When Halloween comes around, everyone points towards the spooky themes. For our “Fear Week” we are diving into some themes of fear on a surface level. However, we have begun to submerge ourselves into some of the deeper levels of what fear really means. I have chosen to focus on the Man Without Fear for that reason—to find out what drives a character who has been given that nickname. To be honest, being a Daredevil fan made it an obvious choice for this particular theme week.
Daredevil: Born Again is the story arc that inspired the events that take place in season 3 of Netflix’s show based on the same character. Though I have not yet watched season 3 because of this review, I can say for sure that liberties will have to be taken. Hopefully this review will educate those who have not read the comics yet, but want to because of the show. You’ll find some familiar names and find out where they were at in the comic book world at the time these stories were published.
Spiritual Themes: Due to Matt Murdock’s catholic roots, Born Again takes many spiritual themes from Christianity and Catholicism. In many ways, the symbolism is based on the death and resurrection of Christ. It is not comparing Matt Murdock to Jesus in any way, but he does go through a series of events that bear similarities to the death and resurrection. This same symbolism can be seen in the salvation process of a new believer who gives their life to Christ.
In a few opening splash pages and a handful of panels, that symbolism is shown through some biblically iconic images. The Catholic Church plays a part in Matt Murdock’s restoration, as does a cross on the neck of a Nun who nurses him back to health. The titles of issues #227 through #230 are also based on Christian concepts: Apocalypse, Purgatory, Pariah, Born Again, and Saved.
Violence: This story arc is for a more mature audience. There are numerous fights that take place within the panels. Many characters are beat, shot, stabbed, or face some kind of injury. Blood is seen during some of the more violent scenes that take place. Various kinds of onomatopoeia are used to describe these actions that are depicted, including explosions.
There are some disturbing moments that occur during this story arc that readers should be aware of. One of the scenes involves a character being choked out in his hospital bed as a man is forced to listen over the phone. Another tense series of panels show a women that has just recently been hung as a man struggles to get her free. A major event that takes place involves a man dropping from a chopper and firing on the neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. The scene vividly describes a massacre of people dying, including children—this particular event is very close to home in the current political climate of the U.S.
Drug/alcohol Use: Multiple scenes depict a variety of characters either smoking cigarettes or cigars. One of the characters suffers from a come down through the entire arc that was caused by the abuse of heroin. In one of the panels, we see this character make an attempt to shoot up the drugs, though the image does not show it directly as they search for the vein.
We also witness another character affected by drug use. This person uses various kinds of amphetamines that come in the pill form. One type of pill increases his adrenaline, while the others are used to calm him down and stabilize his body.
Language/Crude Humor: N/A
Sexual Content: The backstory of the same character that struggles with heroin abuse is referenced on multiple occasions, which is that they spent some time working in the porn industry. Unfortunately, this led to them using their body in order to acquire the next drug fix. This is depicted in the panels through the aftermath of such an event as they sit on the phone. In the background, a man lays on a bed asleep and his belt is completely undone from the pants he is wearing. The implications of what occurred in the room are fairly obvious.
Positive Themes: Though Daredevil: Born Again is quite a dark story for Matt Murdock and other various characters in the book, it is a story about overcoming the darkest times of life. This story ultimately teaches us that the way to overcome fear is to find a source of hope. That source can vary depending on the character, but the ultimate source is the light that shines through the darkness. For me and my personal faith, that is Jesus Christ.
Daredevil: Born Again is a story arc that takes place during the time when Frank Miller took things over and rebooted the character. The issues of this story were published in February through August of 1986. The time period is one of my favorite parts of the reading experience. We are so accustomed to seeing these characters in our current time period, which means that they use the same kind of technology that we do on a regular basis. What stuck out to me in this aspect is the use of payphones, which was a huge reminder that many of the stories of my favorite heroes were published before I was born. Sure, there is technology that is advanced for the time, but the television shows and movies based on our favorite comics have those too.
I became a fan of the Daredevil character thanks to the very flawed Ben Affleck movie, and had only read a handful of the comics and graphic novels until recently. It wasn’t until the Netflix show that I came to know certain characters better, like Karen Page for example. It was very interesting to see where these characters were at during the first issue. The strongest element of Born Again is the characters, and where each of them go as the plot moves forward. This story isn’t only about Matt Murdock — the people that he spends time around are just as important.
