- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

The comic book character Elektra Natchios debuted in 1981 during a legendary run of the Daredevil series fueled by the gutsy writing and art style of Frank Miller.

Mr. Miller and other creators from Marvel Comics portrayed the female assassin for hire as a complex entity, in a variety of roles ranging from daughter to girlfriend to martial arts expert to resurrected and conflicted killer.

He turned Matt Murdock’s femme fatale into a 24-year legend of the sequential art world through various miniseries, meetings with Daredevil and her own monthly title.

Her recent solo film debut, “Elektra,” does nothing to embellish the legend and at most will leave the Elektra fan wondering why it was even attempted.

Sure, comic book fans get something of a retelling of her myth, mainly culled from the books Elektra Saga (which reprints the pivotal Daredevil issues) and the Elektra Assassin miniseries of 1986.

In the film they watch her perish at the hands of Bullseye, get resurrected by a powerful martial arts sect headed by her mentor Stick and remain at war with the evil Japanese organization of warriors, the Hand.

Unfortunately, the 96-minute “Elektra,” the movie, gives director Rob Bowman only a chance to muddle through her life, with almost equal time given to flashback as to her current predicaments. It is not a pretty sight — despite the fact that Jennifer Garner is always a pretty sight.

Here are a few observations on the film relevant to its comic book roots as well as why it will not be ending up in any of my top pop-culture memories any time soon:

• When does a filmmaker know his project is not living up to expectations? When commercials for the movie promote the preview of another film. Yep, I just saw a television spot reminding viewers that in addition to seeing “Elektra,” they would be privy to the first “Fantastic Four” film promotional clip, if they would visit the theater.

• Where’s Daredevil or Kingpin? Both “Elektra” and the 2003 “Daredevil” movies are from 20th Century Fox. So, how about Ben Affleck donning the red mask again (it’s not as if he’s tearing up the box office these days) or Michael Clark Duncan breaking out the pinkie ring?

While they are at it, how about Hugh Jackman poking his Wolverine claws into the proceedings (the company also produces the X-Men films)? It would be akin to the great Green Hornet/Batman television show crossovers from the 1960s. Sure, it’s no “Barnaby Jones meets Cannon,” but what could possibly top that legendary detective duo working together?

• Where are the nasty villains and grandiose fight scenes? I do not want some guy hiding among floating white satin sheets (I could watch Billy Squire terminate his career in the music video, “Rock Me Tonight”) while he swings swords at Elektra. I also want a Typhoid Mary character as psycho as the one portrayed in the comic books.

• Isn’t “Elektra” really just a made-for-TV movie? When I spend $8.50 on a flick, I either want “Lord of the Rings” quality or at least De Niro-meets- Pacino-meets-Olivier firepower.

I at least want a film in the 120-minute range. It’s not my fault for demanding this. Blame the brilliance of Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, James Cameron and other directors who have managed to deliver spectacular epics that need to be seen on the big screen.

• Where can I find a definitive Elektra multimedia experience? I suggest viewing the “Daredevil: Director’s Cut” DVD edition ($19.99) and then curling up with Elektra Lives Again trade paperback ($24.95) to enjoy the life of a woman who once had the hots for Matt Murdock and now has the hots for a pair of Sai.

A legend passes

One of the most powerful and innovative legends of sequential art, who actually coined the phrase “sequential art,” passed away recently at the age of 87. Will Eisner, known as the father of the graphic novel, died due to complications from quadruple heart bypass surgery, But his Spirit lives on.

Over his 70 years of creating and illustrating, Mr. Eisner brought to the world the non-Spandex, masked crimefighter the Spirit and offered such socially relevant graphic novels as “A Contract with God,” “The Building,” “Dropsie Avenue,” “A Life Force” and “Family Matter.”

In a 1996 interview with The Washington Times, he said he considered his novels a “portrait of neighborhoods,” set in an urban dwelling much like the environment he grew up in Brooklyn.

“For all the changes [that I have seen], society itself has not changed in its interaction. What is changing is the reality of living,” Mr. Eisner explained.

“The city used to be the place of safety, where we would go to escape the jungle, but the city is no longer a place of safety. It is a place of great danger because it is so heavily populated.”

His work ethic was legendary and his “never say retire” battle cry translated into his latest book, “The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” completed just recently, to be published in May by W.W. Norton & Company.

“A typical day for me is that I play tennis three to four times a week, and then work straight through to 5 p.m. If I am not playing tennis, I am in the office by 8:30 a.m.,” he said. “I don’t believe in retiring. I have never thought of myself as working, but as producing — and I have no plans to stop.”

In addition to his creative prowess, he was an avid teacher and passionate believer in the art medium his life’s work revolved around.

“Comics are one of the finest printed instructional devices I know,” he said in 1995, in another Washington Times article. “It is capable of far more than just entertainment.”

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com; or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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