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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Elektra – baddest comic book grrl ever? (Guest post by M.G. Harris)

M.G. Harris, friend of The Book Zone (I hope she doesn't mind me saying that) and author of the Joshua Files series, has just embarked on a blog tour themed loosely around the title of her latest book in the series, Zero Moment. The first stop in the tour was her own blog where she wrote a post entitled Zany Orange Puffles and social networking sites for children and I am the second stop, with the title beginning with the letter E (each stop on the tour will start with a different letter from the words Zero Moment.... gettit?). You can find out details of the rest of her stops on the tour here.

Some time ago I conducted an interview with M.G. for The Book Zone where she mentioned her passion for graphic novels, and this stop on her blog tour is named after one of her favourite characters. So without further ado, it's over to M.G. who is going to wax lyrical about:

Elektra – baddest comic book grrl ever?


My fourth year of university, I shared a house with a couple who started a theatre company when they left Uni, including a guy called Trev. We shared a few interests. Trev was usually more thorough in his interests than I, which was appropriate given his full-time engagement with the arts. Comics and graphic novels was one of these areas of overlap. “What’s your favourite comic book ever?” I asked him. He thought for about three seconds and replied “Elektra Assassin”.

I knew of Elektra from the Daredevil comic books. Daredevil shared the spot with Batman as my favourite comic book character. Elektra Natchios was the exotic Greek girl of blind, gorgeous-yet-tormented Matt Murdock’s college days, the girl who had broken his heart and then turned to the dark side – a villainous group of ninja assassins known as The Hand.

When Elektra returned to Matt’s life, she was his enemy.

With Trev’s recommendation, I went out and bought ‘Elektra Assassin’ – newly released as a compilation of the original 8 books.

What I read elevated not just the Daredevil storyverse but comic-book storytelling to the next level.

Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which appeared around the same time (1986), was making some noise. With its multi-layered structure and sexual and political themes, Watchmen seemed to be taking over from Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight Returns’ as the hottest strand in the new graphic novels.

Meanwhile Frank Miller was collaborating with one of the most innovative artists in the business – Bill Sienkiewicz. I was collecting his new series, a baffling 4-parter called ‘Stray Toasters’, which I frankly struggled to follow. But it was ART! So I jumped at the chance to enjoy Sienkiewicz’s avant garde style wrapped around a story I could really get into. A story from Elektra’s past! Because as any Daredevil fan knows, Elektra is dead…

A Bill Sienkiewicz comic looked unlike anyone else’s at that time. They were watercolours, with hints of collage. It made for dramatic, impressionistic, sometimes dreamy art which struck the perfect note for this new, disturbing tale of Elektra.

In ‘Elektra Assassin’, Elektra is a beautiful, damaged creature. No longer part of The Hand, she is a working as a lowly paid assassin, finishing off some unfinished revenge in a fictional, corrupt South American country. She’s driven almost insane by visions of an Antichrist-type figure – The Beast. Dirty politics involving US black-operations combine with a supernatural strand involving the forces around The Beast and his secret identity. Elektra’s witchy ninja skillz never looked more believable as she develops a psychic link with the Beast, with a comatose young woman and most fiercely with the S.H.I.E.L.D agent sent to capture her – a tough-guy named Garrett.

Elektra is a genius creation of Frank Miller’s – sexy, volatile, damaged and driven. But Garrett emerges as our main narrator and a pretty darn interesting character himself. Blown to pieces by Elektra, he is put together again by S.H.I.E.L.D – part man, part cyborg. His mental link to Elektra becomes overpowering and turns into an all-consuming devotion. Eventually the two tackle The Beast by themselves – and he turns out to be none-other than apparent nice guy, a Kennedy-esque Presidential candidate, Ken Wind.

There is so much to admire about this graphic novel. The art, naturally, with shades of manga innocence contrasting with vicious violence (Elektra beaming with joy in her mother’s pregnant belly, just before her mother is slaughtered). The sly, cynical humour of Garrett’s unrequited lust. The complex narrative is challenging yet elicits a vague sense of confusion which means the reader, like Garrett, is never entirely sure what is going on. The political satire - very much of its time – left wing anger at the interventionist foreign politics of the US combined with right-wing cynicism about the true nature of the well-groomed, East Coast liberal left.

In the end though, the ambiguity of Elektra’s character is what makes this story a stand-out for me. Seen through Garrett’s eyes most of the time, she is anything from a seductress, a ninja witch, a murderer, right through to vulnerable and aching to find peace and love. My favourite drawing of all is the last one of Chapter Six, in which Garrett and Elektra are kitting up their weapons for an onslaught, sitting on a bed in their motel room. And Garrett mutters through his cigarette, “You know honey…we never talk…”

Perfection.

~~~

And what a perfect way to bring Graphic Novel Month to an close. Huge thanks to M.G. and all the other contributors who so kindly volunteered to take part throughout March.

2 comments:

  1. wow, i think i will buy 'elektra assasin' just cos i need somethin to read, i have fineshed zero moment, ice shock AND invisible city and lots of others including michelle paver's chronicles of ancien darkness, ali sparkes 'shapeshifter' terry pratchetts 'discworld series...(the list goes on)
    cant wait for the next installment
    NRO

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  2. Yes, without a doubt, Electra ROCKS.The graphic novel was amzing, the artwork, the writing, the entire package.

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