Sunday, June 25, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #2, Mister Miracle #3, Bulleteer #3

After trips to a bunch of comic stores I've finally got all the issues for the next chunk of Seven Soldiers. This second batch of books generally isn't quite up to the level of the masterful first batch, but, like with the first round, they're all becoming more interesting as the story progresses, and I'm becoming increasingly wary of waiting for the still unscheduled Seven Soldiers #1.

But, on to the issues themselves. Frankenstein appears to be taking the idea of each miniseries as a collection of four standalone stories a bit further than most of the other series. All the characters we saw last issue are absent other than the man himself who is now on Mars. The transition is a bit jarring, but it's something you just have to accept if you're going to enjoy the issue. The whole series takes place in a universe where weird stuff like this happens, in the DC Universe it's quite possible to take a jaunt over to Mars ande be back in time for the next issue.

Throughout the series, there have been some books that have a lot of crossover, like Zatanna and Shining Knight, and with this issue, it becomes clear that this issue is the brother series of Klarion, with this issue picking up a bunch of plot points left over from the destruction at the end of Klarion #4. The highlight of the issue is Melmoth's return and the way his appearance here unites a lot of disparate strands of the project. He's alienated from his wife, Gloriana, and the end of the issue leaves him as a wild card in the whole project. He's definitely of questionable morality, but he also seems to hold out the best hope of defeating the Sheeda.

Frankenstein is someone who's not ready to work with moral ammbiguity. He's on a mission to destroy Melmoth and will stop at nothing to do so, ignroing the fact that Melmoth could be an ally. Of course, we're not sure how Frankenstein feels about saving humanity, he's a character who's more about destroying evil than saving good. He might be happy to just let humanity destroy itself entirely. The fact that Frankenstein is in a sense Melmoth's son ties him into the conflict between children and the adult world that's been a consistent theme in the series. Frankenstein is the ultimate teenage rebel, someone who's always trying to show up his parent. Until he defeats Melmoth, he won't be able to grow up and move beyond this adolescent quest for vengeance. He too rejects the prospect of sexuality when he abandons the potential 'Girl Frankenstein' in issue 1.

As the issue ends, Melmoth is ground into shit, but you've got to assume he'll be back. He's too big a player in the overall story to be killed so simply, and the blood of the eternal cauldron still runs through his veins. The idea of immortality has been a consistent theme, it ties into the whole never grow up theme, with permanent youth being seen as both an ideal and a curse. More on that in Bulleteer #3. But for now, we're done with the Mars adventure and I'm assuming we'll see something entirely different next issue. Of the three new series, Frankenstein easily has the best and most appropriate art. It's wonderfully nasty and I love Mahnke's design of the reborn Melmoth.

So far, Mister Miracle has been my least favorite of all seven series. This issue is an improvement, but the series suffers from both its near total disconnection from the rest of the project and its difficulty to follow due to my lack of familiarity with the New Gods mythos. This issue gives you a better sense of the main character, and throws out a whole bunch of crazy concepts, but still doesn't quite come together.

The basic conflict here is between Shilo and the anti-life equation. The anti-life equation represents everything negative about society, and it manifests in the plastic people who now walk the streets. This anti-life equation consumes everything he loves, but he stubbornly maintains his individuality. The issue features some further exploration of illicit superhero sexuality, the plastic woman wielding the whip has a strong similarity to the three prostitutes that Shilo encounters in issue one.

Shilo's breakdown with the anti-life equation recalls Justin's encounter with the guilt monster in Shining Knight #2, though things go worse for him. I love the moment where he buys the Depends, that's hitting bottom. Though, it looks like he'll be able to bounce back next issue. On the whole, there's a lot of good stuff here, but it doesn't quite gel. I'ts more like someone else trying to write a Morrison comic than the man himself's writing. I think the series could have been more entertaining, if not actually better, if there was more connection with the overall mythos. There's some nice cameos by Klarion and Jake here, but other than that there's been no connection to the overall story. We'll see what happens in issue 4, there's got to be some kind of tie in.

