The 10 essential Elektra stories to binge on before Daredevil Season 2

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you've seen all of the teasers for the new season of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix which will be released worldwide on March 18. This second season, we will see two characters get the definitive live-action makeovers they deserve: the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra (Elodie Yung). The former has a deep library of quality stories despite some mediocre films, while Elektra has only had a handful of essential memorable stories to wash away the forgettable 2005 film starring Jennifer Garner.

Part of that has to do with creator Frank Miller, who had an agreement with Marvel to keep her dead after he was done with her ... but Marvel broke that agreement several times. Many have since tried, but only a few have managed to do Elektra stories that stick. Consider this your essential Elektra comic primer before she is brought back to life, once again, in live action.

Daredevil #168

Writer - Frank Miller, Artist - Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

In December of 1981, Frank Miller introduced Elektra Natchios to Matt Murdock’s world and forever changed the Hell’s Kitchen corner of the Marvel Universe.  We are taken back through Murdock’s memories of a sophisticated and exotic woman who was a political science major, trained in the martial arts, and whose father was a Greek ambassador. Nothing affects you like your first love, and these two lovebirds were intellectual equals who were hopeful and dreamed of changing the world with the law. Over a year of intense passion passed when tragedy struck. Elektra and her father were held hostage on campus and the authorities mishandled the situation. Murdock saved Elektra, but her father was accidentally killed, and she turned her back on the system that failed her to go back to Europe. To Murdock’s surprise, he runs into Elektra in the present day, reinvented as a mercenary bounty hunter/assassin who assaults him while trying to collect a bounty on a man Murdock seeks to protect. When their paths cross once again, all of Murdock’s memories and feelings rush back, causing him to lose focus.

Collected in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller volume 2 and the Daredevil by Frank Miller Omnibus 1

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear

Writer - Frank Miller, Artists - John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson

So much of this mini-series was mined for Netflix’s Daredevil as it re-established the character and modernized his origin, giving more detail on his roots. In the second and third issue, we see the impact Elektra had on him. She lived on the edge and  made Murdock feel alive, whether it’s her physical seduction of him or driving a convertible sportscar, 95 MPH in the snow and towards a cliff. For the first time since his father, he was exposed to someone who lived their life dangerously. She opened his eyes, so to speak, and made him realize how similar they are in that way. That’s why he so willing to risk his life for what he believes in. Elektra brought out out the wild and reckless side in Matt, showed him how to break the rules, but it also left Murdock vulnerable and exposed. She was bad for his health and good for his soul. We knew that Elektra got under Matt Murdock’s skin and these were two pivotal issues were instrumental in illustrating the degree of that psychological penetration.

Collected in Daredevil by Frank Miller Omnibus 2

Daredevil #174-176

Writer - Frank Miller, Artist - Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Elektra was trained in the way of the ninja by the crime group known as “The Hand,” which she discovers has been hired by the Kingpin to kill Murdock. She makes sure that doesn’t happen, but they are successful in harming him enough that he temporarily loses his radar senses, his most used power. Murdock then sifts through Hell’s Kitchen for Stick, to help him get that back. We learn that it was Stickthat  taught both Matt Murdock and Elektra to use their bodies as weapons back when they were in college. The result of that training is seen in these two issues as Elektra has two showdowns with the seemingly immortal ninja, Kirigi. It takes all of her skill to survive, but not before impaling him first with a katana sword and then separating his head from the rest of his body in the rematch.

Collected in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller volume 2 and the Daredevil by Frank Miller Omnibus 1

Daredevil #181-182

Writer - Frank Miller, Artist - Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

When threatening Urich didn’t work, Foggy Nelson was the next target for Daredevil's lady assassin. Reacting to a whimpering Foggy, Elektra couldn’t bring herself to do it. Unfortunately for her, the Kingpin unleashed another assassin who escaped prison, the deadly Bullseye, and he takes her out. This sends Murdock into an instant state of anger and depression that takes years for him to recover from. This historic run with the character is pulpy crime fiction at its best, painting characters into a corner and seeing how or if they can escape. In this case, Elektra could not.

Collected in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller volume 2 and the Daredevil by Frank Miller Omnibus 1

What If? #35 “What If Elektra Had Lived?”

Writer - Frank Miller, Artists - Frank Miller and Terry Austin

If you’ve read all of the Miller Daredevil stuff and somehow missed this one-issue story he wrote that wondered what would’ve happened if Elektra did not die, it's definitely worth checking out. The Watcher, Marvel’s biggest troll, visited Murdock to show him the life he’d have if Bullseye never escaped prison and instead is killed by the prison guard. Elektra still decides not to execute Foggy, infuriating the Kingpin to the point at which he orders a hit on Elektra. Murdock decides to sever ties with Hell’s Kitchen and goes on the run with Elektra, where they lead a secluded and happy life. It’s notable because it’s one of the few times we see Murdock smile.

