Elektra - First Series
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artists: Mike Deodato Jr (p), Deodato Studios (i)
PLOT: Elektra is offered a chance to bring her father back to life. All she has to do is kill an immortal being who's trying to possess a new body. Plus, a rematch with Bullseye leaves a young girl in Elektra's care. There's also Dr. Strange, a big fight with some no-name villains, and it all ends with a guy in a woman's body. I wish I were making this up.
Since a new Elektra series has just launched, I thought it might be worth looking at the first 'Elektra' series. Published from 1996 to 1998, this was the last major project from then hot artist Mike Deodato Jr. Yep, the same guy who's work on 'Wonder Woman' was almost universally reviled by right-thinking fans, and who went on to challenge Jim Balent for the title of "Horniest Artist Ever", was given the job of drawing Marvel's first "bad girl".
At least his 'Jade Dragon' series has been a bomb. Proof positive that there is justice in the universe.
Peter Milligan wrote the series, before going to Vertigo and his short-lived series 'Minx'. He's now writing the interesting new 'X-Force'. I've seen enough of 'Minx' and 'X-Force' to wonder if 'Elektra' was written by the same Peter Milligan.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I wanted to read these issues again before I read the new series. I didn't want the new book to make the old one seem worse than it already was. (If that's even possible.)
Anyway, let's get down to it, issue by issue.
#1: Elektra is sponsoring a dojo where she sends young crooks in an attempt to straighten out their life. She agrees to do a modern dance production to raise money for the Dojo. Meanwhile, she's beginning to feel something stalking her in the dark. Wolverine appears as a follow-up to a story from his book. Stick's ghost, (I think it's his ghost), follows Elektra around doing the "Yoda as a crotchety old man" thing. Finally, Bullseye shows up for a rematch.
The problem with superhero books is their inherent ridiculousness. I mean, the concepts many characters are based on are so over the top to begin with that it's difficult to do a story with emotional depth, personal conflict, or any other complex character issues that are traditionally the antithesis to the whole genre. Once the stories cross a certain line, almost anything that attempts to be serious just sound silly. I realized this when Elektra found the two masters of her dojo attacked by Bullseye. One of them says the following:
"He's going to kill you again, Elektra. Only this time...he's going to make sure you stay dead..."
I'll give even odds that line will be spoken in an upcoming "Austin Powers" movie. Really, it's laughable! This is why dead characters should stay dead! Not just to give the life of the character more meaning, but to prevent the writing of dumb lines like that!
Despite that little stumble, Milligan does a good job of creating mood. Elektra comes across as a woman trying to redeem herself. Problem is, it's hard to take her seriously when Deodato keeps drawing her, and every other woman, like a fantasy babe.
#2: Elektra and Bullseye beat each other up. Elektra wins only by forgetting her training, and letting her self go. Unfortunately, she accidentally kills a man nearby, right in front of his daughter. She also finds Bullseye wearing a necklace she made and gave to her father years ago.
OK. We see some of Bullseye's childhood, that's good. But he's drawn like Venom, before he became a tongue and ten claws. That's bad. It's impossible not to compare the art here to the art of Klaus Janson, but I don't think such comparisons are unfair. The qualities the characters had under Janson's pencils are sadly lacking here. He drew Bullseye and Elektra as lean, muscular people. Deodato doesn't even make them look human! Bullseye just looks like a big, drooling monster. And Elektra's waist is so small, it's almost non-existent. It's like her body is an optical illusion, with her legs and torso both reaching infinitely to some theoretical vanishing point.
I think Elektra looked sexier in her first appearances. Her body language was smoother, more fluid, and more natural. She had a certain grace and power that is sorely lacking here. Here, her breasts are too big, her legs too long, and she wears a lot of useless bands on her arms and legs. (Obviously, I am a member of an ever shrinking minority of comic book fans.)
I'm beginning to think Milligan was wasted on this book. It's a strange experience to read a comic where the writer is superior to the artist.
#3: The Architect announces his presence to Elektra via a club full of burning people, all under his mental command. They tell her that soon, many assassins will be converging on NYC. Meanwhile, Nina, the traumatized girl who's dad Elektra accidentally killed, escapes from the hospital and immediately gets picked up by some aspiring gangsters.
One flaw in Milligan's writing is beginning to appear: Elektra sounds too American for someone born and raised in Greece. Her dialogue is too casual, relaxed, even downright flippant. It doesn't quite fit with her "fighting dark, inner demons" persona.
Nina's grandparents show up vowing to take her home. The cops who speak to them act like the grandparents are too stifling. All they say is, "She'll be better once we get her home and give her plenty of loving", which sounds like the kind of thing a redneck says about his wife. What about that sentence means "overbearing" or "suffocating"?
On a side note, this comic has a three-page article about the Marvel/Top Cow crossover, "Devil's Reign". Did anybody read that? It says that Warren Ellis wrote the 'Ghost Rider/Ballistic' issue, and I know Elektra was involved. Is it worth reading? Should I buy it cheap on e-bay? Damn my weakness for crossovers!
#4: Nina moves herself in with Elektra, the Architect appears as a Sadhu in India, and Elektra sees the first of many battles among assassins. Dr. Strange shows up in a very smooth red overcoat and agrees to look into this Architect. Finally, the big 'A' himself shows up with an offer: He will let Elektra speak with her dead father, if she kills the Architect.
