Blackman Cuts To The Heart Of Marvel's "Elektra"

Wed, December 18th, 2013 at 5:58am PST

Comic Books
Josie Campbell, Staff Writer

First announced in October as part of the All-New Marvel NOW!, Marvel Comics' upcoming "Elektra" ongoing is back in the news as W. Haden Blackman, of "Batwoman" fame has been announced as the new permanent writer for the 2014-slated series.

Created by Frank Miller in the pages of "Daredevil," Elektra has spent the past few decades being defined and redefined by various writers as a sympathetic anti-hero, a ruthless, blood-stained assassin and an immensely complex and fascinating woman. While the series was originally solicited with writer RELATED: W. Haden Blackman Joins All-New Marvel NOW! For "Elektra"

Speaking with CBR on the heels of Marvel's announcement, Blackman provides a peek at the tone of his series, the blueprint Wells left for the character and the questions and contradictions that swirl at the heart of Elektra Natchios.

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CBR News: Let's start with the very basics -- while readers might know you best for your "Star Wars" work and your recently-ended run on "Batwoman," what interested you in taking on "Elektra" and how did you end up coming onboard the series at Marvel?

Blackman outlines his plans for Marvel's assassin in "Elektra"

W. Haden Blackman: After our time on "Batwoman" came to a close, there were a few people who reached out to [J.H. Williams III and myself] about doing work for them; Marvel was one of them. Really, from day one, it was a conversation around Elektra, which was very exciting because she's a character I always thought had been underused or underdeveloped. She was interesting as a supporting character; I'll never forget the moment in the Frank Miller run with Bullseye and her death. I think she's a very powerful character from that standpoint, a historical standpoint, but I was interested because I felt she was underdeveloped. Quite honestly, it was the challenge of it that got me excited -- trying to figure out who is she, what does she want, why does she do what she does and how can we reinvent her in a very interesting way while still staying true to her core?

To me it seemed like a really exciting challenge, and so different from working on "Batwoman." That's why I continued to have conversations with Marvel until this all kind of came together -- and it was all predicated on Marvel's knowledge that Zeb Wells was going to have to step away from the book. Hopefully I can do him justice, and fill his shoes even halfway! [Laughs] It was offered up once they knew Zeb wasn't going to be able to work on the book, so I was just thrilled to even be considered as someone who can fill in for him.

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When CBR spoke with Zeb at NYCC about his plans, Bullseye was going to figure in large at the start of his first arc, and he had plans for allies and enemies. Coming onto the book, what is your main focus? Will Bullseye be involved in your first arc, or are you taking Elektra in a completely different direction than Zeb?

I really wanted to try and build her own supporting cast, and one of the central themes of the first issue is Elektra coming to terms with the fact that she's been defined by other people her whole life. Now its her opportunity to define who she is, on her own terms. I really want to take her in a new direction and explore who she is by -- and I think we say this in the press release -- pushing her into the far corners of the Marvel Universe and putting her in situations that are unexpected for her as a character, that maybe she hasn't been in before. And introduce, like we did with "Batwoman," a rogues gallery and a new supporting cast in some respects.

That's not to say there won't be touchstones back to the Marvel Universe, and certainly I'm not ignoring the past, or the fact that she has history with Bullseye and Daredevil. I have plans for integrating those things in, but hopefully it'll feel very organic within this desire for her to carve out her own place in the Marvel Universe and figure out why she does what she does.

Some of series artist Mike Del Mundo's Elektra concept art

As a character, Elektra has always been something of a perennial loner, so what interested you in surrounding her with supporting cast members? Is this something she's going into willingly, or is this part of pushing her boundaries outside of what she's done before?

It's exactly that; I wanted to put her outside of her comfort zone, I think, because she has been the perennial loner -- and that's not saying we won't see moments of that. I want to make sure that she keeps the core of who she is, but continue to evolve her as a character and put her in situations where she has to grow and change and gain new skills. Some of those skills may include how to work well with others, or not! That's what's interesting about the character; we can create a lot of drama from that. Can she play nice with others? Will she be able to work with a supporting cast? Will she be able to develop relationships with allies? I want to explore some of that, but again, in a very focused way. In the series, it is something she willingly steps into, but discovers there are more ramifications than she expected, and more of an impact on her than she originally thought.

