Book Review – Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

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In this highly-regarded graphic novel Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli present a dark tale of how Matt Murdock’s junkie ex-girlfriend Karen Page sells Daredevil’s secret identity for a fix. The information makes its way back to Kingpin, who then works methodically to take away everything that Murdock holds dear in order to destroy the only good man Kingpin has ever known. But what Kingpin doesn’t realize is that a man without hope is a man without fear.

I quite like Daredevil and I think he’s one of the underrated superheroes, although I kinda understand why he hasn’t really struck a chord with people since a lot of what he does is covered by other characters. Still, I’ve always enjoyed the concept and he’s always had a bit more grittiness and a bit more tragedy about him than other Marvel characters, although this wasn’t evident in the early issues when he was basically a Spider-Man clone filled with wisecracks. Born Again is a far cry from that era. The world is a dark place and Matt Murdock is facing the greatest struggle of his life. Piece by piece things are taken away from him and he has no idea why. His bank accounts are frozen, his girlfriend leaves him, his law firm gets closed down. Everything falls apart and he’s driven to breaking point. But there’s a part of him, the true part, that will fight.

I liked the descent into paranoia and madness. The way Kingpin took apart Murdock’s life is something that you don’t ordinarily see in comics and it was interesting to see the hero being beaten without being physically attacked, and it was cruel in parts as he honestly had no idea why it was happening. However, I feel like I’m missing something here. I’ve checked a few places and Born Again is widely heralded as a classic but I’m just not seeing it. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong. There were some harrowing moments and some inspiring moments, and the artwork captured the tone and feeling of the story perfectly, but I don’t understand why it’s considered such a classic.

First of all, I felt like things resolved themselves too neatly. Daredevil barely even comes into conflict with Kingpin throughout the story and by the end we’re expected to believe that he’s repaired himself. The redemption of Karen Page I found unbelievable as well. Throughout the story she’s shown as a hopeless junkie but then apparently she’s able to cure herself of her addiction quite easily. There’s not even a moment where Murdock forgives her (in fact, I’m not even sure if he knew that she was the one who sold him out, and this seems like a glaring missed opportunity for drama). The story meanders into asides with Foggy getting closer to Matt’s ex Gloria, and a plot line where journalist Ben Urich investigates the story. I liked Urich being fleshed out but I felt too much time was being taken up by Foggy and Gloria playing the happy couple.

Towards the end there’s also the inclusion of a throwaway villain – Nuke. He’s a crazed soldier who takes red, white, and blue pills to heighten various emotional states and Kingin points him in the direction of Daredevil. This leads to the emergence of another familiar Marvel character, Captain America. I thought he was written well in his brief appearance but it almost feels like he’s stealing the spotlight at the climax of Daredevil’s story. It should be entirely Murdock’s moment to shine but Cap is there as well and it just feels rather odd.

So while I enjoyed reading it I’m don’t understand why it’s so highly-regarded. There was a lot to like. I liked the descent into madness as Murdock had everything taken away. I liked seeing Kingpin revel in his machinations, and then get angry when things don’t go as he planned. I liked when Murdock found out that Kingpin was behind it all and set about to fight back. But I thought a few things were resolved too easily and Nuke just seems like a one-shot forgettable villain when I’d rather have seen another face-to-face confrontation with Kingpin. I liked it, but I wouldn’t put it in a must-read pile and I’m curious if anyone can enlighten me to try and show if there’s anything I missed?

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