Daredevil’s secret identity has fallen into the hands of The Kingpin. Rather than a quick and brutal strike, Kingpin elects to take a slow, punishing measure of revenge against a man who has been a thorn in his side for years. Stripping away everything Matt Murdock holds dear, Kingpin leaves Daredevil a shell of his former self. However, a man without hope… is a man without fear.
In the late 1970s, when Daredevil was on the ropes, Frank Miller took over as corner man and willed the Man Without Fear back into the fight. So in 1986, when writer Denny O’Neil was set to leave series, Marvel asked Frank if he’d be interested in returning to the character in which he had achieved tremendous success. Miller agreed but only if long time collaborator, artist David Mazzucchelli, could accompany him as the two would team up to write what many consider the definitive Daredevil story.
When I read this for the first time nearly six years ago, I remember appreciating it but not being blown away by it. However, given the rising popularity of the character due to the recently released Netflix series, I thought it was time to give it another shot.
The first three quarters of the story is nothing short of excellent. With Kingpin in possession of Daredevil’s secret identity, he begins a ruthless and systematic destruction of Matt Murdock’s life. The IRS freeze Matt’s accounts, the bank forecloses on his apartment and he becomes disbarred as a practicing lawyer. When Matt is at his absolute lowest point, Kingpin demolishes Matt’s apartment leaving the shredded remains of the Daredevil costume atop the rubble.
While Miller isn’t credited with first exploring Daredevil’s Catholic roots, he’s definitely one of few to first use it to great effect. In Born Again, Daredevil’s “resurrection” is due in part to help from Sister Maggie, a nun within the catholic church. Throughout Murdock’s rehabilitation, Mazzucchelli produces a few excellent panels showing Matt in a number of Christ-like poses.
As great as the majority of the story was, the last quarter or so involving Captain America and the patriotic villain Nuke felt like overkill. What seemed like a very intimate story involving two enemies in Daredevil and The Kingpin, exploded to include The Avengers, government conspiracies and destruction on a massive scale. It seemed like Miller tried to include too many characters and events, making what’s meant to feel like a big deal, fall flat.
Over the years, Daredevil has become one of my favorite comic book characters and while Born Again is considered the measuring stick, I’d throw Kevin Smith’s Guardian Devil up against it any day.