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The Day Frank Miller Out Wrote Alan Moore.
on 14 May 2011
Out of all of Frank Miller and Alan Moore's stellar works for Marvel & DC Comics in the 1980s, Daredevil: Born Again by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli must stand out as being the most concise, the most stripped down as well as one of the most affecting tales that the revisionist trend for super heroes threw out in the mid-1980s.
Whatever was in Frank Miller's tea when he co-created this Marvel masterpiece with artist David Mazzuchelli starring blind lawyer Matt Murdock and the long, slow and insidious dismantling of his personal and professional life, should be bottled up and sold to the legion of imitators that came after who couldn't quite match Miller's visionary storytelling.
Myself and many of my friends at the time circa 1986/1987 who were fans of Alan Moore's writing on titles for various publishers such as Marvelman, Swamp Thing, Captain Britain and Watchmen when Daredevil: Born Again came out originally in comic book form (Daredevil Vol.1, issues 226 - 233) collectively felt that Miller had finally stepped up in to the big leagues and was if not the better then certainly the equal of Alan Moore. All the more impressive since Miller's tenure as artist/writer on Daredevil from #159 -191 (1979 to 1983) was an excellent re-imagining of a neglected second tier Marvel property.
Miller's best work by far, Born Again, presses all the right emotional buttons by virtue of its understanding and manipulation of emotional themes - its depiction of Wilson Fisk renders the Kingpin of Crime in the most realistic terms in the Marvel Universe - Fisk's gloating over winning Businessman of the Year award for "procuring footage of acts beyond description for a automobile distributor" places the character and his amoral ruthlessness firmly and subtly into abject reality. His torment as he realises Murdock has escaped his wrath is cinematic in the extreme; it would be hard to believe that a certain Q. Tarantino hadn't read this and felt humbled by Miller's writing genius. Ditto for the shootout in the police cell when Lois the nurse working for the Kingpin is being interviewed, you almost feel as if you're in the cell yourself as it plays out. It's a tad violent, shall we say, but also amazingly powerful.
So many moments stand out in this book. The mystery of a certain relative's whereabouts is resolved, several instances with Ben Urich are total genius and even J. Jonah Jamieson is depicted completely realistically in his role of newspaper publisher. Every single character in this book is handled brilliantly.
Batman: Year, also by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli, is a very sophisticated straightforward and subtle updated re-telling of Batman's origin. Its strength was its understatement. The Dark Knight Returns by Miller & Janson was epic but entertainingly OTT but Daredevil: Born Again is extremely intense and powerful and the ending is like stepping out into the sunlight - you feel...born again almost! Absolutely incredible.
Curiously, issue 233 is dedicated to Captain America co-creator, Jack Kirby. In the mid-1980s Jack Kirby was deeply embroiled in an undignified legal battle with Marvel Comics for recognition as one of the architects of the Marvel Universe and was battling for creator's rights over thousands of pages of artwork and recognition of the creation and co-creation of almost every Marvel character until 1970 and even more after his return to Marvel in 1975. Frank Miller quit Marvel Comics after Born Again wrapped in defiance of the ratings system being brought in by DC and Marvel. Alan Moore would do the same.
Back to the story, however; pursuing his vendetta against Matt Murdock, the Kingpin decides to try yet again to destroy Matt Murdock by hiring a much more powerful assassin to kill Daredevil, which brings Captain America into the equation. Agent Simpson AKA Nuke, the corrupted, evil modern day version of Captain America comes face to face with the reality of the then corporate Reaganite America. The exchange on the rooftop between Matt (Daredevil) Murdock and the star spangled Avenger is one of the most powerful scenes in the history of comics, the final battle between the escaped Nuke and Daredevil is a Battle Royale modern cinema would be hard pressed to emulate and a cameo appearance by several of Captain America and several of his super powered buddies is, quite frankly, gobsmacking.
In DD: Born Again, writer Frank Miller's aim was to separate the man from the hero, from the troubling contradiction between costumed vigilante and defense lawyer (Matt Murdock's day job) and to strip Matt Murdock back to the ferocious fighter he always was but this was too much for lesser writers to maintain and the character and his stories quickly went to a limbo of mediocrity pretty much ever since these comics came out but that's just this reviewers personal opinion. In dramatic terms, nothing since then has ever matched this incredible piece of comic writing and art and for this reason alone, you should purchase this trade paperback edition. Simply stunning.