The Murdock apartment. Several days later. Curtains drawn. No lights. Stacks of filthy dishes in the sink. A squalid mess.
Matt's father, JACK MURDOCK, is on the couch, half-a-dozen beer cans scattered on the floor, talking on the phone. "I know, but...but this wrestling thing...yeah, yeah...but it's humiliating, it's...yeah, Mr. DeFalco, yeah..." We see the defeat in his eyes, as he clutches a flyer advertising a wrestling match between "Mephisto" Murdock (Jack, in a tacky devil's suit) and "Ape-Man" Miller (a hulking brute in a cave-man costume). Matt comes in....walks past his father heading for his room.
Jack slams down the phone. "One damn minute," he says.
Matt turns to see his father...drunken rage in his eyes...holding the nightstick in his hands. He found the nightstick on the roof, he says. He pulls out a duffel bag filled with other stolen goods...dumps them on the floor. "Along with alla this." Matt doesn't say anything. "Why?" Jack growls.
"Because I could," Matt says, defiant. Not an iota of fear in his eyes.
"My own son," the boozy, bloated Jack slurs, "a common thief."
"My own father," Matt spits, the words out before he even realizes it, "a drunken joke."
Jack backhands Matt across the face, sending him sprawling.
Matt gets up without a word and leaves the apartment.
Jack stands there, shame and regret shadowing his face. He staggers into the adjoining bedroom. In the corner is a little table with pictures of the saints, a crucifix on the wall, and--clearly the central image, the holiest of holies--a framed photograph of Matt's mother, Jack's late wife, MAGGIE. A desperate Jack looks at Maggie. "What am I gonna do?" he says. "Maggie...what am I gonna do?"

CUT TO: The roof of the Murdocks' apartment building. Matt sitting on the edge, feet dangling over. There's a vulnerability, a little boy softness, on his face we've never seen before. The second self that hides behind the tough-guy facade.
Jack comes out through the roof door, approaches Matt--and the boy's shields go back up. "Get away from the edge," Jack says, "you're makin' me nervous." "Heights don't scare me," Matt says, arrogantly. Then, after a beat, with absolute sincerity. "I'm sorry."
Jack sits down. "Yeah. Me, too. Not too far from the truth, though, is it...what you said?"
"You're a great guy, Dad. The best. It's just that...lately--" And that "lately" carries the weight of the world.
Jack tells his son how much hope Maggie had for him, what dreams she nurtured about her son's future. How she prayed that one day he'd be a doctor or a lawyer. "But I know you, Matt. I know you like a book. There's something wild inside you. A devil. I know--'cause you got it from me.
"But I'm a loser, Matt," Jack confesses. "A jerk in a Halloween costume tossing guys around a wrestling ring. Don't end up like me," he pleads. "Yeah, you got me inside you...but you've got her, too. Don't lose her, Matt. Don't throw her away. I'm begging you, I'm begging you..."
Something in his father's vulnerability touches Matt: "Don't you lose her, either," he says, starting to cry. Matt clutches his father, holds him close. "Swear to me, Matt," Jack says, "swear on your mother's grave that you won't live by your fists, won't go dancin' with the devil. Swear to me. Swear to her."
Matt looks up at the father he still loves so much. "It's gotta work both ways. You swear. That you'll stop drinking. That you won't give up on yourself."
Jack smiles. "You got my word, Matthew. On your mother's grave."
Matt: "And you've got mine." CLOSE on Matt, tears streaming down his face. "I swear," he whispers. PULL WIDER--as Jack says--indicating the bag of stolen goods--"Now whadda we gonna do with this?" CUT TO:
The rectory of Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church--as FATHER NOCENTI walks into his office...and finds the sack, emptying it out on his desk. Watches, rings, wallets...and a night-stick? CUT TO:
An abandoned gym, boarded up, heavy with dust and memories. On the wall is a tattered poster from Jack Murdock's glory days as a heavyweight boxer. At the bag: Matt Murdock pounds and pounds and pounds till his fists are raw and bloody. The devil inside him will not be dispatched so easily. CUT TO:
"Mephisto" Murdock in the ring, being tossed around in an obviously faked match with a wrestler dressed like a 1950's Man From Mars--while the crowd howls with laughter. The we CUT TO:
Jack's dressing room, after the bout. Murdock strips off the hated costume, just as TOMMY "THE FIXER" DE FALCO--a local wiseguy who's managing Jack's wrestling career--comes in, accompanied by two of his goons, O'NEIL and MAZZUCHELLI.
DeFalco says he can see how Jack feels, how awful this wrestling thing is, how humiliating. He remembers what a great fighter Jack was when he was at the top of his form. How close he came to reaching the big-time. Fixer informs Jack that he's been talking to Mr. Fisk about him. (Fisk's name is spoken with hushed reverence.) And they've decided that a fighter like "Battlin'" Jack Murdock deserves another chance.
Murdock can't believe it. A second chance is all he ever wanted. If he can make his boy proud of him, regain his self-respect.
"Have I ever," DeFalco says, smiling, "steered you wrong?" CUT TO:
Autumn. The roof of the Murdocks' apartment building. Matt sitting on the ledge, his head in a text-book, studying. Around him we HEAR the sounds of the city, the temptations of the night.
A look of anger and frustration on his face, Matt slams the book closed. Almost hurls it off the roof. But he struggles, forces the demons down.

