“Daredevil: Born Again” Retrospective Part One (Daredevil #227)
“Daredevil: Born Again” Retrospective Part One (Daredevil #227)
By Jesse Baker
Part One: Apocalypse (Daredevil #227)
The first page of the first chapter of “Born Again”, is arguably one of the most infamous pages of comic history. In it, we see Daredevil’s one time love interest Karen Page as a woman broken and in the throws of heroin addiction. Having left New York and the super-hero/lawyer love of her life Daredevil, Karen sought the american dream of movie stardom. But when we see her in the opening page of Daredevil #227, she is a broken woman visiting a drug dealer in Mexico. We learn that instead of movie stardom, Karen has become a fallen woman: a drug addict who trades sex for favors and works in pornographic movies to make ends meet. Stuck in Mexico with no money and only her body to sell, Karen now finds herself committing the ultimate betrayal for a fix of heroin: selling out the secret identity of Daredevil to a drug dealer, going so far as to tell him he could sell the information in the US to any number of her ex-boyfriends enemies.
Miller’s prose frames Karen’s treason as “you do what you have to do” in relations to the attitude of the era. In the Eighties, you do whatever you do to survive in the decade; Karen tells herself as she hands the dealer an envelope with the information. Miller reflects the cynicism of the era as he frames the condition to which Karen justifies her impending betrayal as her need to feed her heroin addiction, is more important than any loyalty she has for her former lover.
The page is expertly drawn in near total black and white with only faint color appearing. It’s a hellish scene, one that “Wizard Magazine” touted as one of the most controversial and shocking moments in comic history, during various retrospectives.
The issue quickly moves to Karen’s dealer setting up the selling of the secret identity of Daredevil, as it eventually makes it way to the hands of one of the most dangerous villains in the Marvel Universe. Wilson Fisk, the “Kingpin” of New York City, started out as a Spider-Man villain and didn’t cross swords with Daredevil until Frank Miller’s run. A large, heavy set mob boss with a bald head, Kingpin was created by Stan Lee as the face of organized crime in the city of New York.
In a scene dripping in red, Kingpin holds court on his private yacht opposite a blood red sky. After dismissing his subordinates, the envelope is handed to Kingpin as he gives order that everyone that came into contact with the envelope be tracked down and killed at Kingpin’s command. Narration states that six months will pass as Kingpin begins to make sinister plans for the Man Without Fear.
At this point, continuity must be addressed. Daredevil had long been semi-isolated from the rest of the Marvel Universe and continuity issues with regards to the book’s tie-in with Secret Wars II and guest appearances in Spider-Man’s various titles at the time (including an upcoming appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #277, which is a “side story” for the “Born Again” saga) indicate that the betrayal of Matt Murdock by Karen Page has to have happened during the Denny O’Neil run.
Complicating things further, is “Love and War”. The graphic novel, written by Frank Miller, was originally supposed to have been published in Daredevil #219–220. The graphic novel would not see publication until after “Born Again” ended, but references the Denny O’Neil era status quo: Daredevil is living in his fancy brownstone house, Foggy Nelson has the mustache which he had for the bulk of the O’Neil run, Turk and Wesley (two reoccurring henchmen for the Kingpin featured in Miller’s run on Daredevil) are still working for the villain, and Karen Page is nowhere to be found.
“Love and War” involved Kingpin kidnapping the wife of a psychiatrist, to try and restore his wife Vanessa’s sanity which was shattered when she was buried alive in a failed assassination attempt by one of Kingpin’s enemies. The story ended with Vanessa Fisk fleeing to Europe with the psychiatrist (who in turn, abandons his own much younger wife). Having lost his wife can be seen as setting the stage for Kingpin’s decision to destroy Daredevil, as Daredevil had been involved in the incident that led to Vanessa being buried alive and the subsequent loss of her sanity. So you can place the opening sequence somewhere between #221–226, if you take the stance of Love and War taking place after issue #220 (as it was originally intended).
We then cut to a shot of our hero Matthew Murdock, aka Daredevil in bed, sound asleep alongside the issue’s credits and title (“Apocalypse”). This shot of Daredevil asleep would be a running bit for the first half of the story. Parts one through four of the story would feature Daredevil in various beds and asleep, on each issue’s title/credit page.
