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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, September 16, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "RESURRECTION" (DAREDEVIL #187-190, 1982-83)




"The road of the emotions leads me to True Philosophy."-- Rousseau (as quoted by Poe).

"Resurrection" is the title of the story in DAREDEVIL #190, the final collaboration between Frank Miller and Klaus Janson in their highly regarded rejuvenation of the blind superhero's franchise. In addition, this title was also assigned to five issues of the comic as they were collected in the fourth issue of the 1984 reprint THE ELEKTRA SAGA. The issues in that collection were #182 and #187-190, but as should be apparent from my title, I don't regard #182 as part of the second and last "Elektra arc." The story in #182, "She's Alive," is a brilliant coda to the previous issue, in which the villain Bullseye murders the lady assassin, and it's also a great "reverse-homage" to the 1981 noir-film BODY HEAT. However, if "Resurrection" can be used as the title of any arc, it should be the one beginning in #187, wherein the titular hero once more encounters his old mentor Stick, Stick's "good ninja" allies, and the "bad ninjas" of the Hand. The aforesaid villains initiate the action of the arc, first by declaring war on Stick's small ninja-clan, and then by deciding to resurrect the dead Elektra, so that she will become their obedient servant.

In this essay I stated that Miller's early Elektra-stories failed to make her character dramatically or mythically consistent. However, by late 1982 Miller's scripts showed major strides, perhaps in part because he had ceded penciling duties to Janson, who had supplied inks to Miller's art during their run. In the early stories Miller had only made intriguing but unsatisfying references to his character's psychology. Only after her death, it seemed, did Miller really grapple with the character's soul.

As noted before, the psychological concept of the "Electra complex" was intended to be the mirror-image of Freud's most famous formulation, though Freud rejected the term, insisting that "Oedipus complex" ought to apply to females as well as to males. Yet one should not assume that Miller was entirely guided by his knowledge of psychology, and the "Resurrection" arc shows that Elektra's nature is better glossed by the concepts of religion and myth. At the outset of issue #190-- a prologue that shows Elektra in the years immediately after her father's death and her parting from Matt (Daredevil) Murdock-- she hears the following psycho-profile of herself from her sensei:

Your dream, in college, was to save the world. But alas, that world was a fabrication-- ripped down by the senseless, pointless murder of your father. You see the world now as a chaotic place, huge and terrible. You hate it.

Many superheroes, including Daredevil, become crusaders in response to pain and humiliation, but the idealistic cast of their adventures, of their mission to save innocents, suggests that they are still able to love the world that hurt them. Elektra's morbid fixation upon her pain is more characteristic of the vengeful super-villain. At the point in time when her sensei drops this pearl of wisdom, Elektra has just been denied the chance to join the "good ninja" clan of Stick, because, as Stick says, "You ain't clean. Yer full of pain and hate."

The emphasis on mental cleanliness is one element that shows how Miller's account of good and evil diverges from the world of materialistic psychology. Elektra's problem is not something that can be solved by sublimation or "the talking cure," and her sensei's advice-- that she should seek to benefit the world despite Stick's rejection-- goes unheard. Having been unable to prevent the death of her father, she wants to prove herself to Stick. She chooses to infiltrate Stick's enemies, the Hand-cult. The evil ninjas are prepared for her, and they seduce her to the ways of evil, in part by causing her to slay her own sensei (this time, a father-death for which she is directly responsible). Though at a later date Elektra breaks away from the Hand's influence, and becomes a more-or-less-legal bounty hunter, Miller's script implies that she never entirely escapes this pollution. With this concept of spiritual pollution in mind, her previous actions become relatively consistent. In the early issues she keeps calling Daredevil her "enemy," long before he's done anything to merit it. The later issues make clear that her former lover represents the altruistic ascension she failed to complete, so that he becomes her "enemy" in a spiritual sense. This failure is given a tangible manifestation at the beginning of #190, when Elektra falls during her attempt to climb the great mountain where Stick's clan dwells.

