Make Mike's Marvel: Mike Carey first Marvel Comics work, "Ultimate Elektra"

Sun, May 23rd, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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What do Mike Carey and John Constantine have in common?

They know a good opportunity when they see one.

Coming this August, the acclaimed British writer, known for cerebral work such as DC Comics/Vertigo's "Lucifer" and comedy such as "My Faith In Frankie," will tackle the next frontier: superheroes. But instead of doing this with his pals at DC, the formerly DC exclusive writer will be over at Marvel Comics, with artist Salvador Larroca, working his magic on "Ultimate Elektra." This mini-series is a sequel to author Greg Rucka's "Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra" mini-series that re-imagined the characters in a contemporary light and Carey spoke to CBR News about why he's so drawn to Elektra.

"Well, I love Elektra as a character," says Carey, who maintains this affection has nothing to do with Jennifer Garner's role in the upcoming "Elektra" film. "This is showing my age here, but I was reading the Frank Miller run on 'Daredevil' as it came out - it was one of the few things back in 1980 that I cottoned on to while it was still happening. So I was already familiar with her history, and I always thought that she was a brilliant addition to the Daredevil canon. I also really enjoyed Greg Rucka's re-invention of her for the Ultimate continuity. She works well as a basically decent, passionately loyal teenaged girl compelled by personal crises to show a darker side to her nature. So I was always going to jump at the chance of writing Elektra if it got offered to me.

"How I got on board is more complicated. I came out of exclusive with DC in March - at the very end of March - and I came out with a yen to write a strong superhero book. Partly this was because I wanted to show that I could, and partly it was because I grew up immersed in that tradition, reading all the DC and Marvel superhero books I could get my hands on, so I've always wanted to write something in that genre.

"So anyway, I was talking to editors both at Marvel and at DC about possible projects that I could work on, and the Elektra miniseries was mentioned as a possibility by Ralph and Nick at Marvel. And I pitched for it. I think they were looking at ideas from a number of other people, too, but they liked my take on the character and my ideas for where to go with a five-part story arc. So they gave me the green light, and here I am. Having a great time, I have to say."

As Carey mentioned, this is his first work for Marvel Comics and it's an interesting place to start- writers Brian Bendis and Mark Millar were acclaimed before their turns on various "Ultimate" series, but became superstars soon after. "Well, [Marvel & I] were talking about a range of things, and I pitched for several. This was the one where it all seemed to come together, although a couple of other projects might also still come to something.

"With regard to the DC exclusive, I felt that at this point in my career I had very specific things that I needed to do, and it seemed to make sense to be freelance again for a while to make absolutely sure that I'd get to do them. The whole thing was discussed and carried through very amicably between me and DC - Shelly Bond and Karen Berger, in particular, were incredibly helpful and supportive - and it doesn't mean that I won't come back to an exclusive deal at some later point."

If you're new to the "Ultimate" universe, Carey is happy to explain the premise of the series. "Shall I do it while juggling five oranges?" laughs Carey. "The story has the young Matt Murdock and Elektra Natchios as students at New York's Columbia University, which means of course that it's picking up from the situation that was set up in Greg Rucka's 'Ultimate Daredevil/Elektra' miniseries last year. It's a free-standing story, but if you've read Greg's series then you'll see the events that were played out there having further repercussions for all the main characters here. Elektra has in effect given up her degree course to stay at home and look after her father, who is still lacking an income and any kind of a life after his store was fire-bombed and razed to the ground. In order to get himself back on his feet again he makes some risky - and ultimately disastrous - decisions, which pull Elektra further down the morally dubious path that she set out on in the earlier story.

"We've also got Matt doing a first-year internship, and becoming involved with Elektra again through a crisis which to begin with seems completely unrelated to her, but expands to threaten them both. After what's already passed between them they still can't trust each other and the barriers are still very much up - but they discover that they need to co-operate in order to get through this in one piece.

"It's a thriller, essentially, with some unexpected plot twists, some very unpleasant bad guys and some great Matt/Elektra character beats."

Seeing as how the "Ultimate" universe filters Marvel Universe characters through a different lens, there are some differences in these classic characters and, in the case of Elektra, Carey sees some attractive nuances. "Matt isn't all that different - he's a gentle idealist with a penchant for brutally kicking ass when all else fails, like always.

"Elektra is very much more open and vulnerable than she is in her adult persona - and she's got a very appealing exuberance about her that contrasts strongly with the grimly focused personality she has later. Part of the appeal of the character, I think, is in that conundrum. How did she get to there from here? With the regular-continuity Elektra we already know the answer to that question. The Ultimate Elektra is still more of a mystery, and her full potential for good or evil is still to be defined."

