Perhaps once or twice a year, a mainstream comic dares to defy convention, and when they do I am always ready to sing their praises. Not because it is necessarily good but because they dare to try, dare to try to re-imagine the medium. It provides us an opportunity to catch a glimpse at an alternate way of reading a book or portraying the plot. When W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III were stifled at DC, they realised that they could not accept the compromising limitations. The no-status-quo attitude to the book was no longer the case, and the joys of uniqueness were to be replaced by groans of ubiquitousness. The advent of new beginnings at Marvel brought salvation to one of these creators, a chance to start afresh. The era of the solo comic hero is upon us and the Marvel Now label has given an immense opportunity for artists to find the voice of their protagonists. Allowing new direction and creative freedom is certainly the ethos with books such as Ms Marvel, Magneto, Iron Fist, The Punisher, Black Widow and Moon Knight. Elektra is the new canvas for Blackman to draw upon and his collaborator is a worthy artist indeed, one that is up to the challenge of painting outside of the lines. Welcome to Elektra.
After you finish reading this issue you will ponder what it was you actually read. Was it real? Was it fantasy? Was it a nightmare? If you break it down to its base premise, then it is a regular storyline in the realm of Marvel. Elektra is an assassin who has taken an assignment to kill a man called Cape Crow. Whilst overcoming rival assassins in the form of Lady Bullseye and Scalphunter, she meets the man who put out the contract: Cape Crow’s son. This seems relatively straightforward so far but then we encounter a serial murderer with a lust for blood. He goes by the name Bloody Lips and yearns to develop new abilities from his victims because he absorbs on the memories of his victims. Once again not so weird given we live in a Marvel Universe of mutants and vampires and even Elektra herself has returned from the dead, so these themes are not at all unique or strange. However Del Mundo has an uncanny ability to remove Elektra from the world we know and engulf us into a haunted underwater phantasm. The art is awe inspiring and the world we are so familiar with looks nothing like this. This is clearly a purposeful detail because even when she refers to herself dying in Daredevil’s arms, she refers to him as Matthew. We strip Elektra of her affiliations with mutants and ghosts, and focus on her personal tragedy of a motherless upbringing and a murderous lifestyle. There is a multiple person narrative running throughout the comic, which is kept simple by coloured thought boxes. On the pages where multiple views are represented, they are often relating to similar events or themes. This presents a diverse discourse on a particular scenario. This is perfectly utilised at the latter stages of the book where Elektra and Lips enter a watery purgatory.
Haden Blackman presents an ethereal and elegant style of writing, where personal introspective provides insightful and melodic phraseology. Examples of this include, “My brain is a mausoleum for the screamin’ faces of the dead” and “I would take breath and dive, praying with every stroke that God would grant me the power to breathe underwater”. The flow and beat of the book is mesmerising and that is without an appreciation of the art. The dialogue between characters is clear and succinct otherwise but the personal journeys are where Haden truly practises his craft. The writing is creative and emotive and clearly demonstrates from whence the characters came, but without exaggeration or pretention. He forms beautiful prose and it can easily be read as poetry.
Continuing the nightmarish vagary theme Del Mundo produces the most incredible single and double page spreads. He barely utilised panels and when he does it is for a specific storytelling purpose, such as Bloody Lips swimming towards the glass or feasting on a delicate soul. Even then they are bordered by other aspects of the art such as Elektra’s hair, very reminiscent of Williams III. Del Mundo has very little inking throughout the comic and watercolours provide the definition. This tends to blur the borders between objects and lends to the marine feel to the book. The effect also tends to cast a cloudy sheen to the comic, producing the ethereal and dream like tone. The fighting is quite interesting as it does not follow on easily in a sequence but the postures and stills are grandiose and damaging. The effects of water aid in the movement of the book but it is the colouring that provides not only the action effects but also it’s tone and mood. The final pages are haunting through a combination of an overcast crowd of misery dulled by the green and blue tinges of water. Enter the interaction between assassin and victim and you have a biography of Elektra’s life and a confrontation of her biggest loss of all.
There is a seamless interaction between writer and artist, which is commendable considering the leftfield approach to the comic. They successfully teeter on the edge of reality and delusion and the mythos of the Cape Crow and Bleeding Lips sends the book to realms unknown. I truly adore the way they capture these characters and then ground Elektra to reality as much as possible. It is so difficult to tell whether to approach this book as one of the Marvel universe or a completely different world altogether. Elektra makes references to her life and trials she has undergone, but they seem from a place very far away. Bleeding Lips is an intriguing character who is insistent on feeding on Elektra’s blood, but when he obtains the chance finds that her life is not truly life after all: enter a world of purgatory. The themes of death, deliverance, repentance and redemption run through this book and are beginning to manifest themselves physically. This is the time for the book to delve into the darkness of Elektra’s psyche or to add another assassination to the ledger. I am confident that the former will be fully expounded upon before the inevitable latter premise prevails. As I all too often say, it is the journey that makes the story, not necessarily the outcome, and I have complete faith that Blackman and Del Mundo have a fervent ride in store for us.
“Enough murders for me to retreat to some dark corner of the world and never relive the same kill twice.”