Haden Blackman: 'Pushing the Boundaries of What ELEKTRA Can Do'
CREDIT: Marvel Comics
How do you kill the world’s greatest assassin?
Elektra is an assassin. She’s not a superhero. She’s not a super-villain. She’s not a crimefighter or someone’s girlfriend. Those are all masks she’s worn from time to time, but in her new self-titled series launching this week she’s left it all behind to do what she does best: killing.
Written by Haden Blackman (Batwoman, Star Wars: Force Unleashed) and fully painted by popular cover artist Mike Del Mundo, Elektra plunges into a new era for the red-clad Greek assassin in the same way her trademark sais plunge into her targets. In this new ongoing series, Elektra looks for new challenges and accepts the job to track down an assassin named Cape Crow revered by those in her field for his near legendary status as a killer of killers. But Elektra’s not the only one on Cape Crow’s tail, as she’s running neck-in-neck with a cannibalistic (and animalistic) new threat called Bloody Lips, and also in play is Elektra’ long-time foe Bullseye, who killed her decades ago. Luckily she got better.
Elektra #1 is on stands now, and on the occasion of this new series we sat down with Blackman to discuss his auspicious debut into the Marvel U and striking out on a new path for him after Batwoman and for Elektra after standing in the shadow of other heroes’ stories.
Newsarama: Haden, Elektra #1 is on stands now and reviews are already beginning to pop up online. What’s it like from your position, seeing the response so far to yours and Mike Del Mundo’s creation?
Haden Blackman: So far, I’ve only seen reaction to the preview pages, but I’m really encouraged by all the excitement those have generated. I feel like Mike and I have really clicked with this character, so it’s really heartening to hear that people are looking forward to the book and seem intrigued by the direction we want to take things.
Nrama: Much of the buzz about this series has been about the art here by Mike. Not to discount your own work, but you have a habit of working with impactful artists – J.H. Williams 3 on Batwoman with you before. What’s that like for you?
Blackman: It’s awesome. I have no problem being overshadowed by the artist because these guys just make my job so much easier. I can write a crazy VFX showcase, or a quiet moment between two characters, or some nuts action set piece, and they just figure out how to pull it off. I like to think that I’m a pretty visual writer, in the sense that I think about the layout of the page, the choreography, the panel design, and the symbols and themes, but writing with and for these guys has taught me so much more about the medium. They let me push myself, try new things, experiment, add a few new tricks to my story-telling. I’m not afraid to take some risks because I know they can pull it off. Jim and I had a mantra of “no status quo” on Batwoman, and we didn’t just apply that to the plot – we wanted every issue to try something new in terms of visual storytelling. And Mike and I feel like every issue is an audition for the next issue, so we’re constantly trying to outdo ourselves in some way.
Nrama: Some writers tweak their dialogue after an artist has drawn pages but before publication – did you do any of that here, and if so, what did you do given the artwork you were seeing here?
Blackman: I tend to write pretty detailed scripts to begin with, and will sometimes start with the dialogue and captions before even getting to the panel or page descriptions. In addition, Mike does quick layout sketches, so we could work out any problems with the story-telling very early. As a result, there weren’t a huge amount of changes to the dialogue once the art was done, though I did take a pass to solidify the new villain’s voice and clear up a confusing plot point.
Nrama: That opening seen with the ribbon dance transforming into ribbons of blood – is that something you brought up for the story, or something Mike brought? It seems ideal for Mike’s style, no matter who it came from.
Blackman: I think this was an example of the collaboration working perfectly because I can’t remember where the idea began or ended... From our first conversations, Mike and I talked about the parallels between dance and fighting, and about trying to find ways to work that in to the first issue. He had done several sketches along these lines that we both wanted to salvage. Somewhere along the way, we added the idea that the scene would transform from a dance to the bloody battle, and we added the images of her past as well. I really liked the notion that she would be reflecting on her past while dancing, almost oblivious to her present. We hashed out a lot of the core concept on the phone. All I really know is that in the script I wrote something like “Okay, these spreads are crazy…” and Mike pulled them off, so all credit has to go to him.
Nrama: In this first issue you introduced a major new character for Marvel called Cape Crow – kind of the assassins of all assassins. Can you tell us about your development of the character, and making Cape Crow an ideal adversary for Elektra?
Blackman: I wanted to give Elektra an adversary that was worthy of her – one that not only would challenge her physically and mentally, but also emotionally. No offense to any stories that have come before, but I think that Elektra’s conflict with the Hand has run its course, and I didn’t see anything threatening about them any longer, so I wanted to create a new character that would at least pose a new type of challenge. In Elektra #1, we establish that the Assassin’s Guild wants him dead, but that another mysterious benefactor has offered a bigger reward if someone can bring him in alive. Elektra takes that second, more difficult contract, and it’ll only become more complicated as she learns more about him.
