With beautiful art, a bold perspective and a hypnotizing narrative voice, W. Haden Blackman and Michael del Mundo's "Elektra" #1 accomplishes everything that a first issue should. It's stunningly sure of itself -- and I'll admit that I'm as surprised as anyone to see it. But its unflinching, introspective seriousness and fluid, mythic panels make one hell of a statement. This creative team has something to say, and you should pay attention.
The tone is set straight from the opening. The first few pages are taken up by a high-concept, exquisitely executed sequence that fuses images of Elektra at her most graceful with those of her at her most murderous - all against a backdrop of mirrors that show moments from her past. Long, spiraling red ribbons become arcs of spraying blood, and balletic spins become athletic kicks. It's breathtaking work, and remarkably easy to follow. (Admittedly, conflating beauty and violence like this is problematic, but that's a whole social theory essay which deserves more space than I can give it.)
Overlaying all the dancing and death, Blackman's narration explicitly rejects the concerns about a series like this. Elektra isn't defined by the men around her and her relations to them. As she stands over her enemies, she says, "I no longer a daughter or lover...victim or student or slave. I am...someone's assassin." As a statement about where this series is coming from, and where it intends to go, this dialogue is powerful -- and more than a little bit meta. Blackman maintains this sense of gravity throughout the issue, whether it's Elektra's voice or that of the villain Bloody Lips, and he has the timing and the ear to make the seriousness feel earned.
That said, statements like these might look less desperado and more desperate if they weren't accompanied by the work of Michael del Mundo and Marco D'Alfonso. The linework and coloring here are beautiful, plain and simple, and evocative no matter the panel. The interior scenes in the Matchmaker's hideout feel believably clandestine, colored with dirty pastels that summon the texture and shadow of a vintage book cover. The introduction of Bloody Lips, a psychotic killer with a horrifying power, is drawn with sharper colors that feel primal and threatening. However, del Mundo is most impressive in the full- and two-page spreads. They feel appropriately indulgent, full of colors and extravagant motion, but there's such economy to every page. So much happens in such little space, and every act is tightly connected. Del Mundo can tell a remarkably complex visual story without sacrificing the sheer, surface-level beauty of it, and Cowles' lettering brings the intricate logic of these pages to the surface, making them easy to follow.
My primary concern about "Elektra" is also a sizeable part of its strength. This book takes itself quite seriously. Though the Matchmaker's dialogue is light enough, there isn't really any humor or fun here. It's absolutely not a problem in this issue, where the material earns its weight, but this approach doesn't leave any room for leeway in a series that is ultimately about a ninja-killing assassin in a red leotard. Everything has to land pretty perfectly in order to work.
Still, the most important thing I can say about "Elektra" #1 is this: if you were on the fence when you first heard about the series, go pick up Issue #1. I don't think you'll be on the fence any more.