Frank Miller's Daredevil: Epilogue

I'm not here to properly examine all of Miller's non-Daredevil work, but given how polarizing he's become in recent years, let's look at just a couple of them before we get to the main course.

Holy Terror.

Here's a not particularly awesome trailer for it:

For what it's worth, this was clearly positioned as a one-dimensional propaganda project. It's an angry reaction to the ever-increasing propaganda of infotainment as filtered through an action movie, My Country Right or Wrong sensibility. Reading reactions to it around the web, people seem to be indulging their straw-Rand fetish as engineered by the very same infotainment rather than reviewing the work.

This is not to say any and all opposition to Ayn Rand or whatever is just media engineering, merely that this is the encouraged take on it from our media betters. And it's certainly not to say criticism of Holy Terror is only coming from a reactionary position. Ultimately, I don't disagree with this review from io9. If it's meant to be the 21st century equivalent of a World War 2 era comic -

such as this
I don't think it succeeds. (If anything, it made me feel sympathetic to the terrorists' position.) Perhaps if it had been Batman as originally planned it'd have worked a little better. Mainly, it's just difficult to look at.

And speaking of Batman:
aka The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001)
I actually like this damn thing. I think I may be the only one. The art makes me feel like I'm being scolded for liking pretty things, and the mythology of the DC universe is gargling strichnine. But that's kind of what I enjoy about it. Miller's style evolved - for better or for worse - into grotesque caricature and bold contrasts. When he worked with color - as he did in DK2, with then-wife Lynn Varley - this meant imagery that was very challenging for anyone who expected a straight sequel to The Dark Knight Returns.

Much has been made of this technique and how the human form is warped beyond the polite limits of comic book illustration. It doesn't bother me too much, I have to say; I've actually grown to really admire it. (I have no idea what the hell his deal is with hands, though.)

Miller's politics are often much more complex than he's given credit for, and it'd be worth examining the perversion-of-DC-mythos in DK2 in more detail. But beyond my scope here. (It's interesting to note, though, that the Bat-plane is used as a weapon against the skyscraper headquarters of the police dictatorship led by Lex Luthor.) Suffice it to say, his enduring (and prescient) concerns about media engineering, corruption, and sexualized iconography as means of control are given full psychedelic release

Give Me Liberty

This is a long and complex work. It's also completely freaking bizarre. I won't even pretend to summarize it; its closest analog would be something like American Flagg or Marshal Law or some sci-fi Ayn-Randian mash-up of them all. But even that doesn't describe it accurately, as it takes so many wild leaps from segment to segment. Along the way, though, as with DK2, he (with Dave Gibbons) are unfortunately all-too-prescient about many things.

The only thing that really changes is the number (and armaments) of security.

More than any other comics creator, Miller has successfully transitioned to Hollywood, thanks to The 300 and

I haven't seen The Spirit. (I recently had a conversation with a friend about topics we avoid because we know we'll get sucked into them for years. Will Eisner and the Spirit are two such topics for me.) Its failure to connect with an audience and relative critical drubbing halted Miller's cinematic momentum somewhat. But I was pleasantly surprised by the film version of Sin City, not just Miller's success at realizing it on the big screen but by my enjoyment of it. I've never been a fan of the comic, so I did not expect to.

The above is just a smattering of the work that resulted from his initial success with Daredevil. (And his leap to superstardom with Dark Knight.) He returned to the character that helped him write his own ticket thereafter on three different occasions. Four, if you count this:

Which I won't, simply because it doesn't actually involve Daredevil.
Art by the always provocative Bill Sienkiewicz.
It's baffling but quite rewarding if you put the time into it. (Question for current-Marvel readers: is Elektra even part of current continuity?)

Miller teamed up with Sienkiewicz again for 1986's

Which is much easier to follow than Elektra: Assassin and no less rewarding. The main attraction, though, is the art. Sienkiewicz's work is, as always, mind-warping. I went through it with the intent of screencapping it, but it's the sort of thing that if you choose one image, you might as well choose them all.

The story serves as a bridge between the end of Miller's first run on Daredevil (which saw the Kingpin and Daredevil calling a temporary truce and working together) and his second, aka

which sees the Kingpin systematically taking apart Matt Murdock's life and mind piece by piece and crushing them.


"Born Again" is a grim affair, even by today's standards. Karen Page, introduced in the Stan Lee years as the lovesick secretary in the law firm where Matt works
is reintroduced as a junkie who sells Daredevil's secret identity for a fix, unknowingly setting into motion the events that lead to the dismantling of Daredevil's life by the Kingpin.

Her redemption and Daredevil's resurrection (and the Kingpin's comeuppance) ensure things end on a happy enough note.

On the road to said reinvention, Miller (and David Mazzucchelli, more on him in a minute) brings back almost the entire supporting cast from his first run:

From Lt. Manolis
to Turk
to Ben Urich.

Urich plays a rather pivotal role in events, both as narrator and as participant, which is good to see. (Another question for current Marvel readers: is Ben Urich still around in any capacity?) But of course the main returning character is the Kingpin.

