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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...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

NEAR MYTHS: SAND SAREF AND ELEKTRA

I've been re-reading Frank Miller's first run on DAREDEVIL to suss out its possible status as a myth-comic.Though I've not finished the re-read, it's evident that most of the issues are strong in terms of the kinetic and dramatic potentialities, there's not a single symbolic thread weaving through all of the issues. The closest thing to such a thread is Miller's famous character Elektra, who, as Miller himself has admitted, owes something to a 1950 SPIRIT story by Will Eisner.

A pause for confession: over 15 years ago, I played around with putting together a book proposal that would have focused on myth-analytical essays. One of the stories I sought to analyze at the time was that Eisner story, a two-part tale focusing on how the law-abiding hero found himself pitted against a criminal who had once been the love of the Spirit's juvenile years. (Note: the story had originally been designed as a stand-alone work featuring a new Eisner character, John Law, but Law's comic book never got off the ground, so the artist reworked the pages into a Spirit episode.)

I haven't reread the old essay, but I wouldn't seek to rework it today. In my current view, the Eisner story lacks the symbolic amplitude that I look for in determining a mythcomic, and so only qualifies as a "near myth." The single mythic idea of the Eisner story is that "best friends divided by fate." The trope was a favorite one among many melodramatic crime-films that appeared in the Classic Hollywood of Eisner's youth, perhaps best exemplified by the 1938 film ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES.

Eisner chose to make the law itself the factor that divided two young people, a young law-abiding boy with a somewhat shady uncle, and a young girl with a cop-father.




Sand Saref then turns against the rule of law as represented by her father, while young Denny Colt, the future Spirit, becomes dedicated to keeping order to atone for his uncle's misdeed. The aptly named Sand soon drifts away from young Denny and embarks upon a career that's not initially criminal, though she's largely defined by her own self-interest. When she returns to America, she becomes affiliated with a scheme to smuggle a postwar germ-warfare weapon. The Spirit shows up and foils the scheme, but she recognizes him despite his mask and saves his life. In return, the hero lets her get away. The lady crook and the crimefighter encountered one another a few more times before the end of the SPIRIT feature, but this noir-ish ode to lost romance remains the most significant story for Sand Saref.



Long before Elektra ever appeared, Daredevil's backstory turned upon the hero's paternal influence. Boxer Jack Murdock pressured his son Matt to excel at school and become a lawyer so that Matt would never get bogged down in the dubious world of the fight-game. After the father's murder, Matt Murdock chooses to both disobey his father and to imitate him, by becoming a superhero devoted to fighting evildoers. However, in Miller's added backstory in DAREDEVIL #168, Murdock does more than study at college: he also meets his first love, Elektra Natchios. Everything goes well until terrorists take Elektra's ambassador father hostage. Murdock, who has not yet assumed the Daredevil identity, tries to rescue the ambassador, but the man is killed by the "friendly fire" of the local police.



Though Elektra has as much reason as Sand Saref to be cheesed off at the law, Miller chose not to follow that trope, though Elektra becomes just as self-oriented as Sand.

In Classical mythology, the original Electra plots the downfall of her mother for the latter's murder of her husband, Electra's father Agamemnon. The Greek character does not have an "Electra complex" in the modern sense of the word. Still, according to some theorists she's mad at her mother not just for killing Daddy, but because Electra can't be legally married with her father dead. I can't judge the truth of this, but in Miller's continuity, Elektra rebels not against the abstract law but against the possibility of romance with Matt Murdock-- much less with a crime-fighter like his alter ego, Daredevil.



Perhaps because Miller originally meant Elektra as a one-shot character, he never quite articulates the conflict between her and Daredevil in the fullest sense. When the two first meet she's not doing anything illegal; just pursuing her interests as a bounty-hunter, and though she does clout Daredevil to keep him out of her business, she also binds one of his wounds while he's out-- and that's before knowing that the red-clad adventurer is her old flame Murdock.

Perhaps thanks to fan-response, Miller chose to integrate the character into his ongoing DAREDEVIL saga. Yet in re-reading the early issues, they've quite frustrating in terms of dramatic motivation. In issues #174-76. Elektra twice thinks of Daredevil as an enemy, even though (1) he's done nothing against her, (2) he's professed his love to her and even tells her about a newly acquired physical weakness, and (3) she comes to his aid, or that of his friends. She does contravene Daredevil's code of no-killing by slaughtering the ninjas of The Hand, who are belatedly mentioned as a band of assassins who trained Elektra in the martial arts. Yet given that they're all murderers, it's hard to imagine the hero shedding any tears over their deaths.



At the conclusion of #176, though, Elektra does deliberately kill the defenseless boss of the Hand ninjas-- who, incidentally, put out a hit on Elektra because she chose not to sleep with him (another rejection of sex, albeit not romance). Daredevil witnesses this and threatens to take her to jail, but he faints before he can make the attempt. Again Elektra spares his life, and yet, for some reason, this threat pushes her over the edge. The sai-wielding siren suddenly accepts the Kingpin's offer to be his new assassin, and following this decision, readers do see her kill an innocent, as well as making attempts on the lives of reporter Ben Urich, Murdock's friend Foggy Nelson, and Daredevil himself. This sequence of exploits ends in DD #181, when she's killed by an even more ruthless assassin, the psychotic Bullseye.

A later sequence displays more mythic potential, and will be addressed in a future essay. But as far as the issues up to #181 are concerned, Elektra's dramatic arc mirrors the sudden criminal turnabout of Sand Saref in her original story. In a purely dramatic sense, neither sudden development proves satisfying. However, Miller does explore deeper symbolic currents with Elektra than Eisner ever did with any of his femmes fatales-- as future essays will show.

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