Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Deodato, and the issue is Elektra #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 1996. Enjoy!
After drawing Wonder Woman for a while, Deodato drew some issues of Glory and had a brief run on Thor with Warren Ellis and William Messner-Loebs and a brief run on Avengers. Then he started working on Elektra. Oh, Elektra. I’m still not completely convinced Peter Milligan actually wrote this comic, because it’s just so very, very terrible. Maybe Peter Milligan sub-contracted this out to a particularly dexterous marmoset and took the money, because this is not only the worst thing Milligan has ever written by a fairly large margin (and yes, I’ve read his run on X-Men), it’s possibly one of the worst things Marvel put out in the 1990s, which is saying quite a bit in a decade in which Teen Tony Stark existed (and yes, that’s Deodato drawing Avengers at that link – the dude drew some terrible comics in the 1990s!) and in which Gambit was a popular character. At least a lot of the terrible comics from the 1990s are laughable these days, but Elektra doesn’t even have that going for it – it’s just awful. Yeah, I don’t like Elektra. Can you tell? But what about the artwork?!?!?
It’s the age of excess, even more than other ages, and Deodato was in the right place at the right time to become a superstar. In this book (and others around this time), he took the oddities of his Wonder Woman stuff and amped it right up to 11, and we loved him for it. Where Diana had long hair that at least looked somewhat realistic, Elektra has hair that looks Gorgon-esque and ridiculously long, to the point where I can’t believe she didn’t trip over it now and then. In the early issues of Wonder Woman, the characters moved somewhat like characters would, but by the end, Artemis was just posing, and that’s what happens to Elektra quite a bit in this series. Deodato can still lay out a page, as we see here. Elektra bursts through a skylight (and, in the grand tradition of fiction, gets no cuts whatsoever) and lands on a stage. Deodato chooses to use negative space in the first panel to show her body, which Christie Scheele smartly colors red. It’s a dramatic image, and then we get the three vertically stacked panels along the right side that take Elektra (with her flowing sashes not getting caught on anything, mind you) down to the stage. It’s well done – Deodato draws her doing a nice turn in the air and coming down softly, her hair trailing from Panel 3 to Panel 4, linking the entire sequence. He gives her two sais tied to her right leg, because 2>1, fanboys! We will see much more of her anatomy as we go along. Despite some exaggeration, this is a nicely done page.
This is part of the next page, and we see Elektra a bit better here. Again, Deodato lays the page out well so that we get the central image of butt-kicking Elektra, with the pathetic and sexist ninjas reduced in size around her and Konrad Weiss, the director of the dance company that uses the stage, looks on in amazement. Deodato, notice, makes Konrad look back at the larger, central panel, even though he’s really looking at Elektra beating up the ninjas in the panel above him. In the central image, Deodato gives Elektra that crazy, flowing hair, and while her thighs aren’t as crazy thick and her waist isn’t as tiny as we’ll see later in the book, her left thigh seems really, REALLY long. It’s kind of freaking me out.
For some reason, Deodato uses panel borders in this image, turning it into something that appears to be trapped inside a precious stone. I don’t know why he does it, but let’s not worry too much about it. Once again, we see the amazing hair, and you can just feel the energy rippling through this drawing. That’s, I think, partly why artists of the 1990s drew like this – despite all the problems, these comics crackled with manic energy, and that does help quite a bit. Elektra is getting a bit sillier in the anatomical department – her right leg has turned into a tree trunk, while her left thigh is still far too long. We must deal with it! Deodato had a bunch of artist at “Deodato Studios” inking this (including Ed Benes), and it’s pretty well done. The blacks on Elektra’s hair give it a wild, tangled look, while we get enough hatching on her face to show how crazed she is and how much she wants to kill the ninjas. The light source on Konrad’s face is strange, because we never actually see a light source, even though it’s making the sais sparkle. There’s no time for light sources!!!!
One of the hallmarks of this brief era of comics art, as we’ve already seen, is a very wacky sense of proportion. We’ve seen a bit of this with Elektra, but look at Sensei Stewart. Holy crap, he’s a giant! I mean, Sensei Lau isn’t a small dude, and Stewart looks like he could eat Lau as a snack before his real meal of one entire bear and one entire mako shark. His forearms are as wide as Lau’s torso!!!! Okay, we need to move on before my brain explodes.
So Konrad wants Elektra to dance for him, and Elektra doesn’t want to until there’s an opportunity to take another woman down a peg. Way to stand up for your sisters, Elektra! In Panels 1 and 2, Deodato draws Celia fairly normally, probably to contrast her to the otherworldly vision of our heroine. First of all, let’s check out that hair again. At least Elektra doesn’t braid the entire thing, but how is it not frizzy after it comes out of that thing she has it tied into? She has some crazy good conditioner, is all I’m saying. Anyway, what the heck is she wearing? I guess it’s a skirt, if we can call a piece of fabric that small a “skirt,” but I hope she’s wearing a thong underneath that thing, because if she’s going commando, how is the entire world not getting a flash whenever she takes a step? That final image is astonishing – her waist has shrunk a bit, her thighs have shortened to something more normal, but they’re still good and thick. In one of the only indications that Milligan isn’t taking this all that seriously, Celia makes a snide comment about Elektra hanging in the air, which cracks me up. It’s another one of these impressive drawings that makes your head hurt the more you think about it.
One more shot of Elektra dancing. Where is her actual waist? How far is it from her waist to the top of her ass? How wide around is that waist? Is her hair tickling the back of her knee? What the hell happened to her neck? So many disturbing questions!!!!
Elektra senses that something has gone wrong at the dojo, so she heads over there, where she finds Senseis Stewart and Lau hanging from their ankles. Look at all those muscles on Stewart! The reason this page is interesting is because I think it foreshadows the way Deodato’s art would shift once he started working on Bruce Jones’s Hulk a few years later. Stewart’s torso in Panel 3 and his hand in Panel 4 are inked heavily, sure, but the scars on his arms stand out because they’re not inked in – they become negative space scars, in effect. The brush work on his hand in Panel 4 is slightly softer than many of the other inking in this issue, too. Deodato is still working in his “classic” style, but I wonder how much he was taking from little things like this and thinking he could go straight to colors from pencils and get a different look. Hmmm …
Oh, Bullseye. Were the steroids really necessary? Deodato gives him giant … well, everything, really, from his wide shoulders to his ridiculous thighs. Once again, we see the nice inking to create shadows of muscles, so that even though he looks ridiculous, he doesn’t look as silly as he might if Deodato drew in all the muscle lines. I thought about showing some of the images from issue #2, where Deodato gives Bullseye the famous saliva linking the upper and lower parts of his mouth, but the drool in this image is enough, I suppose. I like to think that Deodato was this close to finishing the issue, but when he reached the bottom right of this page, the ladies of some Brazilian beach were just too much to resist and he said “Foda-se” and he gave up on Bullseye’s foot. Maybe Bullseye is a ghost, and he’s having trouble keeping his form together?
Elektra, as I mentioned, is a terrible, terrible comic, but I did buy seven issues before it drove me away. And honestly, the art is wacky, but it’s not the reason the book was so bad. Deodato moved on, and tomorrow … hmmm, I’m not sure yet what I’m going to take a look at tomorrow. It’s Day 3, so I should probably get to his big style change, but maybe one more from before that time. We shall see! Find more style changes in the archives!
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