A reviewer could run out of breath just saying the name of this book out loud…
With the Chris Samnee “Daredevil” Artist’s Edition due out any day now, I thought I’d dig this review back up. Written in the summer of 2012, this is my review of the “Daredevil: Born Again” Artist’s Edition. Originally presented across two columns, this review has been pieced back together with new images, a couple new sections, and (embarrassingly enough) a couple of typos I missed the first time.
Now I’m saving up my pennies for the “Marvel Covers: The Modern Era” book. (Just look at those covers!) And still hoping the Carl Barks Artist’s Edition book someday comes through… Stay ’til the end and I’ll have a question for you.
DAVID MAZZUCCHELLI’S “DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN” ARTIST’S EDITION
When the “Daredevil: Born Again Artist’s Edition” (IDW, $125) arrived at my doorstep, my three year old daughter wanted to open it right away. She was impressed that a book could be that large and that heavy. I opened up the box for her and she hefted the thing up as high as she could. It’s literally half her size. This is not a book you’re reading on the airplane en route to a convention. You wouldn’t want to buy one there, either. Imagine lugging this through the aisles for the afternoon! If you’re flying home, the airline will probably charge you $50 to bring it home. Be careful.
Like any “Absolute” edition, you need to sit at a table and examine it like a classic manuscript dug out of a back room using white gloves.
Perhaps I’m overselling it, but these books are just that impressive. And large. “Born Again” is 200 pages measuring 12 by 17 inches.
If you’re looking for a fast read, this is not the format you want. Any Artist’s Edition (“AE”, for short) will slow you up. It’s not possible to just flip through the pages, scan the caption boxes and word balloons, and keep moving. There’s not a page in this collection that you won’t stop to stare and marvel at. So many of the artist’s tricks are impossible to hide at this size. It’s an education to read an AE.
It starts on the inside front cover, with an image spread across the two pages of Daredevil stepping on some snowy wires, his weight bending them out towards the reader. As a small panel inside the story, it’s a nifty little image, but seen at full AE book size in black and white, your eye starts picking out the details to see how it’s done and to find details you just never noticed before. Specifically, Mazzucchelli uses either White-Out or some kind of white paint/correction fluid across the tops of those wire lines to mimic the snow. It’s a trick that shouldn’t make any sense, yet it does, even in (relatively speaking) black and white. It’s not just negative space for its own sake. It adds width or depth to the place where Daredevil is running by blocking out a thin line of the background to show how there’s more there in the foreground. Mazzucchelli doesn’t draw the snow. He just blanks out the space it occupies and lets the surrounding art and the reader’s imagination do the rest. The effect is even stronger where streaks of white paint simulate the driving snow fall.
You also get a better sense of the third dimension in Mazzucchelli’s art. Shown this big, the way Daredevil’s body twists a little bit and his limbs poke out and recede back are much more apparent. The ink line width differences help that, too. Seen at regular page size, it’s almost cartoonish how the ink lines vary in size. But at this size, you get a better idea of the more subtle aspects of those lines. Maybe it’s the better printing or the larger size or just the lack of color, but you see so much more here.
In some places, it’s definitely the bigger size. Mazzucchelli uses lots of background screen patterns in the book. In the final comic, it makes for a fuzzy gray area, with some occasional moire patterns. Seen at full size, it’s a more elaborate shading pattern. You noticed where it’s cut out and how it interfaces with the artwork to help the foregrounds pop out better. In that way, an AE is a great class for wannabe artists.
The surprise bonus in this book is the half dozen vellum inserts. Those are the clear layer of art that goes on top of a page in the days before compositing in Photoshop was easier to do. To put it in Photoshop terms, Vellum is the layers. Letterers would sometimes work on vellum overlays to help speed up production, too. They could letter while the inker did his or her job. A colorist could use that extra layer to determine which colors to hold (i.e. which black lines to draw in with color). It’s a fun bit of production work to see today, and a nice bonus that adds to the value of the book. At the end of the book, there’s a note that Mazzucchelli used the overlays throughout the book, but they didn’t survive. Judging by the notes in the margins of the art, it looks like just under half the pages in the mini-series had these overlays, though that number drops in the middle.
And that’s the rub. It’s the one part of this book I’m most interested to see the reaction to once the book gets in more hands. Some people are bound to be disappointed that those vellums are lost to the ages, because it means there are moments of missing art in the book. There are panels, for example, where the background drawings of New York City skyscrapers are missing. Sometimes, they’re off behind closer buildings. Sometimes, they’re seen through windows. In the original printings of the book, they were solid blues or reds. Those were obviously done on these missing vellums. In this AE, they’re just gone, white spaces on the page.
