When it comes to the character of Daredevil it’s hard to imagine a writer who has helped shaped the character more than Frank Miller. In his time on the character, Frank Miller would go on to writer dozens, if not hundreds, of Daredevil stories that would fully redefine the character, the nature of the stories and the direction that they would take for all time. Between his retelling of Matt Murdock’s origins to the introduction and death of Elektra, Frank Miller has left a mark on the character that no other creative team has come even close to matching. And today we are here to talk about the storyline that is considered to be not only the greatest Daredevil story of all time but one of the greatest Marvel story arcs ever written. This is comic book spotlight shining a light on Daredevil: Born Again.

Running from Daredevil #226-233, the story follows Matt Murdock/Daredevil at his lowest point imaginable. In the book his former lover, Karen Page, sold his secret identity for a heroin fix and the information found its way into the hands of Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin of Crime. Fisk then uses his power and influence to destroy Murdock’s life, planting and forging evidence of corruption that results in him being disbarred and his money frozen by the IRS. Luckily for Matt Murdock, Fisk takes his plans one step too far, allowing him to guess who is destroying his life and begins to pick up the pieces while Fisk plans his final killing blow.

This unfortunately is one of those stories that is a little difficult for a modern reader to analyze and review. On one hand, the individual issues of the story arc are great. They’re fantastically paced. They feature great artwork. The characters are all well defined and developed and you are never bored while reading it. The problem, however, is that the overall story isn’t entirely satisfying and doesn’t really feel like a complete story.

The entire setup, for example, is summed up in the first issue of the story arc. In 24 pages the book almost seems to rush through Daredevil’s disbarment, his problems with the IRS, Karen’s new status quo as a drug addict, the Kingpin’s activities and the start of a romantic relationship between Foggy and Daredevil supporting character Gloria. The issue itself, however, is very well written, satisfying to read, and is, in of itself, a very good read. If you were a kid grabbing this comic off of a shelf back in the 80s you would have gotten your money’s worth out of it. The problem is that it feels like we’re seeing a montage of events over a long period of time as opposed to seeing these actions happen to the characters in the present. And while the issue itself is a very good one it feels like the story might have been better served if the destruction of Matt’s life had taken place over a handful of issues that gradually revealed what was going on before Murdock realized what was going on.

This, unfortunately, is something of a reoccurring issue in the story arc. We have individual issues that are incredibly well written and drawn but a story where the whole never seems to match the sum of its parts. One of the middle issues, for example, features a plot by the Kingpin to frame Daredevil for the murder of both Foggy and Gloria. It’s creepy and suspenseful and makes for a nice read but it doesn’t really affect the plot overall and could have easily been cut out. But when the book works it hits the right notes and it hits them hard.

The second and third issues, for example, really put us into Matt Murdock’s headset and we really feel that he feels that he has lost everything. He gets into violent and deadly brawls over nothing. He makes stupid decisions regarding his enemies and almost gets himself killed multiple times, giving us a sense that he just doesn’t care about anything anymore. In addition, the book cleverly makes his eventual rise out of this state a gradual one with small steps and not a big triumphant return the way similar stories are apt to do. It’s not exactly on par with Bruce Wayne returning as Batman in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns but it’s a lice little arc that keeps us invested in his fate.

What really makes this book work, however, is its villain. The Kingpin had been a reoccurring antagonist for Daredevil in Frank Miller’s run but this is where the character reached his high point. This is the story where we really get to see how powerful the Kingpin actually is and what lengths he will go to destroy his enemies. It’s made clear in every panel that features the character that he is the man in charge. Every conversation he dominates and will tolerate no insubordination and everyone else knows it. Those who do not know it feel his full wrath from outright executions to broken bones. Towards the end of the book his power levels get a little over the top but it’s clear that his schemes and power are the reason that this book is so well remembered.

The big point, however, that may make or break the book for a lot of people will be how they approach Karen’s drug addiction. Serious issues like this are rarely handled well in fiction and are almost never handled well in comics without a certain degree if inaccuracy or poor taste. Sadly, the nature of Karen Page’s heroin addiction is no exception to this. It does a decent enough job of showing how desperate people with addictions are and can get. In fact, when the story uses this angle it appears, on the surface at least, to be a rather accurate depiction of how far drug addicts will go and the people they hurt to get a fix. The problem comes in when it is time for Karen’s inevitable redemption arc.

Some spoilers will follow but when reading the last few issues of Born Again it becomes very clear that Frank Miller and his editor did not understand the drug recovery process at all. Karen just kind of gets over her addiction the moment she is reunited with Matt and it’s never brought up again. Matt immediately forgives her of what she did and seems cured for a lack of better words. In other words, it’s a typical Frank Miller move. In this particular case, his cure for a woman’s addiction is the company of a man. More specifically the cure to all her problems is Daredevil Dick and is not something that would fly in our current environment.

In the end Daredevil: Born Again is kind of a relic of its time but is still an overall enjoyable read. It doesn’t entirely work as its own complete story act but the individual issues are so well written and drawn that its impossible not to enjoy. There are more than a few cringeworthy elements to it and its by no means Frank  Miller’s best work. But if you’re a fan of Daredevil and are curious as to where the next season’s inspirations come from then it is worth a look.

 

Verdict

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