And returns to his studies.

CUT TO: Our Lady of Refuge Church. Rows of votive candles. Matt on his knees, in prayer. He wants to be everything his Dad wants him to be....everything his mother dreamed for him. But it's so hard. "Dad was right...there's something inside of me...and it won't let go. It won't let go..." He begs God for help in staying clear of temptation, keeping on the right path.

And in the shadows of the church, Father Nocenti stands silently watching. Feeling the torment in this boy's soul. CUT TO:

Matt walking home from the church (which is still visible behind him). He cuts across a vacant lot, finds his way barred by the very gang of kids that worshipped him just a few months earlier. Now led by Gene Romita--who has assumed Matt's cocky Cagney stance and attitude. Beneath his bluster, Gene is clearly hurt and confused by Matt's rejection of their friendship; by his sudden transformation into a straight arrow, more interested in studying than in raising hell.

They begin to push Matt around. "So come on...Daredevil," Gene says. "Let's see if you're still as tough as you used t'be." We see the devil rising in Matt's eyes--

--as Romita and the others beat the living hell out of him, taunting him with every blow: "Daredevil...Daredevil... Daredevil..."

Matt's body tenses; vow or no vow, he's going to take these kids apart. He reaches out for a broken beer bottle in the dirt, wraps his fingers around it, ready to smash Romita across the face. But then Matt sees something--

--across the street: a BLIND MAN steps off the curb, into the traffic. He doesn't see the truck barreling toward him.

Matt drops the bottle, leaps to his feet, pushing through his attackers.

As Romita and the others watch in dumbfounded amazement, Matt races into the street--

--and leaps: knocking the blind man clear.

Matt falls, hard. The truck careens into a lamp post, flips over. Barrels of radioactive material eject from the rear cabin, crash to the street.

The liquid moves, almost with a life of its own, toward the semi-conscious Matt...pools around his eyes.


CUT TO: a hospital, where Matt, eyes bandaged, sleeps. His grief-stricken father sitting by his bed. There's a gentle knock at the door.

Tommy DeFalco enters. He tells Jack how terrible he feels about what's happened to his little boy. On top of that, he knows that Jack has no insurance to cover the hospital stay. But he doesn't want him to worry. "I spoke to Mr. Fisk personally about this. Everything's gonna be taken care of. Your boy's gonna get nothing but the best."

Jack can't believe this. He can't accept this, he says. How could he ever pay them back? How--

The Fixer tells him that the time will come when Jack will do something for them in return. But for now--don't give it a second thought.

