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Book Review of Daredevil: Born Again


Arannya Monzur


Artist and writer Frank Miller has distinguished himself in the comic book industry for his cynical commentary on society, law and order. Though he is better-known for grimy tales like Sin City, 300, and The Dark Knight Returns, his transformative spell on Daredevil compares favourably against the classics of the medium. Daredevil: Born Again is the Swan Song of his run, in which he teams up with artist David Mazzucchelli to deliver a story for the ages.

In stark contrast to original stories like The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil: Born Again is a graphic novel collected from the pages of an on-going series. Born Again reprints issues #226-#233 of Daredevil Vol. 1. However, Miller annotates the story with frequent allusions to Daredevil’s backstory and provides enough context for a stand-alone read.

As the name suggests, Born Again reduces Daredevil to a living failure before paving the way for his rebirth. The bleak worldview for which Miller has become known is teased and later subverted. Christian imagery figures are depicted heavily in the art and plot. Both Miller and Mazzucchelli liberally reference Catholic eschatology in their respective roles. Interpretations of Biblical passages serve to reinforce Daredevil’s strong sense of attachment to family.

Daredevil is the alias of Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer with superhuman senses. Baptised in the fires of Hell’s Kitchen, Matt is the Irish-American son of Jack Murdock, a boxer. When a blind man finds himself in the path of a speeding truck, Matt pushes him out of the way. The truck swerves and releases radioactive waste into his eyes, claiming his vision. But when he recovers, he discovers that his senses of smell, touch and hearing have been augmented. After his father loses his life to a gangster, Matt dedicates his life to fighting crime. Years later, Matt attends Columbia Law School where he meets his best friend, Foggy Nelson. After passing the bar exam, they establish the law firm Nelson & Murdock in New York City.

Karen Page, a former secretary of the firm and Matt’s former lover, left Matt years before to pursue her acting career. After a brief spell of success, she became dependent on heroin and starred in pornographic films to sustain her addiction. Desperate for a quick fix, she sells Matt’s secret identity to a Mexican thug. The word quickly reaches Daredevil’s arch-enemy, the Kingpin. The Kingpin decides to test the validity of the claim rather than taking it at face value. He arranges for police lieutenant Nick Manolis to falsely testify against Matt Murdock.

Matt spies on Manolis as Daredevil and realises that Manolis sold himself in exchange for medical treatment for his son but fails to identify his employer. The first cracks in Matt’s psyche manifest when he feels tempted to beat a confession out of Manolis. But he relents out of compassion. An intervention by Nelson saves Matt from prison, but he is disbarred. Kingpin’s plan is foiled but he is convinced of Daredevil’s identity because of the latter’s concern for Matt’s well-being. In an iconic panel, Kingpin destroys Matt’s home. Meanwhile, Karen starts making her way to New York to find Matt.

Now homeless, paranoid and agitated, Matt is hounded by the Kingpin’s henchmen. His desperation reaches a turning point when he confronts Kingpin at his office but is badly beaten. After regaining consciousness, he limps through Hell’s Kitchen to the gym where his father trained. He collapses in prayer and is found and nursed back to health by Mother Maggie, a nun hinted to be his own mother. Maggie cradles Matt in the style of Michelangelo’s Pieta.

Reporter Ben Urich is intimidated into stopping an investigation when he gets too close to the truth of Manolis’ predicament. But his conscience gets the better of him and he puts his life on the line to exonerate Daredevil. Karen reaches New York and contacts Foggy to ask about Matt’s whereabouts.

The Kingpin, incensed by Murdock’s survival, pressures his military contacts to lend him their secret weapon, the super soldier Nuke. Matt snaps out of depression just in time to save Urich and his wife from the Kingpin’s machinations. He further foils a plot to tarnish his name involving a killer dressed up as Daredevil.

Having run out of options, the Kingpin unleashes Nuke on Hell’s Kitchen. It takes the combined effort of Daredevil and the Avengers to stop Nuke. But the casualties are heavy. Nuke escapes from confinement but is shot down by Kingpin’s men. Captain America apprehends the killer and extracts a confession. The Kingpin’s public image is tarnished and Matt is exonerated of all charges. Karen is reunited with Matt. Aside from Foggy, she is his only semblance of family. So, he forgives her.

Miller humanises Daredevil by ravaging his life and forcing him to vindicate himself after reaffirming his faith. In Hell’s Kitchen, he was born, and here he is ‘born again’. In Born Again, Matt Murdock’s parental bereavement and vulnerability is exposed in full view of the readership. Daredevil: Born Again is a journey that you have to experience for yourself.

 


Arannya is a lover of stoic philosophy peering at literature from a cynical perspective. 

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