Their loss didn’t bother me as I read it. It’s a trade-off. I prefer the final look of this book in black and white to the full color original comics and their subsequent reprintings, as a rule. The explosion at the end of the first issue, for example, looks more impressive when you’ve dropped the coloring work. Maybe a modern coloring style would improve the readability and drama of the art, but I’m happy with the black and white.
I think a lot of the coloring in the issues in the primary reds and blues don’t do the book any favors. I understand why they’re there and how they’re working to tell the story and the printing limitations of the time, but I never felt lost reading this book for the first time in just black and white. It was only by looking at my copy of the “Born Again” trade paperback for the story that I see the differences now.
It’s obviously more than just missing color in this case. It’s technically missing pieces of the art. In some cases, they would be nice to have. There’s a very noir shadow cast past Matt Murdock at his desk in one early scene that’s missing in the AE. It’s just a blank white area where the art doesn’t exist anymore. It’s negative space. If you didn’t know it was missing, you’d never notice it wasn’t there. It’s more obvious when characters walk in front of windows that are large blank white squares, but even then I took it as a compromise of the format and looked past it. Some purists might disagree.
In other words, original art fiends are having a second computer lettering moment here, where a bit of production work means a less complete page of original art. Most Marvel/DC art hasn’t had hand lettering drawn on it for a decade or more now. Any AE that might come out of a more recent work would need to recomposite the digital files on top of the pristine black and white artboard work to create a readable story. Heck, I wonder if any other previous AE had similar issues? Did John Workman ever provide overlays of his lettering on “Thor”? Or did they just cut and paste word balloons onto the art? With “Born Again,” the missing vellums represent missing art. Will that bother the serious collectors?
I hope not, but this is the internet. There’s a complaint for everyone.
Mazzucchelli’s art is beautiful at any size, though I doubt you’d be surprised to hear I think it looks best here. He has a way of drawing New York City of that era that feels authentic. I could pull out panels of his cityscapes and fill this column with how natural they feel, and how of the period they are. From the random strangers on the sidewalks to the taxi-filled streets and the grimy and decrepit buildings, Mazzucchelli shows a real feel for the city. And I love all the extra work he put into the pages with various tone effects. They have to be seen at this original size to truly appreciate them.
His art style, in general, shifts a lot in the course of the book. Some pages look ripped out of the Miller era of the title, while others hew pretty closely to Gene Colan’s line. Then things change again, and characters suddenly look like completely different people. Photo reference starts popping up in the book, to the point where the final page slips into the Uncanny Valley where Greg Land dwells. There’s also a quality to his ink line that reminds me a lot of Miller and Klaus Janson’s. I’m not sure I can put a finger on the technique being used to describe it, but it appears most frequently with the nurse character that Kingpin sends after Urich. She looks like someone stepping out of “Sin City”.
Next to Matt, Ben Urich undergoes the biggest change, morphing into a caricature of himself as he finds himself deeper in trouble. I’m not sure whether to believe that this is Mazzucchelli attempting to mirror Urich’s internal conflict with an external art change, or whether it’s a simplification of the art in an attempt to hit his deadlines. I tend to think it’s the latter, as Urich isn’t alone in this, and Glorianna O’Breen (ya think she’s Irish?) has some major changes along the way, like Mazzucchelli’s model moved on to a better paying gig halfway through the run.
Mazzucchelli’s storytelling is beyond reproach, though. I was never lost in the story at all. The layouts are fairly straightforward grids of varying sizes, which Mazzucchelli mixes up as he goes along. Whether it’s a pair of bold action panels filling up a page or a series of quick looking smaller panels to expand out a small movement of some kind, the sequential storytelling stuff is never a problem, even on a larger page size which can sometimes illuminate or put the spotlight on any larger storytelling problem. Your eyes are confidently led along the way.
Because this is an Artist’s Edition, it’s natural that most of this review talks about the art. But I also see a lot of Frank Miller on these pages, perhaps owing to that close working relationship between Miller and Mazzucchelli. Or, it could be Miller’s shadow still hanging over the character and the series after his legendary run.
Miller’s narration and dialogue is hitting its stride in this book. There’s a sweet spot in his writing that hit between the late 80s and early 90s. His sentence structure got so staccato and so rhythmical by the time of the third “Sin City” story that it became the subject of better satire than mimicking. Here, though, it works well. It flows more naturally; when a character starts speaking in two word sentences and two sentence caption boxes, it feels like a purposeful change of pace, and not like a stylistic crutch used to define a world. Miller got hung up in that world after “Sin City” and still hasn’t seemed to get out of it.
Here, though, the sharp pointy sentences are reserved for moments of higher drama. During a fight, Daredevil isn’t thinking to himself in florid legal prose. He’s thinking as fast as his body is moving. And even when his thoughts ramble on, it’s done in short increments, with lots of caption boxes separated by double-dashes.
