From Gotham to Greek Assassin: BATWOMAN's HADEN BLACKMAN Steps In To Launch ELEKTRA
Elektra #2 cover by Mike Del Mundo
Elektra. She’s a killer.
Earlier this year Marvel announced with aplomb that writer Zeb Wells and artist Mike Del Mundo would be taking the Greek assassin into new territory with a new ongoing series in 2014. Never fear true believers, the Elektra series is still on – but with a new recruit. With Wells having to back out of the project to focus on a recently greenlit television project, Marvel went hunting and found Batwoman co-writer and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game writer Haden Blackman. Blackman, an avowed fan of comics and the seminal work Frank Miller did with Elektra in the 1980s, jumped at this opportunity and is already hard at work on the first issue, due to be released in April.
Newsarama spoke with Blackman about red-clad assassin who’s often caught between the forces of good and evil, and the writer described how this new Elektra series will explore the character coming into her own for the first time. After years of working for others like the Hand, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra or working alongside others like Daredevil, Elektra Natchios is on her own and out for blood in a new way. Along the way, Blackman opened up about the comparisons between Batwoman and Elektra and their obvious differences, as well as the potential for former collaborators to rejoin him in this new series.
Newsarama: Haden, earlier this month news broke that you’d be taking over the recently announced Elektra series and making your Marvel debut. What do you have planned for this series?
Haden Blackman: My goal is to take Elektra in some new directions. I want to push her into the far corners of the Marvel Universe, and put her into situations that challenge her in new ways. The other thing that’s really important for me is building out a supporting cast of characters. Elektra really hasn’t had that before; she’s been primarily a supporting cast member in someone else’s story. So I want to focus on her story, and build out a supporting cast that includes a rogue’s gallery, allies, rivals and contacts.
And finally, I really want to continue developing her as a character, really trying to get to the heart of what makes her tick.
Nrama: There’s talk of Mike Del Mundo designing a new villain that’ll appear in the series. Can you say anything at all about this character, or any new characters coming up in Elektra?
Blackman: Mike’s work is amazing. He’s been on this book longer than I have, and he’s had a lot of time to think about the type of villains, as well as how Elektra moves, how we might want to pace things out, and even the panel design. He and I have had some good conversations about what we want to do.
In terms of new villains in particular, there is a new character we will be introducing that has a very disturbing and violent MO. This new character, whom we meet in the very first issue, is after the same thing as Elektra in the first arc and becomes a deadly rival.
Nrama: What about the new allies you mentioned? Will they be new characters, or some ones pulled from the Marvel mythos?
Blackman: Over time my hope is that we will be doing both. I think it would be criminal to come play in Marvel’s universe and not use the characters, locations and events that really shape and define that universe. You’ll definitely be seeming familiar characters that have a connection to Elektra, from the first issue on.
In Elektra #1 we will be seeing some characters from her past, but also introducing a new ally. This new ally sets her out on her first quest, which evolves over time. Elektra is an assassin, but in the first arc, she’ll also be using her skills to not just hunt and kill, but to find and protect others from would-be killers.
Nrama: On your blog you stated an early admiration for Frank Miller’s Daredevil, which notably introduced and featured Elektra. Can you talk about how that work influenced you as a writer, and also specifically for this project?
Blackman: Frank Miller has been very influential for me across the board; everything he’s done has left an imprint.
When I first got into comics, I started with The Death of Captain Marvel, Swamp Thing, and a few other titles. They all dealt with death and more mature subject matter; as a kid, it was not what I expected of comic books. Miller's work only took these themes further.
Getting into Miller’s Daredevil, I was struck by how he introduced a character – Elektra – who was both a love interest and a major adversary for Daredevil, and then he killed her in such a brutal way. That left a huge imprint, and made me feel that in a Frank Miller book no one is safe, no one is sacred; anybody can die at any time. It’s a brilliant way to put Daredevil on his heels. At the end of the day it defined Daredevil, and also defined Bullseye as a major, major threat. It was less about Elektra and more about the power of using Elektra as an impetus for creating that ongoing relationship between Bullseye and Daredevil. Then Elektra: Assassin is seminal in so many ways. It explored a character's psyche in such a striking manner, and really starts to show some of the complexity and depth possible with a character.
But I still don’t think anyone’s explored all her aspects yet. I feel like there’s an opportunity here to look at the tragedy she suffered, not just with the death of her father but her mother as well, and also how she herself has been killed and resurrected.
The important thing for me is too look back at all of Elektra’s stories and see what has defined her, then challenge that. I feel like Elektra has always been defined by someone else; always someone driving that relationship, be it Daredevil, Kingpin, Nick Fury and SH.I.E.L.D., or the Hand. Always someone else in control of what was going to happen to her. I think with this new Elektra series we have the opportunity to say Elektra is not only in charge of her own destiny, but is also driving her own mission forward, deciding whether to use her skills to be an assassin, to protect others, or do something else entirely. That’s exciting, to show Elektra taking the reins; her saying, essentially, “This is who I want to be,” and then watch her try to achieve that. As we know, deciding who you want to be and achieving that are two dramatically different things.
