Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl when her father is killed in front of her and she leaves the country only to become a ninja assassin who reenters the boy’s life after he’s become a superhero and then boy loses girl again when she’s killed by his arch enemy. Boy loses girl for a third time when the church he’s trying to resurrect her in is burned down by some ninjas who are also trying to resurrect her. It’s a story as old as time.
The Daredevil/Elektra Natchios love affar was never a simple one. Frank Miller first introduced Elektra into the pages of Daredevil #168 as Matt Murdock’s college flame, from long before the character ever put on a red costume or met Karen Page, the other love of his life. And then he killed her in Daredevil #181 but her story still didn’t end there. It ended nine issues later with Matt believing that he failed at purifying her soul and bringing her back to life. It wasn’t that simple as Miller and artist Klaus Janson last pages of Daredevil #190 showed a person climbing an icy cliff wall, successfully reaching the top to throw off her heavy coat and reveal Elektra, clad all in white. Miller and Janson gave no explanation for the end but it looked like Matt Murdock unknowingly succeeded; he freed his love from the pain and corruption that gripped her soul.
Miller would return to the love story again in 1990’s Elektra Lives Again, a story of obsession and desperation as the thought of Elektra haunts Murdock’s days and nights. In this comic, Miller doesn’t write Matt Murdock as a hero but as a man obsessed with the thought that his dead lover may still be alive. He doesn’t believe it yet the idea sinks into his life like a virus, infecting his every action and interaction. Miller’s Murdock isn’t a man who is mourning; he’s a man whose every thought has become solely about a dead woman he couldn’t save.
Miller plays it coy as he works Elektra back into Murdock’s life. Initially she’s just the woman of his dreams and nightmares. Miller first brings her into the story as just a vision during Murdock’s troubled sleep but she becomes more and more of a primal force during the story. At no point does Miller let us into Elektra’s mind; she barely utters a word during the entire book as she moves through New York City determined to prevent the Hand from using her killer against her again. Love? Hatred? Compassion? Miller doesn’t give us a clue to her thoughts. She’s simply a destructful storm moving through Murdock’s life.
On the other hand, we experience every painful obsession, every lingering thought and every search for some peace through Murdock’s eyes. More than ever before, Miller pulls us into Murdock’s dark soul where there’s no hope for light. Imagine Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s “Born Again” story if there was no Karen Page there at the end to help rescue Murdock and pull him out of the darkness. Elektra isn’t the lost but caring soul that Miller’s Page was. Murdock’s love of Elektra has become more of a love of the idea of Elektra, an unbreaking dream of what could be instead of a cold, harsh reality of what is and what would have been. This isn’t the story of the superhero of Hell’s Kitchen. This is the story of a man whose soul is so broken that he quite literally burns down a church in the end to help cleanse his world.
For Miller, Elektra Lives Again is an artistically transitional comic as he comes out of his superhero work and has Sin City in his future sights. This comic doesn’t look like any other Miller comic although you can see visual elements of everything from Ronin to Sin City in it. This isn’t a Daredevil story; the familiar red costume only shows up briefly in a televised news story about Bullseye. With Lynn Varley’s luscious and thick colors over Miller’s mournfully neurotic but captivating linework, this book traps the reader in Murdock’s mindset. It’s Miller’s best looking book as he has some incredibly detailed line drawings next to panels that are practically pure black. This book lives, breath and pulsates as Miller uses all of his skills to tell one final Elektra story.
The one-time tragic love story now becomes a story about what happens when those left behind cannot let go. It’s not about romance or caring. Miller writes Elektra Lives Again as a painful story of the deep, bottomless holes that can exist in a man’s heart. When you read his original Daredevil run, the story he is telling all along is about a man who is either confident enough or arrogant enough to believe that he can save a woman’s soul. It’s actually hopeful that way. Miller would write a What If? story shortly after the death of Elektra where Murdock succeeded and Elektra never died. He gave them a happy ending even if he knew that ending wasn’t real. It was an imaginary tale but it’s that promise of hope that has to exist in all tragedies. Elektra Lives Again recognizes that there aren’t happy endings for characters like Murdock and Elektra. They don’t get the happily ever afters no matter how much Miller may have wanted to give them one.