One of the more impressive things Miller does in the series – and it’s something Mazzucchelli points out in his introduction – is to introduce Daredevil’s origin in every issue. In modern times, this hardly seems necessary. If you don’t know it by the first issue, recap it there and move on. But Miller returns to it. It’s tough for me to tell just how much of that is the writing style of the day and how much of it is Miller pounding home all of Matt Murdock’s worries and problems, starting from his original damage. It’s possible to tell a Batman story without hammering home Thomas and Martha Wayne’s death every 20 pages. It’s tough to tell a Daredevil story without harping on the sensory perception issues and how it shapes his world. That said, Miller breezes through it every issue without dragging the story down.
Ultimately, “Born Again” is exactly what the title is about: stripping the character down, taking everything away, and then watching him rebuild. It’s an angle Miller is pretty good at. He gets a good opportunity here to lay waste to Matt Murdock, and then give the character enough drive and ambition to battle back from it all to beat the bad guy, win the girl, and save the day.
Miller works all the angles. Matt has IRS issues, loses his home, loses his career, loses his friends, and winds up penniless on the streets. Then Miller paints Murdock into more corners to the point where he’s losing his mind, gets stabbed, and then is trapped in a car that’s dumped into the river, presumably to drown. And it’s at that last moment that things turn around, with a knowing look from Matt Murdock and an adrenaline-boosting caption box to get things going.
Yes, it breaks the chains of believability in many ways. You have to buy into this. You have to accept the pattern Miller is riffing on here, like you do with so many action movies where the lead character is dragged down only to magically will himself into getting better enough to take down the villain. If you can’t do that, you likely will think this book is so much macho claptrap.
The only part of the story that I didn’t buy into was near the end. The war between Matt Murdock and the Kingpin escalates into Matt Murdock versus the evil and vicious military-industrial governmental complex. That battle is personified in the form of Nuke. Miller’s not subtle. We’ve always known that. He takes the bull by the horns, shouts out his every story point, and then runs the bull through the China shop. But “Born Again” features a tool of the military with a one-dimensional pro-American slant that attempts to portray fanatical patriotism with a flag painted on the character’s face, and magical pills in red, white, and blue. To a certain degree, this is on the level of juvenile pablum. It’s unsophisticated and too blunt. But, then, this is a superhero comic book from 1985. Was I expecting too much?
The plotting is exceptional, as well. Miller juggles a lot of plots over the course of the book. Every character has a story, and they all come crashing together at the end. Along the way, not everything gets wrapped up in a neat bow, but these issues were part of an on-going series. Miller left some choice bits for the next writer to expand on. The biggest and most obvious one, to me, is the revelation of Daredevil’s mother. Miller never comes out and says that that nun is Matt’s mother, but the implication hits you pretty hard over the head. There’s so much other stuff going on in the book, though, that it’s dropped quickly to get to the big action-packed climactic finale.
Miller had a lot to say about patriotism in Reagan-era America. It came out again in “The Dark Knight Returns” not too long after this. This is all of a piece. People loved this kind of work back then, even as they now they dislike Miller for this kind of work as his politics seem to have shifted.
And that’s the sound of my email inbox exploding with political responses. Ah, election years…
So let’s balance that out with the deafening sound of silence I always get for mentioning lettering:
Lettering, more than any other part of the creation of a comic book, is half art and half production. It seems to be prone to the most visible mistakes along the assembly line, even after the fact. That’s particularly true of the pre-computerized age of lettering. You see it in a few spots of this book, where a blue pencil line points to a word in a balloon with a correction notice off in the margin. Then you’ll see how the correction was made, usually by doing a new bit of lettering on another page of art board and gluing it on top of the mistake. In print, you don’t see the lines where that patch was glued down. In a book like this, you see it.
Usually, it’s obvious, though. As amazingly precise as comic book letterers can be, asking them to draw the same sentence at two completely different times will often result in noticeable differences in style. Sometimes, it’s a function of the production and not wanting to have to redraw the whole balloon. Words get squeezed into spaces they have no business being in. Other times, the letterer is just in a different state of mind or physical being, e.g. when a tired hand makes a correction to a word balloon originally drawn with a well-rested hand. There’s a different there you can see.
And, then, of course, there are the times when the correction is done in-house. The Marvel Bullpen would make the correction, saving another FedEx bill and time lost with pages in transit. In that case, quality inevitably suffers. The lettering style shifts around a lot, and you’d have to be blind not to see it.
It’s fun to see the range of errors that showed up in these pages. I don’t mean to be tough on Joe Rosen. From the original art I’ve seen in general, it’s not uncommon for words to go missing, to miss getting bolded, to have a tail pointing at the wrong character with a piece of dialogue that’s so expository or vaguely generic that anyone could have said it, or to just lose a vowel along the way. Every creator is only human.
