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Can Disney afford to alienate primary audience?

We have news about Daredevil: Born Again. Apparently, Jon Bernthal will reprise his role as Frank Castle/ The Punisher in the upcoming 18-episode Disney+ reboot of the popular Netflix series.

Naturally, people want to know what this means for the show. We know it is not a continuation of the original Netflix series.

The version of Kingpin we saw in Hawkeye proves as much. But adding fan favourites like Frank Castle and Kingpin while simultaneously leaving vital characters like Karen Page and Foggy out of the equation may confuse normies – people that don’t follow comics and comic books news and, thus, don’t understand the multiverse.

But my primary interest is the show’s rating. Disney+ is a family-oriented streaming platform. If you think most people subscribe to the service for Marvel and Star Wars content, you are wrong.

Disney+ doesn’t generate enough original movies and TV shows to compete with the likes of Netflix. And yet, their audience continues to grow. Why? Because parents trust the streaming platform to entertain their children with clean, fun content.

They drag those same children to every movie Marvel puts out because Disney is a family-friendly brand. The studio has spent decades cultivating that trust, which is why Frank Castle’s involvement in Daredevil: Born Again is surprising. You could argue that Deadpool 3, which is R-rated, will present a similar challenge.

But audiences don’t associate Deadpool with Disney. It was a 20th Century Fox property, and the first two movies leaned heavily into their adult- oriented elements during the marketing campaign. No sane parent would ever take their young child to Deadpool 3, even though the film is officially part of the MCU.

Daredevil: Born Again is different because Matt Murdoch appeared in the highly popular Spiderman: No Way Home and the mediocre She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, two family-friendly projects.

What happens when parents tune in to Daredevil: Born Again with their children, only to watch as Frank Castle brutally dismembers his foes? They will throw a fit. We are still at the height of the streaming wars.

Can Disney+ afford to alienate its biggest market? Admittedly, even without Frank Castle, Netflix’s Daredevil series was too violent for child audiences. But at his core, Matt Murdoch is no different from Batman. The character maims; he does not kill. Sanitizing Daredevil by removing the graphic violence and the swearing won’t ruin his character.

The comics prove as much. Marvel has plenty of clean PG13 Daredevil comics you can give to a child without offending the parent’s sensibilities. Frank Castle is a different matter. The character appeals to mature audiences because he tortures and kills his enemies.

In fact, murder is Frank’s defining trait. The anti-hero stood out when Marvel introduced him in 1974, because he had no qualms about killing criminals, unlike the other heroes running around the Marvel landscape. Disney can maintain the violence and the killing where Frank Castle is concerned without highlighting the blood and gore. But Sony’s Morbius tried that tactic, and viewers revolted.

Jared Leto’s Morbius killed many people in the 2022 American superhero film, but the studio removed all the blood, making the action less impactful. You can’t adapt a violent R-rated character without committing to the blood and guts.

But even if they successfully remove the adult components without butchering the character, you still have the political controversies Frank’s appearance will inevitably ignite. Marvel comics retired Frank’s famous skull-and- crossbones symbol after some far-right groups in the US adopted it.

Marvel introduced a horned-skull design, which does not sound like the worst response to this issue. Unfortunately, most comic book readers hated it. They also rejected the idea of Marvel comics changing comic book characters in response to real-life American politics.

Most of us outside the USA are disinterested in that conversation, but Marvel’s primary audience is US viewers. After seeing the negative response from comic book readers, what if they revert to the original skull-and- crossbones symbol? That would be bold of them. It would also bury Daredevil: Born Again under a wave of pointless political discourse.

Disney has a lot of difficult decisions to make.


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