Obsessed with destroying Murdock after the events of Love and War, the Kingpin borrows one of the government's chemically-enhanced operatives when his first attempt to do so fails. This is the most compelling aspect of the whole storyline for me, as it logically extends its thematic Catholicism to the real world. (Well, "real.")

This leads to the Avengers - and Captain America in particular - becoming involved. As with the relationship of DK2 to the original Dark Knight series, this expands the scope of Miller's first run by contrasting it against the myth power of the Marvel superheroes and Uncle Sam here in the sequel.

The art, as you may have noticed, is really something. Courtesy of David Mazzucchelli. The Comics Journal has a great piece on Mazzucchelli's storytelling designs for "Born Again" here. I agree with every word, particularly the praise for his "Toth-ian clarity in combination with urgent linework and tone" His interiors and attention to detail is amazing, as well.


Miller's last issue illustrating Daredevil was 185, about two-thirds through his initial run. He's never returned to the character as artist. But he did write the "re-boot" of the character for Marvel in the 90s, as paired with John Romita, Jr.

Based on his own screenplay for a never-realized Daredevil movie,the story tweaks the origin he himself provided during his initial run

and surrounds it with the sort of action sequences one would expect from JR,JR:

Which is to say: among the very best ever committed to page. I am forever in awe of JR,JR. I think only Miller and Janson have ever communicated the visual action of the character better.

As a repositioning / update of the character, little is changed. Which isn't surprising, as the Miller template for the character supplanted all previous and overshadowed all that came after. As such, Elektra naturally plays a major role in proceedings:

Tonally, it's a thousand shades less severe than "Born Again." But still fairly humorless. There is this fun little demonstration of Matt's growing confidence with his powers (from when he rooms with Foggy in college:)

but that's about it.
The Miller/ JRJR Man Without Fear was published in 1993. Does it still work? As a reboot, as a story, as a fun piece of entertainment? Yes, yes, and yes.

There was supposed to be a sequel to "Born Again," written by Miller and illustrated by Walt Simonson, but it has yet to materialize. At this point it seems likely it never will. But if it did, and with no disrespect to the dozens of talented writers and artists who have written or illustrated Daredevil's adventures in the past twenty-plus years, it would undoubtedly leapfrog over all of them to join its Miller-helmed predecessors as the Only DD You Ever Really Need.


  1. On the subject of "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" -- I read that probably about ten years ago, and I liked it, too. Thing is, I remember very little about it; even looking at the art samples stirs no memory. This is not a terribly uncommon thing for me; what it seems to mean is that while I read and enjoyed the book, I read it at an extremely shallow-surface level, and put no contemplation into it. I'd like to read it again at some point, see how it holds up, if at all.

    I never read any of the "Sin City" comics, but I -- through a series of misadventures moreso than an actual seeking out of the experience -- saw the movie twice on opening day, and wasn't bored the second time. That's a pretty good compliment to pay a movie.

    The movie version of "The Spirit," on the other hand, is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Or, to be accurate, "partially seen," because I walked out after about half an hour.

    "Born Again" looks fantastic. And hey, dig this: that scene with Daredevil and The Avengers could actually be filmed one of these days! (Not to suggest that these comics should only be viewed in terms of their movie potential -- clearly, that'd be a major misstep -- but it still just blows my mind that such movies COULD be made nowadays.)

    I've actually got a copy of "The Man Without Fear." It's damn good, and made me start itching to read more Miller/Daredevil when a friend gave it to me a few years ago (along with Scott Snyder's "Black Mirror" Batman book, which is also excellent.) I haven't scratched that itch yet, but these posts have certainly done nothing to make it go away. Always an itch or nine; I've got the comics equivalent of scabies or something.

  2. Comics scabies! From beyond time and space.

    How cool would it be if they did Born Again as a DD movie and had the Avengers appear? Good call.

    I've heard nothing but bad things about The Spirit. Not just bad but horrid things. When he's off, he's way way the hell off, so the bad reviews make some sense to me.

    1. There are bad movies, and then there are BAD movies. Ignoring all of the grade-z stuff like Ed Wood movies and Syfy Originals and whatnot, if you focus strictly on movies that were made with a considerable budget and had actual resources available to the filmmakers, then "The Spirit" would handily be on my list of worst movies ever made. Is it AS bad as "Battlefield Earth"? Ehh...probably not. And yet, I made it through all of "Battlefield Earth."

      Other candidates include: "Ultraviolet," "Shoot 'em Up," and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" (abysmally unfunny). But "The Spirit" is right down there with 'em, playing in horse dung and calling it mudpies.

      All of which causes me to suspect that the "Sin City" movie's success is probably due more to Robert Rodriguez than to Frank Miller.

    2. Of those movies, I've seen only "Battlefield Earth," which was indeed terrible but rather fun-terrible. Not rewatchably-fun-terrible, though. (Whole different subset - one of these days I will spelunk them all.)

      The two most recently viewed candidates for epic-levels-of-terrible for me have been "Red, White and Blue" and "The Paperboy." (Worst NES adaptation ever!)