CUT TO: Later. Matt bolts awake in bed. Panicked. Clutching his ears. It's as if every sound in creation is pouring into his head. As if every scent that ever existed is flooding his senses. A million hearts beat. A million babies cry. A million gun shots crack the night.

Matt staggers out of bed, whimpering, overwhelmed. He drops to his knees, pounds his head against the floor, trying to make it stop, make it stop. "Make it STOP!"

CUT TO: Several days later. The bandages are off. Matt's eyes are wide and blind. But we see that something has changed. What was overwhelming at first is becoming integrated. The radioactivity has heightened his senses--

--senses he casts out across the room, across the city, like a net...capturing the information he needs.

He settles back into bed, picks up a newspaper left by a visitor, runs his fingertips over the ink, "reading" it--

--just as his father walks in. "It's gotta be hard," Jack says. "So many things you used t'be able t'do."

Matt puts the paper down. Looks up at his father, almost tells him what's happened...and doesn't. (He can't say why.) What he does say is that he's not a quitter or a whiner. "If you came back, Dad, so can I. You'll see. I'll make you proud."

Jack smiles; fights back a tear. "We'll make each other proud, Matt." CUT TO:

Matt, in his ski-mask and blacks, out on the rooftops, dead of night. Exulting in his new senses, racing, leaping, whirling. Tasting the city, his city: every sound, every scent, every heartbeat. Feeling, in his blindness, an exhilaration he hasn't felt in years. A primal wildness. A reckless freedom.

And a devil, whispering in his ears. That's why he couldn't tell his father. This is his. This belongs to him. Here, in the night, in the blackness, he can be reunited with his true self. CUT TO:

A MONTAGE that INTERCUTS between--

Jack, back in the ring, battling his way up the ladder toward the championship. Matt, in the crowd, always cheering him on. Fixer watching every bout intently, intensely. Collecting piles money on Murdock's meteoric rise.


--Matt, applying himself to his studies at home, enthusiastically participating in class...avoiding his old gang while continuing his secret workouts on the rooftops and in the gym...striking up a friendship with a straight-laced, overweight kid named FRANKLIN "FOGGY" NELSON. Finally, we see Matt--eighteen years old, a handsome young man--graduating high school.

We END THE MONTAGE with a shot of a poster, announcing Jack Murdock's upcoming title bout. Then we DISSOLVE THRU TO:

The Fixer's office--where DeFalco calmly informs Jack Murdock that he's going to take a fall on Saturday. It will be lucrative for all of them. All these months of fixing Murdock's fights, making him look like a returning hero, are going to pay off.

Jack is stunned. He can't believe it. His entire comeback, engineered by DeFalco. His battle to regain his self-respect, his self-worth, a fraud? He refuses to believe it. And he refuses to take the fall.

DeFalco stays calm. "Jack, Jack--you can't turn your back on us now...not after all we did for you. And for your boy. It ain't me I'm thinking of, Jack. But we have to keep Mr. Fisk happy. He's got a lot riding on this. A huge investment." DeFalco smiles. "Keep Mr. Fisk happy, Jack. Believe me, you won't like what'll happen if you disappoint him."

CLOSE ON JACK--as his soul collapses inward in shame. His dreams go up in flames. CUT TO:

The fight. Jack in the ring, being mercilessly beaten by his opponent. Matt, with Foggy, in the crowd, can't understand it. It's as if his father's just letting this gorilla destroy him. Jack falls. He's down. Face swollen. Bloody. A broken man. DeFalco grins. "Good boy," he says.

But then, through the bloody haze, Jack sees his son. Sees his dreams. All that's good and decent in his life.

And heroically, miraculously, he gets to his feet. DeFalco steaming. ("What the hell is he doing?") Matt, with Foggy at his side, is triumphant and proud as--

--Jack pounds his opponent to his knees. He wishes it were different, but Jack knows that the ring is the only place on earth he can find a little dignity and a little grace. No matter the price, he will not have that dignity taken away from him. And he will not disappoint his son.

