Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review - Elektra Lives Again

Elektra Lives Again
by Frank Miller
1991 Eisner Winner for Best Graphic Album

There was a time when I enjoyed Frank Miller's work a lot. I have both omnibuses of his Daredevil work to use an obvious connection. I enjoyed at least the beginning of Sin City. I genuinely liked 300. I'm not a fan of Batman and I find Batman: Year One to be magnificent. In spite of this at some point Miller started slipping. These days it's almost guaranteed that I'm going to hate anything he creates. Elektra Lives Again has a strong attachment to his good work so I was expecting something that I'd at least enjoy. What I got was a book that was good to look at and a story that I could only follow by knowing the history of the characters involved.

In the early 80's Miller wrote a story for Daredevil where the title character's former girlfriend Elektra became a ninja assassin, turned on her masters, and then died (essentially the story used for the Daredevil movie). Miller revisited this story a few times before this graphic novel where Daredevil fears that the ninja clan may be attempting to resurrect Elektra and brainwash her. Then he finds signs that she may already be alive and the ninjas are working to create an even deadlier warrior to put Elektra back into her grave.

I could barely follow the story as I read Elektra Lives Again. It is a mess. I could give you a broad outline of events but the details blur and get muddied. This was after going through some portions again ten minutes ago to make sure I had things straight. Miller was solidly tied to the ninja craze in the 1980's and it shows through in this book as the ninjas are magic assassins who can do anything except kill the heroes because they're ninjas.

Character motivations are opaque to me for anything beyond the broad strokes. I can get the Elektra wants to kill ninjas, ninjas want to kill Elektra, and Daredevil wants to save her aspect of things. The problems for me are when Daredevil just lets Elektra walk past him on a staircase. Or when in his identity as a lawyer he jumps into bed with one of his clients. Or why the ninjas attack Daredevil to get information when any observation would demonstrate that he still thinks Elektra is dead. Topping it all off the conclusion is built on an emotional epiphany that that left me baffled; it was the equivalent of having a caption saying, "And then suddenly he was all better."

On the positive side of things Miller's art is just as terrific as always in Elektra Lives Again. He draws elaborate, dense pages that just pull me in. He often uses a jumble of staccato images that look like they should be a chaotic mess and then as I examine them closer the story in them emerges. As with 300 his wife Lynn Varley painted over his pencils and her soft coloring adds a pleasant texture to the book.

Good art by Miller doesn't justify the unreadable story. While he was creating Elektra Lives Again he was gearing up for Sin City which features both an engrossing story and great art. Miller is capable of so much more that it just isn't worth it to bother with this.