We get a series of pages of Matt walking around his fancy Manhattan brownstone apartment as we see the snow falling outside. After a brief recap of how, in spite of Daredevil being blind, his hyper-sensitive senses allow him to “read” documents, Matt finds the first bad new of the day. His back accounts are being frozen pending an IRS audit and that his mortgage company hasn’t received payment in several months. Soon, things take a worse turn as Matt receives a recorded tape cassette from his current girlfriend Glorianna O’Breen. The tape has her dumping Matt, as she feels neglected by him in recent months (due to Matt’s super-hero activities).
Then the ultimate bad news hits, as Matt gets hit with a grand jury summons. Matt learns that he is being investigated for bribing a police officer (Lt. Nicholas Manolis; a long time Daredevil supporting cast member) to provide perjured testimony.
Meanwhile, the issue cuts to a subplot that seems to serve no purpose except to explain why Daredevil’s best friend Foggy Nelson isn’t by his side for the bulk of the story. Glorianna finds her apartment ransacked by a break-in and is comforted by Foggy. The Ireland born Glorianna had fled to the United States to escape the IRA, but now she finds herself becoming jaded towards the experience of life in America and New York City in particular. Foggy asks Glorianna to stay the night at his apartment, since she no longer feels safe in her apartment.
We then cut to the secondary main character of “Born Again”; Ben Ulrich. Another regular in the pages of Daredevil under Miller, Ulrich is a crime reporter for the Daily Bugle. His investigation skills led to him finding out Daredevil was Matt Murdock and ever since then, has been one of Daredevil’s most staunchest allies ever since. But even Ulrich, upon finding out that Matt Murdock has been accused of bribing a witness, finds it hard to get Matt to let him help try and clear his name.
Matt Murdock meanwhile has investigated his mortgage problem and found that the bank never cashed any of his mortgage payments when they were sent in. The money never left his bank account according to the bank statements that Matt reviews. We also find out that had Matt been more dilligent towards looking at his finances, he would have caught what was going on much quicker.
But due to the bank account being frozen by the IRS for it’s upcoming audit, Matt is now penniless and can’t make up the MIA payments, meaning he is facing impending eviction.
As Matt’s best friend Foggy and his ex-girlfriend spend a romantic night by the fireplace, Matt Murdock dons his Daredevil costume and goes out to crack heads and find out who’s trying to ruin him. Daredevil confronts Lt. Manolis and Manolis refuses to talk, as the two men briefly tussle before Daredevil flees outside to see how the disgraced detective reacts next. Matt then overhears Manolis report the confrontation to a mystery person over the phone as we get the motivation for why he would lie about Matt: his son is very sick and requires expensive medical treatments that are why he’s betraying Matt for his unseen master (Kingpin). Daredevil then goes home, only to find the power and electricity has been disconnected.
Matt goes to bed, as we then cut to the next morning and Foggy Nelson (who slept on his couch) waking up to finding his house guest Glorianna making him breakfast. Glorianna then answers the phone, though the shock of his ex answering his best friend’s phone in the morning gets downplayed by Miller. Calling from a payphone, Matt recruits Foggy to be his lawyer at the grand jury hearing as Matt finds himself facing serious jail time and disbarment if found guilty.
But even with seven issues allotted for the story line, Miller makes a shocking move in how he plays out what happens next. Rather than show the entire grand jury inquiry in full, Miller speeds through the entire affair in two pages. Foggy Nelson gives a performance of a lifetime and manages to save Matt from prison, though he fails to keep Matt from being disbarred. Which is enough to make Kingpin happy, even as he takes note towards possibly hiring Foggy to work for him down the line due to his ability to save Matt from going to prison for witness tampering. It’s a ballsy move from Miller, as the grand jury element of the story could have unfolded over one or two issues had he wanted to. But Miller seems content with glossing over one of the darkest parts of the story, Matt losing his law license, so as to not drag out the suffering of Matt Murdock.
