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DD Book Club: Elektra Assassin
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Mike Murdock
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Joined: 08 Sep 2014
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2017 10:03 am    Post subject: DD Book Club: Elektra Assassin Reply with quote

This was requested awhile ago, but I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to do it since this is not available on Marvel Unlimited due to the mature content. But we are building towards Defenders, which feels like it will have a significant Elektra focus, so I thought we should focus on Elektra. This story is by Frank Miller with art by Bill Sienkiewicz. Hope you enjoy.

Elektra Assassin # 1 - Hell and Back



Quote:
An untold chapter in the life of Elektra unfolds, as Marvel's most mysterious assassin begins her journey in an asylum for the mentally insane. Reality and dreams blur together, as Elektra's once-impenetrable mind buckles under the darkness of her past.


Due 7/22
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Dimetre
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2017 4:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the three decades since its publication, I think Elektra: Assassin remains one of the most unique series ever put out by one of the big two publishers. I don't reread it as often as Miller's Daredevil work, possibly because it's so weighty. It's not a "fun" read. However, I think it shows what the comics medium is capable of achieving, and it will always hold a place of importance.

I am reading from a trade paperback featuring a forward written editor Jo Duffy. She claims Miller wrote each issue three times, the final time after Bill Sienkiewicz handed in his art, "taking full advantage of whatever new and unexpected touches Bill had incorpoated into the artwork." Not enough can be said of the impact Sienkiewicz's art makes on the reader. Nothing like it had been seen before in comics. There is no trace of the traditional. Everything either looks like it's hidden in fog, or the colours are all screwed up. And it works.

Elektra is trapped in a South American madhouse, and is under the influence of milk from the Beast of the Hand. She is struggling to remember details from her life, but can barely get her mind to behave. Sienkiewicz's messy art and Miller's fragmented sentences are entirely appropriate. They combine in a way to suck you into Elektra's tortured headspace.
The assassination of Carlos Huevos shows you how enormously skilled she is. The killing of her tormentor in the madhouse shows you how determined she is. But my favourite part of this issue comes near the end, where Elektra collects her mind and realizes what has happened to her and where she is. She is ready to free herself from the madhouse staff who are ready to lobotomize her.
Quote:
I almost laugh. The gas cannot dull me if I do not breathe. The straps that bind me are simple stupid things. The man is bone and jelly. I need only shove one into the other. The woman is a fat, fearful rabbit. I am a cobra. Eggshell skull splinters.

It's classic Miller. It's hart to think of another writer as visceral. Heroes and villains fight all the time, but when they fight in a Miller story, he tells you about how their vertabrae twist and how their ligaments strain, and you feel the stress on their bodies. It puts you right there in the body of the hero.

So, artistically in every way, this is hard to surpass. I'm giving it a five out of five.

But, I wonder about something. The reason Elektra is such an important figure to me is because Matt loves her. She is someone he loves who has fallen to the dark side, yet he still loves her and wants to save her. That makes me hope for her salvation too. If I wasn't a fan of Daredevil, would I be able to connect to this series' title character? Would I think of her as a female Deadshot? Maybe Miller shows enough of her tragic backstory that first time readers would empathize with her. You certainly feel how broken she is when she offers to kill Huevos and only asks for two dollars in return. In moments like that, I want better for the character, but would a newcomer feel the same way? I can't help but wonder.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2017 9:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

^ I elaborate this a bit in my review, but I do think that's an important question. One of my big thoughts is that this story is almost incomprehensible without having Miller's Daredevil in mind. That being said, it's almost incomprehensible no matter what, so it could still be enjoyable. But I do think Miller is banking on the goodwill built up in that story (even if, at times, I'm not convinced Elektra actually earned it).

Anyway, my review. This story fascinated and discomforted me in incredible ways when I first read it. A lot of it is because I'm thinking about Daredevil continuity and different versions of Elektra and how all that fits in. But it also is a deliberately discomforting story. Bill Sienkiewicz's art is designed to be strange and Frank Miller's style is very staccato as well. I think what I'm going to do this time is just try to read the story for the story's sake and not think about much else. I also decided to read the story once through and then go back a second time to review it. I apologize, my review ended up running long.