Daredevil #190

Writer - Frank Miller, Artist - Klaus Janson

We get two Elektra stories here. The first is a prologue tale with Stick training her, and her failing to climb a mountain. Then, in the present, The Hand cannot leave the dead resting and try to revive Elektra with black magic and steal her corpse. With the help of Black Widow, Daredevil intervenes, but also tries to bring her back but is unable to complete the ritual with his own energy. What he does wind up doing, unbeknownst to him, is scrubbing her soul clean of evil tendencies and a mysterious character named Stone finishes the spell and is able to successfully resurrect Elektra. 

Collected in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller volume 3 and the Daredevil by Frank Miller Omnibus 2

Elektra: Assassin

Writer - Frank Miller, Artists - Bill Sienkiewicz

Even though Elektra died in the pages of Daredevil, she was given her own eight-issue mini-series in the 1980s and a chance to stand on her own in this ultra-violent, satirical tale of Elektra at her best – as a contract killer. The ninja assassin is hired to kill a presidential candidate, Ken Wind, who is controlled by the Beast, the demigod of The Hand. By using Wind as a puppet, the Beast hopes to use a nuclear weapon to wipe out the human race. A psychotic S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, John Garrett, helps Elektra and is a complete wild card. There are plenty of reasons to read this story, but not to be forgotten is Elektra showcasing her other powers, including telepathy, throwing her mind into others, and creating illusions, to name a few. Stick fans will also get to see more training, and that’s always a crowd pleaser. Tales of political satire can be timeless, especially in election years, but Miller also pokes fun at comic book clichés, religion, and of course, sex. This is Miller unhinged, after all. This book could have become untethered, but Sienkiewicz’s watercolors open the canvas to limitless possibilities and the reader is allowed to step off the edge, too. Sienkiewicz feeds into Miller’s pedal-to-the-floor story, and Miller returns the favor by giving one of the best artists in the business the opportunity to go buck wild. It doesn’t fit so neatly into the Marvel Universe, but why would anyone want to place a fence around these two creators? This came at a time when Marvel was pushing the boundaries of the medium. So, reading this, then going back to the Daredevil stories gives the reader a whole new reference point from which to view her actions. 

Collected in Elektra Lives Again Hardcover or Paperback and Elektra by Frank Miller Omnibus

Elektra Lives Again

Writer - Frank Miller, Artists - Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

Perhaps the only one who could properly bring Elektra back from the dead was Miller, who created this dream story in which Matt Murdock has a vivid nightmare that leads him to believe Elektra is still alive. This is another experimental story that should be read after the works above, as it looks at Murdock’s tortured soul, complete with Catholic overtones and imagery, and how much Elektra healed his wounded heart. She may have died, but he had yet to let go. Eventually, Murdock must break through, because because holding onto her as if she were alive did her more harm than good. While it’s tough to embrace because of its pokey edges, it’s still an important moment for Elektra and her creator. Elektra Lives is a certified mind trip, even by today’s standards, and Miller created this after The Dark Knight Returns and you could see his art evolving into what he made his signature style in Sin City. Lynn Varley’s painted colors adorns the pages too and at least visually, this is the best Elektra has ever been depicted. 

Collected in Elektra Lives Again Hardcover or Paperback and Elektra by Frank Miller Omnibus

Punisher Max #17-20

Writer - Jason Aaron, Artist - Steve Dillon

For a very different, stone-cold take on Elektra, Aaron gave her a duplicitous turn in Marvel’s Punisher Max, intended for mature audiences. The Hand convinces Wilson Fisk, AKA the Kingpin, to hire their best bodyguard – Elektra – to protect him from the Punisher. What he doesn’t know is that his ex-wife, Vanessa, is working with The Hand, plotting her revenge against Fisk for allowing their son to be murdered. As she was in Daredevil, Elektra’s a supporting player in this story but that doesn’t make her presence any less memorable. Whenever she’s been taken out of the assassin role, Elektra loses something, but she’s repurposed nicely here, creating paranoia for everyone, including Frank Castle and especially the Kingpin.

Collected in Punisher Max: “Homeless” and the Punisher Max by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon Omnibus

Elektra #1-11

Writer - Haden Blackman, Artists - Michael Del Mundo

The last, short-lived attempt at bringing Elektra monthly to readers was a divisive one. First, no one could criticize Del Mundo’s painted art, which is gorgeous to pore over. His double-page spreads are inventive and playful. The story had some unconventional experiments (try Elektra infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. with a paintball gun), lots of internal narration and an attempt to build a supporting cast. All of that was good for some readers, but for others, not so much. I’ll leave it to the individual reader to determine if that’s enough temptation for more Elektra. On the visuals alone, it’s worth going out on a limb, but the story suffers sometimes in not giving us enough meat for title character, especially with the first arc wherein Elektra takes a job to keep a person alive instead of killing them. The second arc, Reverence has a bigger and better story, but the series ended just as it was beginning to find its feet.

Collected in Elektra Vol.1 Bloodlines and Vol. 2 Reverence

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