One blow, two, three.

And he's the new heavyweight champion.

Matt and Foggy cheer. DeFalco curses. He looks across the stadium to a pricey box where a hulking, yet paradoxically dapper, figure is sitting: WILSON FISK, THE KINGPIN.--accompanied by his gorgeous and elegant wife, VANESSA. Fisk fixes a cold stare on DeFalco. Nods his head. CUT TO:

After the fight: As Jack heads to meet Matt and Foggy for a victory dinner, he's waylaid by DeFalco, O'Neil and Mazuchelli. "Mr. Fisk isn't happy, Jack," DeFalco says. "And neither am I." They take him off to a nearby--

--WAREHOUSE--where they beat him to a bloody pulp. Fixer wants Jack to beg for mercy, but he whispers only two words: "Maggie" and "Matt."

IN THE RESTAURANT: Matt's hyper-senses pick up his father's words. To Foggy's surprise, Matt rushes outside. Casts out his sense-net. Zeroes in on the ugly sound of fist against pulped flesh.

He runs.

IN THE WAREHOUSE: Fixer puts a gun to Jack's head. Cocks it.

IN THE STREET: Matt, hearing all this, doubles his speed.

IN THE WAREHOUSE: Jack whispers, "I love you, Matt"--and the Fixer fires.

IN THE STREET: That gunshot is the loudest sound Matt Murdock has ever heard.

Matt arrives at the warehouse just as Fixer and the others drive away. One of the goons notes Matt's presence. "A blind kid," Fixer laughs; "what's to worry about?" Matt--

--rushes inside, cradling his father in his arms--

--as Jack Murdock dies. And Matt Murdock is reborn in grief and rage CUT TO:

The upper East Side. A high-priced house of prostitution on the top floor of a luxury apartment building--where O'Neil and Mazuchelli are indulging in a drunken bacchanal with half a dozen women.

The lights go out. The brownstone is plunged into pitch blackness. In drunken confusion, the goons scramble for their guns. The prostitutes run.

We TRACK WITH a figure, moving through the house. We "see" what he sees: this world of darkness illuminated by an eerie radar sense.

Our POV shifts back to the darkness--where a figure is moving, all around O'Neil and Mazuchelli, like a ghost. Every time they think they have a bead on him, fire, he's gone.

Finally, at the top of the stairs, O'Neil thinks he has him. Shoots once, twice. A body falls at his feet: It's Mazuchelli--badly wounded, but alive.

Then the intruder leaps down onto O'Neil's back, tumbles with him, down the stairs. O'Neil sprints. The wild-man, using a metal cane, swats him him through the window onto the fire escape. The moon shines down--

--on an impossible sight. "Mephisto" Murdock--back from the dead. It's Matt--wearing his father's old wrestling costume. The symbol of Jack's greatest humiliation...will be the symbol of Matt's vengeance. O'Neil looks up, terrified.

Matt pounds him mercilessly, then hops up to the railing of the fire-escape, O'Neil hanging by his tie, dangling and choking. In the distance, we HEAR POLICE SIRENS, coming CLOSER. "You killed Jack Murdock," Matt hisses. "Confess your sins." "I didn't do nothing..." O'Neil insists. Matt loosens his grip. "Confess. Your. Sins."

And O'Neil confesses. Matt yanks him back up, just as several police cars screech to the curb down below. "And now," he says, "you're going to tell that to the police. Or I'll be back to finish this." "Anything," O'Neil whimpers, "anything you say."

We go in CLOSE on Matt's face: For all the justifiable anger, for all the broken-hearted seeking of vengeance, there's a dark pleasure Matt's taking in the hunt. A naked thrill. He's enjoying this too much. At last, the devil inside him has found a valid excuse to break free; to become him. "Y'know," he says, "I could get to like this..." CUT TO:

The Mafia "social club" where the Fixer headquarters himself. Dead of night. A nervous DeFalco playing cards with two of his goons, while half a dozen other armed goons stand guard.

