Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 20, 2012

Comics I Read In Series Form In The 1980s: Elektra: Assassin


I'm not sure that I can completely unpack the way I operated in the 1980s as a political creature, something that had to have an effect on my reading works like Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz's Elektra: Assassin. I was a young conservative of the Alex Keaton variety, although less from a hard-won set of principles than in unrestrained delight in irritating my poor teachers. I worked for the second Reagan campaign before I could vote, and my major goal in life not related to panties was to attend America's most conservative university that wasn't owned by a church. At the same time, I was a child of MAD Magazine and Monty Python. There was a certain political orientation that's all but disappeared now that embraced certain ideas but didn't throw a hissy-fit at their satirization. The best way I can describe it is that my closest friends and I liked Pink Floyd but were totally down with Johnny Rotten wearing a "I Hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt -- except, you know, a politics version. We could carry both ideas in our heads, that we might support something but that its excesses needed to be savaged, and would be whether we liked it or not. We could laugh either way.

Elektra: Assassin is a super-crude hate letter to both ends of the political spectrum, a take as broad as anything Miller would create subsequently, this time aimed at the two sides of the American political divide that basically said they were the same thing heading for the same result: our total destruction. I take it as seriously-intended, because I'm not sure Miller has ever done anything not seriously intended. The series is distinguished mostly by Bill Sienkiewicz's throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-it art, the high point of an entire approach to illustrating superhero comics. It's not a set of stylistic choices I ever enjoyed all that much, although what I generally don't care for proves to be the best stuff here: the slightly unhinged quality, the way it doesn't really care if it's easy or difficult to follow, the decorative look of many of the pages, the lack of flow. From the safe remove of two and a half decades, I also appreciate some of the more nerdly aspects of this series' existence. Elektra was dead, only here she was not. The story took place in Marvel continuity, only it didn't. Elektra had a rigorously defined set of abilities, except when the comic called for her to be a ludicrous force of nature. Was it Bob Fiore who compared Elektra in this series to a sexualized ninja Bugs Bunny? That sounds about right. As far as a publishing project, we'll never know if a series like this could have been a foundational volume for an ambitious Marvel trades program, because despite collecting its fair share of everything including this work Marvel refuses to have a meaningful trades program with targeted, foundational volumes the way a four-year-old refuses to wear a tie. That makes Elektra: Assassin seem more lost than even its bold look and board-to-the-head satire might indicate, an extravagant journey down a side road, one long lost weekend and in many ways a series of comic books forever.
posted 12:00 am PST | Permalink

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