We also find out that Kingpin has been stalking Matt and taking malicious glee as he watches his enemy’s life systematically destroyed. Kingpin even goes as far as to have photographers secretly take pictures of Matt as he becomes more and more disheveled as he tries desperately to find a way to clear his name. Meanwhile, Kingpin takes glee over how in his costumed identity, Daredevil has become more violent and mentally unstable as he brutalizes criminals in hopes of getting someone, anyone to give up the name of the man who bribed Lt. Manolis prior to his day in court.
Since Foggy spared Matt from prison, Kingpin realizes the endgame he originally envisioned (breaking Matt 100% then force him to work for him in some lowly manner when he gets out of prison) isn’t going to happen. But rather than quit while he’s ahead, Kingpin gets greedy. Having destroyed Matt’s life by a thousand paper cuts, which could not be traced back to him, Kingpin decides to finish off his broken nemesis.
We then cut to Karen Page, as we find out that Kingpin has finally given the kill order to eliminate everyone who could trace back his role as the architect of Matt’s ruin. And while the drug dealer who bought Daredevil’s secret is killed as part of the purge, Karen manages to escape from the Kingpin’s assassins.
Finally, we reach the endo of the issue as the now disgraced and disbarred Matt Murdock goes home to mull over what will happen to him next. We find out that he has received official notice that if he doesn’t bring his mortgage payments current in 30 days, he’ll be evicted. We also find out that all Matt has to his name, is $10 in his wallet. As Matt’s mind continues to swirl towards who is the mastermind behind his misery, he thinks back to his ex-girlfriend answering his best friend’s phone and begins to suspect every so briefly that Foggy might be involved. But as he reminds himself how Foggy defended him in court and saved him from prison, Matt hesitates as the ground trembles beneath him. His house explodes in a massive fireball and with it, all of the pieces fall into place.
Moments pass as Matt blindly goes into the wreckage of his house, to retrieve the shredded remains of his Daredevil costume. With this act of destruction of his home, Matt Murdock suddenly remembers the one man in his life who has the means and motive and the power to bring about the ruination of Matt Murdock’s life. And how he could have gotten away with it, had he not decided to “sign his work”. The issue ends with Matt holding the shredded Daredevil suit, filled with an unspeakable anger as he realizes Kingpin was the man who ruined his life.
Notes, comments, loose change
Issue Credits: Frank Miller (writer), David Mazzucchelli (penciler/inker), Ralph Macchio (editor)
1. As mentioned in the introduction to this series, “Born Again” was originally called “Apocalypse” in the lead-up to it’s publication. However, when collected as a trade paperback several years later, it would be given the name that everyone associates with it.
2. Though not the first “destroy everything in a hero’s life” story arc in comics, Born Again is certainly the trope codifier in that regard. Even in Daredevil itself, writers have routinely attempted to do their own version of “Born Again” time and again with an outside force destroying Daredevil’s life and status quo.
3. Karen Page reappearing as a heroin addict and prostitute/porn star has long been a source of controversy within comic fandom. Some have explicitly accused Miller of misogyny for his choice to have Karen’s story take her to such a place. Karen’s status as a fallen woman also though, creates a parallel of sorts to Matt’s own “fall from grace” and in spite of her betrayal, the two end up reconciling at the end of the story.
4. Daredevil’s disbarment from practicing law would be the story’s biggest legacy. Writer Anne Nocenti would get around Matt not being able to be a lawyer by having him work as a legal aid clinic, giving law advice to poor people in Hell’s Kitchen. But it would not be until Daredevil #297–300 that writer D.G. Chichester would have Matt would have his law license restore and name cleared, in the four part “Last Rites” story line (a story that would serve as a sequel to “Born Again” and see Daredevil get revenge on Kingpin).
5. Glorianna O’Breen was a character introduced by Denny O’Neil as a love interest for Daredevil during his run. Sadly, Glorianna never caught on as a girlfriend for Daredevil, so Miller ends the relationship and reassigned her as a girlfriend for Foggy Nelson, who had recently divorced.
6. As mentioned above, the title page for issues #227–230 are linked with the theme of Daredevil asleep.