A couple of things…
As of this writing, Daredevil season 3 has not yet debuted. It’s coming soon, but it has not aired yet. So you get another peek into how far ahead I write these because you are already thinking “Holy cow, that was forever ago!”. Anyway, it’s obviously the impetus for me to get around to reviewing this story, but only indirectly. Nicole wants to read Born Again in preparation of the upcoming season, so I dug out my copies of Daredevil #227-233 for her. but before I passed it off, I wanted to give them another read. So why not write an article?
The second thing, and this is equally meaningless to you, but I feel like you and I are friends and deserve a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process: this is the first Stew’s Review I have written out of order. I am writing this after finishing #49, but that’s because I had my stupid Generation X gimmick set up for #50 and #52, and I didn’t want to have done four Marvel books in a row, so I had Return of Superman scheduled for #51. Now I feel like the pressure is on to get #50-#52 finished!
TITLE: Daredevil: Born Again
Writer and Artist: Frank Miller & David Mazzuchelli
Antagonists: Wilson Fisk
So this is good. Obviously. Any list of the greatest Marvel Comics stories of all time worth a damn will have this story ranked fairly prominently. I’ve seen it claim the top spot on some such lists, and that, while not where I would necessarily put it, is hard to argue against.
Born Again is an incredibly dense, brilliantly paced story that takes place across seven issues, but packs as many goings-on and as much depth as most stories twice its length. It starts with a strung-out Karen Page, who has fallen far from her days as the secretary for Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson, selling Daredevil’s secret identity for a fix. This news makes a beeline to Wilson Fisk through his network of lowlifes, and the Kingpin of Crime seeks to test its veracity.
With this, Matt’s life begins falling apart, and he loses everything. His bills are turning up unpaid, the IRS freezes his assets, and he is put on trial for tampering with witnesses in his trials. He avoids jail time, but loses his license, and is quickly forced out onto the streets. When his home explodes right in front of him, Murdock becomes keenly aware that the Kingpin is behind it all.
In his despondent state, however, Matt stops trusting anyone, and as he falls prey to hunger and sleeplessness, his clarity leaves him. He makes cryptic calls to Foggy Nelson and has other phone conversations with an automated operator. He finally pulls himself together enough to go after Fisk, and… it goes poorly. But from there, Matt is forced to either give up or claw himself out of the pit.
If I continued writing the series summary, we’d be here all day. It’s ridiculous how much Miller and Mazzuchelli pack into these seven issues. There is a coinciding major storyline of Ben Urich gathering evidence to take Wilson Fisk down. There is the struggle of Karen Page trying to flee Mexico and return to Matt Murdock. Foggy Nelson starts a relationship with Matt’s ex-girlfriend Glori. And through it all, Wilson Fisk is omnipresent, surveying his handiwork and trying to leave his seedy reputation behind as he ascends New York’s elite. And then there’s STILL time for a last issue of the arc which is oddly an ultimate confrontation between… Captain America and Nuke. I’ll be honest… if there is a weakness to be had in this whole series, it’s that weird ending that seems like the climax of another story that was tacked on here, but even then it fits, as Kingpin grows more and more desperate to end Daredevil after the latter survives a murder attempt. In his grasping at straws, Fisk brings in an unstable mercenary, and it proves his own undoing. So… fair enough.
Let’s be up front about something: Very few comics are a one-man show. There is a team of creative forces to produce any comic, and that includes writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists, letters, and editors. That said, this is very much Frank Miller’s exhibit here. There are poignant lines in this story that seep into you as you read them and root inside your mind. Bits of narration like “And I—I have shown him that a man without hope… is a man without fear” or “It was a nice piece of work, Kingpin. You shouldn’t have signed it” are as grand in their moments as any delivered anywhere else in the medium. When you combine an ear for lines like that with the masterfully crafted tale, you have to assume that Born Again would have been a success no matter who the collaborators were.
But that is not to dismiss the fantastic pencils of Mr. Mazzuchelli, who may not shoot for flare or style, but more than succeeds in terms of visual storytelling. The nuances in the art here are wonderful, whether it’s Matt’s decay in posture as he sinks into the depths or the growing gauntness of Ben Urich as he succumbs to terror or the depressing, gritty portrayal of Karen Page. Mazzuchelli feels these characters, and he knows exactly how to portray what Miller was striving to get across.
Everything works here. I will reiterate that the denouement is a touch out of left field (seriously… this epic saga of Wilson Fisk deconstructing Matt Murdock culminates in Capain America beating up Nuke! That’s wild), but Born Again is master class level story-telling. I will have to thank Nicole for wanting to borrow this.
Talking Point: Despite having a few of the best story arcs in Marvel history, Daredevil is a character who is somehow always on the periphery of Marvel’s most notable creations. What other character has had multiple renowned stories but has never really cracked the A-list?
There is a stupid part of my brain that wants to give this story a 9.5 based on that last issue, but nope… not going to stoop to that. This story is brilliant, and everything is handled extraordinarily well, and even the ending does a good job of showing the collapse of Fisk after he’d done so much to ruin Murdock. This is a 10/10. No regrets!