1986 was a big year for Frank Miller. In between the other stuff, he also happened to write this: an instant classic and swan-song to his hugely influential 1979-83 stint on the character. The story goes like this: Karen Page, the love of Matt Murdock's life, now a washed-up and coked-out adult film star, sells his secret identity for a fix. Said information, as good as gold, makes its way to no less than the Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk. Who proceeds to "test" the information — by completely ruining Murdock's life.
Murdock loses his house, job, friends, and even sanity. But as Murdock, exhausted and enraged, fights the Kingpin — and survives, however destitute — Fisk notices something. Murdock won't quit. Kingpin finally has found the man he cannot break.
The story is considered one of the best of the era and one of the three eminent superhero deconstructions — among them Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen — though less famous than they are (and notably the only one to be set in its publisher's main continuity rather than a standalone miniseries). Which is somewhat ironic in itself, given that of the three Born Again probably remains closest to the traditional superhero story, without going into Sociopathic Hero territory. More than the other two, Murdock is portrayed as a fundamentally decent guy with genuine heroic impulses, while still very much a human being, and the central story is an old fashioned battle between the hero and the villain. Notable for featuring perhaps the first time a superhero comic issue in which the hero is not once in his costume.
A live-action adaptation of Born Again —intended as a sequel to the 2003 Daredevil film— was in development at one point but never made, while a later pitch for a (separate) film adapting the story was rejected by 20th Century Fox in 2012. However, the third season of Daredevil (2015), released in 2018, would ultimately borrow several elements from the story.
Born Again provides examples of the following tropes:
- Ax-Crazy: Nuke is the end result of a military project designed to create a super soldier. The procedure twisted his mind and reduced him to a delusional maniac who will unhesitatingly kill anyone whom he perceives to be a threat to him or his home country.
- Battleaxe Nurse: Lois, Kingpin's enforcer who dresses as a nurse and is built like a truck.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Kingpin sets out to destroy Matt Murdock's life and succeeds. He just didn't count on him becoming more ruthless as he has nothing left to lose.
- Berserk Button: For a crime lord, Fisk is actually a pretty reasonable guy. He listens to his subordinates and considers their advice. But don't mention his wife, or he will personally strangle you to death.note
- BFG: Nuke carries a massive gun, "Betsy," which he uses to blow away a large portion of Hell's Kitchen.
- Big Bad: Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. The Kingpin, who is determined to destroy Matt Murdock's life and pulls every string he has to do it.
- Bittersweet Ending: Matt's been disbarred and still hasn't reconciled with Foggy, but he's recovered from the trauma inflicted on him throughout the story and is shown to be happy together with Karen. On the flip side, the Kingpin manages to escape legal consequences for his actions, but the Daily Bugle's exposé ruins his attempts at creating a legitimate public image for himself and undermines control of his criminal empire.
- Blessed with Suck: During Murdock's rehabilitation in the Catholic mission, he relives the terrifyingly painful early days of acclimating to his new senses. Though he is able to hear and smell far-away objects with uncanny precision, he soon picks up unpleasant essences and suffers from deafeningly loud noises, being overwhelmed to the point he can barely sleep.
- The Bus Came Back: This story marked the return of Karen Page after a seven-year absence, her previous appearance being in issue #138.
- Captain Patriotic: A dark version in Nuke, but Captain America plays it (mostly) straight in his guest appearance, even apologizing to the MPs sent to stop him, knowing they're just following orders. One of his most iconic quotes comes when he goes to confront a general about Nuke:General: You know the department holds you in the highest regard. We've always valued your commitment — and your loyalty...
Captain America: I'm loyal to nothing, General... except the dream.
- Christmas Episode: Organic: the story just happens to be taking place around the end of December. Perennial Loser Turk dresses up as Santa to swindle New Yorkers and a delirious Murdock tries to stop him. It ends poorly.
- Crossover: Matt actually appeared in an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man during the events of the story, where he makes Peter promise not to go after Fisk before he gets a chance at him. Peter ignores him and confronts Fisk as Spidey, but realizes that he can't legally barge in and attack him since he doesn't have any official proof and is forced to bow out, deciding it's best to leave things to Daredevil once he recovers.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Deconstruction. Fisk is trying to expand into legitimate businesses and be a Villain with Good Publicity, but his vendetta against Daredevil is costing him money and putting that ambition in jeopardy. The first crony to try and point that out to him is "bought out" and later has both his legs broken off-panel; the second is murdered by Fisk then and there. Fisk is trying to turn his criminal genius to more acceptable enterprises, but his obsession with Daredevil and his violent instincts keep overriding his sense.
- Delusions of Eloquence: Felix, one of Fisk's henchmen who spies on Matt Murdock in the field.Felix: I myself gain admittment to the very same subway car as Murdock — there to observe him to be in a state of extreme aggregation. We proceed without incitement to the Pennsylvania Station stop, whereat three youths board, brandishing nine-millimeter handguns of the street variety, loudly declaiming their intention of depraving the passengers of their personal effects.
- Despair Event Horizon: Ben Urich crosses this briefly when one of Kingpin's enforcers breaks his fingers and tortures the man he was about to interview in front of him.
- Determinator: Murdock loses everything, including his right to practice law, becomes a paranoid wreck and is badly beaten and left to die by the Kingpin — and he just keeps coming back.
- Dirty Cop:
- NYPD Lieutenant Nick Manolis, who framed Murdock initially, needed money to pay for an operation to save his son. He tries to set it right, but that didn't turn out well for him.
- A group of dirty cops are bribed by the Kingpin and kill one of his former subordinates when she agrees to testify against him.
