Thursday, January 7, 2010

Essential Showcase of Masterworks 4

Daredevil: Born Again

Frank Miller made himself an established "name" with his run on Daredevil in the early 80's. Eventually, both writing and drawing the book became too much and David Mazzuchelli was brought in. Miller had introduced Elektra, expanded the character of Bullseye and took the Spider-Man villain Kingpin and set him up as DD's arch-nemesis.

But, this arc would push the character to the brink.

The story opens up with a desperate woman selling a secret for some drugs. The woman, former secretary/girlfriend of Matt Murdock. Her secret, the identity of the vigilante Daredevil. Page left NYC (and the title) to become an actress. Not hitting the big time she fell into drugs and with no money sold the only thing left besides her body.

This news gets to the Kingpin, who tests it out by making life hard for Matt Murdock. Using all his influence to get him investigated on trumped up corruption charges and interfering with his finances. When observation convinces the Kingpin the information is correct he begins tracking down all those who had knowledge of it and having them killed. This trail leads all the way back to Karen Page. Saved from a hit by sheer luck, not knowing who wants her dead or why she begins to work her way to the one person who can protect her, Matt Murdock.

The frame-up escalates when a "good" cop is revealed to be the main witness. Matt's reporter friend Ben Urich tries to uncover the real story behind the charges. Ben is about to get the cop to admit that he was making up the allegations to get treatment for his sick son when an enforcer beats up the cop and breaks his hand as a warning. Realizing that the true target is Daredevil not Matt Murdock, Ben faces a choice. Do the right thing and help his friend, or do the "smart" thing.

Meanwhile, Matt himself becomes more and more aggravated as the conspiracy against him grows. Becoming paranoid he isolates himself from his girlfriend, Gloria O'Breen, and his best friend, Foggy. After losing his brownstone to an "accident", he is homeless and with his assets frozen because of the investigation, penniless. Driven near insane with rage and exhaustion he confronts the Kingpin. And is beaten and left to die in a submerged taxicab. Escaping a watery grave, he is stabbed when attempting to stop a mugging. He drags himself to his father's old gym and collapses.

While recovering, Matt recalls getting his powers and a mysterious woman who helped him adjust. He awakes to a nun who seems very familiar. He asks her a big question. She answers and although she lies (his built in lie detector tells him), he is given hope by the answer. [You'll have to find out the question by reading it].

Karen's story and Ben's story converge with Matt's, as the Kingpin plays a dangerous card to eliminate Matt Murdock. He sets a drugged, deranged "Super-Soldier" loose on Hell's Kitchen to draw Daredevil out. This gets the attention of Captain America, because of the connection to Project:Rebirth and this "Nuke" wears the flag.

At the end of the story Matt/DD is in a totally new place and mindset than from the start. Although some of the old supporting cast remains the relationship that they have with Matt is changed. This is one of the most successful tearing down and rebuilding of a character ever done in comics. The Bendis/Brubaker jail storyline being a close second.

The artwork has some amazing imagery as well as some great action sequences. Very few artists can do both. There are some real horrific moments as bad things happen to people. What really sells those moments though are the reactions to them in the expressions of the characters faces. There is some great "acting" in this story. The plot is exciting and suspenseful without ever going over the top. Dialogue is crisp and clean, very natural and not too melodramatic. If there were to be a sequel to the Daredevil movie (or even a new one)this would be a good starting point.

Miller and Mazzuchelli would reteam for DC doing Batman: Year One. [Which will probably show up in a future installment of ESoM] Sadly, DD would pretty much flounder around for years till Kevin Smith relaunched the title and then take off when Brian Michael Bendis became the writer.

Some highlights/quotes:
-"There is no corpse"-- Kingpin musing on Murdock's supposed demise
-"..I have shown him that a man without hope, is a man without fear."--Kingpin on learning Murdock is still alive
-"Don't say the name. Don't even think the name."--A scared Ben Urich warned away from defending Matt Murdock
- " I thank you for listening Mr. Urich."--Enforcer "Lois" as she made Ben listen to her kill someone
-"A heartbeat can tell you a lot. Hers just jumped. She's lying."--Matt after he asks the nun the "question" she answers no to
- A soldier with a voice that could command a god--and does.--Ben describing the arrival of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man to the aftermath of the Hell's Kitchen battle
-"What's it to you?" "He wears the flag." "I hadn't noticed."--Cap and DD talking about Nuke, a little joke as DD is blind, but Cap takes it seriously
-"My name is Matt Murdock. I was blinded by radiation. My remaining senses function with superhuman sharpness. I live in Hell's Kitchen and do my best to keep it clean. That's all you need to know."--Matt (duh) giving the last line of the story and the new mission statement of the series almost.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I love Miller's original run on the character, and I think those comics are some of the very best mainstream superhero books ever produced. And, as you know, I love Bendis' run on the book in the 2000s, and Jeph Loeb's "Daredevil: Yellow."

    Still, for my money, "Born Again" is my favorite DD story, and I think it's the quintessential DD/Matt Murdock story.

    You're right--it would make a great movie.