Over the years, many writers have presided over the Daredevil comic, but none of them were in the same league as Frank Miller and Born Again was his finest hour.
Running over seven issues in 1986, it was the ultimate Daredevil story, taking Matt Murdock to hell and back.
The beginning chapter was explosive, with Daredevil’s ex-girlfriend Karen Page trading his secret identity for a drug fix. Such a bold gambit would have kept lesser writers going for ages, but Miller gets the act of betrayal over in one solitary page.
He then ratchets up the tension as that information inevitably finds its way to the Kingpin, who then begins to strip away Murdock’s life, layer by layer. This really was Frank Miller at his boldest. The writer and artist had originally worked on the title from 1979 to 1983 and had made it one of the must-reads in the Marvel universe.
His return in 1986 was eagerly anticipated and his pairing with the artist David Mazzucchelli didn’t disappoint. It was little wonder they worked together again a year later, on Batman: Year One. You might have heard of that one. It’s not a bad read, by all accounts.
But before they got to tear Bruce Wayne to shreds, they still had plenty of work to do on Daredevil. Born Again is a story of redemption with Murdock losing it all before eventually returning, reborn as a protector of Hell’s Kitchen.
Unlike many comic book series, his redemption is not an instant one. There is no quick fix and as the seven-issue story unfolds, things quickly go from bad to worse. The Kingpin’s unrelenting drive to destroy his old enemy is shown in all its glory, and his vengeance doesn’t just stop with Murdock. Anyone associated with ‘the man without fear’ is tarnished.
The appearance of Captain America and Iron Man towards the end of the saga does take the edge off the story slightly. This was the era of Secret Wars and Mutant Massacre crossovers. Marvel characters were forever appearing in each other’s titles to help boost sales and sell toys. But Miller’s story was so good and so focussed on Daredevil that there didn’t need to be any guest stars.
But that’s a minor gripe, and besides Iron Man has only has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance. By the time Murdock is back on his feet and taking on the deranged Nuke – a 1980s villain if ever there was one – his motivation is clear. He is going to take on Kingpin and he will protect Hell’s Kitchen and those around him, whatever the cost.
If you thought the Kingpin was just a fat, bald bloke in a sharp suit, then think again. He destroys Daredevil without mercy and even when the tables are turned, he manages a smile – knowing he has taken the one thing that Murdock has always cherished, his legal career.
This wasn’t some pampered mutant, flouncing around in a latex outfit; this was a real man, surrounded by grounded fallible characters. How many mainstream Marvel titles would start a story with someone begging for a drug fix, for crying out loud?
When writers return to titles where they enjoyed past success, the results can often be disappointing, but with Born Again Miller proved that he could once again take the character to even greater heights. Mind you, the less said about the recent Batman & Robin series, the better.
There are not many mid-eighties Marvel comics which could be published today and still look good, but Born Again is the exception. It’s Miller time, folks.