Born Again: In 1986 Frank Miller returned to Daredevil to create one of the most influential, disruptive and decisive works of the house of ideas.1986 is a crucial year for the history of comics, after works coincide in a few months and all of them have a common denominator: they shake the moral foundations of an industry that until then had been excessively Manichean in the treatment of the characters. Two of those masterpieces are signed by the same author, Fran Miller, who also simultaneously produces it, are Daredevil Born Again for Marvel (February to August) and Dark Night for DC (February to June). The third is in charge of Alan Moore and is Watchmen (DC). From this trilogy nothing would be the same, the comic evolved towards a more adult audience and the superheroes became darker.
Daredevil, a second-rate character
To understand the importance of Born Again in Marvel cosmology, you have to see the weight of Daredevil before Miller arrived in the collection. The vigilante was one of the last characters that San Lee created during the expansion of the heroic universe of the 1960s. In April 1964, Marvel editor and cartoonist Bill Everett released the first issue, The Adventures of The Man Without fear they shared geographic space with Spiderman, from whom he borrowed some of his villains. He was a second-rate character that was languishing and became bimonthly in the 70s. This process of decomposition stopped in May 1979 when a very young Miller first took over the pencils (# 158) and shortly thereafter also of the scripts (# 168 USA). His first decision as responsible for the series is to create the character of Elektra and only two issues later he introduces Kingpin in the story as the main villain. The artist closes his first stage in 1983 with Roulette (# 191 USA), a disturbing tale in which he plays Russian roulette with Bullseye, whom he has left paralyzed with a beating. It is already seen in this first stage that the character has nothing to do with the classic Marvel superhero who always moves in politically correct ways. Miller goes to DC to create Ronin, a limited series inspired by the traditions of feudal Japan and which had a strong experimental character in both narrative and style.
In 1986, Marvel offered to retake the Daredevil collection and debuted with a story arc that aimed to reset the character and give it a new focus. Born Again is seven issues (# 227-233 #) in which Miller not only turns Matt Murdock but also shakes the foundations of the comic with revolutionary ideas and that narrates a trip to hell similar to the one that Coppola did with his Apocalypse Now.
The Maryland artist, a confessed atheist, builds a religious framework for his account similar to the passion of Christ, in which Matt Murdock sees his life go to ruin in all its aspects after the revelation of his secret identity by his first girlfriend, Karen Page. Information that ends up in the hands of Daredevil’s great enemy, Kingpin, head of organized crime in New York. The appearance of this female figure, who in the 60s looked like a stereotype of American women, as a porn actress, prostitute and junkie was about to ruin the comic’s output, because the Comics Code Authority did not give its approval for publication by consider it inappropriate for children, who by then were the quintessential consumer of this type of product.
Matt Murdock suffers successively the betrayal of Karen Page, the denial of Ben Ullrich (his journalist friend), the false accusation by the authorities, the abandonment of his close circle, death (locked in a taxi that is thrown into the bay ) and the resurrection at the hand of his absent mother, Sister Maggie, turned nun. But beyond the obvious parallelism with the story of Jesus, Miller endows the character with a Catholic ethic with the consequent moral burden and the psychological burden that the concept of sin entails. It was the first time that a superhero had this type of problem, although rather the story does not focus on the destruction of myth, but of man. In the first part of the story (Apocalypse, Purgatory, Outcast! And Rebirth) Kingpin demolishes Murdock’s image as a respectable lawyer, drowning him financially and leaving him homeless and friendless. A spiral of destruction and self-destruction that will end with a Murdock on the brink of insanity, living in poverty, suffering from hallucinations and acting outside of any moral code.
The second part of the story (Salvado, Dios y Patria y Argamedón) functions as an atonement in which the hero recovers his mission and with it, his identity. Miller is both formally and conceptually disruptive, he adopts the codes of the story from the crime novel to the comic, endows the villain with a complex personality and worldly goals (making money) and manages, thanks to the classic breakdown of the arrangement of the vignettes, to create a narrative rhythm of the story that adapts to the situations of the plot. Sometimes he speeds up the action, while sometimes he gets the reader to linger on a page long enough to understand all the details.