Sunday, May 21, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #1-2, Zatanna #1, Manhattan Guardian #1, Klarion #1

After the stunning Zero issue, it's time to head into the first four Seven Soldiers miniseries. Each of these series represents the invention of a new superhero mythos, each drawing on previous archetypes while updating them in a way that makes them feel fresh and new.

I'm not too up on DCU history, I know these were all pre-existing characters, but I'm not sure how the worlds they inhabit fit into the DCU that alreayd exists. For example, Shining Knight starts out in some version of Camelot, where he's one of a bunch of knights battling the Sheeda. I'm not sure exactly what the Sheeda are yet, but Shining Knight 2 leads us to believe that they turn up a certain point in a civilization's development, to destroy it. In the first issue, they destroy the Camelot that Justin comes from, and he winds up falling through a time warp to the present.

The issue is fall of crazy Morrison ideas, filtered through a Lord of the Rings vibe. I like the font and style of the narration, which gives the the story the feel of an ancient epic. With everything in chaos, Justin falls into the present. The first issue felt a bit elusive, it was tough to get used to the Camelot world, though I thought the Castle Revolving stuff was fantastic, particularly the mutation of Justin's girlfriend.

The final pages set up the basic premise of the series, a classical knight stranded in modern Los Angeles. The second issue clarifies things, and gets us deeper into Justin's head. I love the idea that he's tormented by this physical representation of his guilt, and literally just walks around with this guy. He's clinging to the old ways, and feels without purpose in this new world.

Justin encounters one of the bald men from Seven Soldiers 0. These guys seem to be some kind of extradimensional agents, who are able to reinvent heroes, update them for a new task. In this case, Justin reclaims his role as a knight, defeating these criminals on the street and finds himself updated with modern clothes and a new sense of purpose. I love the idea that this guy appears at just the right time to set Justin on his path, and I'm guessing that a bald man will appear to each of the soldiers at one point in their series.

Concurrently with this, we've got the mob boss who bought Vanguard. He encounters a sheeda riding some kind of spider. It seems like these spiders are pets for the Sheeda, they control them, and were able to use one as bait in seven soldiers 0. There's a lot of references to eight legged entitiess throughout the series.

The art on Shining Knight is incredible. Justin on the last page of issue 2 is incredible looking and throughout the oil paint look lends incredible atmosphere to the book. Grant did a great job of selecting each artist, and tailoring the story to his/her sensibility. This book looks like a lost volume from the Renaissance, and that style allows us to see our world from the perspective of an outsider like Justin.

Manhattan Guardian is the second series. This is a much more traditional superhero series, drawing on the Batman archetype of the ordinary guy with the skills to fight for good. The thing that makes Manhattan Guardian work is that the superhero story flows organically out of this guy's regular life. Traditionally, the origin story exists solely to motivate the hero to get into action, and even a book like Ultimate Spider-Man that spends a lot of time before the guy becomes a hero still feels like the plot exists solely to bring him to the point of putting on a costume. Here, it feels more like Jake is a regular guy who just happens to be a hero.

I suppose it goes back to the speech from Kill Bill about how Clark Kent is the disguise, Superman is the real guy. That's true of most heroes, but not this one. Jake is using his role as the Manhattan Guardian as a way to patch up the problems in his life.

There's a lot of great things in the issue. I love the kid from the Newsboy Army showing up and giving Jake a bike. Throughout, I feel like Morrison captures a unique voice in Jake. He's always been good at creating very unique characters in small space, and by the end of this issue, I already feel like we completely know Jake. That's the sign of a good storyteller, and makes it a lot easier to emotionally relate to him as the story proceeds.

I'm not so sure about the pirates, the basic idea is good, but I feel like pirates are a bit played out, and usually GM is on the forefront of cultural trends. I'll forgive it because it feels like a throwback to his work with Cameron Stewart on Seaguy. Stewart's art is fantastic here, he always makes fun, dynamic images that can accomodate realism and bizarre stuff.

Following this was Zatanna #1. Zatanna's the only character of the bunch that I was familiar with going in, I'd just caught her appearances in Identity Crisis. So far, hers is by far my favorite mini. The book is like a cross between Buffy and Promethea, and touches on the most classic Morrison ideas.