I feel like the focus was taken off of Matt for a reason. This was meant to show what the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen and the lives of his friends, loved ones, and even enemies are like without Matt Murdock or Daredevil. In the same way Iron Man 3 showed us that Stark could fight his battles out of the suit, we get that in these issues with Matt. With everything taken away and his identity revealed, taking on Kingpin by grabbing the mask and billy clubs was not going to work. Seeing him try to figure out how to act without having that option made for some the character’s best moments.
The paths of both Karen and Ben Urich are unique because Matt is a symbol of hope to them. They are put into some of the most intense scenes of the story and are driven to find that hope. The same can be said for us when we put all of our hope and faith in Christ. Kingpin as a character is the least interesting, but we get to see his empire head in a direction we rarely see. He thinks he’s got his whole plan figured out, but fails when he uses his typical tactics or something else gets in the way. Kingpin reminded me of how flawed we are as human beings. We think we’ve got things all figured out when we really don’t. Those are some personal spiritual themes I took from this story, aside from the more obvious ones.
So, how do you capture great moments of action when the main hero of the story is wearing his suit and fighting crime? We do get some of that, but a majority of this story is spent without a hero. The events that take place in this story lead some characters into the action. Matt is even at a point of powerlessness, which leaves him in their shoes for some time. He eventually makes a move towards the Daredevil we know and love, but it takes a lot before he can fully dawn the mask again. From panel to panel, the artist did well to capture these moments and leave my heart pounding and a sigh of relief as these moments concluded.
As much as I love the character development of this story, the overall plot suffers in a few places. One of them being a moment where the origins of Matt’s blindness and abilities are retold. This moment did serve a purpose, but I felt a good portion of it was likely there for readers who might not have read a Daredevil comic. At the same time, I don’t think this story arc was written for first time readers in mind. This may have been a decision that came up in editing somehow, but I felt all that was needed was Matt recollecting those first few days in the hospital rather than the entire explanation that came with it.
Another place where the story felt awkward is in the final issues, #232 and #233. Issue #231 ends in such a way that it felt like the original intent was to wrap up these particular events for awhile, but it picks up right away in the next issue. This is where the character of Nuke is finally introduced, who was mentioned in an earlier issue. These last two feel like an afterthought, as if Frank and anyone else involved forgot they intended to use him at some point. However, some good things do come out of this. Loose ends are at least tied up and put to an end, and we get some fun camoes that involve some currently popular heroes.
If you’re reading this review, you are already likely a fan of anti-heroes such as Daredevil. I have to admit there were some moments in this comic that were almost too intense for me. Having a personal history with drug abuse, one of the characters’ present status hit a little too close to home. There is a moment that takes place in Hell’s Kitchen towards the end of the story that involves gunfire and mass shooting as well. That issue would not have gotten away with being published these days due to our current political climate and will likely be a sore spot for a number of potential readers.
Born Again is an important moment in the lives of Matt Murdock and those around him. I greatly appreciated the short length of only seven issues, because it didn’t take a huge commitment compared to other story arcs. At anywhere from 23 to 25 pages, each issue never overstayed its welcome—including the 31 page final issue. Reading this story was more than the “villain of the week” tropes that were likely common around these times — it was an experience. I recommend Born Again if you are familiar with the character or have watched the Netflix series. For new readers, I recommend starting with The Man Without Fear.
Lastly, let’s tie this into Fear Week. Kingpin says that, “A man without hope is a man without fear.” I personally don’t think that is quite true. Matt Murdock is fearless because he knows that good will always triumph over evil in this world. I believe that came from his Catholic faith, and he was reminded of that during the lowest moments of his life. Personally, I believe that a man without hope becomes a man without fear when he finally finds that hope.
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+Well written characters +Great action moments +Spiritual themes +Fun cameos +Comfortable length
-Final issues feel like an afterthought -Revisiting of origins overstay their welcome -Some moments too intense for our current political climate
The Bottom Line
It isn't hard to see why Born Again is such an iconic story arc. The story captures these characters at the lowest points of their lives, but still tells a story of Good coming out triumphant over Evil. Despite some strange directions in storytelling, this one will not be forgotten by its readers.