Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review # 81: "Elektra: Assassin"

Start with "The Dark Knight Returns." Mix in "Born Again." Then add a mishmash of drugs even Toronto Mayor Rob Ford wouldn't touch and you get "Elektra: Assassin."

I love Frank Miller's work on "Daredevil" and count his run as writer (and sometimes artist) on that title amongst the best in my collection without any hesitation. This, on the other hand... You know how sometimes you read or watch or listen to something and you aren't sure if it's brilliant or terrible? "Elektra: Assassin" fits into that category.

Drawn by the polarizing Bill Sienkiewicz (nicknamed "Stinkowicz" by his detractors,) Elektra's first solo series is like reading a dream. A trippy, screwed-up dream. This is not an entry point for any new reader whatsoever. If you don't have some kind of knowledge of Daredevil, Elektra and the ninja association known as The Hand, you are lost. And if you DO have a wealth of knowledge on those subjects, you're STILL lost. With Sienkiewicz's expressionistic style and Miller's inner-monologue narration it is often difficult to process what is happening on each page. There are a few sequences I had to read multiple times to get a grip on the content.

The fact that this is surrealistic does not help matters. Neither do the new and somewhat confusing powers Elektra had developed since her last appearance. Suddenly she can control people's minds and transfer her own consciousness. This is one of the reasons this has been considered non-canon (though its events have later been referenced in pieces that are.) Elektra uses her new abilities to manipulate half-mechanical SHIELD agent John Garrett. That's the relatively straightforward new power, and is well-depicted though not completely explained through Garrett's narration which takes up many more pages than Elektra's. Her ability to swap minds is less so and is very confusing at first as she ends up being trapped in the mind of a 19-year-old young woman by The Hand. I read that sequence at least four times and am still not 100 percent on what exactly happened.

Despite these devices, the main plot is actually fairly standard fare. A demonic entity known only as "The Beast" (not Hank McCoy) has possessed several people including the forerunner in the US Presidential race in an effort to start a world-ending nuclear war. The way Democratic candidate Ken Wind ("Not Wind like a watch... Wind like the air.") is drawn is fantastic. He has two faces (Sienkiewicz self-portraits, though he resembles Dan Quayle) based on his campaign poster image. Only those two expressions appear up until the final issue. Elektra and Garrett's attempts to stop The Hand are blocked by several obstacles including SHIELD agents both good and horribly, horribly evil. The solution is certainly creative... and convenient.

If there's one thing I can say definitively about this collection, it's that it's provocative. Despite some difficulty grasping what is happening, it feels worth the effort to make an attempt. Sienkiewicz's visuals are mind-bending while Miller's writing is as grim, brutal and raw as ever. It's truly eyebrow-raising. It's often also bewildering. In the end, it's worth a read... though I'd put it lower on the list of Frank Miller items to check out. Partially because his work with Daredevil, Batman and the citizens of Sin City is better, partially because it might prepare you for the craziness "Elektra: Assassin" is.

Rating: 9/10

(I guess it's brilliant.)

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