WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel's The Defenders, available now on Netflix, and potential details about the third season of Daredevil, set to arrive next year.
Matt Murdock's friends and newfound allies may have mourned his loss in the closing moments of Marvel's The Defenders, but few viewers believed the Devil of Hell's Kitchen was actually dead, buried under tons of rubble. After all, Netflix ordered a third season of Daredevil last year. Nevertheless, the final scene was still surprising, not only for the questions it raised about how Matt survived the implosion of Midland Circle, who rescued him, and why, but also for the clues it may provide about where the character's own series is headed next.
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That scene, as we noted previously, is drawn directly from the pages of "Born Again," the 1986 Marvel Comics story arc by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli that's to Daredevil what their "Year One" is to Batman: a seminal, redefining, storyline that shaped virtually every depiction of the hero -- in comics, in film and on television -- that followed.
The original arc, which ran from Daredevil #227-231, marked a brief return to the character by Miller, who rose to prominence first as penciler of the series (beginning in 1979 with Issue 158) and then added writing to his duties (with 1981's Daredevil #168). Under Miller, the comic rose in popularity while exploring much darker themes and expanding Daredevil's cast and mythos with the introduction of such now-key elements as Elektra, Stick, the Hand and the Chaste. After building up the Man Without Fear, Miller left the series in 1983, only to return three years later to tear him down.
In "Born Again," Miller and Mazzucchelli reintroduce Karen Page, the former secretary for the Nelson & Murdock law firm, who at different times had been romantically involved with Matt and Foggy. Unable to cope with knowledge of Matt's secret identity, she left Daredevil, and New York City, some 14 years earlier to pursue an acting career, and in the interim became a supporting character in Ghost Rider. Although Karen met with brief success in Hollywood, the character we meet again in Daredevil #227 has seemingly reached rock bottom. Now a drug addict who makes porn in Mexico, a desperate Karen sells Matt's secret in exchange for a shot of heroin, information that finds its way to crime lord Wilson Fisk.
The Fall, and Rise, of Daredevil
In that opening issue, titled "Apocalypse," we're cautioned in narration that "Matt Murdock is also Daredevil. That's why his life is about to fall apart." That's not hyperbole, either, as within a handful of panels the first signs of Fisk's war on Matt appear through the mail slot: notifications that his bank hasn't received his mortgage payments, and that the IRS has frozen his finances. That's only the opening volley, however, as Matt is also accused of paying a witness to commit perjury. It quickly gets worse, though, as Kingpin demonstrates he's barely begun to dismantle Matt Murdock's life.
Under the watchful eye of Wilson Fisk, Matt begins to unravel and becomes increasingly reckless. He loses his money, his law license, his reputation and his home -- the latter not to the looming foreclosure, but rather to a suspicious explosion that leads him to immediately connect the conspiracy to Kingpin. Now homeless and penniless, Matt becomes increasingly paranoid and violent, and determined to exact revenge upon Fisk. When he confronts the architect of his downfall, Matt is beaten, drenched in whisky and left in a stolen taxi that's driven into the East River; the cab's owner is beaten to death by Matt's own billy club. It's intended to be the tragic final scene of Matt Murdock's life, but Kingpin's giddiness turns to rage, because when police do discover the cab, there's no corpse.
Even without benefit of the title "Born Again," the religious overtones of the arc are unmistakable. And despite the story being set at Christmas time, the themes are very much those of Easter: It's the "death" and resurrection of Matt Murdock, whose body disappears from its "tomb." The religious imagery is driven home by Mazzucchelli in his re-creation of the Pieta when Sister Maggie finds the badly injured Matt, and again in the panel that inspired the final scene of The Defenders.
Maggie, who's revealed to be Matt's estranged mother, nurses him back to health, both physically and mentally, at a local church, even as Kingpin becomes more obsessed with him and his whereabouts. After an initial attempt to lure Matt out of hiding with a Daredevil imposter, Fisk enlists deranged super-soldier Nuke to launch an all-out assault on Hell's Kitchen, which results in arguably the most iconic image in Daredevil comics history.
