1986 was a big year for Frank Miller. In between the other stuff, he also happened to write this: an overlooked 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 final scene of The Defenders —which features Matt as a central character— depicts a wounded Matt laying in convent surrounded by nuns (one of whom is implied to be his mother), possibly setting up elements of Born Again to feature in the plot of season 3 of Daredevil, which was further solidified in October prior to the start of shooting as Vincent D'Onofrio (Fisk) was the first confirmed cast member outside of Matt, Karen and Foggy to be returning.
Born Again provides examples of the following tropes:
- Ax-Crazy: see Psycho for Hire below.
- Battleaxe Nurse: Lois.
- 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.note
- BFG: Nuke's gun "Betsy".
- Big Bad: Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. The Kingpin.
- Blessed with Suck: Matt Murdock is this trope. During his rehabilitation in the Catholic mission, he relives the terrifyingly painful early days of acclimating to his new senses.
- 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: Deconstructed. 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 the Kingpin's henchmen who spies on Matt Murdock in the field.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 thanks to Lois.
- Determinator: Murdock.
- Deus ex Machina: The sudden appearance of the Avengers (or at least, Cap, Thor and Iron Man) in the final issue may seem like this. Or it's merely more evidence of the tightly-bound and frankly overlapping nature of the Marvel Universe's superhero community since a major attack on a New York neighborhood would logically trigger a response from the other superheroes in the city.
- Dirty Cop: Subverted and played straight. 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. Other dirty cops are willing to kill for the Kingpin.
- Do Not Go Gentle/Rousing Speech: Played with by Miller. After Ben Urich is intimidated into silence by the Kingpin's goons, J. Jonah Jameson (Yes, of Spider-Man fame) 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.
- Easily Forgiven: Let's face it, Karen Page is. Sure, she deeply regrets it, but the fact still stands that she has sold DD's identity. He never whispers a single reproach at her for it.
- Emphasize EVERYTHING: It's Frank Miller. Even at his best he falls for this.
- Evil Is Petty: Very, very, very petty.
- Frameup: The gist of the Kingpin's plan.
- Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Literally.
- Good Shepherd: A female version in Sister Maggie (who may or may not be, to this day, Matt's real mother) who takes care of Murdock after he's injured.
- Gone Horribly Right: Fisk destroys Murdock's entire life in the very first issue of the story. Then Murdock 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 realises Murdock's alive, With nothing to lose, and coming for him. After all, a man without hope is a man without fear.
- He's Back: When Nuke attacks on Kingpin's orders, Matt Murdock, having regained his spiritual center, finally redons his Daredevil costume after so long to confront the lunatic.
- Manipulative Bastard: Guess who? Most blatant example is his manipulation of Nuke, pretending 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."There is no corpse. There is no corpse."
- Oh, Crap!: Kingpin's reaction to the above. He realizes that destroying Matt's life but not ensuring his death has given him a foe with nothing to lose."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 its 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: A chilling moment in the second issue: 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.
- Psycho for Hire: Nuke and the Costume Copycat of Daredevil.
- Psycho Serum: "GIVE ME A RED!"
- Raised Catholic: If you didn't already know Matt Murdock was, this story beats you over the head with it. In a good way.
- Revenge Before Reason: Fisk gets called out on it, that his vendetta against Matt is a drain on resources and jeopardizing his plans to expand into more legitimate enterprises. This was not the time to point this out to him.
- Earlier 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.
- Reread Bonus: Go back to the part where Maggie prays over Matt after you find out she's his mother. Try not to get choked up. You will fail.
- 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
- Super Soldier:
- Also 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 up.
- Took a Level in Badass: Turk Barrett, a minor criminal introduced in Daredevil #69, manages to stab Matt Murdock. Admittedly, at the moment Matt had pneumonia and his mental health was in tatters.
- 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 psychotic Nuke to Hell's Kitchen and making him shoot up the place to draw Matt out.