The story itself is almost difficult to describe. In a way, it's much easier to just let it wash over you. It's the moments or sense impressions that stand out: The turtle and rat, dogs fighting, Elektra as a strange blue figure training with Stick, the Hand, the claustrophobic mental hospital. All our powerful images, which make Sienkiewicz's art wonderful but terrifying. The story is also filled with allusions. There are two obvious references to mythology. The first is Clytemnestra and Agememnon. I wish I was smart enough to figure out what it means. Clythemnestra was the wife of Agememnon and ultimately killed him. The other allusion is Elektra herself, who I'll return to in a second.

If I were trying to place the story in some kind of coherent order, it's essentially told in flashback while she's being held in a mental hospital controlled by the Hand. It starts off describing her backstory, but not in a way that frankly would make sense if you didn't already know it (but would be entertaining nonetheless). Her mother was murdered while pregnant and Elektra was born. It's implied that her father molested her when she was a kid. However, he sent her to a psychiatric hospital where they convinced her that she made it up. More disturbingly, they convinced her the reason she made it up is because of the sexual attraction she has for her father. That being said, it's possible she did make it up, the whole point of the story is to create uncertainty. I know that Frank Miller chose Elektra as a reference to the Oedipus complex. That's certainly the allusion here.

However, as she grew up, her father had her trained as a fighter. When conventional teachers couldn't train her, she started to train with the Chaste. I love the subtle world building. The clear allusions to Stick and Stone are here, but we see others and we learn about their order and their mission. Miller keeps everything vague and confusing, but you get a definite sense of how mystically important they are and how important is their struggle against the Hand. Next is the familiar story of her dating Matt Murdock and the death of her father. It's glossed over because it's known and not really important. Instead, what's far more important is her fall into darkness and the Hand. There's definitely the implication there was already some anger and darkness in her, but the imagery of the Beast and the Milk is absolutely disgusting. Returning to the Oedipal themes, the dialogue says "seek no other to compare with him" while it appears a picture of her father weeping can be seen.

Finally, we get to the main story. Elektra goes to San Concepcion to assassinate someone. I noticed that it was described as the land of two dollar whores, which is the price she requested for the job. Once she succeeded in the job, she realized that he wasn't the person she needed to kill and that the Beast is apparently loose on the world. The nauseating sensation when she reacts to the milk is palpable. This is a character we've seen never flinch previously who seems terrified here. The emotion is overwhelming. The descriptions of her killing are equally visceral and stand out as well. Actually, it's hard to find a moment that isn't a standout.

I'm going to give this issue Five Stars. I don't know if I'm too charitable or not. What helps is the statement it makes. It sets out to do something different and succeeds. As time goes on, it's hard to be as appreciative at how confusing it can be, but, for a first issue, I think it works very well.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 10:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I said I wasn't going to get bogged down in the minutia this time reading, but I also happen to have just read Daredevil 189 recently in my complete Daredevil readthrough. This book is also cryptic enough that I'm never sure I'm understanding things correctly.

The implication is Elektra's mother is shot and killed while pregnant and Elektra is saved. Is that the impression you got as well? Is her dad shot at that time or is Elektra just combining the two events?

Next, Elektra is raised by her dad, possibly molested, sent to a mental hospital, and returns home.

Next, Elektra is 12 and training with her sensei. She learns all she can and tries to find the Chaste. This seems like a deliberate retcon. In the 189, Elektra tries to join the Chaste after her father was murdered. The prologue mentions her love for Matt as her motivation. Do you think this was changed? Did I misunderstand this or 189 for that matter?

Her sensei's death is the same. After her father's death, she tries to join the Hand. During the training, she kills her sensei. There are constant references to the black globes. Any idea what they mean? One reference is right after her sensei's death. Then we get a long montage about the turtle and the rat. After that, there's an out of context quote about how he was difficult to catch but, when drugged, served his purpose. This is an identical quote to 189. But, after that, it's elaborated heavily with the initiation ceremony with the Beast and the Milk.

That's all for now. I'd love any thoughts on the symbolism or on the changes to the story and why they were done. Best I can tell, some of it is to illustrate that she always had darkness and issues - possibly related to abuse from her father - long before she met Matt and her father was killed. But there's a lot that's just too difficult to figure out.
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Dimetre
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2017 6:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I took the black globes to be her memories reforming as her mind is struggling to reassemble.

Between Miller's original Daredevil run, Elektra: Assassin and The Man Without Fear, he has constantly played around with his bounty hunter. While it's possible that Elektra's memories may be off due to the milk or otherwise, I find it more likely that Miller rethought some of the details and possibly liked the idea of this backstory as presented in Assassin better. He had grown by leaps and bounds as a writer since #168, and probably felt entitled to revise.

