Monday, October 17, 2005

THE F*@% YEAH FILES #2: Daredevil Born Again

Here's a true story.

During my last year of school at The Evergreen State College, I took several "individual contracts" in lieu of actual classes. Evergreen was a hippy school that emphasized non-traditional learning and ultimate frisbee. Anyway, these contracts involved creating your own curriculum - readings, projects, papers - in consultation with a faculty sponsor. For many Evergreen students the individual contracts represented a chance to challenge themselves and focus in an academic way on something that engaged them. For others the individual contracts represented a chance to watch The Rockford Files and do bong hits.

I had a writing contract with a faculty member (we didn't call them teachers or professors, that was too hierarchical) who we will call Paul Sparks. Being a passionate young man, excited about writing and fiction and comic books, I brought in some stuff for Paul Sparks to look at. You know, to show him where I'm coming from. Among the books I dropped off were the trades for Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again, both by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli. Paul Sparks thanked me and said he'd check them out.

The next meeting we had, I asked him if he'd checked out the comic books. He handed them back to me, looking vaguely disgusted.

"I didn't read them," Paul Sparks said. "They're violent, adolescent fantasies."

"But... but this one, Born Again, has all these film noir elements, and it's this story about redemp--"

He flipped through Born Again, a little too roughly I thought. I mean, I know it's just a trade, but take it easy, dude. "In this one I see somebody shooting cops, here's a woman hanging, somebody getting beaten to death, more guns, more guns..." Paul Sparks plopped it down dismissively, shaking his head. "I'm not going to read that. Why would I read that?"


"Too violent? Feh. It’s just violent enough."


I did not strike him. No, I just sat there and looked at him and I thought, "You and I are not going to get along."

Put simply, anybody that doesn't like Daredevil: Born Again is no friend of mine.

Too violent? Feh. It’s just violent enough. Adolescent? Only a stupid shithead would think that, Dave said adolescently.

Seriously, this is one of my favorite comic book stories ever, and it has more than a few F*@% Yeah moments, but anybody that has read Born Again will know what scene I’m going to pick. It is perhaps the most satisfying, the most stirring, the most F*@% Yeah moment I can think of.

That’s right, I’m talking about the last page of Daredevil #232.

On the slim chance that you have not read Born Again, I’ll do a quick fly-over. This is the return of Frank Miller to Daredevil, the title he made his name on. The story runs from Daredevil #227 through #233 with art by David Mazzuchelli. In Born Again, blind attorney Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) has his life completely destroyed when his enemy, the crime lord known only as The Kingpin, learns his identity. Murdock’s ex-girlfriend and secretary Karen Page, now a junkie, sells Daredevil’s secret identity for a fix, setting into motion a horrible chain of events. The Kingpin dismantles Murdock’s life piece by piece, leaving him disgraced, disbarred, and destitute – and more than a little crazy. Finally, the wounded and deranged Murdock is goaded into a confrontation with The Kingpin, who beats the living bejeesus out of him and has his men seal him inside a taxi, which they push into the East River. Daredevil is dead.

Or not.

Of course, Matt Murdock escapes the watery death trap and begins clawing his way back to the life he once had. When they don’t find Murdock’s body, The Kingpin starts to worry.

Murdock is alive. The Kingpin tries to flush him out of hiding by sending a deranged killer in a Daredevil costume to kill Foggy Nelson, his ex-partner. Murdock saves Nelson and Karen Page, who has fled to New York seeking the man she betrayed.

Desperate, The Kingpin brings in Nuke, a super-powered psychopathic soldier to finish his enemy off. Nuke is a rabid, pill-popping dark reflection of Captain America (who appears in #233). He is barking mad, bat-shit crazy.

The plan is crude, but effective. Drop Nuke into Murdock’s neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, where he will start killing people until Daredevil shows up to face him.

I didn’t want to scan the whole damn comic, but there’s a great sequence where Murdock – who we haven’t seen in costume since issue #227 – runs through Hell’s Kitchen while Nuke indiscriminately lays waste. With his super-senses, Murdock can hear and feel the carnage happening blocks away. He’s running –

- and you just know he’s going to suit up in the Daredevil costume that the Kingpin’s killer was wearing.