As both writer and a long-time fan, what do you think is the very core of Elektra? What's the beating heart of the character, and how do you plan to get that across in your series?

That's the thing I think is most interesting to explore, because I don't think she knows! [Laughs] For me, that is fascinating. I think so much of who she is was defined by other characters.

Revisit Zeb Wells' Plans for "Elektra"

Daredevil, the Hand, etc. -- it feels like there are always characters or groups who people immediately name as a pair for her.

Yes. I think that in writing -- at her core, she is a daughter. She is continually trying to repay others for the death of her father and the tragic loss of him in particular. She lost her family, her mother and her father, but she's trying to repay people for the loss of her father. We know from previous stories that she's got a lot of anger and hatred and rage over that. I think that's always part of her. But I also think there are a lot of questions to be asked, like why does she stick around in Manhattan for so long? Why does she keep coming back into Matt Murdock's life? Why does she vacillate between being an anti-hero and a vigilante and an outright assassin, and what is it that pushes her between those extremes?

For me, this is the mark of someone who is trying to find herself. She doesn't know her place in the Marvel Universe. She's trying to figure that out. At least for the first arc or two, that's what I want to explore -- her trying to come to terms with what she's done, who she is and who she wants to be moving forward. As I think we all know, who we want to be and actually becoming that person are often two very different things! [Laughs] She may have aspirations greater than what she can achieve, and to me that's interesting to explore.

But to answer your first question very simply, I don't think she knows what's at her heart. I want to take her on a journey and have the readers discover it with her as she goes.

Blackman's "Elektra" will sport an expanded supporting cast

Tonally, then, what should readers expect from your series? You're exploring the idea of her finding herself, so will this be a more thoughtful book or will is still be a ninja and assassin action-oriented thriller?

It will be dark and still have violence in it; we're not shying away from the fact that she's been trained as an assassin. If she knows how to do anything well, it's that. She's going to fall back on that and definitely use her assassin abilities in this first mission she's on, which I think we've mentioned is a mission that involves protecting somebody, not just killing somebody. That will put a lot of tension into the story and create drama for her. There will be those moments of combat and violence and everything you might expect from a vigilante comic, for lack of a better term.

But at the same time, there is some reflection. I want to get inside her head, explore her as a character and see at certain moments why she makes her decisions, and expose that to the reader in ways we haven't seen before. At the end of the day, while I want to explore those things, I also know we have to tell a very exciting assassin story and this is going to be in line with that. There's going to be lots of action, there's lots of stuff that's over the top in a good way as we push Elektra into new situations, and we'll see her involved in different parts of the Marvel Universe than we're used to seeing her involved in.

Are there any stories or takes on Elektra that really resonate with you or that you really feel shows an interesting side of who she is?

The stuff that Zeb Wells did with her right in the aftermath of the Skrull invasion is really compelling. I feel he did such a great job exploring this incredibly traumatic event for Elektra in a way that really drew you in -- even though Elektra, in the first two issues I think only says a handful of things. She has a handful of lines, but you're instantly drawn into her plight and her situation. Even if you weren't an Elektra fans before you get it immediately. He just did an incredible job there, and it shows how resourceful and smart she is -- there's a moment where she spits a tooth at an assassin's mouth who has come to kill her! [Laughs] She's all trussed up and can't fight back but he's talking and she spits a tooth into his mouth and chokes him and uses that as an opportunity to escape! It's moments like that that you go, "That's brilliant!"

I hope what I do feels familiar but new to fans of his work. I know everyone was really looking forward, myself included, to his run on "Elektra," so I hope I can show that same level of inner strength and resourcefulness for Elektra, but also get inside her head and show why she makes the choices she makes and force her into situations unfamiliar to her, so we test her and see what her limits are morally, physically, mentally and emotionally. His run, I think for me, is the blueprint for that resourceful, tough Elektra character, and I want to hearken back to that if I can.