It is possible, I suppose, that a reader may have picked up these issues in the store without having read an issue of Daredevil first, so they would take this version of her backstory as gospel. Reading the changes in regards to the molestation and the age when she went off to find the Chaste, I took that as the vision of Elektra Miller was presenting as true for the time.

Don't forget, he altered her again for The Man Without Fear, making her a killer before the murder of her father. As for myself, I'll probably always prefer the version of the character from his original run.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2017 8:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I prefer the original character as well and (while I love the rooftop/chase scene) I don't really like the Man Without Fear version. It is interesting to see this one as a transition version. IIRC, the remaining issues don't really touch on flashbacks so, while there may be aspects of Elektra that are new, they aren't necessarily retcons of her origin story, so it's not something that could be focused on going forward (although I suspect I'll return to the discussion of this story in Marvel's continuity by the last issue).

Elektra Assassin # 2 - The Ugly Man



Quote:
S.H.I.E.L.D. cyborgs play a life-and-death game of cat-and-mouse with the assassin Elektra.


Due 7/29
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Dimetre
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2017 5:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This issue is a confusing read, but I think that's intended. Miller and Sienkiewicz want your mind off balance, just like those belonging to the story's characters.

So it seems Elektra is in bad shape leaving the asylum, and stumbles upon a film shoot. She steals a jeep, and then finds a dojo so she can measure how much of her fighting skills she's lost. Next thing we know, she is using a machine so she can share a mind with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent John Garrett, who's mostly machine at this point. He is looking into the murder of Carlos Huevos, and that puts him on Elektra's tail.

What doesn't become apparent until later on in the issue is that Garrett's story happens two days before Elektra's infiltration of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base and her use of the machine. So reading this will discombobulate your brain. Again, I believe that is intentional.

The Jonin in this story bears little resemblance to the short Asian man in the suit who bossed around Kirigi in Daredevil. Perhaps Miller decided this was a more appropriate depiction of that character.

I have a huge fear of snakes, so I was amazed that Elektra let that snake actually lift her off the ground while calmly thought of how weak she was, so she just killed it and ate it raw before it could kill her. That kind of moment tells us how scary this woman is.

I am unclear what she did at the film set. She frees the lion, but did she set a fire?

I found it funny -- and it's off-putting to find humour within a comic like this -- that Elektra went to collect her two dollars for killing Huevos, but found her client dead. That's when she began to hunt Garrett. She's still after Reich though, because he's the Beast.

This story is Elektra's first appearance in comics since the end of Miller's initial run on Daredevil. He felt tremendous ownership of the character, and obviously felt entitled to alter her backstory and powers as he saw fit. In this issue Elektra bounces a bullet off her knuckle. I never really had a problem with that. You can rationalize it through her training with the Chaste and Hand. Maybe if you are a dedicated enough student of either of those cults, you can accomplish the most amazing things. That's how I justified it. But, as we'll see in later issues, this is just one of the more alarming things Elektra can do.

Sienkiewicz's work in this issue is appropriately unreal. His art alters between ugly and dreamlike. There is no other artist that could have produced this comic. Make no mistake, Sienkiewicz is just an important creator of this comic as Miller is. This is a truly collaborative work of art, and that's just one of the reasons why this is so unique.

And that's why, as confusing as it is, I have to give this issue five out of five. I don't know if comics will find another creative pairing like Miller and Sienkiewicz ever again.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 24, 2017 9:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I didn't have as much time to truly inspect this story. Unlike last week, I was only able to read it once through and comment as I went.

This issue starts off with a bit more of Elektra's backstory and exploration of the Hand. Twelve panel grids are not conducive to expressive art, but I think the minimalist style works well here. We're seeing the psychological torture of the Hand training and how she's pushing that out of her mind with the images slowly being pushed out in exchange for white emptiness and then black. Elektra escapes through the jungle. She encounters a film crew. She kills the crew and rescues the Lion they were using (I think?).

There's a machine that recorded memories from an implant and Elektra is accessing them. This involves the "ugly man" in the title of the issue, John Garrett. The tone shift is very sudden and dramatic. Even when describing violence in stark terms, there's a sort of metaphorical quality about Elektra, her thoughts, and her past. This is very macho, very direct, and very crass. Miller is taking full advantage of the Mature Audiences label. He doesn't come off as likable, I would say deliberately so. But his cavalier descriptions of how he has had parts of his body replaced with synthetics makes him come off as far more tragic than his dialogue would have you believe.