OK, lemme explain the plot: Architect is going to transfer his mind into a new body. But his old body will fight as hard as it can to stay alive. So he needs the world's best assassin to kill him, thus allowing his rebirth. He went to Bullseye first, and now Elektra. I'm not sure how the other assassins playing 'Highlander' fits into all this. Maybe it's a single elimination tournament of killers.
Again, Elektra looks too damn sexy to be taken seriously. Everything stretches or fits tight on her, even a sweatshirt. I do, however, like Dr. Strange's look. The long coat is a nice yet natural change from his usual ornate cape. I wonder how good his Marvel Knights mini-series was?
#5: Half way there folks! Elektra has fourteen days to consider the Architect's offer. Meanwhile, more assassins, like Taskmaster, Bushwhacker, and Razorfist, arrive in NYC. Even Blacklash comes out of retirement hoping this job will be his last. Also, Mac Stewart, one of the dojo's senseis, confesses his growing love for Elektra.
First thing you notice is every woman in this comic is drawn and dressed like a babe! I'm serious! There are no average-looking women in this book. They're all busty, tight assed, short-skirted, tiny-waisted pin-up girls. Mr. Deodato has some serious issues.
Elektra's becoming less of a dark and conflicted person, and more like Jennifer Lopez, (I ain't callin' her J.Lo. Nope. No way. Uh-uh.) Again, this the fault of the body language, tight clothes, and casual modes of speech. But Milligan makes up for this with the subtle signs of Nina's inner pain. She can only hide it for so long. Nice touch.
In the end, Elektra turns down the Architect's offer, in a standard monologue-in-the-rain sequence. Really, the minute she opens her mouth, you know what her answer's going to be.
#6: Elektra fights Razorfist, the Architect comes to NYC, and Elektra's musical has a great opening.
I'm running out of new things to say about this book. I'd like to point out that the cop, Morrissey, doesn't look the same as he did when he first appeared in issue #4. And this is the first time that Stewart looks like an African-American. Before he looked Asian, or white. Ah, blame it on Hypertime. Let's move on . . .
#7: Every assassin in the Marvel universe fights each other for the chance to kill the Architect, who's put a hit out on himself. Blacklash gets his wife killed, and geos on a mini-rampage. Meanwhile, Konrad Weiss, the director of Elektra's show, maeks a deal with the Architect.
Let me point out that this issue picks up where the last one leaves off. #6 ended with Elektra going out in costume. Here, it begins with her in regular clothes. That bit of continuity out of the way, we move on.
Blacklash's breakdown is tearful, sudden, and a little heart breaking. Kudos to Milligan. The fights among the assassins are too short. There's very little sense of movement or speed here. I'm not sure how to describe it. It's like the fights are a series of pictures that you know to be connected, but there is no real sense of . . . flow. Imagine a movie where every other 2-minute block is removed. Wait, they've done that in "Tomb Raider". Okay, it's like the action in "Tomb Raider".
Since making my Lopez comparison, I'm starting to imagine her as Elektra. Honestly, I could see her play Elektra in a movie. It would suck big time, but I could see it.
#8: Finally, it all comes to an end. The Architect arranges for Elektra to kill him during her show. Dr. Strange finds the Architect's new vessel, and Konrad Weiss gets a sex change operation.
First of all, Strange and Elektra find a sixteen-year-old girl impregnated by the Architect. She's going to give birth to his new "vessel". The girl's name is Mary, (get it? Apparent virgin birth, Mary? Hey, I don't mind a little blasphemous humor, so long as it's intelligent and funny, like "Life of Brian"), but looks exactly like Nina. It seems like Mary gives birth within a day of finding out she's pregnant. Are supposed to assume the Architect accelerated her pregnancy, or what? And when the baby is born, he's described as "an empty shell", (by nurses without pupils in their eyes). Does that mean he's dead, or just gives off a really creepy feeling?
During the show, the Architect switches bodies with Konrad, leaving him as a woman, (who also looks like Nina). I find that to be just plain weird, if not unnecessary. Does Konrad come back later in the series? Did Milligan plan to do a sub-plot with Konrad learning how hard it is to be a woman in a man's world? And was Knorad gay? It was never mentioned explicitly, but there were a couple of little things here and there that made me wonder.
Elektra decides to start killing people again, saying, "There are people out there the world wouldn't miss". Excuse me, but after all she's been through, after seeing a girl go crazy after her father's death, after all the violence and killings brought on by the assassins, and everything else that came from the Architect seeking death, wouldn't she have a greater appreciation for life? Wouldn't she come away saying, "After all this time, I gave in to my dark nature. I broke the promise I made to myself. This time I had no choice. Next time I will?"
Finally, I was left with the impression that Stick is still alive. Is he? Can I get confirmation on this? I don't want to go buying up old 'Daredevil's' just to find out, especially the ones by Scott McDaniel. Not pretty.
So, final verdict: The story started out strong, but got a little sloppy at the end. The art retained a consistent level of quality: bad. Normally, I'd give it but for the fact that this is supposed to be Elektra. Having read her first appearances by Frank Miller, and the 'Assassin' mini-series, I can honestly say that this is not Elektra Natchios. Anyone else, fine. Elektra, no.
So if you're going to pick the new series from Bendis, or the trade paperback collection of Miller, and you find yourself wondering, "What was that first 'Elektra' series like?", now you know.
It kinda sucked.
(Oh, and by the way, I have read an issue of 'Jade Dragon'. Too much Freudian imagery for my taste.)
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