Friends! Did you watch the latest trailer for season 2 of Daredevil? Were you in raptures every second Elodie Yung’s Elektra was onscreen? Did you spend the rest of the day singing “Elektra, Elektra” in your head to the tune of “Shakira, Shakira?”
No? Just me? Okay.
Even if you haven’t yet been convinced that her sais don’t lie (hips don’t sai? I’ll work on it), you may be intrigued by the greatest assassin in the Marvel Universe and looking to learn more about her. Created by Frank Miller in 1981 as Daredevil’s first love, Elektra’s bounced around in the comics for more than thirty years. (She’s also the only Marvel heroine to headline a movie and will remain so until Captain Marvel comes out in 2074, but the less said about the Jennifer Garner film the better.)
As both a fascinatingly complex antihero and a favorite of cheesecake artists, Elektra’s appearances run the gamut from sublime to “I couldn’t read them on my iPad on the subway because they looked like softcore porn,” but here are a few of her greatest hits:
The Elektra Saga by Frank Miller
Miller intended Elektra to be a one-off character when he introduced her in Daredevil #168 as Matt Murdock’s college-girlfriend-turned-bounty-hunter, but he wound up using her regularly until killing her off in #181. She was resurrected in #190 but wandered off into the hinterlands, never to be seen again. (Spoiler: she was seen again.)
Elektra’s death is a classic fridging and she’s still stuck in that terrible costume 35 years later, but even under the pen of someone as dicey with female characters as Miller, Elektra is a joy to read: brilliant, driven, hilariously acerbic, and rocking the kind of stoic, battle-hardened emotional armor you usually see on dude characters like, well, the Punisher. Plus Miller started a proud tradition of Elektra kicking Matt’s ass all up and down Hell’s Kitchen, which I am eager to see continue on the show. This run also includes Daredevil and Punisher’s first meeting, so it’s likely that the show will draw from it considerably.
You can read just the Elektra bits chopped up and recollected with some new material in The Elektra Saga, but for greater context and a better reading experience I recommend just reading the issues in question in full. Elektra’s introduction and death are collected in Daredevil by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson Volume 2 and her resurrection’s in Volume 3; the whole Miller run is also on both Marvel Unlimited and Comixology.
Elektra Volume 2 (2001) by Brian Michael Bendis, Chuck Austen, Greg Rucka, Carlo Pagulayan, Robert Rodi, Sean Chen, and more
Elektra’s second solo ongoing, though her longest, is a bit all over the place – it’s marred by Greg Horn’s aforementioned softcore porn covers throughout, and cheesecakey Chuck Austen art drags down Brian Michael Bendis’s opening arc of black ops intrigue. Skip ahead to Greg Rucka’s run (mostly drawn by Carlo Pagulayan and collected in the trade linked above), from #7-22, which dives deep into Elektra’s psyche as she seeks redemption for the many, many lives she’s taken as an assassin.
In this quiet, melancholy little mini, Elektra is called upon by the ghost of a murdered blues magician to kill his son before he can be used as a weapon by the Hand. Morse’s tale is lean on dialogue and allows his moody, softly cubist paintings to shine through. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been digitized or collected in trade. Marvel, get on that! In the meantime, snap this up if you see it in a back issue bin.
Elektra and Wolverine: The Redeemer by Greg Rucka and Yoshitaka Amano
A routine hit goes bad when Elektra’s target’s teenage daughter witnesses Elektra murdering her father. Feeling a kindred spirit with the daughter, Elektra impulsively kidnaps her – which puts the daughter’s bodyguard Wolverine on her trail. But there’s more to the girl than meets the eye, and both Elektra and Wolverine are being manipulated by some very bad people. This is actually an out-of-continuity prose story with gorgeous, desaturated illustrations by Amano rather than a proper comic. But it’s by the best of Elektra’s writers, who imbues both title characters with nobility and pathos, while Amano’s dark and wild Wolverine is in messy, feral contrast to the constrained elegance of the rest of the characters.
Elektra Volume 3 (2014) by W. Haden Blackman and Michael Del Mundo
Elektra takes on the Assassins’ Guild in this stunning series. Blackman’s story and supporting characters are imaginative and enjoyably weird, but it’s Del Mundo’s utterly gorgeous art that takes center stage here. His graceful Elektra spins lethally through dizzying layouts and watercolors drenched in secondary hues, like colors in a minor key. It feels like a journey through the hidden passions of Elektra’s mind behind her stoic mask, and it’s beautiful.
Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra by Greg Rucka and Salvador Larroca
Over in the Ultimate universe, Rucka and Larroca reimagined Elektra as much more of a typical college student and focused on her early romance with Matt. Though Daredevil’s billed first, this is very much a story about Elektra, and her first steps down the path to a more bloody and dangerous life. She’s portrayed as more human here than she usually is in 616, with actual normal friends and a seriously adorable swoon over hunky Matt Murdock, and I hope the show takes inspiration from this mini as well. There’s a sequel miniseries, Ultimate Elektra, by Mike Carey and Larroca, but it’s much more of a typical crimefighting story – fine, but less of a must-read.
Finally, a alternate universe where it’s Matt’s death – and subsequent resurrection by the Hand as a demon – that ends his and Elektra’s college relationship. Elektra ends up in S.H.I.E.L.D., partnered with Black Widow, and eventually leading a newly-assembled Chaste clan against Matt. It’s a fun twist on both Matt and Elektra’s backstories and supporting casts and it’s just a couple bucks on Comixology. Have at!