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Ultimate Elektra

I’m not old enough to be one of those comic book traditionalists. You know the type: the ones that tout about the glory of comics when Lee was writing and Kirby was drawing, the ones that love nothing more than to see Neal Adams' or Steve Ditko’s name on the credits page. While I have a great amount of respect for the artists of these times, and by proxy their fans, I remind myself that these people are also the ones that sponsor utterly insipid campaigns like the “Bring Back Hal” Green Lantern debacle that haunts any current artist seeking to reinvent or reinvigorate a title. I grew up reading in the 90s, where the small press became a little less small and the big three started to branch out and get far more creative than in passed years. Suffice it to say, I do not fear and even prefer something new at my comic book shop.

But oddly enough, I find that I’ve never really been interested in the Ultimate line from Marvel Comics. It may stem from a lack of interest in characters I already know or it may be a sub-conscious response to wanting artists to find a way to make the existing books good, but I’m just not a follower. But I have read some Ultimatized material: I’m fan enough of The Ultimates and I read Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra, and it is a good thing that I read the latter, because without having done so I’m sure I would have been incredibly lost in reading the recent title from the revamp line, Ultimate Elektra.

Probably meant to coincide with the release of the movie, Marvel collected and put out this graphic novel written by Mike Carey with artwork by Salvador Larroca. With names like that attached to the title, I would have expected a rather outstanding book. I was faintly disappointed to find a merely decent one.

The story follows the events almost directly proceeding Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra, in which the characters met, fell in love, had a fight, and broke up. I’m not reviewing those four issues, but I did find it a good story that presented an interesting alternative to the origin of the characters and their initial tryst, but was also a pretty well structured story about college life and the darker side of it. The point in mentioning it lies in the fact that you really must have read the first series in order to understand this new attempt by Carey, which seems contrary to the idea that Ultimate is supposed to attract new fans from the younger reading community. Also, without at least a cursory understanding of the characters’ various histories from regular continuity, the reader might not catch all the nuances or references that Carey drops.

Which is not to say that Carey hasn’t put in a valiant effort; the story itself, while not entirely creative, is a continuance of the origin of both characters. Carey places subtle hints as to the characters' futures throughout the script. The groundwork is laid out for Matt Murdock to avoid criminal defense and focus on philanthropic litigating and helping the little guy when Matt sees the corruption of one law firm. The potential for Elektra to leave a righteous path and fall into the world of sword-for-hire seems very plausible from the events that take place.

Even the Daredevil/Kingpin relationship has its beginning here, and if the series continues we’ll likely see the maturation of the much of the Ultimate Daredevil continuity take place, not just Elektra’s. It’s good set-up on the part of Carey, but it really is just set-up and at times it is rather bland. Elektra’s motivations are all derived from her father’s financial situation, for which she feels responsible and while this is understandable, gone is that nearly sociopathic streak that made her such an interesting character that was nailed so succinctly by Frank Miller in Man Without Fear. Matt Murdock’s relationship with Elektra is so sterile that its hard to believe these characters care about each other at all. And Bullseye…they named the poor bastard Poindexter, which may be his original alias, but there are some things that we need to remember about our comic book history, and then there’s things we need to forget. Like Brother Power or that comic about Pope John Paul II.

I like the fact that they tapped Salvador Larroca, the original artist from the miniseries, to come back to launch the book because it's nice when an artist can stay with a title. I like Larroca’s work, but I’ve noticed that he tailors his style differently to each title he works on. In Thunderbolts and Lone Wolf 2100, Larroca’s work was more suggestive. The sizes and placements of the characters were somewhat more fluid, and his character designs were much more interesting. This may be an editorial factor, but his art here is good, just not very animated.

Don’t get me wrong; Larroca has some very well choreographed fights in UE, and certainly understands how to set up his panels to create space in the boxes, making the characters look like they have more than 8 ½ by 11 to move around in, but much of the story is talking heads stuff and plot driven dialogue. Here, Larroca slows down his style to accommodate and ends up sucking the energy out of the scene. Also, his character design is plain, which is more a result of the fact that neither character is “in costume” at this point in their superhero career, Elektra only just barely getting a character design nod at the end (which may be the most impractical outfit for fighting I’ve ever seen, clearly meant to produce a Tara Reid-like nipple slip at any time).

If you’re shoring up your Ultimate Marvel collection, or were a big fan of the miniseries, this is the book for you, but new readers will be lost in this continuity dependent story and casual readers of Daredevil may just be bored. This is another example of a comic that had all the artistic talent needed to be a really good comic, but ended up failing in execution. For $11.99, you can decide for yourself, and let's applaud Marvel for finally putting out cheaper books. And by cheaper I meant price.

Editor's Note: As always, the opinions expressed by Mr. Sparling are his own. We reserve the right to beat him with a copy of Essential Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 until he admits that Ditko is a god.

Ultimate Elektra Volume 1: Devil's Due  

Robert Sparling

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