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CSBG Archive

Drawing Crazy Patterns – Elektra’s Magic Sais

In this feature, I spotlight five scenes/moments from within comic book stories that fit under a specific theme (basically, stuff that happens frequently in comics).

Today, reader David P. has an interesting suggestion – times that Elektra stabbed a person from behind, with the sais going through the person’s flesh and bone but being stopped from going any further than the front of the person’s shirt.


I can’t say for sure, but you would almost have to think that this was a Comics Code thing, right? Then again, in an early appearance, Elektra DOES stab a guy clean through. Maybe it was just Marvel editorial telling Miller to cut it out? Or maybe Miller just felt it looked cool (it DOES look cool)?

Either way, starting with Daredevil #176, Elektra’s said took on their unique ability to stab through a person’s back and their flesh, but not the fronts of their shirts…

It continues with TWO instances in #178…


There is a notable example in #179…

What an awesome scene, huh?

And finally, in #181, the magic qualities of the sais are at work one last time – this time on their master, in one of the most famous Marvel panels of all-time…

E-mail me suggestions for future installments at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!


Though I have no evidence for this, I suspect the sais not penetrating the clothing thing had nothing to do with censorship, code violations, or editorial. I think Miller probably just really liked the visual of having the sai not quite piercing through the clothes.

It is a very cool visual. Not to mention, there is no pressure on the shirt so it would billow out with the sai and not get shredded by it (unless the tip was absolutely razor sharp).

Indeed a cool visual. And indeed somewhat plausible if the shirt is not too tight, it can bllow out. However, Eletra’s suit in the last panel probably shouldn’t stretch like that unless the sai is really blunt, and then driving it through the body takes loads of strength…

You guys should do an inventory of all the columns you’ve named after Dylan songs.

well, lyrics.

Travis Pelkie

July 7, 2011 at 1:55 am

Ah, didn’t realize that the last one had been a riff on something Elektra herself had done often. Huh. Cool.

I think Miller probably likes that it resembles a boner. The double-entendre is clear if one wishes to see it that way, especially with Elektra being a powerful woman, penetrating man after man, etc. Papers can be written about Miller’s us of sexual imagery and his views on sexual dynamics in his works so it’s not a surprise to me that he’d take the phallic imagery a tad further.

It had everything to do with censorship. Exit wounds were not allowed under the Comic Code Authority.

Third Man – In the Sin City lettercolumns Miller used to say himself that he specifically drew it that way because of censorship and the Comics Code.

I actually miss the Comics Code. If not for it, the above scenes would have been unwatchable to me, especially at the age I was when they came out. (Daredevil had no “for mature readers” warning.) Not a fan gore.

The thing I always got hung up on was that, according to the Oriental Adventures expansion of the 1st-edition AD&D game, which is, as you know, the most definitive authority possible, sais are supposed to be blunt. They’re used for parrying and thumping, not slashing and stabbing. So Marvel should make their comics more realistic.

There was one other major example in DD #179 (same issue as the great movie theatre scene), actually it’s at the end of the issue, and it just occurred to me that it would be a spoiler to describe the scene as it’s a really nice ending to one of the best single issues in that Daredevil run (even if somewhat blunted by revelations in the following issue). In fact, maybe that’s why you didn’t include it!

So never mind. Great selection of images all the same.

There was one other major example in DD #179

That moment, while awesome, is slightly different from these. The way the shot is framed, you don’t actually see the sai stopped by the shirt. Because he doesn’t show you the actual exit wound, Miller felt that he could get away with adding blood, so there’s blood gushing forth from the wound. Since there’s blood gushing forth from the wound, clearly it got past the shirt, right?

About the “boner issue”, all I can say is “sais matters!”

Mike Grell has used the same effect in the Warlord as well. Presumably to avoid showing exit wounds. Don’t have the comics in front of me, but it would have been early in the run.

Talk about pitchin’ a tent, AMIRITE!?

Billy Bissette

July 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I remember, when talking about early issues of GI Joe and the silliness of Code restrictions, it was said that they could show a crossbow bolt entering a guy’s neck, but they couldn’t show a point emerging from the other side.

That kind of logic seems to fit with the Elektra stabbing images, as while it is obvious that the sai has penetrated their bodies, the shirts mean that the art doesn’t actually show emerging points.

Ganky wins.

[…] through the Comics Should Be Good blog today, I ran into a recent article by Brian Cronin highlighting a particular artistic quirk in Frank Miller’s 80′ […]

Huh. Now I’m wondering if a similar scene in the second Ninja Turtles cartoon–where Leonardo accidentally stabs Splinter with his sword, producing a similar effect–was, aside from a similar attempt to comply with Standards and Practices, also done that way as a homage. It wouldn’t be the first time TMNT has homaged Frank Miller and “Daredevil”.

Oh, wait, the link from actual post appears on the comment? Hello redundancy.

Here’s my no prize answer:

The entry wound not only rips the flesh, but also the clothe of choice of the person being stabbed. This rip allows the fabric to stretch more than it normally would, so instead of remaining in place for the exit wound (and being pierced, it just moves with the sai creating the tent effect we see here.

Christopher Chance

February 9, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Both traditionally and historically sais were not used as stabbing weapons. They are not swords they are not sharp. They are used for disarming people with swords and attacking both joints (knees, elbows, etc) and pressure points. Now theoretically you could jab someone with them but they are rounded tip not pointy so they do not pierce. They could be used to slap an open handed attack or a weapon such as nunchukas or a knife. Technically more of a parrying weapon.

Now that we have that settled, have a nice day.

Dakota Niswonger

August 28, 2013 at 1:05 am

On the sai and it’s history. We all know the sai originated from a farm weapon. One thing that people just cannot wait to dispute though is the idea of a bladed sai. Well, here’s a bit of a history lesson. While yes the sai started out as being blunt, there came a time when it WAS made sharp. However, the sharp sai were or military use only. Okinawan police and anyone else used the blunt sai we all know. Now to anyone who would question the usability of a bladed sai, take your mind away from the defensive uses, and add to the defense all that a sai WOULD be able to do with a blade.

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