So, what can you say about the story in your first arc? Are we going to immediately see those new villains and supporting cast members?

We jump in pretty quick, so the first issue will acknowledge where she's come from and sort of set the stakes for her new mission. We introduce a new adversary right off the bat in the first issue, and we have all the pieces in play, like some of her supporting cast who will be introduced. The first arc should hopefully feel like a roller coaster ride, where she agrees to this mission that she's on and it takes her places she didn't expect to end up and readers won't expect her to go. Her main thing will be making key choice about who she is and where she wants to go next.

Throughout the series, Blackman will explore Elektra discovering her place in the Marvel Universe

In working with Mike Del Mundo on the art, are you doing something similar as with J.H. Williams II, where he's just as involved in the plotting of the book, or are your roles on this more rigidly defined?

I always try to be as collaborative as possible, because I feel that if I can understand what the artist wants to do and incorporate some of their ideas, it makes for a stronger story and they're more invested. Mike and I have already had a couple of conversations, and he was on the project before I was, so he's had more time to think about character, the types of people she might go up against and some of the themes and motifs we can put in -- the imagery and the character designs. So he's already brought a ton of great ideas to the table, and the opening sequence for issue one was really a collaboration of ideas going back and forth. I was the one writing the script, but it's based on multiple conversations with him and looking at all his concept designs and his experiments with how the interiors might play out and the things he's interested in. I'm really excited about that because I did fantastic work with J.H. on "Batwoman," largely because we were so collaborative and he was able to think about the story so visually. I want to leverage that with Mike, who has a very striking visual sense of his own and has his own style.

You said earlier one of the things that interested you about "Elektra" is that it's so different from "Batwoman," but you also want to build up her cast, much like in your previous book. So what is the difference between what you've done in "Batwoman" and in your comics career previously, and your goals of what you hope to accomplish in "Elektra?"

"Batwoman," I think, had a very strong, well-defined moral center. If you were to ask me the question of what is Batwoman's heart, what is her core, I think it's her commitment to her family and her commitment to her mission. Those two things we explored and we put her in situations where that commitment and her clearly defined moral code were challenged.

That's different than Elektra. Elektra has always been a shades of grey character. Her morality has been ambiguous, has changed over time, has been much more malleable. To me, that's interesting because that's one of the things that lead to the question of "who is she?" She hasn't defined yet what lines she would or wouldn't cross. It makes for at least an interesting opportunity to define that as the reader watches. Its exciting, there are differences -- I don't think I'd call them cosmetic because I think they are fundamental to who the characters are, but Batwoman won't kill and Elektra does. Batwoman from day one, even though she had taken the mantle of the Bat, did not allow herself to be defined by Batman or her father or anybody else. With Elektra that has not always been the case. She's been defined by others in different situations -- whether it's the Kingpin who wanted her or the Hand that wanted her or whoever. She's clearly strong and independent, but how we get to that from what she's been in the past is an interesting challenge.

Then there's the Marvel Universe, which was super appealing to me! I'm a fan of both DC and Marvel and so it was a dream come true to work in the DC Universe, and then to follow that up with Marvel that's another dream come true! [Laughs] The first comic book I ever read was the death of Captain Marvel, so to be in the Marvel Universe and to interact with characters and go places in the Universe -- which to me is a complex and very cohesive universe -- was not only an incredible challenge but also creatively very fulfilling.

As she's part of the Marvel Universe, though you are creating new characters for these first arcs will we also definitely see the Hand or Daredevil or traditional characters popping in to the book soon?

Oh, yes -- absolutely. There's no way I'd come to play in the Marvel Universe without trying to get my hands on the toys in that toy box! That was one of the things that was really exciting about it. While I'm building supporting cast and a rogues gallery with some components that are new, I'll never ignore the wealth of characters we can logically put in the book. Even from the first issue you're going to see things familiar to Elektra, and throughout the series I hope to strike a nice balance between things that are new and characters and locations and groups that draw on the greater Marvel Universe.

"Elektra" begins in April 2014.

TAGS:  marvel comics, elektra, zeb wells, mike del mundo

 
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