Trouble with Comics, David Mazzucchelli Daredevil: Born Again Artist's Edition

David Mazzucchelli Daredevil: Born Again Artist’s Edition

There’s one page in this magnificent volume that has a caption that says something like “This single page is the only one in this book not reproduced from the original art.” It’s a cover image of reporter Ben Urich, made small in his terror, having been brutally attacked and his hand broken by an enormous, evil nurse sent by the kingpin.

Somehow the presentation of the book is made more pure by the upfront admission that one page out of so many here isn’t reproduced from the original art. “Who cares?” I thought to myself, admiring the art of that page nonetheless. “The rest of it is, and it’s incredible.”

It’s possible you weren’t there when Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli seized the reins of Daredevil after a long spell that had its ups and downs but never reached the heights Miller and artistic partner Klaus Janson reached in issues #168-181. When we (the readers) found out Miller was returning to write a few more issues starting with #227, we were disappointed Miller would not also be drawing and Janson would not be inking. That disappointment was gone by the end of Miller and Mazzucchelli’s first issue of the Born Again storyline, because it was clear that Mazzucchelli was more than up to the task of illustrating this story; it was clear that it was something he was born to do.

And Mazzucchelli had already been around a while, too, that’s the amazing thing, looking back. If you pick up the Daredevil TPB “Loves Labors Lost,” you’ll see how awkward Mazzucchelli’s art was when he first came on the title, and you’ll see how amazingly quickly he developed some serious chops. In his introduction to IDW’s Artist’s Edition of Born Again (a seven issue storyline plumbing the psychological depths of both Daredevil and his arch-enemy during Miller’s run, The Kingpin), Mazzucchelli, now long-removed from superhero drawing, reflects honestly and in detail about his skill-level in those days, who influenced him (primarily Gene Colan), how he met Miller, and what their working relationship on this masterpiece was like.

It may be heresy, but I don’t think there’s a better story ever created for Marvel Comics than Born Again. That’s why this Artist’s Edition has been so eagerly anticipated by me — as I said to my son last night, driving home from the comic shop, it’s like having every page of original art of the very best comic book ever, and I can look at it whenever I want, for the rest of my life. So IDW and David Mazzucchelli and Scott Dunbier and Chris Ryall and whoever else made this happen? I am seriously grateful for your work in making this book a reality. Thank you.

I’ll be honest and tell you, in unpacking this giant book from its cardboard box and laying it out, I didn’t re-read every word Miller wrote. Not this time, although I may in the future. But the truth is, I have read this story at least 50 times since it was originally published, and I almost know it by heart. No, seeing this Artist’s Edition for the first time, I just wanted to take in the art, and I did. A number of things stood out as I went slowly through the pages:

* The overlays. Oh, my God, the overlays. If any pre-publication publicity mentioned them, I didn’t notice it. Much of the original art had vellum overlays for the purposes of colour holds, so the images of the art for those pages was combined in layers to create a single final image. Most of the overlays, we learn in the text, have been lost. But a handful remain, apparently, and IDW faithfully reproduces the technique. So we get maybe half a dozen pages with vellum overlays, which is just an extraordinary added value, in my mind. It’s a way of deepening the sense of examining the original art, as well as allowing the reader enormous insight into both Mazzucchelli’s artistic process and the reproduction challenges of the era (the 1980s). Gorgeous.

* Individual panels always memorable in the comic book now stand revealed, uncoloured and with no veil of bad reproduction between the reader and the art. Matt Murdock sleeping in the trash, his life ruined. The flirtatious look in the eyes of Matt Murdock’s ex-girlfriend as she gets ever closer to his best friend Foggy. The rooftop meeting between Matt and Captain America. The astonishing way Mazzucchelli presented Cap, Thor and Iron Man, reminiscent of how Alan Moore and Steve Bissette and John Totleben presented the Justice League in Swamp Thing: as gods among men.

* The covers. Mazzucchelli’s design sense and ability to bring his vision to life on the page are just astonishing. His covers for Born Again were absolutely masterful. The image IDW chose for the cover of the volume, which was originally thrown away on an issue of Marvel Age (a cheesy self-promotion pamphlet Marvel was publishing in the ’80s), is my all-time favourite Daredevil illustration, and its repurposing as the cover of this volume is further proof that this book was actually, specifically designed to make me deliriously happy.

The greatest thing about the month-by-month release of Born Again in comic book form was that, like with just a few other comics in the 1980s (Moore’s Swamp Thing, Chaykin’s American Flagg, Simonson’s Thor, Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets), we knew, at the time, how very lucky we were to be getting regular fixes of such incredible comics. Comics that elevated and transcended the industry that they came out of. Comics that changed minds and altered lives and set destinies. People became writers and artists and retailers and critics because they were so mesmerized by the quality and the level of entertainment that they experienced — take it from me, I was just barely an adult when Born Again was originally published, and I had no idea at all that a superhero comic book story could be so good, could reward so many re-readings. After Born Again, I wondered why they all couldn’t achieve their goals so easily, so wonderfully. 

Decades on, I realize that it takes a hugely unlikely intersection of talent, ambition, opportunity and luck to make comics as memorable and unique as Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again. It is given its best possible presentation in IDW’s new Artist’s Edition, made new again by letting us see and feel what Miller and Mazzucchelli accomplished in the most intimate and immediate manner imaginable. Yes, one single page is not reproduced from the original art. Who cares? The rest of it is, and it is incredible.

Alan David Doane 

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