Imagine that you are Young Dave reading this for the first time in a monthly comic book format. Imagine the agony, the anticipation Young Dave must have felt, waiting months for this moment. It’s been half a fricking year since Young Dave has seen his hero in action, and now… now…

I’m getting goosebumps just writing about it. To this day, Daredevil #232 remains one of my most treasured comic books and one of my most memorable reading experiences. Seriously, it’s that fucking good.

He kisses Karen. He takes the costume. He rips open his jacket.

He’s going to do it. He’s going to suit up. Young Dave is breathless with anticipation.

Then --

Then --

F*@% YEAH!

That, my friends, is 100% pure comic book gold. You are dead inside if you don’t feel at least a little stirring of sentiment looking at that triumphant image, remembering when you first read that. It speaks to the part of us that still believes in heroes, that has faith in the power of the human spirit.

And in the next issue? Daredevil kicks the living shit out of Nuke. He mops the floor with the guy! The fricking Avengers have to show up and stop him from killing Nuke! The fricking Avengers, man!

So there you go. If that isn’t a F*@% Yeah moment, I don’t know what is. I know Celine Dion has got my back on this one, right Celine?


Devon Sanders said...

F*ck yeah! This one's my fave storyline ever!

Anonymous said...

It brings a tear to my eye, it does. That scene, I think, is the very definition of a "F--- YEAH!" moment.

Anonymous said...

Oh. Hell. Yes.

The best moment EVER!

Aaron said...

The whole Born Again trade is a F*@% YEAH! moment, page for page, panel for panel. I especially love Ben Urich throughout the whole book. When friends of mine want to start reading comics, I start them off with Batman: Year One, Ultimate Spider-Man, Rucka's Wolverine run... only when they're ready do I let them read all of Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr.'s Man Without Fear, then all of Frank Miller's DD Visionaries trades... all of which leads up to Born Again. So perfect.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, this whole Hamlet story starts off with a murder and ends up with all the major characters dead, whether by poison or the sword - why would I want to read that?

Anonymous said...

God, I love "Born Again".

The Goddamned Frank Miller has done some awesome stuff over the years, but for my money "Born Again" is his best work and still my very favorite superhero story.

And it's not just how rousing its plot is or how deeply it resonates (and it does speak awfully deeply to the very notion of heroism). No, it's the sheer perfection of the craft. The lighting, the panel arrangement, the ebb and flow of the dialogue... it is absolutely the zenith of good comic book storytelling.

It doesn't matter how many times I read it, I always find something new to appreciate. Plus, it's a seven-issue storyline that justifies seven issues. It feels epic. That's a far cry from so many of today's comics, with their bloated six-part arcs.

By the by, Dave, you forgot to call him Frank "The Tank" Miller. Surely you haven't given up yet?

Anonymous said...

Paul Sparks is a moron! Born Again was awesome! Fuck yeah indeed!

Anonymous said...

Some of Miller and Mazuchelli's best work. I especially love Miller's characterization of a solemnly patriotic Captain America.

naladahc said...

I forgot about that. We call those holy sh*t totally f*cking awesome moments that are few and far between these past 20 years.

So many people are hating Infinite Crisis #1 but that last page was a holy sh*t totally f*cking awesome moment that I needed really badly.

Anonymous said...

What a shitty professor you had, Dave. Over at Umass Boston, I was able to do my final project on "Marshal Law and the Culture of War" and my advisor didn't even blink. (And I'd much rather defend the merits of "Born Again" than anything in the "Marshal Law" books.)

Anonymous said...

I only read Born Again a couple of months ago in the library (gimme a break, I'm only 23), and I enjoyed it, right up to the part where Captain America starts to get heavily involved. The superhero stuff just didn't mesh well with the darker bits in the previous 3/4s of the book.

But yeah, that was a cool splash page.

Angry Android said...

It's amazing how good Frank Miller was back then, but I tried reading "All Star Batman" recently & cried. "Are you dense? Are you retarded? I'm the goddamn Batman!"

Here's to hoping that the new DC universe will be a little more lighthearted.

Bill Reed said...

Never read it. But I will. Oh yes.

And... isn't that the school Matt Groening went to? I think it is...

Anonymous said...

So what happened between you and this horrible, horrible man with the brutally clenched sphincter? We should be fully informed.

Ken said...

What chaz ervin said. Best rendition of Captain America I ever read (of course, Cap is mostly done badly).

Tycho B. said...

"Violent adolescent fantasies" hunh? Y'know, it's c*cks*ck*rs like that who give hippies a bad name and convince otherwise intelligent people to vote Republican.

