Sunday, August 16, 2015

Elektra Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz

This "graphic novel" was originally an eight issue mini-series published by Epic (Marvel's mature reader imprint) back in 1986. At the time I thought it was merely "good" but on later re-readings I think it is revolutionary in terms of the artwork of Bill Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz started his career as one of many artists imitating Neal Adams art style and evolved into a truly unique artist doing comics in an impressionistic style. This series was his breakout for that style.


Elecktra was introduced in Frank Miller's Daredevil run. When this series was announced, we were all excited to see what would happen to her after Miller left the series - she was in particularly strange state. As the series got closer to release, we discovered this story would take place in the past, before Elektra re-entered Daredevil's life. How strange! But it was actually much more interesting without being tied down to Matt Murdock. 

Elektra and John Garrett

The first issue is very hallucinogenic, where Elektra is trapped inside a mental hospital. I found this very confusing the first time, on subsequent re-reads it was more clear how she came to be there. It is unique in that the entire narration in this issue is from Elektra herself. In issue 2, this continues until the best supporting character ever comes, along, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent John Garrett, who is the Six Million Dollar Man times 100 with an addiction to alcohol. Then after issue 2, the point of view is entirely Garrett. As if to say that Elektra is such a superhuman force of nature, she's best seen through the eyes of someone else.

You get a lot more insight into Elektra in this series. I do think it pays off better if you re-read Miller's Daredevil run beforehand. We figure out more of the timeline in her early training, how that happened before college, and how she got to the Hand after her father's death. She has many more ninja powers than she ever displayed in Daredevil: killing with her voice, catching bullets, and mind control. You have to wonder how Bullseye ever got the better of her in Daredevil #181, or how Daredevil himself lasted more than a minute. Despite those powers, Elektra isn't invincible, the Beast is able to exploit her weaknesses several times in this story.

Sienkiewicz Elektra splash

The first half of the story takes place in a fictional South American country where Elektra has been dispatched to kill a politician. In doing so she runs across the Beast, yep, a biblical reference there, but someone from the Hand as well. The Beast can jump between bodies so he's hard to kill, and he wants nothing less than to trigger a nuclear apocalypse. Garrett becomes Elektra's pawn in helping to stop him. One of my favorite action sequences involves an underwater fight between Elektra/Garrett and a squad of ninjas and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The second half of the story shifts to the United States where we get some cameo appearances from Nick Fury.

Having re-read this again I know why no one has been able to write a good Elektra series since 1986. Nobody can write like Frank Miller, period, but also no one can do a Tour de Force art job like Sienkiewicz. Nuff Said!

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