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Off The Page: Daredevil Born Again

By Patrick McNair Sep 19, 2016 - 6:34 PM print


In the comic world, there are many unique and distinctive characters that cross the pages of its titles. Among them is Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. By day, Matt Murdock is a lawyer, fighting to protect the "little guy" from corporate conglomerates. Ay night he becomes Daredevil, a crime-fighting vigilante that fights to protect his home of Hell's Kitchen. However, what makes Daredevil stand out in a world populated by vigilantes is that he's blind and as such, is the world's first disabled active superhero. Blinded by a chemical accident as a boy, Matt’s other senses were tuned to superhuman levels and after being trained by his mentor, Stick in the martial arts, Matt took on his alter ego to deliver justice when the law could only do so much.

Currently, Daredevil is enjoying unprecedented success due to the Netflix TV show, but that wasn't always the case and in the late 1970s, the Daredevil comic was nearly cancelled. After a less than stellar run by Gerry Conway, who turned the series to a more pulpy sci-fi direction, involving robots from the future and moving Daredevil to San Francisco; the character no longer captured the reader's imagination and was a far cry from the urban tone established by Stan Lee. By the early 1980s, Frank Miller became writer, having initially started on the series as an artist and recast Daredevil as a violent antihero, who regularly battled the Kingpin (a Spider-Man villain) and reworked many of the supporting cast, essentially creating a new continuity. Dennis O'Neil took up the reins after Miller's departure, continuing in his style, though backing away from the antihero angle. After O'Neil was preparing to leave the series, Daredevil editor Ralph Macchio asked if Miller was interested in returning and agreed to do so for a short, final run. Daredevil: Born Again , one of the most acclaimed Daredevil stories was about to begin.

The Setup:

After a drug addicted Karen Page sells Matt Murdock's secret identity for a fix; Murdock's life is systematically destroyed by the Kingpin, who seeks to ruin his nemesis once and for all.

The Players:

Matt Murdock/Daredevil
Ben Urich
Franklin "Foggy" Nelson
Steve Rogers/Captain America
Karen Page Nuke
Gloriana O’Breen
Wilson Fisk/Kingpin

The Breakdown:

Agreeing to a brief return to the series, Frank Miller made the condition that artist David Mazzucchelli would work from full scripts (i.e. a page by page breakdown), Miller's preferred working style. The "Born Again" arc first appeared in Daredevil #227-#231 and was accompanied by a follow-up story from Daredevil #232-#233, which tied up several plot threads from the original story and is generally considered part of the "Born Again" story arc. After leaving the Nelson & Murdock law firm to become an actress, Karen Page finds herself addicted to heroin and destitute in Mexico. Desperate for a fix, she sells Matt Murdock's secret identity as Daredevil, which quickly works its way to the top of Wilson Fisk’s (a.k.a. the Kingpin) criminal organisation. With this information in hand, Fisk plans his ultimate revenge against his nemesis, who has been a thorn in his side for years and begins a systematic destruction of Matt Murdock's life. Over several months, Kingpin uses his influence to have the IRS freeze Murdock's accounts, the bank to foreclose on his apartment and using a police officer to say that Murdock paid a witness to perjure himself in a case. A legal defence by his best friend, Foggy Nelson keeps Murdock out of jail but is disbarred from practising law, despite Daredevil's investigation that the police officer had agreed to frame Murdock in exchange for his son's medical treatments. His plan thwarted, Fisk has Murdock's apartment blown up and leaves behind only Murdock's tattered Daredevil costume to demonstrate that he knows Murdock's identity. Meanwhile, Karen Page attempts to return to New York, dodging assassins on behest of the Kingpin, who has put out a kill order on anyone involved in handling the Murdock information.

A homeless Matt Murdock becomes increasingly paranoid and aggressive, believing that everyone, including his friends such as Foggy is in on a "conspiracy" against him. Miller emphasises Murdock's declining mental state, with paranoid delusions that isolate him from those that could help. Murdock's fractured psyche is further exacerbated as he is constantly followed by Kingpin's subordinates. Both Murdock and Fisk become consumed with vengeance against each other, which comes to ahead when Murdock confronts Kingpin in his office, whereupon he is brutally beaten by Fisk. Murdock is strapped into a taxi, drenched in whiskey and is driven off the East River to avoid any suspicion. However, Murdock manages to escape, enraging Fisk further and eventually makes his way through Hell’s Kitchen to the gym where his father used to train as a boxer. Matt is found by a nun (secretly revealed as his mother), who nurses him back to health.