When I got back into comics towards the end of the Golden Age, this trade was one of the first titles I picked up. I had no idea who Frank Miller was and I'd never paid attention to Daredevil, but F*@% Yeah I was gonna start paying attention now.

Also, I thought the Avengers 1-page cameo was one of the greatest, most awe-inspiring moments in their history.

Anonymous said...

F*$#in' A, Dave and Celine.

thekelvingreen said...

Okay, I don't want Dave to not be my friend but...

I love Born Again to bits, and I fully agree about the F*@% YEAH moment this issue. However...

Nuke himself just seems a bit extraneous, and when Cap gets brought in, Miller veers very near hijacking his own story with this patriotism stuff. It's just Nuke that I have a problem with, not that part of the Kingpin's plan that ultimately sets up the return to costume. I just think Miller would have been better off choosing a character more closely associated with Daredevil and his concepts rather than bringing in a guy who's essentially a Cap villain. There's a bit of unnecessary story leakage there, I think.

Peter said...

What Tycho said, that one page with the Big Three is a true f*@% YEAH!!! Avengers moment, outdoing any amount of posing in, say, the Ultimates without even trying.

It's a pity that the Tank has chosen to concentrate on self-parody nowadays, but man, that old stuff was undeniably good. "There is no corpse. There is no corpse." Eeeee! :D

Anonymous said...

The last page: Matt and Karen, laughing and in love, walking down the street of Hell's Kitchen.

"My name is Matt Murdock.

"I was blinded by radiation.

"My remaining senses function with superhuman sharpness.

"I live in Hell's Kitchen and do my best to keep it clean.

"That's all you need to know."

It never became as good as this. The writers, who followed this, ravaged this story for years to come - I'm even told, that Karen is supposedly dead these days, and I don't even know who Daredevil is anymore.

Doesn't matter.

For me, Daredevil's story ended with that perfect storyline on that perfect last page.

That's all I need to know.

DougBot said...

I had a professor who taught Watchmen in his post-modern literature class.

It's almost honors-level material, really. Two weeks was not enough time to spend on it.

Spencer Carnage said...

I once did a report on Jim Mahfood for my a person who had a job in the field of graphic design. Having to pass around copies of Stupid Comics # 1 with the disclaimer that some of the material inside was "risque" was fun. That report along with the one I did for a "Bitchin' Camaro Beer"(a product we had to make up) surely put the final nail in my 65 year old mormon teacher's career.

As for Born Again, that shit rocked my eleven year old world.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I wrote about The Invisibles for my Modern Lit. exam. they didn't like it.

Fuck you, higher education. Comics rule!

Obviously, this is Fuckin' A1A.

thekelvingreen said...

Oh, and this "individual contracts" stuff makes you sound like you went to the Evergreen State College for Hitmen and Assorted Hired Killers.

Anonymous said...

Oh, how about Spidey taking down a freaking HERALD OF GALACTUS?

That was pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

IMO this was Miller's high point. The Brain Eater had already arrived (silently, unseen) and would soon begin its dreadful work. He used to do noir; now noir is all he /can/ do.

And if you look at this, the seeds are already there. Much of the story -- I'm sorry, Dave -- makes no sense. Or rather, it makes perfect emotional sense, but falls apart if you think about it for a moment.

So, okay, let's not think about it. Because it is a hell of a ride, and the craftsmanship -- as you say -- is fantastic.

Take a look, for instance, at the first panel you scanned: Matt Murdock climbing out of the river. Damn that is good stuff. The spires of New York (notice how it's always clearly New York, with either the ESB or the Chrysler building) unattainable in the distance; the filthy alley in the foreground; Murdock, dripping, faceless. And on the right, the ladder going up -- with Murdock placed symbolically at the bottom rung.

Miller and Mazzuchelli manage to communicate here that Murdock is /not/ about to rise up and lay some vengeful smack on the Kingpin. He's survived, and that's all. It's clear he's still damaged goods, and that the comeback will be, well, a long climb up the ladder. All that in one panel.

Nuke: another element that made no sense, but was so evocative that you just ignored that. (Man, remember where the Kingpin redecorates his office for half a page?) Nuke was a bunch of things: a Bad Captain America (done better, in two issues, than anyone else has ever been able to manage); a Rambo parody; a force of elemental destruction, symbolic of the Kingpin's mounting desperation and frustration; and Miller's clear and forthright "Fuck You" to all the people who read "The Dark Knight Returns" in a really stupid way and jumped to the conclusion that Frank Miller was a Republican.