Nuke is defeated with the help of Captain America and the Avengers, and between a series of articles written by Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich and a wave of lawsuits, Wilson Fisk's public image as a legitimate businessman is left in tatters. Reunited with Karen Page, now clean and sober, Matt is seemingly content with his life.
How Could Born Again Influence Daredevil Season 3?
There are so many differences between the Netflix dramas and "Born Again" that a direct adaptation of that storyline is impossible: The Karen Page played by actress Deborah Ann Woll certainly isn't the same as her comic book counterpart; Ben Urich is dead; Wilson Fisk was brought to justice in Daredevil Season 1, but he retains immense power and influence even from behind bars.
But on The Defenders, we see Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as he struggles with what he views as an addiction to violence, and with the duality of his life. He spends the first half of the miniseries fighting the urge to put on the costume, and he initially resists efforts by his newfound allies, and his mentor Stick, to enlist him in the war against the Hand. This isn't his fight, Matt tries to convince himself. However, it is his city -- and, as he tells Karen before leaving for the assault on Midland Circle, it is his life. Matt Murdock is Daredevil; there's little changing that.
Matt's detainment by police, alongside Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, risks exposing his secret -- Misty Knight and her colleagues aren't exactly buying that he's simply their attorney, who happened to be found unconscious alongside them at a bloody crime scene. The district attorney's office and the NYPD are later so eager to gloss over the earth-shaking events of The Defenders that no reports are filed, likely meaning there's no paper trail that might link blind lawyer Matt Murdock to the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. However, there are plenty of witnesses, just within the police precinct where the heroes were detained, and their friends were kept in protective custody.
We're also left to wonder who, "officially," is believed to have died in the implosion of Midland Circle. Yes, officially, the building was unoccupied, but we know from the final scenes of The Defenders that searches were conducted for survivors. Were they looking for Matt Murdock or Daredevil? Both, or neither? Karen admits to Foggy she's can't report what happened, because "all it takes is for someone like me figuring out 'superhero, lawyer go missing at the same time.'"
Yes, all it takes is for someone like Karen, or like Wilson Fisk. So determined to exact revenge on Daredevil and Matt Murdock, both of whom played key roles in his downfall, the Kingpin would undoubtedly notice that his two nemeses disappeared at precisely the same time. He also has enough begrudging respect for his foe not to believe him dead without actually seeing a body. Even if Matt decides the city and the people he loves are somehow better off without him, and that he could be happy in a new life, out of costume, Wilson Fisk wouldn't permit that. Exposure of the "late" lawyer's secret, and the dismantling of his reputation and the lives of those he left behind, would certainly be in order. Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) has a rising legal career to lose. But Karen? Don't forget that she killed Fisk's right-hand man James Wesley, and it's hinted there are other dark secrets in her past.
If that's not enough to draw Matt out of hiding, then there's also Nuke, who was already introduced on the first season of Jessica Jones as Will Simpson. Played by Wil Traval, he used "Combat Enhancers" from a government program to enhance his strength and stamina in an effort to take down Kilgrave. In the process, however, he was transformed into a crazed murderer. Simpson, whether or not he's ever referred to as "Nuke," doesn't seem like a weapon the Netflix dramas will leave on the shelf for long.
The specific storyline of "Born Again" can't (and shouldn't) be repeated on Daredevil, but enough of the elements -- including the themes of death and resurrection, faith and reconciliation -- are in place for Season 3 to make their exploration unavoidable, even necessary. It's the next logical step for the story of Matt Murdock, and of Daredevil.
Available now on Netflix, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Finn Jones as Danny Rand, Elodie Yung as Elektra Natchios, Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, Eka Darville as Malcolm Ducasse, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth, Scott Glenn as Stick, Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple and Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing.