The Damsel in Distress. The Secretary. The Love Interest. The Junkie. The Hero’s Downfall. These common tropes are often the sole roles that female comic book characters get to play, and Daredevil’s Karen Page has played them all in the comics. But in Marvel’s Nextflix series, Karen Page has been transformed into an exciting and dynamic character, one that pays homage to her character’s comic book counterpart but transcends the common stereotypes and is instead a dynamic force, with her own agency and importance. In this series, we look back at some of the various roles Karen Page has played in the comics, and how those elements were used as background for the show, where Karen has been transformed into a far more interesting character than her comic book version ever was.
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for all of Daredevil Season One.
The Damsel in Distress
It’s a common role for female characters to play, in comic books and throughout history’s stories – the fair maiden, in need of rescue by the daring hero. It’s not Karen Page’s most frequent role in the comics – that’d be the secretly pining for the man she loves – but it’s one she plays frequently. In Daredevil #3, she’s kidnapped by The Owl (a reoccurring Daredevil villain who’s reimagined in the Netflix series as simply a criminally minded accountant working with Fisk) and rescued by Daredevil, and in the very next issue she’s in need of rescue again, this time due to the Purple Man. She’s again captured by the Ox in Daredevil #14, and AGAIN in Daredevil #26, by the Masked Marauder and Stilt-Man (one of Daredevil’s silliest villains, and a constant target of mockery). Hell, even when Karen moves to LA and guest stars in another comic book – Ghost Rider – it’s once again the victim of kidnapping. In other words, if Karen Page is late for a date, it’s probably because some goon snatched her.
Karen isn’t kidnapped in the Netflix series until episode 10 – and we’ll get to that in a bit – but she does first appear to us in the role of Damsel in Distress. Matt and Foggy meet Karen in a police interrogation room, eyes red from crying, framed for a murder she didn’t commit. Matt is there to save her by offering to take her case. She thanks her legal rescuers by cooking them a meal (female trope alert?) and saying “if it weren’t for you two I’d still be in that cell” Later, Matt more literally defends Karen from an attempted assassination in his Daredevil disguise. Karen standing in the rain is the quintessential damsel being saved moment – it recalls Spider-Man rescuing Mary Jane in Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, among others – but Karen doesn’t leap into Matt’s arms, instantly smitten and relieved to have been saved. Rather, she forcefully tells him how dangerous the information on the flash drive is, telling him “you can’t trust anyone.” While she certainly sees “the masked man” as a hero – she doesn’t believe the rumours that he is responsible for the murder of the police or the explosion – she doesn’t display the same sort of worship that the rescued female characters usually lavish upon their saviours. The show doesn’t toss this attack off lightly – it’s clearly a serious trauma for Karen, and she admits that she’s uncomfortable with returning to her home, but as Sean T. Collins writes, “Normally, that kind of trauma is simply used to escort the leading lady into the hero’s orbit and then forgotten, but Daredevil seems serious about taking it seriously.” Here, it’s taken seriously, and her overcoming her fear is what makes her pursuit of justice in trying to take down Fisk all the more brave, having been first hand witness to the consequences opposing him can have.
The sole other instance where Karen is “saved” is by Foggy, not Daredevil, when she is accosted by two thugs after seeking out information for Elena Cardenas. Yet while Foggy helps her fend off the thugs with a baseball bat, she rebukes him for following her, rather than falling into the damsel role. “Are you following me? I can take of myself!” she says angrily, before macing her attacker to drive home her point.
But the best subversion of victim trope happens in one of the best scenes of the series. Karen is kidnapped – that old standby! – by Wesley, Fisk’s consigliore/right hand man, who is frustrated that he’s even having to deal with Karen. Treating her like a bothersome chore, Wesley tells Karen “you were supposed to fade away Ms. Page. Fade back into, well, wherever people like you fade.”
Wesley proceeds to give a dramatic speech about the nature of fate, whether they were “destined” to end up in this room. “Is that supposed to scare me?” Karen lashes out. “No,” says Wesley, “this is” pointing a gun at her, before laying it calmly on the table. And indeed, Karen does look rather frightened at the appearance of the gun. But following an even longer speech about Fisk’s love of the city, Karen replies with a steely gaze and calm tells Wesley “if you’re going to kill me, just do it. I’m sick of listening to your bullshit,” and when Wesley tells her that she will go out and “spread the gospel” of Fisk’s righteousness, she says she’d rather die first. She’s certainly no coward.
It’s only when Wesley threatens the lives of others does she express real fear (a theme throughout the series – uncaring for harm to oneself, deeply concerned with protecting others). But when Wesley is briefly distracted by the ringing of his phone, Karen reaches out and swiftly grabs the gun lying on the table. Wesley plays it almost impossible coolly, smiling while saying “do you really think I’d put a loaded gun on the table where you could reach it?” Pulling back the hammer, Karen snarls “I don’t know. Do you really think this is the first time I’ve shot someone?” Wesley is prepared to call her bluff, standing up and beginning to say “Ms. Page…” but the rest is interrupted by the blast of the gun as Karen shoots him the shoulder, before unloading the rest of the chamber straight into his chest. Karen is immediately aghast at her actions, but she doesn’t break down – instead, she picks up the gun, wipes away her prints, and leaves the dead body of Wesley to rot, as his phone continues to ring, unanswered. This Karen Page is in no need of saving by a masked hero – she takes matters into her own hands.
That’s right – the MCU’s Karen Page ain’t nuttin to fuck with.
Deborah Ann Woll says “When we start we see Karen as victim, just because of the circumstances we find her in, [but] very quickly we grow to see that’s not who she is.” Indeed, Karen emerges as a tenacious crusader of justice, a veritable hero in her own right. In the comics, Karen Page is always at the mercy of others, her life decided by their actions. But in the Netflix series, the only one who shapes Karen’s future is Karen Page herself.
Next: The Secretary vs. The Crusader for Truth