You don't come out of that thinking, hey, the Kingpin just unleashed a mass murderer with a machine gun in the middle of New York... does he really think he can get away with this? No. You come out of it terrified of Nuke (who is sincerely scary) and pumping your fist and saying, yes, /F*ck yeah/.

BTW, the next issue has three moments that are nearly as good as this. One is Cap, not realizing Daredevil is blind, thinking "it's just a piece of cloth to them". Another is the final confrontation, where we end up feeling a moment of sympathy for Nuke, the poor bastard. "But you said... said you would never /do/ that..."

A lot of the stuff that would ruin Miller was here already. But at this point, it was all still under control. He was good; he was really, really good.

OK, will stop now.

Doug M.

Milo George said...

I'd say the money shot is wet not-drowned Murdock staggering in alley, finally back on his feet and taking action. Granted, the sight of a man in a red leotard posing in front of fire, about to hit someone with his little baton is impressive, but one of my writing mentors once told me that if you need pyrotechnics to make a money shot, you don't have a money shot.

Anonymous said...

Frank Miller's pacing seems to give more F*@% Yeah moments that most writers. One of my favorites is in Dark Knight Returns when Batman is describing the number of ways to kill or incapacitate a foe. One -- hurts. Just as he beats the hell out of some punk.

I wonder if this is a clear difference between Miller and one of his contemporaries - Alan Moore. Moore seems to build much more quiety, and the emotional impact lingers.

Miller kicks you square between the eyes, and Moore slids the knife between your ribs.

This difference is why I weep for the V for Vendetta movie.

Anonymous said...

So how *did* things work out with Paul Sparks, anyhow?

DougBot said...

"Rubber bullets. Honest."

The only way that scene gets better is when they animated it for the Batman series and got Michael Ironside to do old, grouchy Batman.

F*@% Yeah! moment, right there.

Edward Liu said...

bitler says: "But this F*@% Yeah File already got me to order Daredevil Visionary Vol 1."

Nobody else has mentioned it yet, but I think about half of this volume is not written by Miller. At first, he was only the penciller, and took about 6 months to take over the title. It isn't until Vol. 2 that I think it gets really good and definitively Miller. You should probably know that before you start it and say, "What the F*@% ? This ain't nothing special!"

After finally reading the earlier DD stuff (thank you, West Windsor Public Library), I think a whole lot more themes and trends become clear in almost all the later work, from Sin City to Dark Knight Returns.

Oh, and F*@% YEAH that's a F*@% YEAH moment, although the one that really gets me is in the following issue, when the Avengers show up. "A voice that could command a god. And does." And Thor is silhouetted against the Rain. Still sends shivers up my spine, that one does.

Bully said...

Nobody's said this yet, so I will: about both the "Born Again" storyline and your amazing, celebratory post:


Anonymous said...

and all the while Ben is being forced to confront a little bit of hell.

The problem with this sort of thing was, in the long run, Miller got addicted to it.

Now he can't really do anything else.

I say again, I agree with Dave: this is a great series. But there's also all the stuff in here that would later eat Miller's brain. All those noir tropes that are so powerful... as long as you're using them, instead of them using you.

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

It's funny you should start out this review with a college story. As it so happens, I did a paper in college for an English class on Born Again. Specifically, the imagery of eyes used by Miller throught the book, and associated themes (physical blindness, patriotic blindness, etc.)

And just look at the few pages and panels you've scanned for this post: lots of close ups on eyes, and faces.

Man, that Miller is a friggin' genius, I don't care what anyone says.

Greg said...

Dave's Airwolf moment is good, but I like when Fisk thinks the immortal lines - "I have taught him that a man without hope is a man without fear." It gives me chills just to type it.

I taught a whole six weeks on comics and Watchmen to high schoolers, and it actually made them read. Your "faculty member" was an idiot.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

I've busted on Miller's writing tics, but in Born Again that crap worked.

The conclusion of the issue where Murdock is beaten by the Kingpin, put in a rusted car, and dumped in the East River to drown has Miller-speak at its finest.

The Kingpin looks at the pictures of the police report, luxuriating in his destruction of the only honest man he's ever known.

