Biff’s Picks Volume 2
Daredevil has a lot going against him. A terrible superhero name, lame powers and one of the worst marvel comic movies ever made. I had approximately 0% interest in him my entire life. 6 months ago that all changed for me. I kept reading about Frank Miller’s formative run on the series in the late 1970’s and early 80’s where he transformed at third tier comic book on the verge of cancellation to one of the top-selling books. They same keywords keep reoccurring in everything I read, “dark”, “gritty”, “film noir”. Film Noir? Was I reading that right? I knew Frank Miller was known for his Sin City series dwelling in the heart of Film Noir, but I had never thought about it in the context of a super hero comic book. What better character than Daredevil? He’s in the depths of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC and all things considered he’s much more human than most heroes (with the exception of say Batman) he was the perfect fit. So I decided to pick up the Trade Paper Back called Daredevil Visionaries Volume 2: Frank Miller which covered issues #168-182 and included Daredevil’s first meeting with Kingpin as well as the entire Elektra Saga.
What can I say? Reading it, I was floored. I connected with it right off the bat. Miller was able to move the main story from issue to issue and subtly weave subplot into the series. This is something I miss in the trade paperback society we live in now, the story never feels claustrophobic or self-contained. It feels like a small part of a larger whole. He does a great job revealing more about Matt Murdock’s origin as we find out about his old mentor Stick, Elektra becomes the Kingpin’s top assassin and the Ninja clan the Hand also starts showing up. The themes and culture all feel familiar in an unfamiliar way, it’s classic.
This eventually brought me to the most celebrated arc Frank Miller worked on for the Daredevil comic called “Born Again” with artist, David Mazzuccheli from 1986. This is notable because it predates their better known collaboration for Batman: Year One by a year. The arc covers issues #227-233 and was done after Miller had left the book he pioneered 3 years earlier.
Born Again’s catalyst is former girlfriend of Matt Murdock, Karen Page. Page left NYC awhile back to pursue and acting career and begins to dabble in heroin. She is then forced to make porno movies to support her habit and lifestyle. The story starts off with her in the grips of addiction in a seedy part of Mexico where she sells the information of Daredevil’s alter ego for a shot of heroin. This of course finds its way into the hands of the Kingpin, who begins to “break” Murdock mentally, slowly and systematically. It would be just as easy to have Murdock murdered but Kingpin wants him to suffer for being such a proverbial thorn in his side over the last few years. He has his all his financial accounts and assets frozen, his home foreclosed and an honest cop to level allegations against him that he paid off one of his witness at a trial. Murdock is tried and his partner Foggy Nelson is able to get him off from jail time but his sentence includes being disbarred from practicing law. Thinking this is just a series of bad luck and terrible coincidences he returns home to find his brownstone home completely destroyed and his Daredevil costume blowing in the debris.
Realizing the Kingpin is behind all this, Murdock stops donning the Daredevil costume and becomes more and more erratic. Living in a one room tenement he disappears for days at time consumed by anger, rage and violence. In one case beating the absolute shit out of muggers and then a cop who tries to intervene. Miller does an excellent job detailing his deteriorating mental state as we watch his spirit break down further and further on each page. He even goes as far as to assault Kingpin directly. After a bloody battle ensues, Kingpin performs the check mate as Murdock wakes up in a car at the bottom of a river doused in whiskey (most assuredly a nod to the way James Mason tries to frame Cary Grant in North By Northwest) as an apparent suicide. Through sheer force of will Murdock (unbeknownst to Kingpin) is able to escape. He heads to his birth place in Hell’s Kitchen and collapses for dead.
Matt Murdock awakes in a church mission being cared for by nuns (and possibly mistaken as hobo due to his beard and tattered rags). What follows is a slow rebirth of spirit and determination as well as his physical body. Meanwhile, Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich has been risking his life to uncover the true story that will reveal Murdock’s innocence but is subjected to multiple near death encounters and severe intimidation by Kingpin. Murdock begins showing up and intervening at key moments but not being seen ala Batman. In order to get Murdock to surface, Kingpin hires a psycho to don the Daredevil costume and wreak havoc and we finally get see what we’ve been waiting for much of the story. The real Daredevil back and more pissed and badass than ever.
After Daredevil easily gets rid of the impostor, Kingpin reveals he has one more ace up his sleeve. I’ll admit this is where the story dips in an unexpected way. A few days later, using his connections Kingpin plucks a bat shit American super solider named Nuke out of the front lines of a war and brings him to Hell’s Kitchen via a helicopter. This is to provoke Murdock and destroy traces of his early life hoping to damage his psyche further and kill tons of innocent people in the process. Well shit definitely gets crazy and lots of people are slaughtered and the Avengers show up and Captain America takes him into custody. It’s a really kind of odd and anticlimactic way to end the story line that could have wrapped up two issues earlier.
All things considered, this is still one of my favorite and most cinematic story arcs that I’ve read yet. It’s both fascinating and masterfully told. It’s the story of a man, not a super hero. Daredevil barely appears throughout the issues. It’s a story of the perseverance and conviction of one man’s need to overcome. While Matt Murdock is able to rise above and get his life back on track this is only the beginning of his trouble…
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Posted on November 8, 2012, in Biff's Picks, COMICS!, Reviews and tagged Ben Urich, Born Again, COMICS!, Daredevil, David Mazzucchelli, Essential Reading, Frank Miller, Kingpin, Marvel. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.