Monday, December 12, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra'

The Book: Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra

The Author and The Artists: Greg Rucka (author); Salvador Larroca, Danny Miki, etc. (artists)

How I Found It: Spider-Man may have been the great superhero love of my childhood, but Daredevil was the movie that got me loving superheroes in the first place, and the Daredevil/Elektra love story was always one of my favorite parts. Once browsing Daredevil comics told me this existed, I had to go for it.

The Review: Elektra Natchios is 17 and arriving at Colombia University for her freshman year of college. Her father is a businessman who owns a small dry cleaning chain in Queens; her mother died of breast cancer when she was young. Elektra's a normal girl in all but one respect: she's been extensively trained in martial arts, and she can defend herself quite well if need be--which is a good thing, considering the events of the year to come.

There's good and there's bad: good, she hits it off with Phoebe, her roommate, and a fellow student, Melissa. Bad, Melissa has attracted the negative attention of Calvin Langstrom the Third, known around campus as "Trey." Good, Elektra's set her sights on Matt Murdock, an attractive pre-law student whose physical abilities rival her own, and who also happens to be blind. Bad... Trey rapes Melissa. Even more bad: the police won't take action, due to Trey's family's status. Elektra might have to take matters into her own hands--except that Matt, who has a secret or two of his own, might not let her get away with it.

I really like the conceit behind Ultimate Marvel--younger, more contemporary reimaginings of Marvel heroes and heroines. This is my first acquaintance with the line, and I'm definitely curious now to try more--I like that the line reworks characters and storylines from the originals and doesn't try to confuse new readers with the complex history of the original imprint. I know just enough of the original Daredevil and Elektra characters to make sense of what's been changed here: Elektra's family is more middle-class, rather than rich; Elektra's mother's death was pinned down to a specific cause rather than left negligible; Matt and Elektra meet in college, instead of when they're older. I liked this idea of Matt and Elektra as college students: reading about kids my age, in an environment like the one I live in now, made this story easy to relate to, current, and compelling.

The art was really excellent; I think this is the most impressed I've been with any of the Marvel comics I've read so far. Sometimes Marvel women--even women like Aunt May!--look too much like supermodels for me to take them seriously, but Elektra, Phoebe, and Mel looked like normal girls, the type of girls I would see around my campus. Elektra's outfit was made into something more practical, the type of thing that a teenage girl--yes, even a teenage girl taking up secret vigliante work--would wear. Same with Matt's costume, although like many reviewers, yes, I did find it hard to believe that all Matt needed was a strip of cloth over his eyes and the top of his head to keep Elektra and others from realizing it was him.

Admittedly, part of the reason I found this story so compelling was that yes, I like to occasionally read something where a rapist gets what's coming to them. When I assembled my list of Top 10 Villians last year, I realized that most of mine were rapists. It's one of those crimes I can't forgive. So when Lisbeth Salander tattoos Bjurman, or when Tess Durbeyfield slams Alec's hand in a window casement, yep, I cheer. Rape on college campuses is a sad reality, and I was glad to see it addressed here and taken seriously--it wasn't sensationalized just because it was part of a superhero comic. Harsh reality is presented here--the police being hesitant to press charges, because of how prominent Trey's family is; Elektra being not-so-subtly told that Melissa might have to stay silent; Trey's family exerting pressure on the legal system and taking revenge on Elektra and her father.

Matt and Elektra's romance is intertwined with the vigilante subplot, and although it moves a bit too fast, I blame that on the arc only being four issues. The story skips ahead months at a time, at least in the beginning. It basically ends up being love after a few dates, which I'm never too fond of in fiction. But I liked their dynamic nonetheless. Matt tries desperately to keep Elektra from heading down the dark path of revenge and even murder. Elektra gets the feeling she doesn't know quite as much about him as she thought she did. Despite all the deceit and desperation, Matt and Elektra are still, when it comes down to it, a teenage couple--they get physical at some slightly inappropriate times, Elektra dishes with Phoebe once the date ends, and so on. The romance was fairly light compared to the darker themes of sexual crimes and dirty politics, and provided a nice contrast. I do think that the story could have been expanded and fleshed out--we don't get to see much of Matt outside his scenes with Elektra, and his backstory is left out entirely--but nonetheless, I enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to checking out the sequel, Ultimate Elektra: Devil's Due.

Overall, this was a graphic novel that wowed me visually and one that was easy for me to relate to, and I was willing to overlook the minor flaws in pacing and character development because of that. Recommended for older teenagers (15 and up, I'd say), especially girls who liked the movies and might be intimidated about where to start in trying the comics.

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