Written by Frank Miller
Art by David Mazzucchelli
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I think us comic fans (all the comic fans in the house say "yeah!") can all agree that Batman: Year One is one of the best superhero comics out there. Right guys? I mean - come on: it's got pretty pretty everything - the dark and gritty gloomy atmosphere (that thankfully never skews too dark ), a sense of realism that lets you believe in it's premise (without making you realise how gosh-darn silly a man all dressed up like Dracula would be) and a non-stop frantic energy that makes you bounce from page-to-page like a pinball on some kind of unholy mixture of crack coke speed and caffeine : what's not to love?
But for those of those who know - well - they know that before Year One Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli  combined their forces to create a comic that's still rated as one of the best Daredevil stories ever (I realise that that sounds like I'm damning with faint praise - but it's not supposed to: I mean - come on: if you know where to look there are a lot of great Daredevil stories out there - most especially in Brian Michael Bendis' 2001 - 2006 run: which always manages to go out like extra delicious hot cakes when I get them for the Comic Forum meetings....). The late 1980s was a period when a lot of classic epoch-defining comics came out which ended up changing everything for ever (or whatever) but (sadly) one of the inevitable consequences of all the big love going to the smash-hitters is that - well yeah: there's a few other books that came out at the same time that kinda of got left in the shade a little.
Of course the end of that thought is that Daredevil: Born Again is one of those unsung masterpieces (or - well - unsung in comparison to blah) but - well - the truth is a little bit more tricky than that (damn it).
If I was only going to use one word to describe it then that word would be: immense. Not so much because it has big gigantic spaceships or world-smashing machines or anything like that - no, no, no. This isn't Jack Kirby or Grant Morrison or whatever: nah - the immensity here is of the emotional sort: it's taking your operatic mainstays like: doomed love, existential depression, thwarted something-or-other (thwarted anger? thwarted chances? I dunno -but thwarted is such a good word so - what-the-hey) and - most especially - consuming, all-enveloping, life-defining revenge.
The old Klingon proverb says that revenge is a dish best served cold  but - come on - that's not really much of a recipe is it? (Imagine buying a Delia Smith cookbook and that was the total amount of the instructions you were given: it wouldn't be very helpful now - would it?). Thankfully in Born Again Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli present a culinary masterclass in just how to prepare, spice and season one of the best accounts of superhero-flavoured revenge that I think I've ever seen. I mean - I wasn't the one who was eating it: but I could still feel it in my mouth - fizzling on the tip of my tongue.
Skip past reading the introduction (which reads like the person who wrote it swallowed a thesaurus and it keeps returning on him through his fingers) and just jump straight into the hard-boiled (it is Frank Miller after all ) beat-down that awaits within: "Winter hit Manhatten like an unwanted relative. Drops in with no warning and seems to stay forever." and stuff like that.
The other thing you should know is that it's very much front-loaded in terms of the goodness: that is to say - that when it starts (and if you're anything like me) the tautness of - well: pretty much everything (if you could pluck a comic: then it feels like this one would ring out like the bottom note on a cello): the plot, the art, the little character moments: it all joins together to make something that makes me crackle with (I dunno how to say this properly) - artistic electricity?
The first four parts especially especially  are spell-binding in their comics-style mastery: check the way that Matt Murdock's  sleeping body gets smaller and smaller at the start of each chapter or the two-page scene with Ben Urich on the phone. The way that the backround conversations weave into the throughline. That slow zoom in to his face. And the way it ramps up the colours in his face until realism has been left behind and his skin is red and his eyes are yellow: it's cool is what I'm saying. I mean - yeah: ok - it gets laid on a little thickly at points (at one point Matt's superhuman senses are described as: "a great way to catch all the misery of being alive." - which I know is a bit much but (at the same time) is utterly fantastic - no?).
