The last issue of this expertly crafted tale of action and introspection ends with suitable bombast, but writer W. Haden Blackman doesn’t short-change Elektra emotionally, instead offering up some more powerful and personal moments for our hero. And all the while artist Michael Del Mundo draws some absolutely stunning panels of action, brutality, and of course ninjas. An excellent last bow for an excellent series.
On the surface writer W. Haden Blackman has told a relatively straight-forward Elektra story; hired by the match-maker to track down missing assassin Cape Crow before the assassins guild get a hold of him Elektra travels the world and faces off against villains and ninjas, culminating in the appearance of a mystically resurrected and enhanced Bullseye. But surfaces can be deceiving, look below them and you can find all manner of currents, depths, and meanings. This has really been the story of Elektra rediscovering her place in the world; in times past she has been an assassin, an anti-hero, Matt Murdock’s lover, dead, and now she is on the path to becoming something quite different again – a hero.
There have been some weighty issues in this run, notably when Elektra faced into her darkest memories and regrets during her underwater battle with Bloody Lips, so this last issue features a lighter narrative by comparison as it is chiefly concerned with the street battle between the guild, the Hand, Bullseye, Cape Crow and his son Kento, and Elektra herself. That said, there isn’t a great deal of narrative threads to resolve at this point so it is perhaps unsurprising that the action takes centre stage. Even here though Blackman takes the opportunity to shed some light on Elektra’s emotional state; as she faces into near-certain death she considered the things that an early death will cause her to miss out on, and whilst they are undesirable for sure (cancers, and pills, and heart attacks), there is very much a sense of regret in Elektra’s tone. Elektra has lived a life of urgent and immediate violence and the price for that may well be that she doesn’t get to age and wither like a regular person – she will forever be fighting this fight (a point further emphasised by Bullseye’s late stage de-powering and escape, after all he will be forever fighting this fight too).
And yet the fight at the centre of this issue is as much an emotional one as it is a physical one. Elektra is having one final crisis of faith in herself, is she really capable of being the hero, of stepping up and saving the day, saving her friends? Of course Elektra doesn’t go down without giving her all, and despite the beating she has taken (the brutality of which is so well captured by the art, at once both beautiful and horrific) Elektra does indeed step up to get the job done. Whilst Elektra’s evolution into a fully fledged hero is complete, after all she puts saving a child’s life over revenge, it is still tempered by pragmatism and ruthlessness as evidenced by the deal she makes in exchange for her help – that the guild will belong to her from now on. A deal that leads to my favourite moment of this issue, the epilogue, wherein Elektra, Cape Crow, and Kento step up to fight the entire guild in a weird hall of hanging dolls (yet another amazing environment from Del Mundo). This is just a brilliant ending to this story of redemption and self-discovery; Elektra will still be out there taking care of business even if we don’t get to see it (and now she has a team!)
Artist Mike Del Mundo is an absolute master of depth and miss en scène, and his ability to guide the eye through different levels of the image is truly stunning. I really don’t think there is anyone working quite like this in anything else I read right now and comics will definitely poorer for the cancellation of Del Mundo’s only current monthly title (though we’ll get a couple of Weirdworld issues from him during Secret Wars). My first experience of Del Mundo’s art was at the start of this run and initially it (favourably) reminded me of J.H. William’s work (also with Blackman) on the brilliant Batwoman book (another artist that I would love to see on a monthly book again) as they both deliver complex and intricate panels with often washed out and ghostly palettes. But with each issue of Elektra (as well as the frankly astonishing All-New X-Men #37) I have developed a real love for Del Mundo’s work on its merits alone and it has moved way beyond mere comparisons to other artists – this is some of my favourite art right now. Each page is so rich and full of detail and quality that it just begs to be stared at. And at times you could be forgiven for mistaking some of his panels for movie stills, even with the ethereal and otherworldly quality of the art, as the sense of motion and depth is palpable.
Panels where the foreground is littered with bodies and battle debris, point of view images as Elektra looks on helplessly with her hand reaching out impotently, Bullseye’s new found mystical power melting away once he is defeated, the clear visceral price of victory in Elektra’s half broken face – in all of it Del Mundo renders every moment with delicate, intricate, and a truly unique visual craftsmanship (his use of blurred foreground alone is outstanding). It is also well worth noting that in the creation of the confusing fog of war Del Mundo is ably assisted by colourist Marco D’Alfonso who manages to give the shadows and smog a threatening tangibility. The muted hues still vividly evoke the ebb and flow of battle, the calm moments and frenetic attacks, and the vicious drawing of blood.
For Elektra this book has been about two journeys, an earthbound quest to find and rescue Cape Crow, and a metaphysical exploration of her own capacity for good in the face of a past littered with wrongs and regrets. This has been a story that set out to establish Elektra as a bona fide hero in the Marvel universe; not just to bring her back to life, but to give her a life worth living, and one untethered from Matt Murdock and New York City at that. Blackman and Del Mundo have achieved that aim admirably, in many more ways than one. I am quite sad to see this book go.
Elektra #11 // Writer – W. Haden Blackman / Art – Michael Del Mundo / Colours – Marco D’Alfonso // Marvel
Notes and Observations:
- After the shocking, and somehow really threatening, reveal that the head of the assassins guild was a young telepath last issue I was a little disappointed that Bullseye got the better of her so easily – surely she has dealt with his type before if she has risen up the ranks so quickly?
- Bullseye never misses – the deflected card was a brilliant moment.
- At first I thought the head of the guild had telepathically reactivated Elektra’s body so she could save her, which may indeed have been the case, but I couldn’t quite work it out. Might just be that Elektra is hard as nails!
- Just take another look at that beautiful cover.
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