Grotesque, Beautiful and Mad, Mad, Mad – Elektra: Assassin

When recounting the best-known works of Frank Miller, one has to mention his two classic Batman stories that defined the character’s beginning and ending, his Sin City, 300 and of course his classic Daredevil run – the one which introduced the character of Elektra. Still, there are tons of great comics with ‘Frank Miller’ stamped on the cover, so it’s understandable that not all of them get the attention they deserve. And Elektra miniseries from 1986, drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, is surprisingly often one of them. Surprising, because the comic is of brilliant quality both in art and writing, is standalone, and also aged incredibly well.

Nutty as a fruitcake.

It is a story of an assassination gone wrong which turns into saving the USA from being taken over by the Beast. Elektra: Assasssin takes place sometime during the Cold War and features ninjas, cyborgs, spies and politicians. Oh, and also quite a handful of gratuitous violence, outrageous humor, and strange sexual undertones. I wouldn’t say it’s fast-paced, though. The creators take their time, pull the reader into the beautiful blues of each page. And it’s not always pretty!

The first issue is where the minds of the two great comic book artists brutally collide. It’s sort of an origin story, but instead of being a gentle introduction to the character, it is a colorful mess of styles dipped in tons of purple prose. Frank Miller wants to take Elektra on a rough road to discovery while Bill Sienkiewicz pulls her in the direction of abstract and mad. I wasn’t ready for this. I expected fun and games and empowerment!

But before my eyes the narrative begun to change shape. Elektra fights her way out of this Sienkiewicz-Miller brutal nightmare, and is replaced by a different protagonist – Garrett. Now, she can stay in the shadows and affect the story by pulling the proper strings – by going a bit out of the picture, she becomes a puppet master, and all the crazy that the authors have in stock is re-targeted at Garrett. He becomes the ridiculous hardboiled unlucky hero. He has to deal with the worst, while Elektra, now in complete control is transformed into the dispenser of badassery. Everything comes together and the creators sing in insane unison.

Don’t go crazy, you know.

Originally, this was an eight issue miniseries. And it would be quite apparent even without the covers breaking up the chapters in the trade-paperback. For one thing, every issue begins with a short visual recap of the previous ones. It seamlessly fits into the rest of the story, because Sienkiewicz can re-purpose his old art into these new pages while at the same time still adding to them. This speed bump slows down the plot a bit, yet it doesn’t really matter, the road is too delightful for the reader to stop.

Allow me to reiterate: the story is wacky and mad in and of itself, but the art is what makes it special. Sienkiewicz can draw an ugly page with depicted people all bulky and twisted, and then the next one be a simple beautiful splash page, and it’s all in his  unmistakable style. I was often turning the pages just to see what will he draw next. I could stare into this book all day. It’s like a dream that you don’t want to ever end.

Elektra: Assassin is the kind of comic which hypnotizes the reader. When you finish it, it doesn’t really disappear into the deep of your pop brain. It’s memorable, because of Sienkiewicz’s uniqueness in the comic book scene. It’s thoughtful, because of various little things sprinkled all over each page and hiding behind each word. It’s comics as a whimsical adventure. It’s comics as adult fiction. It’s full of imagination while seemingly grounded. And it’s simply fabulous.

About tobecooper
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