I’d group Elektra with fellow Marvel anti-hero The Punisher; they tend to do the right thing, but murder everyone in the process. Marvel Comics recently released a TPB version of this book that collects a whopping 20 issues of her series that began in 1996. Is it good?
Elektra: The Complete Collection (Marvel Comics)
So what’s it about? The official summary reads:
Join the deadly Elektra on the path to redemption! Her fateful first step will lead to the ultimate grudge match with the man who murdered her -the lethal marksman Bullseye! But when an ancient threat known as the Architect engineers a life-and-death competition, an army of assassins make their way to New York. It’s kill or be killed in a winner-takes-all contest that draws in Killer Shrike, Razor-Fist, Whiplash, Taskmaster and more! Can Elektra stop the madness -or will she take fi rst prize? Doctor Strange lends a mystic hand in a sai-and-sorcery epic! Plus, the fates of Elektra and Daredevil intertwine in the past and present, the American Samurai strikes, and Elektra wages war on the Hand in Japan!
Why does this book matter?
Collecting the 1996 series Eletra #1 through 19 and an additional issue #1, this series is a great way to check out Mike Deodato Jr.’s early work at Marvel. It’s also a pretty complete collection that tried its hardest to make Elektra stand more as a hero than an anti-hero.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This series takes up the character after her infamous murdering at the hands of Bullseye when he pierced her back with his sai. You can split this series into two arcs really, the first half focusing on Elektra attempting to stop her assassin ways and become a dancer and the second half throwing that out and killing again. Along the way writer Peter Milligan has Wolverine pop in as a sort of big brother, Daredevil must try to understand his romantic notions for a dead woman, and various ninjas and assassins come knocking on her door. There’s a strong attempt to humanize her, with captions that express her doubts and frustrations. Coming back from the dead has wiped her memory of how to interact with folks, which is a clever way of making her a teensy bit different in this book. She’s still incredibly physical and knows how to fight, but it creates interesting dynamics between her and the other characters.
Wow, this kinda dates the book. And doesn’t!
One of the more interesting story arcs within this volume includes Doctor Strange (who Deodato Jr. draws impeccably). An ancient god comes calling to Elektra and it involves murder. Problem is, if she does its bidding it could mean bad things for planet Earth. It’s a clever way to loop in Doctor Strange, but also make her conflict bigger than she’s usually used to.
Milligan also manages to make Elektra’s love life compelling. She ends up falling in love with a friend who also works at a dojo she attends, but when Daredevil realizes she’s alive things get complicated. There’s a fantastic arc that has Daredevil and Elektra teaming up to stop the American Samurai. His name may sound ridiculous, but he’s more anti-hero than villain as he’s fed up with criminals in America. The fight ends up going into Rikers where American Samurai intends to kill as many criminals as possible. Before that though, Daredevil and Elektra playfully hash out how they’ll tackle the guy, only for him to hear the whole thing and call them in already.
Writing wise, Larry Hama writes the five or so issues to close out this collection with Milligan on the rest. Generally their writing styles differ; there are a lot more captions in Milligan’s work and Hama adds a lot more action in his pages.
Deodato Jr. kills it on art throughout this book. Not a bad panel or page.
Mike Deodato Jr.’s art is pretty darn great throughout this volume. She’s a strong and confident sort of character in part because Deodato Jr. renders her as such when not in the costume. Earlier in the volume there’s a soap opera like attention to her waxing over her thoughts with some very beautiful close ups of her hair being whipped in the wind. Wolverine pops up throughout this volume and Deodato Jr. really killed it on his size and scrappy look. The hair is spot on too and reading this volume made me wish the old school Wolverine came back. Elektra certainly stands and fights in sexualized poses, but in a respectful way. Hell, Deodato Jr. draws a bikini bottom so as to cover her entire ass, which seems like a win for anyone crying foul with over sexualized heroes. She maintains a sexual allure which suits the character due to Deodato Jr. capturing her beauty even in street clothes (which are very 90’s!). I’m not sure who was behind the Deodato Studios inking, but you’d be silly not to mention his inks as it’s an incredibly big part of his style. It works great for this volume giving it a darker tone, but also works to give her skin tight costume some detail and depth.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The first half of the book focused on Elektra being a dancer–and randomly discovered at that–which is the slowest and most eye-rolling section of this tome. This is late 90’s comics at its best, which means a lot of captions explaining thoughts and actions. It’s incredible how many captions are stuffed into the early pages of this book, to the point where it’ll take minutes to turn a page. And it’s only made worse by the somewhat boring idea of Elektra being totally good and taking up a dancing career. There’s still some battling going on, including a wicked Bullseye sequence, but her entire demeanor as a less confident and confused woman isn’t becoming of the character. It’s possible they were attempting to market to girls–the image below certainly seems to suggest to prove that, which is maybe why they removed the violence and went all in on the dancing.
I never understood the idea of cutting out the pages like this…
Is It Good?
This is a good collection in part because it’s a reminder of how awesome Deodato Jr. has been over the years. In its attempt to make Elektra a complex and relatable character the creative team succeeds. After death, this series follows her do-over, and I think Milligan, Hama, and Deodato Jr. capture that in a fun 90’s package readers who grew up reading this would totally enjoy.