Elektra Lives Again
Medium: comic
Year: 1990
Writer/artist: Frank Miller
Keywords: superhero
Series: << Daredevil >>, << Elektra >>
Format: 96 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 20 October 2021
It's an odd, dreamlike piece about loss and grief. Matt Murdock can't let go of the dead Elektra, but eventually he does. It's not clear that Elektra's ever alive at all in these pages, in fact. She never speaks, except for one word at the end: "goodbye". She drifts through the pages like a ghost, appearing and disappearing without clear meaning. She's coloured like a ghost (as is Matt himself). We first see her in a dream, being hunted down and killed by everyone she's ever murdered. "Gloria Fenton still wants to know why she and her unborn baby died. Elektra can't remember."
Next, she's been turned into her own gravestone, as one of many insights into Matt's mental state. She kills in that cemetery, then is later again attacked by the dead in a morgue before ultimately dying as a nun in a church. The symbolism is deafening.
She might be alive, of course, and that's the straightforward, literalist interpretation, perhaps supported by the title and the apparent fact that the Hand are pursuing her and will go for Bullseye. I don't know, though. Did I just read 96 pages of Matt working through his pain?
Consequentially, this is an odd read. It's melancholy, ambiguous and will make you confused and uncomfortable. If you read comics for superhero action, you'll think very little of this and soon forget about it. People don't talk about it much, including Miller himself. (He'd thought that Marvel had promised not to resurrect Elektra, but they did and he didn't like that. Here, he's written a book called "Elektra Lives Again" to carve in stone, from somewhere deep, that she's dead, dead, dead.) "All Star Batman & Robin" left me wondering if Miller was even capable of portraying grief, but this is an entire book about that.
I wouldn't call the book particularly successful, mind you. If you're not sure what you're reading, it's harder to connect to a story. As an exercise in tone and symbolism, though, it's fascinating.
Visually, it's a wonder. There's a lot of The Dark Knight Returns in here, but was Miller also being influenced by Geof Darrow, with whom he was then doing Hard Boiled? I own this story's original 31.5 x 24.5 cm hardback release and it's glorious, with all the detail in the religious iconography, the cityscapes and those spiralling, almost Escher-like staircases. At the same time, though, it fits a reading of the whole book being just a reflection of what's happening inside Matt's head. Those dazzlingly illustrated churches and those white, almost abstract snowbound cemeteries. The staircases reminded me that Matt and sanity haven't always been close. He and Elektra spend a lot of time in white, isolating environments. Baths, public toilets, the snow and a void that I think must be set inside Matt's brain. (That's the scene where a Japanese assassin talks to him in a cage, after saying, "I will kill Murdock without touching him. With my mind.")
Matt never dresses as Daredevil, incidentally, although he starts changing in the toilets on p45. It's jarring to get costumed flashbacks of him and Bullseye on p37.
This book isn't a crowd-pleaser. It looks European, not American. It lacks bright colours, although that's a positive if you appreciate its rich, delicate painting by Lynn Varley. You won't know what's literally true (if anything). It's best read, I think, as a visual and narrative reflection of Matt's journey of grief, on which level it's pretty startling. It will, though, hit home emotionally for certain readers. If you're in a place where this work can resonate with you... wow.