How Marvel's Hell's Kitchen Compares To The Real World
Daredevil, the sightless superhero created by Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett—along with "disputable amounts of input” from Jack “King” Kirby—made his Marvel Comics bow in April of 1964.
Born and raised in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, the character is otherwise known as top-notch lawyer Matt Murdock. He was blinded as a child via the bespattering of radioactive ickiness, but saw his remaining senses heightened to superhuman extremes.
Utilizing these transcendental traits along with brawling skills inherited from his pro-boxing father, Murdock declared war on the villains besmirching his neighborhood's streets. The likes of Bullseye and the Kingpin have denounced The Man Without Fear's safeguarding of their homestead ever since, with Murdock’s role as an attorney further thwarting their crooked hijinks.
As current readers of the comic book—and viewers of the Netflix series—will be aware, Daredevil’s adventures are still very much based in and around Hell's Kitchen. Depicted as a knavish haven for public squalor, the area also known as Clinton stretches up from 34th Street to the northern boundary of 59th, and across 8th through 12th Avenues.
Marvel's latest TV series, Jessica Jones, also uses the neighborhood as its primary base of operations. Launching on Netflix November 20th, the show is based on Alias, the acclaimed comic book series by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos.
So why did Stan Lee and Bill Everett elect Hell's Kitchen as Daredevil's abode?
A present day walk around the West Manhattan neighborhood doesn’t offer much in the way of the tough, grimy streets featured throughout DD's adventures. Loitering mobs of ne’er-do-wells aren't too common, either. The place is actually rather, well, posh. And New York City’s real estate listings expose one certainty: Hell’s Kitchen is fiendishly expensive.
According to realtor.com, the area’s average monthly rent is a wallet-walloping $4,491. Only need one bedroom? You’ll still spend in the region of $3,506 p/m, while those requiring an extra bedchamber must line a landlord's pocket with approximately $6,243. Ouch!
But it wasn’t always this way…oh no. Living in the 'hood around the time of Daredevil’s debut offered a VERY different experience to what current inhabitants shell out $LOL for. Clinton was once among NYC’s most dangerous spots—its more menacing moniker first appeared in print via an 1880's New York Times reporter, who referred to an infamous tenement at 39th Street and 10th Avenue as "Hell's Kitchen," describing the entire section as "probably the lowest and filthiest in the city."
The ominous epithet stuck.
The average monthly rent back in 1960s New York City was $200—adjusted for inflation, around $790 in today’s money. But you could find housing for less: According to millersamuel.com, a three-and-a-half room apartment on East 92nd Street was going for $95 p/m in October 1960. $95! The collected run of Frank Miller’s Daredevil would likely set you back that amount, if not more. (But to be fair, it’s worth every penny.)
Unsurprisingly, Hell’s Kitchen’s populace also paid below the NYC average in the mid-1960s, with an ex-resident recently telling the New York Times he paid only $100 rent each month. But in his own words:
“You’d go out to Eighth Avenue, all the hookers walking the streets. You had ten movie theaters, five on each side, and people were drinking, smoking pot."
A fellow dweller remarked:
“If you didn’t grow up here, you probably wouldn’t have liked it.”
By 1965, the year after Matt Murdock’s Marvel Comics bow, Hell’s Kitchen was the home base of the infamous Westies gang, comprising of Irish American ruffians and members of the Gambino crime family. Murder, theft, liquor, drugs, extortion, gambling…the Westies were the 'hood's iron-fisted overlords of all things immoral. Their reign of terror lasted right up until the 1980s, with the RICO convictions finally stripping the gang of its power and influence.
Gentrification was well under way by the early ‘90s, and with nearby Times Square's grand makeover progressing quickly, The Neighborhood Formerly Known As Clinton morphed into the sanctum for cash-lavished patricians we know today.
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