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Elektra Lives Again By Michael Deeley
W/A: Frank Miller Colorist: Lynn Varley Publisher: Marvel Comics Price: $24.95 US/$40.00 CAN
Reading any older work by Frank Miller will now be a bittersweet experience. No matter what it is -- Sin City, Daredevil, or Martha Washington Goes to War -- you know that it all leads to The Dark Knight Strikes Back. It lies in wait in the future from whatever work youíre reading. Its very existence makes any other work by Miller better by comparison. And yet, it also implies that Miller will never again write or draw anything as good as his previous work. DK2 makes a great body of work seem even greater, but also ends it. Millerís best years could be behind him.
This complicated time-bending sensation does enhance the experience of reading Elektra Lives Again, the classic graphic novel by Miller and his wife, Lynn Varley. Originally published in 1990, Marvel has just brought this strange tale back into print. The line between reality and dream, fact and illusion are blurred in this story of one manís obsession with a lover who may or may not be dead.
Matt Murdock, for those of you new to comics, is the crimefighter Daredevil. He met and fell in love with Elektra Natchios when they attended college together. When Elektra saw her father killed in a hostage crisis gone wrong, she left Matt and hid from the world. The next time Matt met her, she was a mercenary being hunted by an evil ninja cult called The Hand. Elektra was later killed by the assassin Bullseye. The Hand stole her body and tried to revive her as their slave. Daredevil interrupted the ceremony and, through some vague ninja magic, ďcleansed herĒ. Elektraís body was then taken by The Handís ninja enemies. Readers were led to believe Elektra was alive and given a chance to redeem herself.
When the story begins, Murdock is plagued by nightmares of Elektra alive. Alive, and in danger.
The book is called Elektra, but the focus of the story is Murdock. He hasnít come to terms with Elektraís death. He still canít let her go. Maybe he canít face her death. Maybe the circumstances were too supernatural and confusing to accept it as reality.
Maybe its because she really is alive.
The Hand reaches the same conclusion. They travel to New York City to empower and enslave the person who killed her: Bullseye. The Hand intends to kill Bullseye and revive him with supernatural strength. The deadliest assassin in the world would become all but invincible.
And Murdock canít stop him without Elektraís help.
From the start, the reader wonders if the story is happening at all. It begins on April 1, traditional day for practical jokes. As the story progresses, it weaves in and out of dream without warning. Transition between places occurs suddenly, with no explanation. (The scenes in the police station with the Hand assassin are the best examples of this.) Normally, I would call this sloppy writing. But in the context of the story, it adds to the unreality. It makes me wonder if itís happening at all. You might as well forget about working this into Marvel continuity. I can tell you Elektra and Bullseye are both alive and well, and thereís no way to reconcile that with the bookís ending.
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This book also proves that Lynn Varley should have stuck with watercolors and never ďexperimentedĒ with computers. Colors appear both muted and bold, often within the same panel, if not the same page. They evoke feelings rather than just coloring the scenery. The whites used for snow, (yes there are different shades of white), actually create a sensation of cold within you. In contrast, the scenes in Mattís gym or the autopsy room have the blacks, greys, and blues to evoke darkness, dirt, and decay. There are a thousand, thousand details to be seen in these pages; the cracks in the walls, the stains on the floors, even the clothes have wrinkles. Combined with the subdued color scheme and soft shadows, they help give this book the simultaneous presence of sharp detail and overall vagueness found in our most disturbing dreams.
Millerís art and panel arrangement follows the style of Dark Knight Returns and takes it one step further. Miller draws people here with such realism they seem to be wearing true flesh. A slight change in line, a movement in shadow, and they can display a full range of emotions. Facial expressions and body movements tend to be exaggerated, but Millerís lines, shading, and proportions always make them seem natural; as if people in the real world could look and move like this. The overall effect is both cartoony and realistic. It is both powerful and unsettling.
The book itself is a faithful reproduction of its original printing. The paper quality is inferior to todayís standards. Itís a little rough and off-white. It has the feel of paper from books made over 10 years ago. The bookís dimensions measure 9 and 1/4Ē by 12 and ĹĒ, much larger than Marvelís other hardcover books. This may not fit on the same shelf as your other hardcovers. Still, the original printing was this large , and the art was drawn for this size; that much is clear. It wouldnít be nearly as impressive even if it was one inch shorter.
But the non-laminated paper and the all-white cover do mean that this book will not age well. Stains and marks will be obvious on the outside while the pages yellow and age. That only makes the book more like a living thing. I donít know about you, but I like the smell of old comics printed on cheap newsprint. Go open the bag on a comic from the 1980ís, one that hasnít been opened in months, and take a big whiff. Thereís nothing else like it in the whole world. It makes the book seem alive!
Conclusion: 5/5 Slushies. A great, great, great book! Well worth the price. A must-have for any fan of Frank Miller, Daredevil, Elektra, hardcover comics, grim-and-gritty books from the 80ís, bad girls, ninjas, and the technique of making the audience doubt the reality of the scene before them like Fellini and Bergman often did in their movies.
In short, everyone.
One cautionary note: The story contains graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, foul language, gratuitous introspection, and a cameo by the cyborg S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from Elektra: Assassin. Enjoy!