Monday, January 5, 2015

Review # 157: "Daredevil - Born Again"

"Born Again" by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli doesn't re-invent the wheel. It doesn't redefine art and pacing like Miller's work on "The Elektra Saga." It doesn't carry the immense popular cultural significance of Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" or Miller and Mazzucchelli's "Year One." What it is, though, is a freaking amazing story. In my opinion, it's the best thing Miller ever wrote.

It's also the most underrated. Because of the Batman films, so many people know about "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Year One." Even the recently launched TV show "Gotham" references the latter, with a direct-shot homage to the famous image of Bruce Wayne kneeling by his dead parents. You'll see interviews where filmmakers talk about Miller's work with the Caped Crusader, which has definitely helped to prop up sales. I know a lot more people who own "TDKR" and "Year One" than those that own "Born Again." The Daredevil story here is at a disadvantage, not only because DD isn't a hot pop culture property, but also because of timing.

Here's a mind-boggling fact for you: "TDKR" and "Born Again" were gradually released at the same time in 1986, starting the same month. Within less than a year of both their completions, "Year One" had begun to trickle out. The fact that Miller produced all three of these stories within 18 months of each other (and "Elektra: Assassin," by the way) is a level of output unlike any other, save - perhaps - Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko's unending stream of iconic Marvel characters in the early 60's. That said, early Spider-Man, Thor and Hulk stories have not stood the test of time as well as Miller's work from 86/87.

But enough with the history lesson.

"Born Again" is without a doubt the best example you'll find of the classic "break a hero down, then build him back up" trope in comics. The catalyst is former Nelson and Murdock secretary Karen Page, who left the office to become a movie star and picked up a heroin habit as a result. Desperate for a fix, she sells Matt Murdock's second identity to a dealer. The piece of info fingering Matt as Daredevil ends up in the hands of his greatest enemy, Kingpin, who orders the death of everyone who has seen it. In a single issue, Kingpin destroys Matt's life. Murdock is disbarred, he loses access to his money and his home is destroyed. While Matt is able to figure out that Wilson Fisk - the Kingpin - is responsible, he is not 100 percent certain. This causes him to lose his friends, his lover... and his mind.

Not thinking clearly, Murdock takes the attack straight to the Kingpin who easily dispatches DD. Fisk arranges Matt's death to look like an attempted killing of a cab driver gone wrong. Daredevil is meant to drown at the bottom of a river. Crews exhume the vehicle, finding blood and signs of a struggle. As the Kingpin celebrates, he realizes one problem. When it comes to finding Daredevil....

"There is no corpse." Shortly after, Fisk realizes that he has taken away Matt's hope, and that "a man without hope is a man without fear."

Daredevil's fall and rise is an excellent story on its own. It's the added layers that push it over the top. Matt's examination of his parentage, for instance, along with Foggy Nelson's growing relationship with his law partner's most recent ex and Karen's desperate, horrifying bid to return to America. The showstealer, though, is Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich's investigation into Matt's disappearance. Narrated from his own perspective, Urich faces horrors no journalist should experience. A mob goon breaks his bones; his wife is attacked at home; murder is committed right in front of him. All these elements come together in the penultimate issue where crap truly hits the fan in the arguable REAL climax as Daredevil once again puts on his costume.

You can feel the heat radiating off the pages when it happens, one of many fantastic drawings in this book by Mazzucchelli. His work at depicting emotions in this story is at its own level. Kingpin's smugness, Karen's desperation, Matt's balance between rage and discipline... it's amazing. My favourite sequence involves Urich, though, who listens over the phone as a Kingpin goon strangles a man to death. As Urich further descends into the shock he'd already been suffering, his face becomes grotesque. When the affect wears off, the look in his eyes is indescribable.

It's remarkable to me that - after doing so much in his first run - Miller managed to find so much more in this character. The fact that he did so without a glimpse of Elektra, The Hand or Stick - all his inventions - only makes it more so. "Born Again" is an inspiring, brilliantly-written, brilliantly-drawn masterpiece. It's Frank Miller's best story, Daredevil's best story, and one of the greatest comic books ever written.

Rating: 10/10


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I still don't read this story arc, but some people have told me that their final issues are weak in comparison to the development of the story, and in that aspect year one, or TDKR are more consistent as a whole. What do you think about that?