If you've followed the development of Marvel Studios movies and artwork that accompanies each, you should be very familiar with the talent of Ryan Meinerding, even if you don't recognize his name. From the first official image of Black Panther's costume to the Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron posters and Comic-Con one-sheets and various work for Captain America, Thor, and others, Meinerding has been a key part of developing the visual style of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a long time.
Meinerding's work in comics and film also extends to television and the design of Marvel's first Netflix hero, Daredevil, is one of his too. We're not talking about the homemade black ninja outfit the vigilante wears during the majority of the show's first season. We're talking about the iconic red Daredevil costume seen in the finale of the origin story.
Ryan Meinerding is part of a team of artists including Rodney Fuentebella, Andy Park, Jackson Sze, Josh Nizzi, and Anthony Francisco that help with conceptual work and costume designs for Marvel Entertainment. We had heard early on that Marvel Studios (the film division) had assisted Marvel TV in designing the iconic red costume for the Daredevil series but didn't see what it looked like until the day before the series was set to release in full on Netflix April 10, 2015. It seemingly leaked online thanks to Netflix's database and Marvel revealed the full thing as part of their social media marketing the next day.
Now that it's been over a month since Daredevil brought in praise from fans, critical acclaim from reviewers and big ratings for Netflix (more than House of Cards according to some data), a second season has already been greenlit and slotted into a Marvel TV schedule on the digital service that already includes AKA Jessica Jones this fall, Luke Cage next year and Iron Fist sometime after that, before all the characters join forces for The Defenders (think Marvel TV's Avengers, but squarely set in Hell's Kitchen, New York).
Daredevil is the first of many street level heroes joining the MCU and as such, he's also the first to get a superhero costume, and how that's worked into the grounded story of Matt Murdock's journey towards vigilantism is an interesting one. The mechanic Melvin Potter is convinced by Murdock to help him, and it is he (who becomes Gladiator in Marvel Comics) who builds the red and black costume.
In real life though, there are a lot more people involved to design what's depicted in the above concept art. Marvel CCO Joe Quesada, previously Editor-in-Chief of the comics division and an artist on many Daredevil comics, reached out to Meinerding's team. Quesada talks about fitting the costume in to what the show is really about:
"The starting point is always story. We had to come up with a logical reason as to how someone with Matt Murdock’s means and ability to actually make a costume could make that dramatic of a leap from the vigilante costume to the super hero [suit]. Once that logic was in play, which was the Melvin Potter of it all, we had to build to that point. I think if we had gone to that red costume too soon, it would have caused a lot of viewers to bump on the material, because it was so grounded in the real world."
Meinerding's design caught Quesada's attention the most, especially the detailing of the armature and its use of rivets so they used his as a baseline and developed it.
"The tone that was really communicated was the sense of realism that they were going for. I think the way that [manifested itself in] the costume was through the armor and making it feel a little bit more padded than you traditionally think of Daredevil being. When we do these designs, there’s a concept of grounded and a concept of reality. The grounded nature that they brought to the vigilante costume was the simplicity and effectiveness, because you’re trying to conceal your identity but also [have to be] mobile enough to fight.
"When you do a super hero costume in that world, it’s hard to be as real as you need to be, because you’re making it heightened. So you try and find the touchstones for that with armoring pieces that you would want armored, like your shins and your forearms for blocking and hitting as well as having things be riveted on. The overall layout of that costume is really that it’s meant to look like a Kevlar vest with stuff underneath it. That’s what we were going for."
The most difficult aspect was of course the cowl, and it was a two-fold challenge above the basic challenges of making it fit and look right. Where Captain America's helmet allows his expressions and eyes to be seen, the top half Daredevil's head is always locked into one expression. There's also of course, the horns, which need to have the right style and angle to fit the look.
"One of the most interesting things about Daredevil, that I hadn't fully appreciated before I started working on the character, is that I think that head is one of the most difficult heads to design for a live action context."
Honoring the comics, the last key detail of the armored costume are Daredevil's weapons, the billy clubs. The live-action ones introduced with the red costume in the Netflix series were designed by Andy Park, and even though star Charlie Cox (and his stunt double Chris Brewster) are right-handed, they kept the holster for the clubs on Daredevil's left side.
Don't be surprised to see the costume tweaked or evolved as Daredevil returns next year and in The Defenders... and later, the Avengers. There are lots of comic book designs to draw inspiration from, and if Mr. Murdock, "the man without fear," gets access to the resources of Tony Stark or the Avengers, he'll get an upgrade like the rest of Earth's Mightiest.
Share your thoughts on the direction and decision making behind Marvel's live-action Daredevil in the comments!
Daredevil is currently available on Netflix. AKA Jessica Jones premieres this fall, followed by Luke Cage and Daredevil season 2 in 2016.