- Easily Forgiven: Murdock's life is ruined as a direct result of Karen Page selling his secret identity. When they reunite, he notices her decrepit state and embraces her, never whispering a single reproach at her for it. By the end of the story, it's implied that the two will resume their relationship.
- Evil Is Petty: Kingpin is told that Matt Murdock is secretly a superhero, whose actions have barely impacted the profit of his previous crimes. Even though the criminal is unsure of this information, he goes above and beyond to ruin Murdock's life to confirm it.
- Frameup: The gist of the Kingpin's initial plan — he gets Matt Murdock disbarred from his law practice due to bogus testimony from a cop in his pocket, among other things. Later on, Kingpin attempts to frame Daredevil by killing his friends with a lunatic dressed in his costume. Unfortunately for Kingpin, Daredevil was onto him from the beginning, takes out the lunatic no problem and gets a new costume out of the deal.
- Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: A genetically engineered character named Nuke is a major antagonist in the third act of the book. His actions alone lead to the deaths of hundreds of innocents in Hell's Kitchen.
- Good Shepherd: A female version in Sister Maggie, who takes care of Murdock after he's injured.
- Gone Horribly Right: Fisk destroys Matt's entire life in the very first issue of the story. Then Matt strolls into Fisk's office, gets his crap handed to him, and Fisk tries to kill him in the East River. When they don't find a body, Fisk realizes Matt's alive, With nothing to lose, and coming for him. After all, a man without hope is a man without fear.
- Grand Finale: For Frank Miller's run on Daredevil.
- He's Back: When Nuke attacks on Fisk's orders, Matt Murdock, having regained his spiritual center, finally redons his Daredevil costume after so long to confront the lunatic.
- Manipulative Bastard: Most of the conflict originates from Kingpin's ability to influence numerous prominent figures, including higher-ups in the police, army and the IRS, by means of bribes, threats or even simple lies. One of the most blatant examples is his manipulation of the mentally unstable Nuke, to whom he pretends to be a loyal patriot struggling against a traitor named Daredevil.
- Mouth of Sauron: James Wesleynote , Fisk's personal and most trusted assistant, is introduced in this story. He is the second most feared man in Fisk's organization, considering he is responsible for carrying out Fisk's most secret orders, including when to kill people.
- Neck Snap: The Kingpin does the one handed version on a complaining associate.
- Never Found the Body: As soon as Fisk hears this about Murdock, he realizes Murdock's not dead.Fisk: There is no corpse. There is no corpse."
- Oh, Crap!: Fisk's reaction to Murdock's body not being found. He realizes that destroying Matt's life but not ensuring his death has given him a foe with nothing to lose.Fisk: And I—I have shown him that a man without hope is a man without fear.
- Orgy of Evidence: Matt is deeply troubled by the way his life is unraveling around him and doesn't know if it's paranoid to think that maybe someone is out to get him. Then his home blows up.Matt Murdock: It was a beautiful piece of work, Kingpin. You shouldn't have signed it.
- Phoney Call: Matt, at the end of his rope after having just attacked a cop, calls Foggy, begging for help because there's something wrong with his mind. On Matt's end of the conversation, we hear him being reluctantly persuaded that everyone really is working for the Kingpin, including the cop, and that Matt should go challenge the Kingpin right now. As he walks away from the phone, we hear the time recording coming from the speaker.
- Pietà Plagiarism: The splash page where Maggie the nun is holding a badly injured Matt has them in a pietà pose. Unlike some other examples in superhero comics, the comparison to Jesus and Mary is well justified here, since Matt's "rebirth" has parallels to Jesus's resurrection, and we find out Maggie actually is his mother.
- Psycho for Hire: Kingpin hires two in his steadily more desperate attempts to kill off Matt; Nuke and the Costume Copycat of Daredevil. Neither of them end up doing the job, and end up exposing him to legal scrutiny.
- Psycho Serum: Nuke is addicted to his "red pills", which increase his adrenaline levels at the cost of making him even more deranged than he already is.
- Revenge Before Reason:
- Early in the story Kingpin fights the temptation to land a finishing blow on Murdock as his manipulations tear down his life from afar. Finally, he can't resist and has a bomb set up in Murdock's house. This gives him the first and only clue he needs that Kingpin is behind everything.
- Later, Fisk gets called out on it, as his vendetta against Matt is a drain on resources and is jeopardizing his plans to expand into more legitimate enterprises. This was not the time to point this out to him.
- Rousing Speech: Played with. After Ben Urich is intimidated into silence by the Kingpin's goons, J. Jonah Jameson (of Spider-Man fame, displaying Hidden Depths) gives an incredible speech explaining how important it is that the Bugle expose the Kingpin for what he is despite the potential consequences. Urich is unmoved at first. He later decides to pursue the story, but the speech isn't portrayed as an important factor in his decision.
- Shout-Out: The last page of the story◊ very closely resembles the cover of early Bob Dylan album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan"◊.
- Sociopathic Soldier: Nuke. Genetically modified supersoilder — who is also completely insane and needs a steady intake of drugs just to function.
- Nuke is a genetically modified soldier ala Captain America. Unfortunately, his super serum causes insanity.
- Captain America. Nearly every character — even the crazed Nuke — practically salutes in his presence — except Murdock, who's more annoyed that Cap is interfering in his private war against Fisk.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Daredevil normally adheres to the "no killing" code of most superheroes. In this story, when Nuke's pilot is shooting up New York in a military helicopter, Matt picks up a rocket launcher, mutters, "Forgive me," and blows him apart.
- Villainous Breakdown: Fisk undergoes a subtle one over the course of the story after he learns that Murdock is still alive. It's very clear that he's becoming quite unhinged, culminating in Fisk sending the Nuke to Hell's Kitchen and making him shoot up the place to draw Matt out.