Patrick: I probably bring up the Matrix movies more than I ought to when discussing comics. For all the hullabaloo that surrounded their release, the original Matrix was more of a cultural anomaly, and not the flashpoint for a vibrant new franchise. One of the biggest reasons that first film worked at all is that the Wachowskis melded arresting visuals with some rudimentary philosophy. Like, it’s just intellectual enough to engage the thinky portion of your brain, and then it switches tracks to engage the adrenaline-junky in all of us. The second and third movies got this mixture all wrong, agonizing over bare philosophy for far too long, never dressing it up as anything more abstract. And then there’s the matter of the spectacle, which got a lot less compelling with each new installment. Elektra has also toed this line, exploring how death has shaped the lives of Elektra and Bloody Lips against the backdrop of Michael Del Mundo’s glorious artwork. Issue three escalates both its spectacle and philosophy to dizzying heights, setting the stage for one hell of a heady ending to the opening arc.
The issue starts in much the same way the previous issue did, with Bloody Lips illuminating the different ways individual’s memories work. As BL grows in strength with each successive kill, it’s only natural that the stolen memories he focuses on are those when his victims were killing others. It’s a monstrous little cycle, and it makes Bloody Lips singularly focused on death. Even when he’s exploring Kento’s memories, Bloody Lips’ own voice over insists on reiterating how eager he is to kill and consume both Elektra and Cape Crow. It’s a startling juxtaposition, and it goes a long way towards both romanticizing Kento’s childhood and demonizing Bloody Lips. Seriously, the dude’s not enchanted by the dinosaur-populated Savage Lands, The Blue Area of the Moon, or even the underwater city of Shicheng?
I love the trippy layouts and texture-based coloring on these memory pages. Elsewhere in the issue, Del Mundo and Marco D’Alfonso use gradual shading to emphasize lighting and contour, but in Bloody Lips’ borrowed memories, the style is more flat and graphic. Not only does this set off the memories as something different from the real-time storytelling, but it emphasizing how much more tangible objects are in the rest of the issue. These memories are simply presentations – collages of experience – while the more shapely lighting and coloring represent what’s actually happening.
Mind you, what’s actually happening is no less beautiful than Bloody Lips’ horrifying memories. Elektra and Kento make for Shicheng, which has long since been abandoned. I’m a sucker for any underwater city, but Del Mundo’s take on the trope is simply breathtaking. He takes well-worn ideas, like bubble-esque windows and architecture inspired by coral reefs and other sea life, and blows it out in a hauntingly solemn setting. My favorite moment is when Elektra and Kento enter his mother’s memorial room.
This is gorgeous. I love this trick of perspective that makes it seem as though the statue is 100 feet high. We’ll see in the next panel, that the statue is closer to life-size, but the message is clear: the loss of Kento’s mother still looms large over his life. This is the first time the series has expressed death this way — as an experience of loss, rather than as gaining something. Both Elektra and Kento have earned so much of their identity from death, but Kento’s mournful eyes in this scene express just the opposite.
This makes the stakes so much higher for the moment Bloody Lips comes crashing through the window, ready to crassly claim his prize. This is when the moodiness is replaced with that kind of kinetic, heart-in-your-throat excitement. The transition from contemplative to violent is so obvious and so cool, and once BL bursts onto the scene, it never looks back.
Elektra’s able to get Kento out of there and jam a sai through Bloody Lips’ skull. But it’s too late — both our hero and our villain are drowned as the room fills with water. They’re immediately confronted by the ghosts of people they hadn’t considered themselves guilty of murdering, for BL, it’s a small family and for Elektra, it’s her mother.
Shelby, I didn’t know this piece of Elektra’s history, but it certainly is thematically consistent. My one fear is that the next issue will address these ideas of deaths shaping individuals too explicitly. The last couple issues have allowed us to at least be a little goofy and abstract about it, but with Elektra confronting the ghost of her dead mother, well… I’m just concerned about this thing getting a little Matrix Revolution-y.
Shelby: I remember very clearly the first time I saw the Firefly episode “Objects in Space.” There’s a bounty hunter aboard the ship looking for the Tams, and at one point River’s voice comes over the loudspeakers, proclaiming that River melted away, and she was the ship Serenity now. Joss Whedon and the cast had me so deeply under their spell, I didn’t even question it. Just nodded my head, and said, “Yep, River is a ship now, that makes sense.” Blackman and Del Mundo have me under the same sort of spell; “Yep, Elektra and Bloody Lips are drowned spirits, now, trapped in the underwater city, that makes sense.”
Patrick, I love your commentary on Kendo’s mother’s statue. It’s such a different approach to death than what we’ve seen; it’s been elegant and graceful in Elektra’s hands, raw and primal with Bloody Lips, but here it’s quiet and reflective. It’s a pensive, almost holy moment. Del Mundo has been completely knocking it out of the park on this title; I love the different styles used for each person’s memories.
It makes me think of The Cell, which wasn’t a great movie, but it sure was a beautiful one. I was so enamored with the idea of seeing the world through the eyes of someone else, of seeing things the way they see them. This is sort of the same thing, with the style of each person’s memories revealing their personality and character.
Patrick, you raise an interesting concern: too Matrix Revolution-y. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it. Blackman is just so casual in how he handles Elektra’s “death.” She calmly accepts it and moves on to the next thing, be it fighting Bloody Lips some more or finding a new apartment in Shicheng. I trust Blackman to not get too hung up on the philosophical details of what is happening to our characters, and instead focus on, well, what’s actually happening to our characters. As long as the tone remains at, “Yep, drowned spirits, doomed forever,” I don’t think we have to worry about this title disappearing up it’s own, philosophical butt.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?