The X-Axis by Paul O'Brien
ELEKTRA is back, which I'm sure is providing Bill Jemas with unusually great pleasure even as I speak.
I will make this clear at the outset: for reviewing purposes, I do not care about the political arguments over whether Marvel should or should not be respecting the views of Frank Miller, whatever they may happen to be. Entirely irrelevant to the question of whether the book is any good. I do have serious reservations about the commercial wisdom of relaunching a character whose fanbase so firmly associates her with a particular writer, but the orders for issue #1 seem to speak otherwise.
Nor am I going to get into the wider issues raised by Chuck Austen's computer artwork. Last week I asked you to go and read the article I did about it for Ninth Art; if you have not yet done so, then do it now, because I'm not going to be repeating it here. The address is http://www.ninthart.com
So. Any good?
Well... it's patchy. Brian Bendis is onto the right general idea by simply positioning Elektra as an assassin for hire and not getting into her history too much at this stage (though we do get an origin flashback for the benefit of newcomers). She says virtually nothing, and is generally an all-round intimidating presence for the other characters to react to.
The storyline, though, seems a bit formulaic. SHIELD hire Elektra to kill the President of Iraq, who's in league with HYDRA. Elektra suspects that her SHIELD contact is a mole for HYDRA. And that's about as complex as it gets. Elektra and her contact play off one another pretty well, but the plot doesn't seem particularly out of the ordinary. There are bits of this issue that I enjoyed immensely; the whole, though, seems to fall a bit short. It's not at all bad, but it never quite clicks.
The art is an oddity. In principle, it should work. Much of the issue looks very good. There are some obvious repeated panels where it seems to be being done for time savings rather than artistic effect, but the panel to panel storytelling is sound. There's a lovely double page spread of Baghdad. And then, about two thirds of the way through, things start to look very odd.
By the end of the issue, two obvious problems are visible. One is that the closing fight scene is looking a bit stiff. This isn't a technical limitation; it goes to the root of how some of the characters are being positioned. For every panel that looks fluid, there's one with no motion to it at all. Page 34, in particular, is diabolical, with two downed henchmen looking like a dropped action figure, still posed as if they were standing up.
The other glaring problem is that something is just not right with the colouring. The first part of the book has a good pastel look to it, distinctive without being overpowering. But somewhere along the line, however, Nathan Eyring's colours develop a bizarre interest in contour lines. This looks horrible. It seems as though somebody's inadvertantly printed a work in progress which hasn't had the colours graduating properly from one part of the image to the next. I know very little about the mechanics of comic book colouring; but something seems desperately wrong about last third of this book. If this is a deliberate artistic choice, I don't for the life of me see what it's trying to achieve.
The book starts off looking great and ends up appearing incredibly ugly. Surely this can't be what they had in mind.
Bendis seems to have a solid idea for how to play the character, but it doesn't really come through in the final product. The story isn't particularly engaging, and while the first half of the book shows that this art technique can definitely produce quality results, the second half tells a very different story.
Weirdly problematic. I will watch with interest to see how this one ends up.