By now the astute reader will have noticed that I'm not giving a blow-by-blow of the many twists and turns of the arc from issue #187 to #190, much less the various subplots.  Such plot-points are less important than Miller's overall thematic project. Within these issues, Miller elevated the base trope of a conflict between "good ninjas" and "bad ninjas"-- a trope which appeared in dozens of cheap 1980s flicks as the cinematic "ninja subgenre" became popular-- and used the vague Eastern mysticism associated with ninjas to meditate on the metaphysical interactions of good and evil.

In some Judeo-Christian traditions, the most prevalent role of the "resurrection concept" appears with respect to the sussing-out of individual good and evil. During the End Times, all the people who have ever lived will be physically restored, so that they can be judged as deserving either eternal bliss or eternal damnation. But there are no gods in the Miller DAREDEVIL, though the two ninja-clans eventually function as angels and devils, struggling over the fate of the late female assassin. That said, the parallel is not exact. The devils want to doom Elektra to further damnation, as she will presumably serve them as a zombie slave. Stone-- the only good ninja to survive the battle of issue #189-- wants only to destroy her body so that the Hand cannot use her.

Daredevil, despite his diabolical name, is the only one who believes in Elektra's essential goodness. In issue #190 he and his allies invade the Hand's hideout-- fittingly, in an abandoned Christian church-- as the evil ninjas attempt to revive Elektra's corpse. While Daredevil and Stone are in battle with the Hand-henchmen, the blind hero hears a single heartbeat from the body of his former beloved. Displaying the obsessional quality Miller lent him throughout the run, Daredevil gets the idea that he can use his own latent psychic talents to fully revive Elektra. In so doing, he fails to guard Stone's back, so that Daredevil's ally is wounded, possibly in a mortal sense. Both of them are only saved from the Hand only by the intervention of the Kingpin's thugs.

The thugs usher Daredevil out of the church, but Stone remains behind, preparing to chop Elektra's head to make sure her body is never misused. Then through his own talents Stone divines that "somehow, in [Murdock's] futile attempt to revive her, he has purged her. She is clean." Stone, wounded and weary of the life of a good ninja, sacrifices his life by discorporating, transferring his energy into Elektra's semi-resurrected body, so that she revives and steals away without anyone seeing her.


Again, no psychologist would credence this method of healing, in which the patient's soul-pollution is cleansed from outside her consciousness, by the good intentions of the patient's former lover. But Elektra's true way out of her dead-end complex-- the way that she should have taken in her normal life-course-- was to invest in those still living, particularly her lover. Significantly, the spiritual energy given her by Daredevil allows Elektra to return to the mountain where Stick's ninjas once made their home, and to successfully scale it at last. It's not clear what she will do from then on, aside from seeking to stay out of Matt Murdock's life (since it is implicitly too late for her to follow the 'plunge back into life" course), but her ascension signifies the advancement of her spirit.



That said, Miller's scenario does not entirely damn the unrighteous. Daredevil and his allies only find the abandoned church because the Kingpin's informants discover its location, and as said earlier, the Kingpin's gun-toting thugs destroy the Hand in the end, though one presumes that this is only because the more heroic types have served as distractions. The Kingpin, a devil-figure in his own right, confers this largesse only to eliminate the Hand as a competing force of evil, and to force his enemy Daredevil to do his bidding. "We need each other, Daredevil," says the criminal mastermind with Mephistophelean sophistry, "We are partners after a fashion. We are the power in this city."

Miller never recounted Elektra's further adventures, and he parted from Marvel Comics when they did so. His next (and final) work on Daredevil was devoted to declaring war between Daredevil and the Kingpin, which might be taken as his follow-up to Kingpin's speech, in which hero and villain have become mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, within the span of the "Resurrection Arc," good and evil are inextricably tied together, as all good abstractions-- angel and devil, hero and villain, life and death-- should naturally be.

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