Mike Carey during Comic-Con International 2003.
Carey is open about the fact that while "Frankie" was born of some very personal ideas, he consciously was trying to develop his writings in a different area, specifically comedy. With "Ultimate Elektra" and early scripts on his rejected "Firestorm" series at DC, Carey has been trying to show both the audience and himself that his love for superheroes can translate into some powerful writing. "I am, definitely and consciously, trying to expand my craft. I want to write every kind of comic there is to write. But as I said above, my desire to write superheroes is a special case: it's a bugbear I've had for several years now. And as a project this miniseries was especially appealing because the characters are so strong and iconic and because again they're part of my own growing up. I'm really enjoying adding a chapter to their story, and I guess my main goal is to do that in a way that will stay faithful to everything that came before but still be revelatory and surprising."

Expanding one's craft also means adapting one's writing style to uncharted creative realms and in Carey's case, his visual collaborator on the series has eased the transition. "In many ways it helps (enormously) that I'm writing for Salva Larroca. I know how his visual idiom works, and I wanted to write a story that would play to his strengths and allow him to do what he does so superbly. A lot of decisions flowed from that.

"I decided early on to do without a narrator. There are no captions at all in the book, except for locations and for the few places where someone's dialogue is allowed to run on into captions to cover a segue. Not having a narrator shifts you into a more aggressively visual 'show don't tell' mode: in an Ultimate book, and in a book where the showing is going to be done by Salva, I think that's a good place to be.

"You can give him a page with a hundred and ninety eight panels and it will still come back looking more open and more vibrant than most guys could manage with three or four. He's like Peter Gross in that respect (although I know their styles are worlds apart): he uses the space on the comics page with consummate skill."

Having read the early adventures of Elektra in his youth and examined modern day interpretations of the character, Carey sees a pathos permeating the character that is infinitely intriguing. "I guess a lot of Elektra stories play off conflicts of loyalty, painful and tangled relationships where neither partner can do what they think they ought to do, and a sort of tragic sense of the gulf between your aspirations for yourself and what the world makes out of you. Elektra is this weird paradox: a strong, capable woman who is nonetheless pulled out of shape by terrible, stressful experiences and consistently ends up a long way from where she wanted to be. I think to do her well you have to make that paradox believable and make it hurt."

The inclusion of Daredevil, AKA Matt Murdoch, in the series might make some question whether or not this is really Elektra's series, but Carey maintains she won't lose the spotlight. "Yeah, honest, it really is. God knows, she stole his *own* book out from under him often enough... [laughs]

"Elektra's actions and decisions are centre-stage here. Matt has a big part to play, but there's a reason why this is 'Ultimate Elektra,' not 'Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra 2.'"

Marvel Comics has oft been accused of trying to tie their comics too heavily into movies, in this case the upcoming "Elektra" film, but Carey says he hasn't been told to make the series more like that film or "Daredevil." "Nobody's even mentioned it to me. And I haven't seen it, because I don't like Ben Affleck. I can honestly say I haven't been pressured or leaned on in any way. The editorial process has been brilliant - loads of support, no coercion.

"Of course, I could be saying that with a gun to my head and tapping out "H--e--l--p--m--e--!--" in morse code."

So any chance we'll see Carey doing "Ultimate Elektra" on an ongoing basis? "If they asked me? Yes," he reveals. "I think I'd really like to tell some more stories with these characters."

Carey's quite busy these days and with a good deal of secret projects in development, "Ultimate Elektra" isn't going to be the only big move he makes this year. "I've got a lot of work on at the moment. Two graphic novels complete and in the pipeline at DC. A very unique and unusual Vertigo one-off that I'm working on currently, together with short Superman and Batman-related projects. A novel adaptation, also for Vertigo. And, you know, a monthly book here and there for rainy afternoons (note: I live in England, where there isn't any other kind of afternoon).

"I can't say what the future will hold because my present is full to bursting. I will say that almost everything I'm doing at the moment is taking me into new places in terms of genre, approach, and narrative technique. I'm having a great time, and I think writing more organically and more powerfully than I ever have before. I hope it doesn't end any time soon."

A running joke with many of Carey's fans is that all of his series involve fire in some way, but on the surface "Ultimate Elektra" seems to be flame free, until Carey pointed out the obvious to CBR News:

"You mean you can look at Salva's Elektra without your socks catching fire? Arune, I'm disappointed in you."

 
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