Sunday, June 18, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #1, Mister Miracle #2, Bulleteer #2

Frankenstein has one of the odder openings for a Seven Soldiers series, focusing not so much on the title character as on a town possessed by the Sheeda. We do get a nice action scene to open things, showing us a different, more human incarnation of Melmoth. I'm not sure what makes this Melmoth appear more human, while the one from Klarion looked very Sheeda, it may be just an art issue, or it could be that Melmoth is able to change his appearance. I suppose dying and being reborn could result in the change.

The tale of Uglyhead reminds me of 'Earshot' from Buffy, in which Buffy got the ability to read everyone's minds and discovered that they're all deeply insecure, even the seemingly most popular people. The idea that Uglyhead sees their thoughts as cartoon bubbles above their heads recalls the Max Thunderstone Buddhismo issue of The Filth. I think the thought balloon is something that was abused so horribly by comics in the past that it's easy to forget the fact that it can be used in interesting ways, and we get some good stuff here. The thought balloon brings comics closer to books and away from cinema, which isn't necessarily a good thing, but can be used to ones advantage.

This story is definitely treading in territory I've seen before, but there's a couple of things that keep it from falling into cliche. One is the fact that this Uglyhead is a nasty guy, rather than being the misunderstood sensitive guy, he's a totally corrupted person and the story embraces his depravity. We look at things from a Sheeda perspective, watching this ugly, bad humans in an awful world. There's not much worth keeping here.

The emergence of Frankenstein himself is great and it's satisfying to watch him raze this corrupted school. Frankenstein has a much darker view of things than our other heroes. All the others are relatively young, new heroes with a high degree of uncertainty. Frankenstein is someone who's seen it all and knows what he has to do to defeat the Sheeda. He is driven by vengeance, he's acting against bad rather than for good. And notably, he leaves behind his potential new "Girl Frankenstein" sidekick to walk alone.

This series seems a lot darker than the others we've seen so far, the art has a very dirty feel, which works perfectly with the story content. The first four books all had art that fit perfectly with the story, this is the only book of the second volume where there's that same perfect match between style and content. Of the second batch of books, this is my favorite so far.

However, I'm still not too keen on Mister Miracle. The major issue is that it's drawing on a lot of Jack Kirby's New Gods material, and I'm not particularly familiar with that stuff. So, I'm feeling out of depth in the characters' world. The opening does have a nice throwback to the Blind Chessman of the Invisibles, and this issue gives you a better sense of an ordinary guy caught in a situation where he's totally out of depth. He's a celebrity, which makes it even more difficult for him to be taken seriously when he's talking about this larger world that he's become caught up in.

The core of the series seems to be that the New Gods have fallen and have now become a group of insane people on the streets. This ties back to stuff from Manhattan Guardian #4, the newsboy army that splintered and fell into an awful, dark state. And now, there's apparently some big conspiracy going on with the doctor and the guy who's watching the homeless people, seeking to take the Mother Box and presumably use its powers to serve Dark Seid. I think the psychiatrist's interrogation fo teh blond woman is fantastic, but it's just difficult to keep track of what's going on, and that means that it's hard to emotionally engage with the series. Plus, we don't have much of a sense of how this fits into the series as a whole, I'm hoping we get to see the Sheeda soon.

Bulleteer #2 goes in a very different direction from the previous issue, picking up FBI Agent Helligan, last seen in Shining Knight #3, bitten by the Sheeda Queen. Apparently she's recovered and is now investigating the incident at Miracle Mesa.

Prior to this, Seven Soldiers #0 functioned primarily as a thematic prelude, with a few small references throughout the other books. However, with this issue it moves to the fore and we begin to get a better sense of what happened back there. I love the reference to Tom's appearance change, his rebuilding by the Seven Unknown Men. SS0 is such a strong issue, it's still chilling to see the people who died there, particularly their rapid descent from triumph to death. We see here for the first time the actual death of Greg and Shelly as well as the conversion of Tom Dalt into a Sheeda Servant.

I like Helligan's line about post modern superheroes. Clearly, in this world that would be the way to stand out, if everyone else is wearing a costume and fighting crime, go the minimalist and fight crime in regular cltohes. At this point, Alix is someone who's still not quite made the jump to hero, Helligan brings her as a visual prop,not for her actual powers. In that sense, she's still be used, defined by her appearance, in the same way that she was by her husband. However, the central irony of the series is still present, she's there for her strength, but at the same time is scared to go into the prison wearing her costume. The character is all about the fusion of traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine attributes.

There always seems to be someone who summons the Sheeda and betrays the Seven. Going over SS0, you can easily see where Boy Blue betrays the team, a lot of where this issue is successful is not so much on its own terms, but redefining the way we view SS0. I'm not sure if this is the final coda for those characters or if more of them will return later. Certainly Spyder is still out there, working for Glorianna, but the rest of them seem to be definitively dead.

The finale serves as a meta commentary on the nature of superhero, tying into themes from Watchmen. There, Hollis' book addressed the idea that it looked ridiculous if only one person came to the crime scene dressed up, but if the villain was dressed up too, it made sense. So, Alix still feels vaguely ridiculous, "it's not like being a superhero at all." However, the threat of the new nemesis who is apparently within her mist could be just the thing to help Alix definitively claim her role as hero.

In the long term, this issue deals more with ideas of heroism, particularly the American cowboy. For Ramon, Saunders is just a racist, but in cultural terms he's venerated as a hero, though certainly an outmoded one by this point. The other major thing at issue is the Sheeda themselves, Helligan says that they're from the future. That would explain why Neh-buh-loh says he got a brain from a 31st century person to give to the Queen instead of Misty. It's possible that his one lapse into emotion, the decision to spare Misty, will be what ultimately brings about the Sheeda downfall. I really hope that Misty turns up in one of these upcoming books.

Looking to the future, I'm going to grab the rest of what's available in singles, and catch up before Seven Soldiers #1 comes out, which is now looking like it will be in September. I'm hoping it's longer than the originally solicited 32 pages, there's too much story to fit in that small a book.

Related Posts
Seven Soldiers #0 (5/17/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Klaron #4, Mister Miracle #1, Bulleteer #1 (6/15/2006)
Zatanna #4 (6/15/2006)

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