Almost a year after Dazzler and She-Hulk debuted in early 1980, an all-new character emerged from the shadows, embodying the darkest parts of the decade. Elektra debuted in DAREDEVIL #168, an issue cover dated January 1981, and would go on to change the Marvel Universe forever with just a handful of appearances.
Frank Miller introduced the assassin in his very first issue as writer and artist of DAREDEVIL, forever tying the character to his legendary run and his specific creative vision. Outside of a handful of one-panel flashbacks to her tragic demise, no other creator would write Elektra during the entire decade of the 1980’s. Miller based Elektra’s appearance on bodybuilder Lisa Lyons, thus giving the character a unique blend of beauty and brute physicality that had rarely been seen in Marvel Comics. When Elektra kicked criminals in the stomach, readers felt it.
DAREDEVIL #168 introduced Elektra as a chaotic element in Matt Murdock's life. While chasing down a group of mob enforcers, the butt end of a sai crashed into his skull. Elektra had arrived to collect her bounty. “There is a bounty out in Europe for Alarich Wallenquist Bilge—a bounty I intend to collect,” she bluntly told a shocked Daredevil. “You are going to help me capture him, or I am going to kill you. It is as simple as that.” The blind super hero immediately identified the voice as that of Elektra Natchios—his college girlfriend.
The details of young Murdock’s romance with Natchios unfolded over the next seven pages. The young woman had relocated to New York City from Greece along with her father, the Greek ambassador to the United States. Her bodyguards followed her to every one of her classes at Columbia, preventing her from making any friends—until Matt Murdock. A year later, a group of criminals kidnapped Elektra and murdered her father in front of her. The incident changed her permanently, and she left America a disillusioned and hardened woman.
The former lovers reunited as adults operating on opposing sides of the law—and Daredevil could not make himself bring the bounty hunter to justice. After surviving a skirmish with a half dozen mob brawlers, Matt slyly revealed his identity to Elektra with a kiss, shocking the deadly assassin into silence.
“I think Elektra became so important [to DAREDEVIL] because Frank Miller was constantly revealing new facets of the character,” says current ELEKTRA writer Haden Blackman when asked about the character’s quick rise to prominence. “Initially, she is interesting because she is, in many ways, Daredevil’s equal as a foe. Her ninja training, her connections to the Kingpin, and her seeming detachment make her a real threat. But as we learn more about her, we discover her tragic backstory, her previous relationship with Matt Murdock—which makes her even more dangerous—and the fact that she is struggling with her mission.”
Miller had intended issue #168 to be a one-off tale, but Elektra returned for one page in the following issue. She snuck into Murdock’s apartment and found his girlfriend at the time, Heather Glenn, sleeping in his bed. Last issue Elektra felt shock, this issue she felt jealousy.
Elektra became a major character in DAREDEVIL in the late summer of 1981. DAREDEVIL #174 reintroduced the character alongside the mystical ninja clan known as the Hand. Elektra learned of the Hand’s mission to murder Murdock and rushed back to New York City to save his life. The two teamed up against the ninjas, thus drawing the attention of the criminal mastermind called the Kingpin. Once he saw Elektra’s handiwork—she had, after all, single-handedly killed 11 highly trained ninja assassins—he sought to find her and hire her for his own purposes. The Kingpin made his offer in DAREDEVIL #178 in a note positioned at the end of an apartment filled with street toughs:
If you are alive to read this, you are as deadly an assassin as I have been told. I should like to discuss with you employment opportunities in my organization.
Under the Kingpin’s orders, she menaced both Daredevil and reporter Ben Urich before taking on what would be her final mission for the crime boss: assassinating Matt Murdock’s closest and oldest friend, Foggy Nelson. She hesitated the instant he recognized her as Matt’s college girlfriend, and in that moment of hesitation, Bullseye struck.
The master marksman and psychopath dueled with Elektra in a parking garage, with Natchios scoring a number of key blows against the Kingpin’s former prized employee. But for all her training, Elektra could not best Bullseye. He ran her through with her own sai, leaving her to die in Matt Murdock's arms. Elektra perished in April 1982’s DAREDEVIL #181.
Frank Miller and Klaus Janson toyed with the idea of bringing Elektra back in the penultimate installment of their DAREDEVIL run. Issue #190 focused on both Elektra’s past—specifically her journey from college student to martial arts master—and her potential resurrection at the hands of the Hand. Daredevil and Black Widow prevented the evil ninjas from turning Elektra into their weapon. Frank Miller’s run had concluded, and readers assumed that Elektra’s story had also come to an end.
Unlike She-Hulk and Dazzler, who had been used in other series by other creators after their debut, Elektra had become synonymous with Frank Miller. Her only appearance outside of DAREDEVIL up to the time of her death had been in BIZARRE ADVENTURES #28 in October 1981. Miller had contributed a black and white story detailing one of Elektra’s assassination jobs prior to her reunion with Matt. Despite being dead, Elektra’s popularity continued to rise. Marvel reprinted every one of her appearances in a four issue limited series titled THE ELEKTRA SAGA throughout the first half of 1984.
This growing popularity led to her receiving a limited series of original material in 1986. Written by Frank Miller with art by Bill Sienkiewicz, ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN established the character as a Marvel mainstay in the making, as well as a character perfectly suited for creators wishing to cut loose and experiment. Due to ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN’s incredibly dark and mature subject matter, the eight-issue limited series had to be put out through Epic Comics. Unlike Marvel Comics’ usual output, comics released through Epic were sold exclusively in comic book stores and did not have to comply with the Comics Code Authority. Prior to ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, Epic had not published comics featuring Marvel Universe characters.
ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN—most likely a prequel to the character’s debut in DAREDEVIL, although it’s never explicitly stated—follows the title character as she stalks a villain named The Beast in an attempt to stop the creature’s plans at taking over the presidency through a human puppet named Ken Wind. The series allowed Miller to explore the most disturbing corners of Elektra's psyche and history, and it gave Sienkiewicz the space to experiment with panel layouts in pages that mixed different art styles to brutally beautiful–and at times intentionally disorienting—effect.
“ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN has been a huge influence on me,” reveals Blackman. “When I first read it, I was amazed at how it just continued to expand what I thought I knew about Elektra—and what could be done in comic books. As a result of that, I don’t have much interest in a story where Elektra isn’t introspective, isn’t revealing more about who she is through her actions or thoughts. I think that [current ELEKTRA artist] Mike Del Mundo does a fantastic job helping us get into Elektra’s head. There is a section in issue #5 when our villain is overrun by Elektra’s memories, and that is definitely a bit of a love letter to ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN.”
ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN #8 shipped at the beginning of 1987, and it marked the character’s final appearance in the 1980’s. It did not, however, mean the end of Miller’s association with the character. He released the graphic novel ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN in 1990, and explored more of her backstory with John Romita Jr. in the DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR limited series. The character remained dead for the first half of the 90’s, though, and did not return to the land of the living until DAREDEVIL #324, part of the “Fall from Grace” story arc.
Since returning from the dead, Elektra has gone on to star in a number of limited and ongoing series, becoming one of the most popular characters and anti-heroes in Marvel history. She appeared in barely two-dozen comic books in her first decade of existence, but—like an expert assassin—Elektra made every one of those hits count.
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