This is very much a dark world full of dark people. Garrett is bad, the San Concepcion government is worse, and Perry may be even worse. Elektra has been doing some rough things but, when she starts taking out security connected with those two, it's hard to see her as anything but the hero. Sienkiewicz's art (particularly with some of the blood splatter) is gorgeous. As Garrett and Perry abuse an old person, the story finally coalesces together and begins to make sense. We're following both her own story and Garrett's story through her eyes. These are flashbacks from two days earlier. As she puts it, she began to hunt Garrett and Garrett began to hunt her.

This issue was genuinely more confusing than the last and the last was pretty damn confusing. The switching narrator certainly doesn't help. There's some weird stuff with apparent telekinesis, unless I badly misinterpreted it. It seems like maybe Elektra could have killed him and didn't, but it's unclear. Then it appears she cuts off his arm and blows things up. However, in spite of the strangeness, things have at least coalesced. Elektra wants to kill the Beast, which she associated with the ambassador. Garrett is involved with protecting the ambassador and potentially the regime and that brings him in contact with Elektra. However, his fascination with her is what is fueling him.

I'll go Four and a Half Stars. It's easier to let this wash over me than to really follow it and I agree the confusion is deliberate, but it's still a fascinating story.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 30, 2017 8:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you've been following the Defenders news, Elektra is certainly in it Wink Anyway, on to issue #3

Elektra Assassin # 3 - Rough Cut



Quote:
S.H.I.E.L.D. has captured Elektra. The question now: is even this intelligence agency powerful enough to keep her?


Due 8/5
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Dimetre
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 30, 2017 3:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Let me start by commenting on how darkly funny the cover is, depicting S.H.I.E.L.D. as a group of savage hunters, and Elektra's corpse as their prize. It's a horrific image, but Sienkiewicz's art is just unreal enough to make it absurd.

Some of Miller's humourous additions to this issue are somewhat puerile, like the name of the Soviet envoy -- Vladimir Jakkoff. Also problematic for me was how Garrett knew what was happening while Extechop was rebuilding him. I suppose it's possible that Elektra was feeding him the details mentally, but if so, why wasn't anyone within S.H.I.E.L.D. questioning that?

Once again, this issue is dense for a comic. Miller drops a lot of information in this issue. The most fascinating two pages for me were the ones from the medical director describing the uniqueness of Elektra's brain. This is something that has never come up again in the three decades since this issue was published. It's as if Marvel just wants us to forget about it. But if there is a compound in Elektra's bloodstream that changes the way her brain operates, where did it come from? Did it come from the Hand? The Chaste? Somewhere else? Then the medical director says they reversed the compound's effects through antitoxins, however she somehow exerts control over Garrett a couple pages later. Does that mean the compound began regenerating again, or that it's not the compound that effects the way her brain works, or is it something else?

Elektra demonstrates a lot of psychic abilities in this issue. Either that or she has some inexplicable mental link with Garrett. Again, in the thirty years since this story, that has never again been explored (unless it was explored in "Fall From Grace." I can't remember).

Ninety percent of the words in this issue are contained within captions, not word balloons. And the overwhelming majority of those captions are narrated by Agent Garrett. He was called "The Ugly Man" last issue, and, be assured, he is not a good guy. Yes, he undergoes a tremendous amount of physical hardship to be able to do his job, but he uses racist language, lies, and is sexually depraved. But, that's the character Miller created. I don't think the main character of a story has to be someone we like. I think the main character has to be someone we understand, and I feel that Miller is letting us know who Garrett is, failings and all, without asking us to like him. So I think, in this case, it works.

There are times in this issue when Elektra is being sexualized, and I'm not sure it adds anything to the story. It comes off more like an adolescent fantasy, one for which I'm now too old. Also, I'm not sure where Elektra's abilities begin and where they end.

Interestingly, Garrett has now told S.H.I.E.L.D. about how Elektra is communicating with him mentally. Will S.H.I.E.L.D. make use of that information, or will that be forgotten?

This is, without question, the most unique Elektra story ever published, and a lot of that has to do with the high levels Miller and Sienkiewicz pushed each other. I wish Marvel had made use of the details about Elektra's brain in the decades since, because who knows where that may have led? But, I'm not sure Miller lays enough groundwork for some of Elektra's mysterious new abilities, such as the origins of the narcotic compound in her blood. Also, this could be the earliest example of Miller's overly-perverted depictions of women, something that would reach crisis level by the time of All Star Batman and Robin.

I give this issue a four out of five.
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