Friday, July 22, 2011

Daredevil: Born Again Is Not Really A Rebirth, But It Is A Decent Daredevil Anthology!

The Good: Some decent artwork, Surprisingly vital story, Good character development.
The Bad: A few real niggling character questions, Divergence with Captain America near the end
The Basics: Daredevil overcomes my general loathing of superhero invincibility with a story wherein Fisk finally learns Daredevil's mundane identity and he sets out to ruin Matt Murdock's life with increasingly successful results!

I have a real problem with invincible superheroes. Truth be told, Marvel Comics does it better, giving liabilities to virtually all of their major heroes so there aren't Superman character running around with contrived circumstances needed to take them down. But even Marvel suffers from a commercialism that annoys the crap out of me for a simple conceit they share with DC, which is the unwillingness to diminish their brand. Yup, I'm talking about the Big D. Death. It comes for us all and it seems like most superheroes - save Wonder Woman, who comes from an immortal race and is a godly creature, and Wolverine, whose superpower of exceptional healing ability - have a mortality and yet the comic manufacturer's refuse to kill them off. Yes, I am an advocate of permanent, irrevocable death for superheroes and not the cheesy faux-deaths like Batman: R.I.P. (reviewed here) or the commercial event currently going on "The Death Of Spider-man." The irony being that Wonder Woman has died a couple of times now, while mortal characters like Bruce Wayne, Hal Jordan, and Matt Murdock never seem to stay dead all that long.

So, it was with pretty low expectations that I picked up Daredevil: Born Again as part of my Daredevil Year. The graphic novel, written by Frank Miller, is considered one of the classic Daredevil stories by the fans and it holds up fairly well for those who are more casual readers of the series. Outside changes in some of the artwork and a few niggling character questions Daredevil: Born Again only truly suffers because of how rushed the story seems. With a basic premise that involves the Kingpin slowly dismantling Matt Murdock's life, Daredevil: Born Again suffers some from how fast that downward spiral is presented, when conceptually it ought to have been drawn out more.

In the 1980s, Karen Page - former lover of Matt Murdock and secretary at Nelson & Murdock - is in Mexico, strung out on heroin. Crazy for a fix, she sells out Daredevil's mundane alter ego to a dealer for a fix. Six weeks later, that information comes to Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin and he spends six months studying the information and Matt Murdock. While all those who had knowledge of Matt Murdock's ties to Daredevil are wiped out, Fisk has the IRS audit Murdock, his mortgage company threaten eviction and a police officer accuse Murdock of criminal activities. This comes on the heels of Nelson & Murdock disbanding and Matt's girlfriend, Glori dumping him.

When the trial costs Matt Murdock his law license, Murdock despairs and he is clued into the Kingpin's involvement when his home is destroyed. Murdock, alone and pushing away Ben Urich, Foggy Nelson and a concerned Glori, heads into the Kingpin's lair where he makes a sloppy attempt on Fisk's life. With Murdock presumed dead by everyone but Fisk after an attempted drowning, Murdock slowly heals among the nuns while Ben Urich tries to expose Wilson Fisk's empire, at peril to his wife and his hands. As Matt Murdock puts his life back together, he prepares for an ultimate showdown with Fisk, which forces the Kingpin into a reckless arrangement with a madman.

Daredevil: Born Again had me up until the last chapters . . . and the rushed beginning. It might not be Miller's fault, but the book feels like it is coming in in the middle of something else without a recap before the beginning. At the outset, Nelson & Murdock is no more and I had no idea how the law firm collapsed. That said, the bit involving Fisk hiring Nuke felt like a desperate attempt to have Daredevil connect with the larger Marvel Universe. It becomes a pretty cheap attempt to have Captain America make an appearance and that feels positively lame. Had the book stayed as focused upon the Fisk/Murdock conflict without the distracting fight that felt more like a Hollywood special effects throwdown than part of this particular story, I would have scored the book even higher.

That said, Daredevil: Born Again does quite a bit right. The book has Fisk smart enough to figure out that Matt Murdock probably isn't dead, whatwith the lack of a body in the far he sent into the Hudson River. That's the sort of detail I enjoy. Fisk figures that Murdock is still alive, so while he sets his forces against Ben Urich, he physically prepares for the battle with Murdock he knows is coming. Unfortunately, the Nuke portion of the graphic novel - that could have nicely played to Fisk's desperation in the circumstances - does not read as quite as vital or character-derived.

As for the artwork, Penciler David Mazzacchelli does a fine job. For the anthology, the colors are rich, but Mazzacchelli deserves a lot of credit. All of the characters are recognizable and he has a great eye for the details of human expression. So, for example, on page 139, Glori's expression of loss and hurt is great. Similarly, on page 113, Karen Page's skeletal visage is a perfect representation of a drug addict that would be far more effective than "Just Say No" to youngsters!

Daredevil: Born Again is a decent graphic novel and the standalone of issue 226 "Warriors" helps to make the Melvin Potter portion of the main story make more sense. The graphic novel might not be perfect, but it is exactly what it claimed to be from the press on the back: one of the truly essential Daredevil storylines.

For other Daredevil books, please check out my reviews of:
The Essential Daredevil Volume 1
Daredevil Vs. Bullseye
Daredevil: Visionaries Volume 1 - Frank Miller
Typhoid Mary
Guardian Devil
Parts Of A Hole
Daredevil: Yellow
Batman/Daredevil - King of New York
Daredevil Noir


For other book reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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