But then: I dunno - (after all that bliss) towards the end: it hits somekind of wall and starts to deflate a little - a trait which it shares with Batman: Year One (and which I put down to the limits of trying to write something that feels complete within the limits of a franchise where nothing is ever really allowed to change too much  ): I mean - I can see that Frank Miller is trying to write about something about the misuses of patriotism (or something): but the problem is that Matt Murdoch's struggle kinda of gets lost underneath: plus (for me) there's only so many scenes I can take of the Kingpin  being mean to his underlings before it all starts to feel a little bit like Dr Evil : but what the hey - it's a fun ride while it lasts.
 By which - of course I mean - no one gets raped (for those of you that don't know: having someone rape one of your (female) characters was the default option of choice for superhero comics searching for some sort of prestige back in the late 80s and early 90s: because that's the one thing that made Watchmen so great -obviously: and hey (by the same logic) - if you get a mop-top haircut then - yes - you too can be as big as the Beatles).
 Yeah - ok: so I googled "drug that makes you jittery." Leave me alone.
 Frank Miller on the final page writes: "It's almost criminal how easy David makes it to write a script. He makes a three-dimensional stage of the individual panel, complete in authentic detail, nonetheless uncluttered and utterly readable. He creates actors whose dramatic range is startling, whose best and most compelling moments are wordless. He's talking of writing his own comics. Keep an eye out for them. I will." Little did anyone know but it took over twenty years (!) before David came out with his own book: Asterios Polyp (which you should check out if you haven't already).
 "It is very cold in space."
 And I bet I know how he likes his eggs.
 And just check out the names! Part one: Apocalypse. Part two: Purgatory. Part three: Pariah! (and that exclamination mark is theirs not mine: so you know they're serious business - right? Right).
 I'm sure that someone else out there has already pointed this out - but still - isn't it funny how there's this split between superheroes who you (mostly) think of by their superhero names: Superman is mostly referred to as Superman, Batman is Batman, Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman etc: and then there's the slightly lower tier of costumed do-gooders who foreground the human over the super: Peter Parker probably being the most well-known example: where the drama (mostly) comes from the trials and tribulations suffered by the hero when he's not wearing his spandex. Well (in case you didn't know): if you're talking about the comic Daredevil: you're going to find yourself thinking about and referring to "Matt Murdock" an awful lot more than you will "Daredevil" mainly (I guess) because as a rooftop super-ninja vigilante dressing up in a leather devil-horned outfit he's pretty much invincible ("The one relief i can give myself when... it all gets to be too much." ) - but as a blind lawyer with a string of ex-girlfriends: well - he's got more weak points: that's for sure - something which Frank Miller knows how to exploit to the maximum.
 The less said about that the better.
 And no one can ever die.
 I don't know if I'm reaching a bit: but I'd say it's notable that the Kingpin (as Matt Murdock's main bad guy nemesis) isn't some freak in clown make-up or somekind of hideous mutant animal thing: nope - he's just a criminal: "The boss of everything bad that makes money in what must be most of the free world.": but with no real further motivations than to increase his revenue stream (no Pinky and the Brain style: "try to take over the world!" for this guy: he'd much rather just control things from behind the scenes).
 And if you read the book I'm sure you'll all know which scene I mean (I think - or maybe it's just me).
Links: Mindless Ones Article: Why I love Daredevil: Born Again: part 1 – depression / Rooftops (or why I love Daredevil Born Again part 2), The Comics Journal Article: Some Thoughts on David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again Artist’s Edition, Comic Book Resources Article: Pipeline: Mazzuchelli's "Daredevil" Reigns Supreme / Revisiting Frank Miller's "Daredevil: Born Again", Wednesday's Haul Article: Apocalypse, Purgatory, Pariah! A visual reading of Miller and Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again.
Further reading: Daredevil (2001 - 2006), Batman: Year One, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Elektra: Assassin, Asterios Polyp, The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century.
Profiles: Frank Miller.
All comments welcome.