Miller Speaks on Elektra, Daredevil

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A bit of a firestorm was started in the last twenty-four hours or so. During a comics show/convention down in Brazil, superstar creator Frank Miller was asked about the new Daredevil series on Netflix. When queried on whether or not he’d seen the show, his simple response was: “no.” Regarding the appearance of Elektra in the show’s second season: “they can call it whatever you want, but it will not be the real Elektra.” He later added, in regard to the classic character: “Yes, I’m her father.”

Miller’s reaction was not a surprise to me. The reaction of fandom to all this, however, was a bit surprising, as they generally ripped Miller to shreds. I will give a couple of them credit, though, for two pretty good burns.

First, as one commenter noted, if Lee/Wood and Finger/Kane had been this proprietary way back when, Miller would have never had a career.

Second, if he had lived to see it, Will Eisner probably would have felt the same way about Miller’s Spirit movie that Miller feels about this latest use of Elektra.

Outside of this, however, most of the noise has been your typical, mindless, internet garbage. Basically everyone is telling Miller to shut up while pointing out that he hasn’t done anything good in twenty years. Now everyone is certainly entitled to his or her opinion regarding the artistic merits (or their lack) in Miller’s work, but this really has nothing to do with him speaking out regarding a character that he created.

Miller first brought the character to life in Daredevil #168 (Jan. 1981), in a tale entitled simply “Elektra.” The story itself is largely a note-for-note retelling of Will Eisner’s Spirit storyline, “Sand Saref”/“Bring In Sand Saref” (January 8/January 15, 1950), but the character of Elektra is 100% Miller. So he has every right to consider himself the character’s figurative “father” and has the moral, if not legal, authority to claim ownership.

Having said that, Miller hasn’t written the “real” Elektra either the last few times he’s attempted to do so. With this in mind, I find myself unfazed by any criticism he might have to offer.

In his original stint on Daredevil, Miller gave Elektra an utterly flawless arc. It was absolute perfection and nothing less than stunning in its beauty. After introducing her in DD #168, he shockingly killed her off just thirteen months later in issue #181 (April 1982). Then, in an even more shocking twist, he raised her from the dead less than a year after that in the pages of Daredevil #190 (Jan. 1983). The following issue (#191) was the last of Miller’s original run on the title. Had he never written or drawn another Elektra tale, the whole storyline would have stood forever as a monument to Miller’s genius.

But of course this didn’t happen.

Miller returned to Elektra with the eight-issue limited series Elektra Assassin in 1986, with Bill Sienkiewicz on art. This was an odd read at the time (in hindsight you can see a lot of the foundation for Sin City in this series), with the oddest part being that the Elektra we see here does not remotely resemble the character we knew from the pages of Daredevil just a couple of years earlier. But the story was set between the end of Elektra’s college relationship with Matt Murdock and her reunion with him in DD #181, so it featured no Daredevil appearances; and with Sienkiewicz’s surrealist art style, it was easy to read the tale as a strange-fantasy interlude in the character’s larger history.

Then came Elektra Lives Again, a hardcover graphic novel published in 1990, written and penciled by Miller (and painted by Lynn Varley). This one was supposed to be the game changer that all DD fans had been dreaming of: Daredevil was going to discover that Elektra had been brought back to life and the two would FINALLY be reunited after an agonizing seven-year wait. This happened, yes, but incredibly—almost sadistically—Miller has her die in Daredevil’s arms yet again almost immediately after the reunion. This may have been Miller’s high point, speaking strictly as a pencil artist, but the story was a bitter, bitter disappointment.

Miller’s final—and most destructive—brush with the character came in the Daredevil the Man Without Fear miniseries published in 1993, written by Miller and illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson. In Miller’s original storyline from’81-‘83, Elektra was a beautiful soul broken by tragedy. Here, for reasons I will never understand, Miller retcons her so that she’s this demon-possessed seductress from the moment Matt Murdock first meets her in college, thereby shattering that original, perfect character arc. Reading this felt like watching da Vinci set fire to the Mona Lisa.

Miller took this wonderful, multidimensional character and made her one-dimensional. There was no more depth to her now; she was just evil and violent for no real reason. One-dimensional characters would become Miller’s stock in trade with Sin City, as the creator who set the industry on its ear back in the 80s would slowly fade and disappear by the end of the 90s, never to be seen again.

That 80s output still happened though and cannot be discounted; nor can Miller’s role as Elektra’s creator ever be denied. Still, if Frank Miller had been Elektra’s father in the literal sense of the word, there can be no doubt that someone would have ratted Miller out to child services a looooong time ago.

 

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