A super hero comic? What could it possibly have to do with film noir? Or crime fiction? All valid questions, answered simply by stating that Frank Miller is one of the best crime writers of the last two decades, in any format. Frank started his career writing and drawing Daredevil monthly in the early 1980s, and Born Again represented a return to the title after a couple years of doing other projects. The art of Born Again is done by David Mazzucchelli, who was drawing the Daredevil comic at the time, and would later team up with Miller again in Batman: Year One. This graphic novel is a reprint of their work together in the pages of Daredevil #226-233, but stands alone as an excellent graphic novel.
For those unfamiliar with the comic, Daredevil is Matt Murdock. Lawyer by day, crime fighting super hero by night. As a youth he was involved in an accident involving radioactive waste, causing him to go blind. The radioactive properties also heightens his other senses. Keeping the heightened senses secret, Matt studies law and becomes a prominent attorney by day and the vigilante Daredevil by night.
Born Again starts with Murdock's world falling apart. He's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He loses his job. He loses his girlfriend. Unbeknownst to him, Karen Page his former secretary, sells his secret identity for a heroin fix. Page, who went west to become a movie queen, is now a porn star junkie. Murdock's secret identity gets into the hands of The Kingpin, Daredevil's arch nemesis. The Kingpin is a powerful figure in Daredevil's New York city, and has powerful influences. The Kingpin sets a rash of stumbling blocks into Murdock's way, culminating in Murdock's conviction of bribing jurors during an important court case.
His assets frozen for an IRS investigation, his heat and power shut off due to nonpayment, the Kingpin bombs Matt's apartment, destroying his Daredevil costume in the process. This pushes Murdock, who is already in dubious mental health, over the edge. He ventures to the Kingpin's headquarters, is beaten nearly to death, and then is placed in a cab and pushed into the East River.
Murdock escapes, and finds refuge in a Hell's Kitchen Convent. In the meantime, Ben Urich, a reporter that knows Murdock's secret identity, seeks to prove his innocence. He interviews the police officer that testified against Murdock at the trial, and learns that the officer lied to get treatment for his son that suffers from a life threatening illness. When his son dies despite the treatment, the officer tells Urich he will tell the reporter the truth. Both are then attacked by one of the nurses attending the police officer's son, breaking Urich's fingers and nearly killing the policeman. The nurse, one of Kingpin's minions, eventually kills the cop, nearly kills Urich's wife, and ultimately is killed by other Kingpin henchmen.
The Kingpin, unsettled that no body was found in the submerged cab, has his people search for Matt Murdock. He learns Murdock is in Hell's Kitchen, the home of his youth, and devises a ploy to bring him into the open. Murdock has healed, in both mind and body, and is reunited with Karen Page. He helps her overcome her addiction. They fall in love with each other once again.
The Kingpin dresses a psychotic killer in a Daredevil costume in hopes of drawing out the real Daredevil. The real Daredevil does come out, only to find the fake Daredevil is a decoy. The Kingpin has arranged for a "super soldier" to wreck havoc in Hell's Kitchen in hopes of wiping out Daredevil once and for all. Daredevil, with a little help from Captain America, overcomes the super soldier.
This is only a brief synopsis of the story, and doesn't do the graphic novel justice. Frank Miller gives each character in the story a psychological basis, providing great realism to the story. Each character also has a unique narrative voice. David Mazzucchelli's artwork is very illustrative, adding the realistic tone of the piece. The story ends with Matt and Karen walking down a sunny Hell's Kitchen street, smiling at each other. This is one of the most important implications of the graphic novel; the characters change.
Too often super hero characters go through great ordeals, only to return to the status quo as the story comes to its culmination. Born Again's characters have changed and grown. Matt is no longer a high paid attorney working high profile cases living in an expensive apartment. He now lives with the people he swore to protect as Daredevil and becomes a part of their community. Karen is transformed from a strung out junkie to a healthy, loving partner for Matt. Indeed, both are Born Again. If only more super hero stories could be told like this.
Text (c) LCB 2000
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