"A man without hope is a man without fear."
I pick on Frank Miller a lot, mainly because people give him the lion's share of credit for revitalizing Batman for the modern age with titles like Batman: Year One (which I do recommend by the way) and The Dark Knight Returns, despite the fact that guys like Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams were already putting out work that brought the Caped Crusader back to his gothic noir roots. But the character that Miller really revitalized was the character of Daredevil, and for that he deserves all of the credit for giving this formerly C-list Marvel hero new life.
Miller took a rather generic swashbuckler and made him into Marvel's version of Batman. However, Miller made Daredevil grungier, more dangerous, and more sexy than Batman with his hardboiled noir take on the character. While Frank has faltered hard over the years, you can count on him to be on tip-top shape when writing Daredevil, and I'd say that the Born Again saga (1986) is the greatest achievement of Miller's storied career with The Man Without Fear.
Art by David Mazzucchelli
I think it's fair to say that Born Again, along with Year One, is one of Frank's most polished stories. It has none of the more goofy aspects that plague some of his other works, such as blocky, ugly art work, ridiculous characters, and an obsession with tough guys and prostitutes. I suppose that he's like Grant Morrison, where he writes extremely well when he has a good editor to rein him in. Much like his contemporary Alan Moore, Miller, at his best, finds a way to make this world of superheroes and gods walking among us feel like a real and 'lived in' universe. The character dynamics and themes of death and rebirth still hold true all of these years later, and Miller manages to find a way to weave these themes into the story without feeling too preachy or heavy-handed.
The biggest strength of this book, and the thing that Frank Miller understands so keenly about the character of Matt Murdock, is that he is someone who will never give up, despite all of the things you could throw at him. It's his perseverance that keeps him from completely breaking under the constant pressure that's thrown his way. Matt Murdock's life and existence is completely and ruthlessly stripped from him as the story moves along, yet Murdock continues to push on. This is where the Kingpin makes his fatal mistake: once you've taken everything from a man, you will have made him into someone with nothing to lose.
Much like Year One, Miller paces Born Again at an almost perfect speed. He does have his habit of repetition littered through the story, but it isn't bothersome as it is in some of his other stories. Frank understands Daredevil well, and he has a keen mind for what makes Daredevil tick. It's this understanding that makes his Daredevil stories, including this one, so appealing. In his own words:
"How many superheroes are known for what they can’t do? I mean Superman can fly, lift a building and all that, Batman’s ridiculously smart and he’s got all the technology in the world, and Spider-Man can spin webs and swing across buildings. Daredevil, he’s blind. He can’t see. That’s his distinguishing feature."
The other great feature in this comic is David Mazzucchelli's stunning artwork; it retains that cartoon-like, yet grounded style that was so prevalent in Year One. Yet the artwork looks cleaner, crisp, and filled with personality. It takes a different approach from the gothic noir tones of Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One art. He makes New York into a far grungier, dirtier place, yet he also gives it life and personality. Mazzucchelli's New York is a place brimming with character, while also being grimy and disgusting as well. Mazzucchelli might have outdone himself with this story.
Art by David Mazzucchelli
It is not perfect though, as no story ever is. The climax of the story is considerably overblown, in complete contrast to the more personal tone that the series takes. It sadly isn't as grounded as the brilliant climax in Miller and Mazzucchelli's other collaboration in Year One. The final battle is rather over the top, and has a deranged nutcase who's obsessed with America trying to kill Matthew Murdock and his love interest Karen Page. But luckily, it is saved by a fittingly quiet ending that serves the narrative well. With that being said, the climax is the only reason that this story isn't a 5-star read for me.
Favorite moments in this comic are plentiful for me, such as: the introduction of the Kingpin and when first receives the information of Daredevil's true identity, going on to formulate his master plan to destroy The Man Without Fear, the gradual disintegration of Matthew Murdock's life in the issue "Apocalypse", the instance where Kingpin blows up Matt Murdock's home and Matt muses to himself "I never would have connected it to you. Nothing about it said 'gangster' until this. It was a nice piece of work, Kingpin. You shouldn't have signed it.", the part where Matt fights and is defeated soundly by Kingpin and made to be driven off of a dock (a scene that was recreated in the third season of the Netflix Daredevil TV series), only for him to escape, the scene where Matt reminiscences about the accident that claimed his sight and the emotional breakdown that comes from that, the part where Matt takes out all of his rage at the old gym that his father used to train in, before passing out, J. Jonah Jameson's gruff speech to Urich about how it's his duty as a reporter to expose the Kingpin (and in classic Jameson style), the fight scene where Matt saves Karen from the Kingpin's thugs and defeats the maniac who's masquerading as Daredevil, the appearance of Captain America, along with his infamous line "I'm loyal to nothing, except the dream," and finally the ending where Matt and Karen walk down the street together, with renewed hope in life and optimism for the future.
Despite its faults, Born Again proves to be one of Miller's finest outings of The Man Without Fear.
Happy Darecember everyone!
Art by David Mazzucchelli
You can find Daredevil: Born Again (collecting Daredevil (1964-1998) #226-233 your Local Comic Book shop, or on Amazon, Comixology.
Britton Summers spent much of his childhood collecting action figures and toys, and through that hobby discovered a love for comic books that's continued to this day. His love of storytelling led him to want to become a writer, so he is currently in college pursuing a degree in Journalism and Broadcasting. Britton lives in Oklahoma with his parents, dog Alexis, and cat Jerry.