Elektra was brought back at the behest of a toy company. Mike Deodato and Peter Milligan are beloved comics talent, and Christie Scheele has always been under-appreciated as a great colorist and fantastic painter. It was 1997 and Marvel decided to launch its first Elektra ongoing series, its first solo series and some of the first work, at all, featuring the character without creator, Frank Miller, in tow.
The Elektra comic launched crass and romantic, daring and commercial, violent but never as violent as it seems.
Eumenides! Euripedes! Elektra!
by Travis Hedge Coke
In a sense, outing a female character as bisexual, especially a superheroine, is the easy way. But, outing her to us and not to herself, and then suspending it there, that has some magic.
Elektra spent their run not knowing herself, and any time she came close, running from the knowledge. In her ignorance, she is surrounded by a cast including a trans woman (who realizes she is during the run); concentration camp survivor; the son of Fu Manchu; Elektra’s variably-ethnic daddy figure friends with benefits who she sometimes calls, “Matt”; a cop named, Morrissey; a young woman looking for a mom or a girlfriend or vengeance or pain; the unrepentant assassin living what she left behind; Wolverine.
It was 1997. Of course, there is Wolverine.
Elektra skirted the sexuality edge of the Comics Code, then still a powerful entity of company-selected restraint. Elektra was cap-R Romantic, farcical, an action melodrama that traded on ethnic imperative, theatricality, and butt-emphasizing poses that make your waist hurt in empathy. If it had been at DC, it would have been been shuffled to Vertigo.
It is a really pretty comic about people trying to hurt themselves. About murdered parents. Lost and losing loves.
Nina, who Elektra rescues from self-sabotage after Nina accompanies a couple enthusiastic pimps back to a meeting between two criminal factions, is both a girl who lost her father to violence and her mother before that, and – also mirroring Elektra – someone who has a prophetic and meaning-fraught name. Nina is derived most likely, from an old Slavic word for, dreamer. It reminds, immediately, of niña, Spanish for, child, and lacks only a letter to be, ninja.
Elektra cannot permit their relationship to be clarified. Are they like sisters? Mother and child? Friends? Unconsummated lovers? Assassins who do not kill? Superheroes? Roommates?
Likewise, Elektra’s relation with Wolverine, with Konnie. Her connection to Mac, who allows her the occasional slip of the tongue meant for Matt Murdock, Daredevil, her college love. Elektra claims their friends with benefits, fellow warriors intimacy is designed to spare them complication, but it is deliberately complexified to avoid too real of an intimacy.
One issue, The Good, the Bad, and the Somewhat Confused, is a knife of tantalizing infidelity, or shiny nostalgia, stuck in with a smile and turned with nice intentions.
Elektra likes to sit behind and stab in the back, or stand four or five feet away in the rain, hands in her pockets. She appears in dreams. She performs on stage. She drops through skylights for battle and then is gone. Haunts her own tombstone.
She is not Bullseye, the sadistic hired killer who murdered his father. She is not Wolverine, the killer who tries to walk away from it, though they are big hair and emotive coolness. She might be Konnie, who was trans but did not realize.
Frank Miller made the case that Matt took the traditional female role in their stock production, Elektra, the male, years before this series. He sits waiting by the phone, pouting and dreamy while she is out in the city working and fighting and not staying until breakfast when she does spend the night.
Deodato borrows several visualization techniques from Miller, some poses, the etchy sharp lines across a scene or figure. Milligan draws broad, from romance comics to ancient plays and what seems like 60s and 70s action literature.
I wonder if a less dichotomous pairing than Deodato and Milligan would have created the whirlwind feel this series had. The narrative is a sweeping wind. The tone is thunderous, rushing, carrying sounds and scents far until thin. “Insane whirlpool parties.” A melodic sigh and crashing punctuation.
Dr Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, calls her enunciation of her name, “distinctly camp,” but the entire comic is camp. Archly. Eagerly. The overseeing nemesis calls himself, the Architect, and he does sketch the plans for a structure. We do not, necessarily, see what could be built from those plans, but the Architect is or reflects, Hassan, semi-mythic, partly-real founder of the organization giving us the very word, assassin. He is also an invading spirit, a story, a feeling, a growth.
Elektra is a study in what we can be defined by. In whether we allow that definition, are cradled by it, condemned, or if it is easy affect. Murder. Suicide. Self-harm. The offer of employment. The offer of shelter.
Amidst a crossword puzzle of rebirth, abortion, rape, pregnancy, shame, lust, and an assassin battle royale, Elektra writes, choreographs, and performs a reinvention of the story which gave her, her famous name. She, in the play, surpasses father, surpasses culture, to deliver killing strokes traditionally the purview of men.
Is it not great and delightful farce, Elektra’s turn to modern dance, given her inability to be a hired killer (even if the Code would have approved it, Marvel and the toy company steering them at the time preferred her repurposed as cleaner superhero)? The comic, for a dozen or so issues, and even in the Larry Hama/Deodato issues that follow Milligan’s run, feels as if it is story and parenthetical in about equal balance.
All things about equal, Elektra, as a series, teetered the first fourteen issues, 1-13 and a -1 jump back to her youth, danced its heart out in drama and thunder. No one but Deodato and Scheele could have made it look so Romantic. Milligan brought a play of mythic hugeness and human frailty, embodied in massive, muscular men with sensitive feet, men and women driven to overcompensate for disabilities, Elektra with her stormy life being still easily able to find herself bored.
While the artists continue to the next writer, Milligan leaves Elektra with a queer wedding, with assisted suicide, and with the old lovers not reuniting.