Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Elektra Lives Again

April 12th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Go read Chad Nevett on Sin City: The Hard Goodbye. I’ll wait. Promise. I got plenty of booze and broads right here, but the bullets are in my other jacket pocket. Index of posts here.

Elektra Lives Again is a Frank Miller/Lynn Varley joint from 1991. The title really says it all. This is the story of the return of Elektra, who died in Miller’s classic run on Daredevil, and the effect she has on Matt Murdock’s life. Elektra Lives Again is about obsession, in other words. Murdock doesn’t mourn her so much as he is haunted by her. The Hand want revenge on her for her disrespect, and will stop at nothing to get it.

Why is this book significant? It was Miller’s first stab at the character since 1986’s Elektra Assassin with Bill Sienkiewicz. Miller has admitted that his writing that book adjusted the way he approaches making comics due to the back and forth and explosion of ideas between Miller and Sienkiewicz.

Elektra Lives Again comes after that, and after that time Miller dropped four classics between 1986 and 1987. Nearly ten years had passed since his run on Daredevil began. Elektra Lives Again, like Dark Knight Strikes Again ten years later, was Frank Miller coming home again, going back to what made him a name.

Like Ronin, Elektra Lives Again is on another level visually. While all comics are group efforts, this is one of those that simply wouldn’t be the same without Varley’s painted colors. Miller is credit with script and line art, which I assume means that he inked himself. Most of the definition and shading seems to be courtesy of Varley, whether it is the diseased flesh of the zombies who hunt Elektra or Murdock’s feverish face while he dreams.

Ronin had a palette that brought to mind decaying organics and broken futures. This book, on the other hand, has a subdued palette. Even scenes that are lit by flames are dark and dreary, perfectly reflecting Matt Murdock’s mental state. Lynn Varley counts, though most of what i’m about to say is about Miller in particular.

There is a sequence of pages in this book that I’m in love with. It is the first of perhaps three major action scenes, and begins after Murdock has tried to heal his pain through sex with a client. It didn’t work, and he calls it “a sad thing.” He goes walking in his underwear, wrapped up his own thoughts, and ends up at her grave. Ninjas attack, demanding to know where Elektra is, and then Elektra rises from the ground, literally rising from her grave, and laying waste to the ninjas. Murdock and Elektra meet face-to-face, neither speaking, before Elektra makes her getaway.

It’s standard when spelled out, but the execution is obscenely beautiful. Miller lays out the page with enormous panels, generally two to a page and stacked vertically. They are packed with detail, whether that’s the intricate brickwork on Murdock’s brownstone, the constantly shifting graveyard, or the various weapons the ninjas use while attacking. Miller keeps the camera in motion during the fight, zooming in or out as needed, while leaving the background fluid.

But the mind-blowing part, the part I keep coming back to, is page twenty-three. Murdock hops off his railing, lands on a wire, and bounces to a rooftop. Anyone who has read a Batman, Spider-Man, or Daredevil comic knows it well, but I bet you’ve never seen it rendered like this. Matt’s form is practically angelic as he comes off his railing, and the only hint that he is in motion is the splash of snow he left behind.

He hits the wire and we capture a perfect moment between moments. Murdock is still in the process of landing on the wire, a split-second before his muscles shift and he launches himself upward to his next perch. In that split-second, we see that the snow that rested on the wire is still in mid-air, and he’s split it perfectly.

This is poetry in motion, one of those scenes that makes you pause and marvel. There’s a later page that is almost as amazing. Page 30 features Elektra pausing and then punching through a ninja as his momentum carries her off the hill. It’s great, but panel two, page twenty-three is king. It has a message, and that message is this: Frank Miller knows exactly what he is doing, and he is very good at what he does.

Look at the figures. There is none of the verve, none of the unlikely acrobatics that normally illustrate these kinds of scenes. There is no foot swung out wide, bat-symbol boots on display. No spider-web tangled and looping through and around the scenery. There is just a listless man, broken-hearted and blind with grief, going through the motions of what he does. But, despite the rote nature of the act, there is a certain level of beauty to be found there. There is grace.

Miller undoubtedly drew scenes like this hundreds of times in his career at this point. It is a classic superheroic action. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop is how everyone from Spider-Man to Speedball to Batman to Captain America gets around town. If you can’t fly, if you don’t have a fancy car, you take to the rooftops. It doesn’t get more superheroic than a hero on a roof.

But this isn’t superheroic at all. Murdock is just a man here. It’s something different. This is Miller pushing his limits. He’s done straight superheroes. He’s reinvented the biggest cape in the business. He got to have his cake and eat it, too, and then he blew your mind with Elektra Assassin. Ronin showed a certain restlessness in his art, a refusal to settle down. Elektra Lives Again is another signifier of that restlessness. This could’ve easily been just another Daredevil comic, but instead, it feels vaguely European. The storytelling is all wrong, the panels too big, and the star of the book too broken and haunted.

