Monday, August 18, 2003

Daredevil: Born Again TPB - A Review

Written by: Frank Miller
Penciled by: David Mazzucchelli.
Inked by: David Mazzucchelli
Colored by: Christie Scheele & Richmond Lewis
Lettered by: Joe Rosen
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics

How many single issues have there been that completely changed a comic book?

This may sound like a loaded question, but think about it; even before today’s multi-part, maxi-series “the story that will change Captain X and Random-Man forever!” driven story-arcs, it was rare to have a major change take place in just one issue. Gwen Stacy’s death and the aftermath was a two-part story. The death of Barry Allen took several issues to build up to. And it took three issues for X-Men: Phoenix to lower the standards of what Marvel will publish to make a quick buck. Good drama, like good cooking, needs time to heat up and boil.

In fact, I can think of only two single comics in everything I have read where one issue really changed everything. The first is the Green Lantern/Green Arrow issue where Speedy is revealed to be a heroine addict. The other is the first part of this, Frank Miller’s last regular writing job on the monthly Daredevil title.

Right from the very beginning, we know something is different. We see a woman, later identified as Karen Page, who has fallen on hard times. Leaving the series to become an actress years before, Frank Miller brings her back, writing that she fell into drugs, a different kind of movie and is now so desperate for a fix that she is willing to sell away a sacred trust: the secret identity of Daredevil. This information makes its way up the ladder to Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin), who is all too happy to turn this information to his advantage and orders the deaths of Page and everyone else who passed the information up to him.

In the turn of a few short pages, Matt Murdock is beset by disaster after disaster in one morning. Newly released from a law firm and looking for a new job, he gets a Dear John tape (no letter for the blind man, of course) from his girlfriend Gloria. He also receives a subpoena regarding charges of corruption by one of the few honest cops left in New York, a letter from the bank saying he is behind on his mortgage payments and his assets have been frozen pending an IRS audit.

Things go from bad to worse as the power and phone at his apartment are turned off and Matt finds out the next day that his girlfriend is now shacked up with his best friend and lawyer in the pending corruption charges against him, Foggy Nelson. Franklin manages to save Matt from doing jail time, but is unable to keep Matt from loosing his law license. Unable to access his savings and distrustful of everyone around him, the final touch comes as Matt’s brownstone is blown up before him. In that moment, Matt has the revelation that Kingpin must be responsible for all his sudden misfortune and decides to take the fight to Fisk.

One issue. That is all it took for Matt Murdock to go from a respected lawyer looking for a job to a disgraced pariah with nothing. No money. No home. No love. No friends. And very quickly, no sanity and no hope.

Miller would further break down Matt Murdock and build up one of the most amazing stories to ever grace a spinner rack over the next six issues. He effortlessly follows multiple subplots; the Kingpin’s life as he watches Matt self-destruct, Matt’s actions as he falls further into madness, Foggy and Gloria as they get to know each other better, Ben Urich as he tries to locate Matt and Karen as she desperately tries to make her way to New York. This all builds towards an exciting climax in which Hell’s Kitchen is set ablaze, guest stars aplenty appear and old grudges are avenged.

This is all gloriously illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, who manages the thankless task of working with one of the undisputed masters of the craft and having to keep up with him. But keep up with Miller he does and does well, as do the rest of the art team who maintain a dark, noir feel to everything… even the battles in broad daylight and brightly-lit offices.

Born Again was recently reprinted as part of the Daredevil: Legends series and is a must-have for all comics fans and not just fans of The Man Without Fear. True, Miller’s gotten more attention for his work with Elektra during his original run on the series or his redefinition of the characters in his “Man Without Fear” mini-series (also available as a Legends TPB). But I’ll be damned if this isn’t the best thing he wrote with Daredevil.

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