The Kingpin sees the photos of the broken-up car. His narration lovingly tallies the damage. The report notes how the glass of the windshield was shattered and used to cut at the seatbelt.

Then he gets to the end. Dread fills him.

There is no corpse.

There is no corpse.


So much Airwolf in Born Again! I swear, the original issues smell like international sex symbol Ernest Borgnine!


Harvey Jerkwater said...

Whoop--you screencaptured the "no corpse" bit.

Never mind.

Greg stole my favorite "F yeah!" moment, the "man without hope is a man without fear" ending. Dude...


Anonymous said...


If we were into it, and if it were legal in the state of Washington, I'd totally marry you. F*@% yeah!

Anonymous said...

I've read "Born Again" four times and I never before picked up on the Nuke fight being Matt's return in costume. Weird.

I never think of the Nuke issues being part of "Born Again," actually. Thematically the whole thing seems off, a gratuitous infusion of political science and action-movie pyrotechnics into what is firmly a character study and noir story. It acts almost like another story altogether, as though the first part of "Born Again" were just Miller's first arc and now he's just going into the second arc of another multi-year run on the title; it isn't until the final few pages that Miller actually makes it clear that it's all part of the same story that is now over.

And personally, the F@*% yeah moment is "There is no corpse." So many times, we see a hero soundly defeated by some nefarious n'er-do-well, then watch as the hero rises up to ultimately win. But Miller takes care to put us in the viewpoint of the other side, as the villain slowly realizes that, despite his best effort, the hero isn’t vanquished. I kinda feel bad for the Kingpin, who had a golden opportunity fall into his lap and seized upon it with perfect skill and ruthlessness, only to have it fail not because of his own ineptitude but because the hero is just too heroic to go down. To poor, Bowflexing Wilson Fisk, it’s a F@*% NO!

Anonymous said...

Some of my favorite moments are the end of the first issue ("You shouldn't have signed it."), and the beginning of the fifth (Murdock boxing).

One of my favorites is in Dark Knight Returns when Batman is describing the number of ways to kill or incapacitate a foe. One -- hurts. Just as he beats the hell out of some punk.

Miller has re-used this twice; once in Daredevil, once in Elektra: Assassin.

Phillip said...

Three comments, including questions that may never get answered:

1. First, although I have never read Daredevil: Born Again, I am now REALLY looking forward to it. Frank Miller is really good at those FUCK YEAH moments.

2. "...crime lord known only as The Kingpin..."? Isn't he also known as Wilson Fisk? Actually, isn't he more commonly known (to the "general public") as Wilson Fisk?

3. Rockford Files + pot? Do you listen to Ben Folds Five much?

Harvey Jerkwater said...

The Kingpin was like Al Capone. Everybody knew he was a mob figure, but no one could prove it. He publicly called himself Wilson Fisk; privately, everyone else called him the Kingpin.

That name makes me think he should be a bowling-themed villain.

"When Strikes the Kingpin!"
"Gutterballs of Doom!"
"The Seven-Ten Split of Murder!"

Hells yeah.

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Anonymous said...

This is the best graphic novel. I never saw the Daredevil movie, but I'm sure it didn't do Matt Murdoch any justice. They should've used this novel, by gum!

Anonymous said...

If only we could strap blog spammers into a rusted vehicle and shove them into the river. That would be almost as Airwolf (or Lobo del aire in Spanish) as Daredevil: Born Again.

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Eric said...

Thank you for posting this, sir. I remember reading Born Again and loving it. It's tough to find comics fans who neither take the craft too lightly or too seriously -- I love that you have the sincerity, yet the authority, to point out a true F@#$% YEAH!! moment.

[One of my personal faves: In Year One, when Gordon confronts the tall blonde cop, and there's a few panels of his thoughts, and I might be butchering it, but you'll remember, something like: "He has Green Beret training. Been a while since I had to take out a Green Beret." Then the art shows Gordon TOSSING THE GUY A BASEBALL BAT and says something like "I figure he could still use the bat." F@#$% YEAH.]

Coren said...

Got bounced over via TV Tropes and as a former/current Evergreen student, it's still the same way. I once got 16 credits for going to my old high school, sleeping two hours, then "observing" math classes (half of which time I spent playing cards with the kids) two days a week. I love Evergreen (and born again - you'd have better luck with that contract these days). I'm really curious who that faculty was/if he's still around

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