THE COMIC COMPENDIUM #1: Daredevil: Born Again (1986)

Who made it?: Frank Miller (Writer), David Mazzucchelli (Art), Marvel (Publisher).

Who’s in it?: Daredevil, the Kingpin, Captain America, Nuke, Karen Page, Ben Urich.

Original run: Daredevil, #227-#233.

Published: February-August 1986.

With news surfacing on Fox’s reboot plans for Daredevil, I decided to take a look at the source material that screenwriter Brad Caleb Kane is bringing to cinemas, Born Again. Before we continue, I should point-out that I adore the “Man Without Fear”. He is one of my favourite Marvel characters, and the flawed 2003 film starring Ben Affleck was the catalyst for my journey into the world of comics, so I apologise if this article turns into a love-fest on the blind superhero. Seeing as this is one of the more famous story arcs in the character’s history, there will be minor spoilers, so you have been warned!

For those unfamiliar with Daredevil, here is a quick overview: Matt Murdock was the son of a prize-fighter named Battlin’ Jack, and grew up in the relative poverty of Hell’s Kitchen. He had much reverence for his father, who constantly pressed him into studying instead of playing with his friends. In turn, they taunted him with an ironic nickname, ‘Daredevil’, since his nose was never out of a book (or secretly training in his father’s gym).

As a boy, Matt saved a man from being hit by a truck. The vehicle swerved and crashed, spilling its cargo of extremely toxic chemicals into Matt’s eyes. He awoke in the hospital, blinded from the toxins, and discovered that his other senses were amplified as a result of the accident. He was able to see by a radar-like sense using natural sounds around him, giving him ultimate confidence in his surroundings. He would eventually become a lawyer, opening a law firm with Foggy Nelson, and taking on the mantle of ‘Daredevil’ after his father’s death. He prowls the rooftops to protect the citizens of Hell’s Kitchen, and bring justice to the streets as well as the courtroom.

Frank Miller originally worked with Marvel as an artist, doing cover designs as well as filling in on a variety of titles. One of his assignments was a cover for Peter Parker, in The Spectacular Spider-Man, which featured guest star Daredevil. Something about the Man Without Fear appealed to Miller’s sensibilities, and he approached his editor with the request of moving onto the title full-time, eventually becoming the penciller of the book. Over the next few years, the Sin City creator made Daredevil his own, moving away from the art and becoming the main writer. It was a renaissance for the character, and Miller turned Daredevil’s fortunes around, taking him from a second-tier hero to one of Marvel’s heavy-hitters. His myriad characters and storylines hold their own over 20 years later.

We should also acknowledge the work of David Mazzucchelli, who brought his customary, no-nonsense vision to the story. His artwork is simple but expressive, with a cinematic feel that keeps the plot barreling along.

Miller drags Daredevil into hell from the start, with his ex-girlfriend Karen Page selling his identity to a Mexican drug lord just to get a fix, to the Kingpin of crime, William Fisk, who takes his life apart piece-by-piece. The first half of the book depicts Murdock’s spiral into depression, after losing his licence to practice law. To make matters worse, his apartment block is blown up, and the IRS freeze his assets, leaving him with only $10 to his name.

This part of the story closes with a strung-out Murdock duelling with Fisk and losing badly, ending up in a stolen taxi that is then driven into a river. Not even John McClane had a day this shitty. Methinks Born Again would make an ideal companion piece to the Iron Man story Demon in a Bottle, itself a tortured rumination on the pain of being a superhero.

We then find Murdock under the watchful eye of a nun called Maggie, who rehabilitates him mentally and physically. It must be said that there’s a strong spiritual underpinning to this story arc, that the title only emphasises. That Catholic sense of guilt was clearly on Miller’s mind, and Mazzucchelli piles on the religious iconography throughout. This is an adult slant on the character, that isn’t afraid to tackle hard-hitting violence or real-world concerns. It also foreshadows the complexity that Miller would bring to Batman.

“Born again”, Murdock begins a mission to reclaim his life and put a stop to Fisk and his associates. It all leads to an epic confrontation on his home turf, between the Man Without Fear and psychotic super-solider Nuke. It’s also notable for cameos by key members of the Avengers (Captain America, Thor and Iron Man), who “arrest” Nuke and use him to help bring Fisk down.

Born Again is one of most engrossing Daredevil stories. It is a great primer for comic book readers old and new to learn about this underappreciated character. Miller’s gritty storytelling makes you care about the horned vigilante, and is so compelling that you may find it hard to put down. I feel sorry for anyone who picked this up in issue form back in 1986,  since waiting a month for the next issue would have been unbearable. This interpretation of Daredevil is one of Marvel’s best, and it is a credit to Miller’s work that readers have renewed respect and admiration for the character following Born Again. If it is transferred to the big screen in the right way, Daredevil’s popularity could up there with Iron Man and the Avengers. Fingers crossed.

Useless Trivia

  • Daredevil was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from Jack Kirby, and first appeared in Daredevil #1 (1964).
  • The first issue of Born Again was deemed the 11th Greatest Marvel Comic of All Time in 2001.
  • Peter Parker appears briefly, taking photos of a chase between Daredevil and the Kingpin.
  • Miller and Mazzucchelli also collaborated on DC’s Batman: Year One.

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