I think this issue does the best job of simultaneously introducing the character and telling an interesting story in its own right, which was Morrison's goal with the series. That's really helped by the framing device. Much like the Melfi scenes in the first episode of The Sopranos, Zatanna's running narrative about her past introduces us to both the facts of what happened to her in the past, and her feelings on those events. The basic events of the issue come out of stuff that happened in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run, where Zatanna, her father and John Constantine teamed up to repel some ultimate evil force.

While I usually prefer writers to tackle original material, this mini is a great example of the benefits of a shared universe. It's crazy that this character from an Alan Moore story written twenty years ago can now pick up and grow. Morrison has talked about the fact that Superman is more real now than his creators, and I think a large part of the impetus for the project was the idea that he could create new characters and concepts that would impact the DCU for many years after he's gone. It's the same thing he tried to do with his run on X-Men, but Marvel has effectively gone through and erased most of his innovations.

Anyway, Zatanna's journey through the magic world is incredible. I love the bottom left panel on the first page of this journey, where she's wide eyed, just in total awe of this world. Her interactions with Terry the skeptic are a lot of fun as well. The double paged spreads where they bounce around recall Promethea, though the idea that "space has an edge," as represented by a panel border is classic Morrison. The red God they encounter on the next page seems to be a throwback to the beings who attacked the team in SS0.

This leads them to a place that recalls the library of unwritten books in Sandman. I love the final image of the face on the tree, really creepy. The emotional core of the issue is Zatanna's guilt about bringing back the "man of her dreams." This is exactly the kind of mistake that someone with these powers would make, even if she was responsible most of the time, she's going to slip when it gets tough, and that's going to put the whole world in danger. The emotion on her face is perfectly conveyed on the bottom of that page, the text could be played light, even a bit funny, but with the facial expressions we can tell that she's actually consumed by guilt about what's happened.

The most interesting thing about her therapy group is the presence of Gimmix from SS0. It's tough watching her here in light of what happens to her down the line. Grant's mission with this book was really ambitious, but these little touches of connection make it feel more like one large story. And the whole therapy group thing is another great peek into what the life of ordinary superheroes would be like, they see Zatanna as a poor little rich girl, because she's got to experience life with the JLA and they haven't.

The art on this book is fantastic. I love the redesign of Zatanna's costume, her classic look was good, but this makes it a bit more fresh, and a bit less just kinky magician. Misty also has very cool clothes, and her appearance tells us everything we need to know about the character. But, the thing I love most about Sook's art is the emotion the characters are feeling, I got really wrapped up in this issue and a lot of that is the way he drew things. I think this was a fantastic piece of work, different from what Morrison's done in the past, just really exciting to read. I'm looking forward to issue 2.

The other mini is the only one I'm not so sure about. I probably need to give it a reread, but Klarion was a bit underwhelming. The basic idea is cool, this kid who comes from a Puritan society longs to escape and rebel. That's classic Morrison territory, following up on Kill Your Boyfriend. The whole thing has a very Tim Burton feel, and I do think the art is fantastic. I guess the problem with the issue is that it sets up his rebellion, but ends right as things are about to get interesting. So, I'm excited to see where it goes in the next issue.

The thing I did like was the individuality vs. conformism theme. Like Shining Knight, this seems to be a dying civilization, they're waiting for the Sheeda to come and destroy their civilization, lift them of their burden. They summon the Sheeda and then one shows up at the end of the issue.

This Sheeda seems to be the same create as we saw in Shining Knight, but refracted through a different cultural lens. So, here it's a demonic, blue object, while it looked like a more traditional spider out in the Wild West. There's a lot of style in the world of Klarion, and I'm hopeful that Morrison can pick things up a bit with the next issue.

On the whole, I'm loving the project. Zatanna in particular, but the whole thing is great, and looking for the overall connections is a lot of fun. It's a work that demands much from the reader, but I'm up for the challenge. It's almost mindblowing having this much new Morrison content available at one time.

Related Posts
Seven Soldiers #0 (5/17/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian #2-3, Zatanna #2, Klarion #2, Shining Knight #3 (6/1/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #4, Zatanna #3 (6/3/2006)

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