Nrama: This is a surprising but somehow apt follow-up for your work on Batwoman. In this case you’re writing it on your own, but what’s it like transitioning from Kate Kane to Elektra Natchios?
Blackman: I think being able to work with another really strong female character is one of the things that appeals to me about Elektra. Hopefully I can bring some of the sensibilities J.H. Williams and I developed over time with Batwoman to Elektra, but at the same time it's going to be incredibly different. Batwoman has a very strong moral code, and it was easy to identify the things that make her tick. She sees herself as a soldier, and her mission is to protect Gotham and the people she cares about. This totally defines her. So Jim and I tried to put her into situations that challenged her center. Her family is very important to her, so we fractured that family. We put her in a situation where she had to cross some moral lines in order to protect her family, and gave her a mission to save her sister, who might be insane and a threat to everything she cares about. By contract, Elektra’s moral center has shifted a lot over the years. It’s interesting that she’s so malleable, going from being an anti-hero, to a villain and back again. I want to explore why that's true, and create opportunities for conflict between who she thinks she is now and who she ultimately wants to be.
The two universes – Marvel and DC – are also different in various ways. I’m excited to be able to work in the Marvel Universe because of the kind of cohesion it has. The last ten years especially have been amazing, with the series of events starting with Avengers: Dissassembled that changed the status quo, and then continuing from one big event to the next. To see the Marvel Universe and these characters constantly reshaping and redefining themselves is exciting. When Jim and I were doing Batwoman, one of our rules was “no status quo;” every issue and arc explored new aspects to her character, and she couldn’t wake up every day and just find that things were "back to normal." Marvel’s done a good job of that on the macro level, and I think it'll be fun to be a part of that going forward.
In terms of the writing process itself, with Batwoman it was the first time I ever collaborated with someone that closely. I’ve done hundreds of comics, a lot of stuff for Star Wars and Dark horse, but never worked with an artist as closely as I worked with Jim. Hopefully I’ll be taking a lot of that experience to working with Mike Del Mundo; feeling comfortable picking his brain for ideas, to see what he wants to draw and ultimately what interests him. I want to make sure Mike feels like he’s being stretched and pushed, because I treat every issue like an audition for the next one.
Nrama: You’re taking over from the original writer, Zeb Wells. How did the conversation go to bring you on and replace Zeb?
Blackman: When the possibility first came up, it was realty important for me to understand why he was stepping away from the book, and to make sure everything was on the up and up. I never want to be the guy who swoops in like a vulture to pick at a corpse, or to take over before someone has finished their story. It's just disrespectful of the creators and of the process and the character. But Marvel quickly assured me that while Zeb was slated to write Elektra, his television commitments forced him to step away. And I thought it was very cool the way Marvel was understanding about Zeb’s situation. They understand that he had this television thing take off, and they were excited for him. So, it's all a very amicable situation and he’s been supportive of the book continuing without him.
So once I understood all that, Marvel and I moved pretty quickly. I pulled together a pitch, with the attitude that if it wasn’t what they were looking for, no problem -- at least I got a shot, and we could both move on to other things. Fortunately, they were interested in the direction I wanted to take, and within about a month of the first conversation about Elektra I was already plotting out the first arc.
Nrama: Seeing as you’re coming on late to this, will there be any delays from the announced April launch?
Blackman: No. Since I came on board we’ve been working towards April. Mike and I have already had a lot of discussions, and he’s already begun planning the first sequences based on the initial outline. The script for the first issue is coming along. So I don’t foresee any delays.
Nrama: Back in July when Newsarama interviewed Zeb, it seemed he was well into planning out the series. With him gone, were you given any of his notes or are you conscious trying to avoid that and do your own thing?
Blackman: I wanted to be respectful of Zeb and not poach any of his ideas. I knew a little bit from what I read online just like everyone else, but I purposely stayed away from getting too much detail in case he wants to come back at some point in the future. As a fan I was disappointed he wasn’t doing the book; I loved is previous take on Elektra, where she dealt with the Skrull abduction and then second abduction by Norman Osborne’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D., H.A.M.M.E.R. That was really, really great.
So as a fan and writer, I wanted to be able to put my own stamp on Elektra and not take any of the ideas or steal anything from the story Zeb wants to tell. With that said, I know he was going to show her as an assassin, so there's bound to be some overlap in our ideas.
Nrama: Since I have you here, I can’t help but ask about your work with DC. It’s been several months now since you and Jim announced your departure from Batwoman, but are there any plans to do more work with DC?
Blackman: No plans right now, but I’d be open to it if we could resolve the issue of last-minute changes; that was my big complaint. For Batwoman we did a couple outlines well in advance for several years’ worth of issues. We felt like we were delivering on that and building up to some big reveals and some big moments, but it was frustrating with the amount of last-minute editorial changes. If I could be assured that that wouldn’t be an issue and things would be more transparent in terms of changes, then I’d be open to doing more with DC.
Nrama: DC or not, any chance you’ll be working with J.H. Williams III again?
Blackman: Yeah, absolutely.I think we’re really good collaborators, and we complement each other really well. I was just emailing him today about projects we’re talking about. There are definitely plans afoot for us to do some stuff together. I think both of us are keenly interested in creator-owned projects, and we’ve been kicking around concepts for several years now.