Nrama: The identity of Cape Crow is shrouded in mystery – not that he or she necessarily has to be a shocking reveal of a long-time character, but can you say if its someone new under the mask or an old Marvel character with a new name?
Nrama: He’s a new character who has been in retirement (and hiding) for years.
Nrama: In the opening of Elektra #1 you brought up the titular character’s parents – saying she feels she looks more like her father, the deceased Greek ambassador Hugo Kostas Natchios. Will her family, past or present, play a role in this series?
Blackman: I don’t want to retread ground we covered with Batwoman, which was very much a family drama in many respects, but Elektra’s parents are never far from her thoughts. And in Issues 3 and 4, Elektra will need to confront the loss she feels at never having known her mother.
Nrama: Recently inThunderbolts, Elektra’s brother Orestez re-emerged – any chance he could be a part of this?
Blackman: Possibly in the future. Right now, I’m very focused on creating a new supporting cast for Elektra, but obviously I won’t ignore her past and will involve Orestez if the story warrants.
Nrama: On Elektra’s side in this is a matchmaker for assassins, dubbed conveniently as the Matchmaker. Can you tell us what role she plays for Elektra, personally and professionally, for this series?
Blackman: As her name suggests, Matchmaker brings together unemployed assassins and prospective targets. She is an independent operator with her own agenda – make tons of money -- but it’s not yet clear whether she is “on Elektra’s side.” She does believe that Elektra is her only chance at collecting the reward for finding Cape Crow, and she’ll do whatever she can to cash in on that. My hope is that she’ll serve as a foil in areas where her code and moral compass are very different than Elektra’s, but circumstances will force her to start evolving as well.
Nrama: In passing you also mentioned a group called the Assassin’s Guild, who took issue with Cape Crow sniping their contracts. Is this a new construct, or is it by chance the old group from New Orleans introduced as part of Gambit’s circle of friends? And can you talk ab out the group and any role they might play coming up?
Blackman: In my mind, they are related entities, and I want to explore that more over time.
Nrama: The man who once killed Elektra, Bullseye, appears in this twice. Once in a flashback fighting Cape Crow, and once laid up in a S.H.I.E.L.D. base. Given Bullseye’s past with Elektra, is this the last we’ve seen of him here?
Blackman: Bullseye plays a key role in this first arc, but not necessarily in a way that readers will expect… He’ll probably turn up again in the future, but for now, he’s no (direct) threat to Elektra, and she has put him behind her.
Nrama: Also appearing as part of the Assassin’s Guild is Sabretooth, Scalphunter and Taskmaster. Any return trip for them here in the future?
Blackman: Scalphunter shows up again next issue, alongside Lady Bullseye. For now, Sabretooth and Taskmaster are otherwise occupied.
Nrama: Another new character you’ve brought in is a man wearing a lion head who calls himself Bloody Lips, who is seemingly out to get Cape Crow like Elektra. Who is Bloody Lips?
Blackman: As revealed in Elektra #1, Bloody Lips is another assassin – a rival out to kill Cape Crow too. What we learn in this first issue is that he frequently eats parts of his victims in order to absorb their powers, skills, and even memories. As the story progresses, he’ll become more and more obsessed with not only Cape Crow, but Elektra as well – they represent the ultimate delicacy for him, a lifetime of violent memories that he’ll never tire of experiencing over and over again. Developing Bloody Lips was really fun – Mike had already done a design before I came on the book, and I wanted to use the character as soon as I saw his first sketches. I see him as sort of a spiritual successor to Kraven – but the Kraven portrayed in “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” who is at once psychotic and incredibly lucid and rational, a combination that makes him terrifying. I also wanted another character whose head I could explore, but who would be a sharp contrast to Elektra.
Nrama: The last page left a big tease with Elektra diving into the fabled Monster Island locale of Marvel lore looking for Cape Crow. I’ve been a big fan of Monster Island going back for decades, but what made you bring it in here – and what can people expect from it in the next issue?
Blackman: From the outset, we wanted to take Elektra to places you might not expect. Japan fighting ninja? Expected. Braving an island filled with giant monsters in search of an assassin she has to bring back alive? Hopefully, that’s something surprising, and gives us an opportunity to challenge the character in new ways. At the same time, there will be plenty of “Elektra moments.” We’ve already seen how she deals with The Hand in Elektra #1; and in #2, she’ll go sai-to-sword with Lady Bullseye. As the series progress, I want to continue to push the boundaries of what Elektra can do, where she can go, who she can encounter.