The lights go out. DeFalco panics. And rightfully so.

Matt, in the wrestling costume, is there. We "see" the room through his blind eyes; his radar-sense guiding him more confidentially than any sighted man as he tears through Fixer's army like an unstoppable demon from Hell.

The goons buy the frightened DeFalco--who's sure this is Jack Murdock's ghost, come to punish him for his sins--time to run for his car.

There follows a chase--with Daredevil, vanishing and reappearing, playing with DeFalco, taunting and terrifying him; ultimately forcing the Fixer off the road.

The Fixer scrambles out of his crashed car. Races for a subway station. On a deserted platform, DD advances on the winded mobster--whose hand goes to his chest. He's having a heart attack. "Please," the now-pathetic DeFalco whimpers, "please help me..."

Matt grins an awful, soulless grin. "Just shut up," he says, "and die."

The Fixer obliges.

We go in CLOSE on the grinning Matt--as his expression shifts to one of revulsion and disgust. As he finally realizes the dark joy he's taken in this. CUT TO:

The confession booth. Father Nocenti on one side; Matt, on his knees, on the other: "Forgive me, Father," Matt whispers, "for I have sinned." And then we--

CUT TO: A courtroom. Matt, Foggy at his side, watches triumphantly as O'Neil and Mazuchelli are sentenced. As the law has its victory. Perhaps, his face seems to say, he doesn't need the devil. Perhaps the law is bigger, nobler, than one man's passion for vengeance. "We got the puppets," D.A. TOWER--a fortyish district attorney who still clings tenaciously to her idealism--says to Matt; "too bad we can't get our hands on the puppeteer." "What do you mean?" asks Matt. "Not a breeze blows in New York," Tower replies, "without the Kingpin's say-so. But he's made of teflon. No one can touch him. Most people in this town don't even know he exists. But he's the real power, Matt. And that power's growing every day." This is the first Matt has heard of Fisk.

CUT TO: Wilson Fisk and his closest advisor, JOHN MACKIE. O'Neil and Mazuchelli, Mackie says, will be out in three years. Their loyalty will be rewarded. "Good," says Fisk; "and then...as soon as they're back on the streets...I want them dead. Their incompetence should be rewarded, too."

CUT TO: The courtroom. CLOSE on Matt. In this moment, he chooses his life's path. He will embrace the law, use it to protect little guys like his father. And when the law isn't enough--

CUT TO: Matt, standing on the roof-edge of his apartment building. The wrestling costume is crumpled at his feet. In one hand he's holding a yellowed poster for one of "Battling" Jack Murdock's fights. Matt's fingers gently move across the poster, caressing his father's face.

He lets the poster go. It's carried off on the winds, wafting across the city Matt so loves. Then, an expression of determination on his face...it's as if he's embracing his destiny...Matt reaches down, picks up the wrestling costume, holds that devil's mask in his hands. We go in CLOSE on the mask, then--

--CAMERA PANS out to the lights of the city as Matt casts his sense-net into the night. We HEAR the SOUNDS of New York: love and rage, hope and fear. Then we PAN BACK to Matt--

--to see him standing not on the roof of a Hell's Kitchen tenement, but atop the towering Chrysler Building. He's wearing a costume of red and black, the letters "D.D." emblazoned on his chest. The costume is clearly modelled on his father's wrestling suit...but more dramatic, more majestic. And more foreboding.

Daredevil listens intently to his city. HEARS a SCREAM piercing the night air.

He presses a button on the cane in his hand. It splits in two, both sections connected by a heavy metal wire. The wire shoots across the street to the opposite rooftop, its curved end hooking the ledge. Daredevil holds tight to the bottom half of the cane--

--and leaps, swinging directly toward "camera" as we--


(via Comic Book Movie)