But I laughed when there were corrections in different chapters of the credits for Mazzucchelli’s last name and recently retired editor Ralph Macchio’s last name. Those double-C’s were confusing. Go ahead and laugh. Then spell vacuum without thinking about it. One “c” or two?
Why was it that suddenly, in a later chapter, the creator credits were done not by hand but rather with some pre-printed font? Just a test? I’m not sure what tools were available in 1985 at Marvel, but I bet it wasn’t someone going to Print Shop and printing something out on a laser printer. It looks better than that.
There are a lot of sound effects to enjoy throughout the book. Rosen’s hand lettering keeps everything feeling dynamic and hand-crafted. There’s a page or two of action carried solely by the art and the sound effects, with no dialogue. Rosen makes it work. He also does a great job on the blacked out panels where the words carry more than just the dialogue, but also the whole story. Those large block letters show us how loud the words much have sounded to the newly-blinded Matt Murdock.
Every little decision counts and adds up to something. Here’s a good example of that:
From more of an art and craft perspective, I saw the White Out surrounding the border of a caption box. It wasn’t necessary, and someone took the time to remove it. It’s such a small thing. It’s a caption box in a blank white space surrounding Matt Murdock. But it would stick out. Having it float out on its own looks ten times better. And they — Macchio? Rosen? Mazzucchelli? — made sure it did.
BOOK DESIGN AND EXTRAS
The book has some nice bonuses, including a two page introduction from Mazzucchelli, himself, to help set the stage for how the book came together and how he and Miller worked on it, plus a few of the original pages in color form to show you how the overlays worked, albeit shown in thumbnail size (relatively-speaking). Some of the examples I’m showing you here are also included in that section.
Mazzucchelli’s introduction was a key piece of my understanding for the book, though. In reading the issue, I saw a lot of Miller’s influence on Mazzuchelli’s storytelling and art. I wasn’t sure if Miller did layouts or not. He didn’t. The two worked extremely close together, though, so there’s some bleedthrough in either direction. (I love how Miller helped Mazzucchelli out of a deadline crunch. He wrote a script that needed no art for five pages, and it worked perfectly for the story. This is the same sequence I talked about in the lettering section above. Being a book about a blind man, the all-black pages worked beautifully for the story.)
Some more recent (2007) Mazzucchelli Daredevil drawings appear between chapters in the book. They’re done in a completely different style from the rest of the book, so they’re a bit off note. They’re nice to see, but they feel more like Mark Waid’s “Daredevil” era than than “Born Again.”
I suspect those pin-ups are there to help pagination, which is something the trade paperback didn’t bother considering. There are no double page splashes in the book, so you might argue that it doesn’t matter. I have to think, though, that the left side page reveals were often carefully considered by Miller and Mazzucchelli. Those kinds of details aren’t left to chance. In that way, this AE is a better representation of the material. (I don’t know how the ad pages spaces out in the original comics, but I know that Page One of any comic of the era is always a right side page. The trade paperback misses that, and the AE works to nail that detail down.)
As with most of the Artist’s Edition books, the design is by Randall Dahlk. It’s great work. The Table of Contents are superimposed perfectly on a map of Manhattan, right in the Hell’s Kitchen section. Smart and clever. The front cover’s logo is spot varnished. The chosen art for the title pages and the insider cover spreads all look great. As a nice bonus touch, there’s a little bit of braille on the cover. And, yes, it is raised. I believe it says “Daredevil.”
Physically, the pages are stitched in tight, including the Vellum overlays. Even four years after buying the book and flipping through it heavily on occasions, I’ve had no problems with pages coming loose or even threatening to. I do recommend storing these Artist’s Edition books flat, though. That should cut down on the wear and tear on the spine.
“Daredevil Born Again” is a great read, accomplished by a group of creators doing some very strong work together. The new “Artist’s Edition” version of it is, to my eye, the best looking way to read it. Getting rid of the dated coloring and being able to see all the little details that go into producing the art by seeing pages at original size is glorious. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but it’s worth every penny. It’s available today from IDW..
It is asking a lot for $125 for a seven issue comic book collection, but the format and the scope of this project is impressive enough to warrant the price. This book won’t be for everyone. For original art fans, for process junkies, for Mazzucchelli adherents, and for fans of exceptional comic book packaging, it’s a worthy addition to their collections. If you just want to read Frank Miller’s follow-up to his legendary “Daredevil” run, pick up Marvel’s trade and enjoy. This book is something different than that, and something wonderful.
AN OPEN QUESTION TO THOSE WHO MADE IT THIS FAR
Let’s pretend the Comic Gods gave you a birthday present. It’s a coupon for one free Artist’s Edition book from IDW. Which one do you cash it in for, and why? (For the sake of this argument, let’s say all the volumes are currently in print, with all the cover combinations.)
SHARE THIS ON PINTEREST
And, if you’re a Pinterest type of person, here’s probably the best way to share this article: