Today, Patrick and Drew discussing Elektra 7, originally released on October 29th, 2014.
Patrick: Though my love for Green Lantern has dulled some over the years, the central concept behind the character is infinitely compelling to me. All the Green Lanterns use their power rings to will physical objects into existence. Sometimes these constructs are simple blasts of energy, sometimes they’re giant hammers, sometimes they’re cages or slings or flyswatters. Whatever it is, the thing only exists because a human being (…or some kind of alien…) willed it into existence. I find this idea fascinating — all it takes to achieve the impossible is to have the resolve to declare it possible. Realistically, I know that’s not all there is to it: achieving just about anything also takes time and hard work and practice and failure and money — but that all falls as a result of one’s will. Superheroes are a willful lot, but none more defiantly so than Elektra, and issue 7 demonstrates that that’s been her most valuable superpower all along.
Having dispatched with the Serpent Squad (or “Serpent Society,” Elektra can’t remember which), our hero turns her focus toward a powered-up Lady Bullseye. The details on the procedure that powered her up come from the previous issue, but all we really need to know is that the serum she’s been injected with enhances her already-existing powers. For the purposes of this fight, that makes Lady Bullseye intangible at will, so Elektra’s sai pass harmlessly through her. Elektra’s voiceover on the first couple pages plays up the common qualities between Lady Bullseye the phantoms from Elektra’s past that she’s evading. That’s a fine enough metaphor, I suppose, but that’s also pretty well-worn ground by this point in the series. But as the fight progresses, it becomes clear that there’s more rich thematic groundwork being laid here than some neat symbolism. The only way for Elektra to get a shot at damaging her assailant is to allow herself to be struck, temporarily rendering Lady Bullseye tangible.
That’s Elektra’s first big act of extreme willpower: taking a sword through the gut isn’t particularly heroic, but it does allow her to show Lady Bullseye that she’s vulnerable in either state. Even the blows Elektra lands don’t seem particularly pleasant for her.
Strictly speaking, “taking a deep breath” isn’t on Elektra’s list of powers, proficiencies or skills. She’s making a tactical move, but what’s really happening here is that Elektra’s taking something unpleasant into her body. It’s a shitty smell and a repulsive taste, and while overcoming that might not sound like the badass thing you’ve read in comic books this week (or even in this issue), but it’s also just a solid, relatable, mind-over-matter kind of move.
After Elektra ‘ports over to the Assassins’ Guild base in New Orleans, she has to take on similarly jacked up versions of Jack O’Lantern, Whiplash and Tiger Shark. All of their abilities are enhanced in ways that just make them slightly scarier versions of themselves: Mr. O’Lantern can start even more stuff on fire, Mr. ‘Lash has an extra set of whip-wielding arms, and Mr. Shark is… I guess just a bigger shark. For each of them, writer Hayden Blackman has a ready-made solution for Elektra to put into play, and what should really be the knock-down-drag-out climactic fight sequences becomes a by-the-numbers fight.
It’s still sort of a neat fight, and artist Alex Sanchez packs every page with fireballs, glowy whips and teeth, but Elektra’s real display of willpower comes later.
Realizing that she’s got their balls in a vice, the Guild scientists offer to call off their bounty on Elektra and her friends on the condition that she be subjected to the same serum that made that last set of bad guys marginally-more-difficult to beat up. Naturally, she refuses to cooperate in the most refusing-to-cooperate way possible: by shooting the scientists in the head. That’s obviously a defiant move, but I don’t know, maybe that’s a little more trigger happy than I want to see from my heroes.
It could be that for as much as I want to like extremely willful characters, I can’t help but feel a least a little distanced from them. In The Usual Suspects, the legend of Keyser Söze demonstrates that the only thing that really separated him from his would-be-peers was his will to do what the other person wouldn’t do. So, like: is that a virtue? Or is it just an ability to get something done, and morality is an issue completely aside?
Drew, I sorta struggled with this one. Between opening on the tired point of Elektra escaping her past and closing on a weird “I’ll do anything for my friends” note, this thing might have been too thematically muddled for my tastes. Also, man do I miss Del Mundo’s otherworldly artwork. Oh, and that’s the end of Match Maker? Huge bummer. I really liked that character.
Drew: I’m with you on not really being sure what this issue wanted to be. The kind of “I don’t care who sees me” gate-crashing we get in this issue is awesome for a hulking action hero, but feels oddly out-of-place in a series about an assassin. Indeed, instead of assassination, she settles for cold-blooded murder (the definition hinges both on her personal motivation, and that literally every person she kills sees her coming a mile away). A series about a person whose “thing” is killing other people is always going to be a little morally grey, but Blackman really leans into the ugliness here.
Part of what makes these killings so unpalatable is that they seemingly come out of nowhere. By my count, she’s only killed once in the previous six issues: Bloody Lips, whose killing was so impersonal and bloodless as to leave the possibility open that he’s probably not dead, anyway. More importantly, the only time she’d been moved to violence was in self-defense. Here, she goes on the offensive, marching into the Assassin’s Guild headquarters and shooting the two dudes she finds there in the head. Sure, they still posed an existential threat in the form of their fatwa against her (and her friends), but it’s just abstract enough to make me uncomfortable with it.
Though I suppose this series has always had a bit of an issue motivating Elektra with anything resembling morality. That’s always going to be a problem for a series where the point of the character is to kill, but where Black Widow focuses on contracts that “deserve to die,” and Punisher is all about Frank’s personal vendetta, it feels like Elektra doesn’t have an easy explanation for why she does what she does. She took the Cape Crow contract for the money, then stuck with it when she found out there was no money, and has now declared war on the Assassin’s Guild because they killed her friend.
The conclusion of this issue seems to set Elektra on a path to actual assassin missions against the Assassin’s Guild, which could be a fun, if derivative, direction for this series. Still, we don’t really get a taste of that here, and seven issues seems like a long time to go without any assassinations in a comic about an assassin.
Actually, Patrick, I think your comment about the tiredness of Elektra monologuing about escaping her past may be telling, since I think escaping her past is really the only thing that has consistently driven the series — Elektra’s motives, morals, and cast have shifted too much to count on any of those. All of that is to say: if it’s bothering you, this may not be the best series to stick with. I look forward to a spirited debate about what we think this series is about, and whether or not we’re interested in whatever we conclude.
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I think Matchmaker will be back. She said something about “see you again next cycle” or something to that effect, meaning I fully expect her to regenerate in some new state, ala Doctor Who or even Wicked + Divine. Since her current cycle was that of a 1930s flapper, how do you think she might be back next? Some sort of Depression era Carpetbagger? A WWII era Rosie the Riveter? A Leave it to Beaver-esque 50s housewife?
I really hope I’m right about this.
Oh interesting. Maybe she’s been around in that form since the 30s, and that’s why she looks like that. Maybe she comes back as a 2014… lady… what to we call people from the present?
Oh, that’s your answer to everything.
It’s right more often than you’d think.