Daredevil is one of those superheroes that I have never really “got.” Part of me can see the enduring appeal of the character that has lasted for many through the decades (and many bad and down right terrible stories!) but there has always been something that has put me off liking the character as much as I do others. Sure Daredevil is great when he’s teaming up with Spider-Man and the Avengers but I have never been that bothered with his solo adventures. I guess it is the air of seriousness and the trope that everything bad that can happen will always happen to Matt Murdock. So I went into this book not expecting much.
I knew that Born Again is seen by many as THE Daredevil story and seeing a pre-crazy Frank Miller’s name on the cover piqued my interest. But apart from that I was really not expecting to like this as much as I did. I loved it in fact. Dammit I might even say I like Daredevil as a character now! This is because I did not realise we had so much in common. That I share a very personal and at sometimes difficult problem with Matt Murdock.
No I am not blind.
I am talking about depression.
The main thread of this deconstruction of Daredevil is that Matt Murdock looses everything as a result of the Kingpin finding out who he is. Every aspect of his personal life and his identity as Daredevil is targeted and destroyed. As a result of this Murdock finds himself isolated from those around him and facing the long fall into madness. A madness that stems from his own insecurities and sense of self. It gets so bad that we see Daredevil, The Man Without Fear curled up in a bed in a rundown motel hiding from a world that he thinks has rejected him and everything he stands for. It is a feeling I know all to well and one that I have had to face multiple times over the years. It would be easy to say I am reading too much into things but all the signs are there and Matt Murdock’s short battle with depression is actually quite similar to my own.
As his world crumbles around him Murdock gets enveloped by paranoia. It consumes him and becomes the driving force behind his ever increasing acts of desperation and mad ranting that all culminates in him giving up in every way imaginable. It is only when he has truly reached the bottom that an outside force comes along to help him pick himself up and rebuild what is left of his life and more importantly, identity. Which is pretty much what happened to me several years ago except without the crime lords, acrobatics and superpowers. It was a dark period of my life and because of it depression is something I have to keep an eye out for. Something that I had to embrace in order to defeat. Something that I still fail horribly at to this day on a thankfully, rarer and rarer basis.
But to see it portrayed here in a way that only comic books can do. It brought it all back, in a good way. I saw something of myself in Daredevil and his fight to reclaim his life and he looked back at me. That is how I connect with the majority of heroes and comics I love.
Daredevil’s flirtation with madness and depression in Born Again has coloured the character for me in a way nothing else ever has. I have that connection with him now. I understand a very deep and important part of what makes Matt Murdock, Matt Murdock. I know why he behaves the way he does at times in all the other comics I have read we he pops up. I also understand why Mark Waid decided to go with a more love for life version of the character for his current run. (Which I will be picking up in trades ASAP!) Daredevil finally makes sense to me as a character and superhero and it only took me 26 years.
Hey I am allowed to be slow on the up take every now and then!
The book is not all doom and gloom however….well…ok it is about 80-90% doom and gloom but at its core is a hopeful story in the middle of all the depression and madness on show. For every horrific act that The Kingpin and his cronies inflict on Daredevil there is his eventual fight back to to the top. For all the repeated imagery of Matt Murdock alone in bed, most of the time suffering in some way, there is the moment both Murdock and Karen Page find each other together in one when they are both at their most vulnerable. For the similar personal hell that Ben Urich experiences throughout the book you have him reaffirming his need to be a journalist and getting the story in the end.
As for The Kingpin, we see the classic tale of pride and greed getting the better of him. His relentless perusal of Daredevil drives him to take increasingly more desperate actions that eventually results in him loosing his own personal life and what makes him, him. His empire in pieces, his underlings not listening to him, the people he does business with ostracising him. He creates his own personal hell as a result of creating one for Matt Murdock. In the writing biz that is called poetic justice.
It is a story very well told by Miller and Mazzucchelli. Miller concentrating on the writing seems to have allowed him to flex his muscles a lot more seeing as he is not writing to fit his own art. While Mazzucchelli’s art delivers a broad range that fits the sifting tone of the book brilliantly. It is incredibly dark and incredibly oppressive when called for and insanely bright and colourful whenever the action kicks in. It manages to remain grounded and realistic despite the more fantastical things and characters that appear in the book.
The only thing that really lets it down is the somewhat tacked-on inclusion of Nuke in the story’s last few chapters.
Despite his character being madness personified and somewhat in keeping with the central themes of the story his inclusion is just so there is a big action packed end to an otherwise very serious and action-lite narrative. It just feels out of place compared to the rest of the book and his conflict with Daredevil (and some of the Avengers because this is a Marvel comic and connectivity is king!) ends just as abruptly as it begins. It reminds you that while being this somewhat transcendent tale of a man fighting back from the brink that it is still tied down to the tropes and conventions of the superhero comic. Which for a writer like Miller known (well previously known until his own decent into madness and ignorance) for busting conventions it is a tad….depressing.
Even with the slightly rough landing Born Again stands head and shoulders above many comics and anything I have read that has focused on Daredevil. If like me you have not really delved into the vast well of Daredevil comics out there this is as good of a introduction as you can get. It tells you everything there is to know about the character and then some. It also keeps that pitch perfect dark tone classic Daredevil comics are known for. So it is well worth reading!
Dardevil: Born Again is made up of issues #227 to #233 of the 1986 run of Daredevil. It is available in trade via Amazon.