Murdock’s body language on the line, the broken snow, the enormous panels that waffle between claustrophobic and spacious– Miller is refining his art and growing up in public, here. This kind of graceful hero doesn’t really show up again in his writer/artist work, or at least not as blatantly as it does here. His Sin City yarns are big on bombast and not so much on the subtle storytelling. Perhaps in 300, but nothing comes to mind.

Panel two, page twenty-three keeps coming to mind when people talk about Frank Miller having lost it. It means a lot, more than I thought it did when I first read Elektra Lives Again a few years back. It’s a clear sign of a man pushing his craft forward, experimenting with new things, and breaking out of an old shell. It’s a killer page, and a small part of a beautiful book.

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Booze, Broads, and Bullets: Ronin

April 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

It’s 1983 and you’re fresh off a break-out run on Daredevil and an acclaimed Wolverine miniseries. Everyone wants you to revolutionize their books like you did Daredevil. What do you do? If you’re Frank Miller, the answer is to produce Ronin, a deeply weird samurai/sci-fi/cyberpunk love story, with DC Comics.

I’m convinced that, as a career milestone, Ronin may be more important than Daredevil. It was composed of ideas that were completely Miller’s, rather than derived from the minds of Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Chris Claremont, or Len Wein. While Miller clearly had a large amount of freedom on Daredevil, it remained a Marvel comic and had to conform to those standards. Miller has said he never had censorship trouble on Daredevil, barring a brief spat with the Comics Code Authority that resulted in an anti-drug issues being shelved for a couple years. Other than that, he described his time on the project as fairly painless, due in part to his relationship with his editor and Jim Shooter.

So, what does Miller do when he can cut loose without worrying about ruining someone else’s copyright? He does something very, very weird, and yet undeniably Frank Miller. While it is interesting to read, the most interesting aspect of the book is how it serves almost as a blueprint, or at least loose notes, for Miller’s later work.

There is a kernel of the woman worship that informs much of his Sin City work lurking in the subtext of Ronin. Casey McKenna, head of security for the megacorp that provides much of the drama for the book, is cast from the same mold as Gail, Martha Washington, and even Carrie Kelly. She becomes the object of the ronin’s quest, desire, and obsession partway through the book, after he spent the series being pointedly chaste. Casey fulfills a fantasy that the ronin has of heroism and love. This is a familiar fantasy and one that is echoed throughout Miller’s body of work, whether via Goldie from Sin City: The Hard Goodbye, Ava from Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, or even little Nancy Callahan from Sin City: That Yellow Bastard.

Miller’s also known for putting his heroes through their paces, above and beyond what normal heroes go through. His heroes go through their own personalized passion plays, and always with gritted teeth, stoic expressions, and muttered threats of revenge. While the ronin is mostly mute, he takes punishment like a champ, always rising above his pain to destroy those who hurt him. Sometimes this means coming back from a traditional beating, and sometimes, the ronin finds himself with several limbs missing.

Despite his intimate relationship with violence, the ronin has a very specific code of honor and seeks to do right by everyone he can. There are lines he won’t cross, and when he is tricked into using a racial slur to provoke a fight, his first move is to apologize. When that apology is rejected, he severs the man’s hands. When Casey is sent under the streets to be killed, he risks his life to go and rescue her.
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Booze, Broads, & Bullets Index

April 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Frank Miller’s career has spanned over thirty years, with a number of bona fide classic runs and books under his belt. From Daredevil to Sin City, Dark Knight Returns to 300, Miller has changed the face of comics. If comics had a hall of fame, he’d be a shoo-in.

This week, I tapped a few of my favorite people to see if they had anything to say. Luckily for me, they said “Yes,” so here we have it: Booze, Broads, & Bullets. A series of posts on a number of blogs over the next seven days focusing on various aspects of Frank Miller’s body of work. The Portfolio Review last week was just a prelude. I’m going to keep this post updated with links to the new posts, as well as adding links to their posts from my own.

I hope you dig it.

Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Ronin
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Elektra Lives Again
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Man Without Fear
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Spawn-Batman
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Sin City: The Big Fat Kill
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: I’m sick of flags.
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Every 4th Quarter He Likes To Mike Jordan Them

Chad Nevett
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: The Hard Goodbye
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: A Dame to Kill For
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: The Big Fat Kill
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: That Yellow Bastard
Booze, Broads & Bullets: Family Values
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Booze, Broads, & Bullets
Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Hell and Back

Tim Callahan
Tales of the New Gods: Nativity by Frank Miller
When Words Collide: Frank Miller’s New Gods

Chad & Tim
The Splash Page Podcast Episode 12.1

Tim O’Neil
Tao of Miller

Sean Witzke
Emma Peel Sessions 31 – make em laugh! make em laugh!
Booze Broads and Bullets week mini-review!
Emma Peel Sessions 32 – Egg Salad
Emma Peel Session 33 – armageddon in effect
Emma Peel Sessions 34 – ain’t flingin tears at the dusty ground

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Portfolio Review: Frank Miller

April 9th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Frank Miller, ably assisted by Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley.

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