After over a year of penciling Daredevil, Frank Miller the cartoonist emerged. With his mentor Denny O’Neil and Klaus Janson as an inker Miller began a run on Daredevil that he intended to be more similar to chapters of a novel than single stories of a comic. The Frank Miller & Klaus Janson Daredevil Omnibus is a treasure for Miller fans as it is a collection of the early work of a cartoonist who would quickly become a legend of the industry. Miller demonstrates quickly the type of tone he is interested in pursuing in his first issue by introducing his most popular creation: Elektra.
“When you steal, why not from the greats?”
That’s what Miller said when he described his creation Elektra. The magnificent femme fatale had been inspired by Will Eisner’s Sand Seref from The Spirit. Eisner’s Sand Seref was an old flame of the Spirit’s alter ego Denny Colt. While romantic tension lingered between the Spirit and Sand, Sand was ultimately an enemy of the Spirit. The character was a model for what Frank Miller described as excellent superhero sex.
Not only would Miller borrow from Eisner in creating Elektra, but her name and much of her backstory and personality mirrored that of the Greek Heroine of legend. Elektra was a mythical heroine whose story was a branch from the Trojan War the greatest Greek myth of all. Elektra idolized her father Agamemnon. When Agamemnon was slain by his own wife, Elektra swore to kill her own mother. The myth is a great tale of vengeance that has captivated many for generations. Sigmeund Freud even utilized Elektra in describing female adolescent development in relation to their parental figures (Oedipus was utilized for male adolescents). The Elektra-complex would also be a key factor to Miller’s development of his character. Yet with all of the clear influences that contribute to the creation of Elektra Natchios she still reads as an original and vibrant character.
Miller opens in murky shadows with a verbose narration that is more similar to the style of mentor Denny O’Neil, but the underpinnings of Miller’s own style are there. While Daredevil is brutally interrogating someone he is suddenly surprised by Elektra who is also interested in the suspect that Daredevil wants. Miller quickly begins revising Daredevil’s mostly vague backstory into something far more oblique. Miller has 7-pages of flashback that succinctly and poignantly capture the young and tragic nature of Elektra and Matt’s romance. Miller is quick to emphasize that the nature of this romance is young love and akin to Romeo & Juliet it is doomed from the beginning. Matt and Elektra’s romance is overly idyllic and despite the two sharing intimate secrets the two have different viewpoints. Miller would later return to this period in Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and show Elektra to be far less stable, and Matt much less of a flawless young hero. But even in this brief flashback, Miller is able to focus on Matt baring his secrets to a girl demonstrating a recklessness that would become a consistent fault of Miller’s Daredevil. Elektra is also already deeply flawed as she cares intensely for her father, something that leads her to quickly fall into a rage from which she never returns.
Miller establishes the central drama of Elektra following the flashback. She is a former love of Matt Murdock, with Matt still having some lingering feelings. Also Elektra is a confusing dichotomy of still having some of the kindness in her heart as she treats Daredevil’s wounds. Yet, at the same time Matt painfully notes that Elektra has become a cold-blooded assassin, the embodiment of everything Murdock loathes. Overall the introduction of Elektra is not the strongest of Miller’s writing, but there is a powerful emotional resonance running throughout the work. Not only is the death of Elektra’s father an excellently choreographed action sequence, but Miller gives the haunting note that Elektra never weeps for her father. Making the mirrored action-climax of the narrative all the more powerful when Daredevil is forced to reveal his identity to save Elektra. The two lovers reunite, but both are painfully aware that they can never return to the life they once had. At this painful reunion, Elektra for the first time weeps.
According to certain reports by Sean Howe in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Elektra had been intended to be a one-off character. But he quickly fell in love with the character and had her briefly return in his second story, “Devils”. Miller began to explore the notion that a comic book-run could not be solely isolated episodes, but instead tell an overarching story. Miller was not attempting a narrative that could be read isolated, ie the infamous “graphic novel”. Yet Miller was attempting the tight overarching narratives that would eventually create the market of the trade paperback collections.
“Devils” is setting the groundwork for the recurring threats of Miller’s Daredevil. Elektra is going to be a presence that continually haunts Matt Murdock, sometimes as a threat, sometimes as an ally. But most significantly Miller begins his take on Bullseye. While the character had been created years before and become a staple of Daredevil, Miller quickly elevated Bullseye into being an unstoppable and irredeemable force of evil. While Miller had previously drawn Bullseye, McKenzie’s stories had Bullseye fall more in the conventional super-villain trappings, with Bullseye having an emotional breakdown at being defeated by Daredevil. Here, Miller retcons the breakdown as being the result of a tumor that has now caused Bullseye to see everyone as Daredevil. The visuals and fight scenes of “Devils” are fantastic, with Miller proudly demonstrating the lighting effects that make him famous.
Perhaps adding to the drama, and adding to Miller’s ill reputation among sensitive parents is that Bullseye is an unrepentant and clear-cut murderer, killing dozens within this first issue. Miller refuses to sidestep some of the horrid implications of non-lethal justice with a cop openly questioning why Daredevil would want to save Bullseye. Daredevil gives an impassioned speech defending his integrity and also is shown rescuing Bullseye from being run-over by a train. Miller shows a superhero who actively contemplates his ethics, and seriously considering killing his enemies. Miller’s Daredevil has his principles, but Miller introduces doubts that his hero will remain a paragon of virtue. Indeed Miller even has characters openly question whether or not Daredevil did the right thing by saving Bullseye. Thus a key-drama is established that Daredevil saved the killer Bullseye against the wishes of many. Adding to the dramatic buildup of Miller’s saga, Miller has a seemingly throw-away scene showing Elektra visit Matt Murdock’s house. Upon seeing that Matt is in a relationship with another woman, Elektra to her own surprise responds in jealous anger. Demonstrating that Elektra is not at all finished with Matt, though her feelings for Matt may no longer be love, but it’s close inverse, hate. Within two issues, Miller introduces two of the key players who will be pivotal in his saga, though one major player has yet to appear.
Next: Beware the Kingpin…