A subplot involving reporter Ben Urich sees him investigating Murdock's situation, whereby the police officer responsible for making the claim against Murdock, Nick Manolis confesses about the frameup and his belief that Kingpin was responsible for Murdock's plight. The pair runs afoul of an enforcer assigned to ensure Manolis’ silence, who breaks Urich’s fingers and later strangles Manolis, letting Urich hear the murder through the phone in an attempt to scare him off. Not to be deterred, Ulrich comes forward with his investigation, alerting his paper and the authorities.

Karen Page returns to New York (having hitched a ride with a dubious pimp) to find Matt, who she believes can help her and is dismayed to hear about Murdock's disappearance from Foggy. An obsessed Kingpin arranges to have the American super soldier Nuke eliminate Murdock, but in the meantime procures a mental patient to dress up as Daredevil and kill Foggy. Murdock is tipped off of the plot by overhearing a conversation with Ulrich and races to save his friend by defeating the Daredevil impostor and saving Page in the process, who had become caught in the crossfire. Page confesses to Murdock that she was the one who sold him out and he forgives her, helping her through the withdrawal and begins to rebuild his life by working as a diner chef. Nuke arrives on the scene and is ordered by Kingpin to attack Hell's Kitchen to draw out Murdock. Nuke murders countless civilians, which forces Murdock to appear as Daredevil for the first time since the destruction of his apartment. Just as Daredevil is about to deliver the fatal blow to Nuke, the Avengers arrive to take the deranged super soldier into custody. Captain America sticks around and investigates Nuke’s background, discovering that he was the only survivor of an attempt to recreate Project Rebirth, the same procedure that enhanced Rogers’ own body. Nuke breaks out of containment, going haywire as Kingpin orders for Nuke to be put down. Daredevil intercepts Nuke and brings him to Daily Bugle to get him to testify about Kingpin, but dies before doing so. However, Captain America runs into a hitman who confesses to Kingpin's involvement in the attack on Hell’s Kitchen. His public image as a respectable businessman shattered, Kingpin is left stewing, his plans against his archrival foiled. Murdock, free from Fisk's attacks, returns to Hell's Kitchen a new man, having been "born again."

Summary:

Daredevil: Born Again is a story that draws heavily on Christian symbolism, with each individual chapter title from the main arc belonging to the name of Christian concepts ("Apocalypse", "Purgatory", "Pariah", "Born Again" and "Saved"). Furthermore, the front cover of the graphic novel places Murdock's mother in the centre of the stained-glass window, representing the Virgin Mary and above her is a dove, a representation of the Holy Spirit in Christianity. Miller's knack for gritty narratives provides a compelling and memorable Daredevil title with multiple layers such as Ben Urich’s investigation, which intertwines with the main story and Karen Page’s fall from grace and her selling out of Matt Murdock that becomes the catalyst for the story. Ironically, the person she betrayed for a drug shot is the one that becomes her eventual "salvation." There are a lot of moving parts in Daredevil: Born Again and Miller cleverly parallels both Murdock and Fisk's obsession for one another, as one seeks to destroy the other. The Avengers and Captain America's inclusion at the end is a little jarring since beforehand, the story had been completely self-contained within Daredevil’s supporting cast. The introduction of "outside" characters takes away from the central character, Daredevil as Captain America is given his own subplot in the final pages of the comic, which comes across as unnecessary. A spiritual sequel to "Born Again", "Last Rites" ( Daredevil #297-#300) sees Daredevil attempt to destroy Kingpin’s organisation and reputation piece by piece in the same way that Kingpin did to him in "Born Again". In this story Daredevil finally unveils the frame job and regains his attorney’s license. Daredevil: Born Again is a standout Daredevil story and a classic of the genre, with Millar delivering the audience one final gift as a regular writer on the series.



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