Bulleteer is easily the best title of the second run, picking up on a lot of themes from Flex Mentallo, and continuing the plot threads of Seven Soldiers #0, which still stands as one of the most impressive issues out of this project. What that issue did was explore the world of the DCU from the perspective of low level superheroes. There's a lot of meta commentary on the comics industry itself, as well as an exploration of the nature of heroism. After its first issue, Bulleteer has backed off the exploration of Alix as an extremely sexualized heroine and is focusing more on Alix's introduction into the larger world of superheroics.

The revelation of I, Spyder is one of two fantastic "Holy shit" moments in the issue. Ever since his reappearance in Shining Knight I've been wondering what's up with him and it's great to see him back.

The relation between Stellamaris and her son is another example of parental conflict, the theme that is present in pretty much every aspect of the series. The continued focus on this issue would indicate that Misty could play a major role in defeating her mother, Gloriana. In Zatanna, Klarion and now Frankenstein, each character is haunted in some way by their parents, and, for Klarion and Zatanna, the series ends with our hero coming to terms with parental expectation and being set free to pursue his/her own agenda. I'm hoping Misty has a big role in the finale, but Klarion and Frank, as her half brothers, could be equally important in overthrowing their own tyrannical parental regime.

We don't know anything about Alix's parents, but the generational conflict is present in her discussion with the original Bulletgirl. In Klarion, the close mindedness of the older generation was a critical theme and we see that here, with Susan, a very close minded traditional person, telling Alix she looks like a hooker and is trading on the name that she worked hard to make good. So, once again, we see Alix being judged solely by her appearance not by her legitimate desire to do good.

Alix's miniseries is reminiscent of Manhattan Guardian in the sense that she's someone who's forced into being a superhero and goes along as an observer rather than participator in the world. She hasn't yet acheived that moment where she loses her self consciousness and transcends the line between "crazy fetish person" and superhero. If the series stays true to form, next issue will see her confront Sally and claim the mantle of hero for herself.

This issue picks up concepts from the first issue about the sexualization of female superheroes, their world's version of the madonna/whore dichotomy summed up in the title of the panel: "Sweethearts and Supervixens." The whole convention is clearly modeled on actual comic book conventions, with b-list heroes subbing in for b-list celebrities. In this kind of world, you'd clearly have a fan culture built around superheroes, and having been to a couple of cons, this issue perfectly captures the awkward desperation of b-list celebrities simultaneously happy to be adored and ashamed that they're not doing better.

This panel features the first modern day appearance of Li'l Hollywood, last seen in Manhattan Guardian #4. I love the fact that Li'l refers to Vincenzo as "Vinnie." Like her fellow members of the Newsboy Army, Li'l is trapped in a permanent youth, though she seems to have consciously chosen to do so, as her relationship with Lucian makes clear, she's trying to maintain her youth even as she is actually getting older and older. She is less overtly messed up than her fellow Newsboy members, but she does have a lot of issues. I love the page where she and her friends are talking about Jackie, it's the combination of mundane conversation and the ridiculous costumes everyone's wearing.

Thumbelina is a character right out of the superhero orgy in Flex Mentallo, someone who's using the superhero image without any actual belief in heroism. She's just using her powers for monetary gain, quite literally prostitutiing herself. She offers Alix this path, but Alix is still unwilling to function as just a sexual object. She wants to help people.

This dichotomy is brought up again in the next scene where Lucian propositions her with a "team-up" that's actually a sexual relationship. For people like Lucian, hoping to make it big as superheroes, there is no line between work and personal life. However, in the end, Alix turns his sexual attraction to her into an opportunity to build a heroic partnership that could end up helping people. That's what the whole series has been about, Alix is constantly perceived as a sexual object, but she refuses to conform to that image, she takes people's expectations and turns them around by being a hero.

Now, the other holy shit moment in the issue is the return of Greg. I love this moment, it confirms his role as the Clint Eastwood archetype in the series, and promises the continuation of drama from issue 0. Will we see the return of The Whip? Who knows, perhaps Seven Soldiers #1 will see a meeting between the original team and our soldiers from the minis. This new development has me very intrigued, and it's a great testament to Morrison's writing in SS0 that so many issue later, those characters still have me wanting more.

The final pages of the issue seem to throw Alix into yet another classic female superhero situation, the catfight. If the series continues along its thematic path, Alix will triumph over this woman who defines herself solely by her sexuality by continuing her commitment to heroism despite any personal issues she's got. Alix has taken the 'hooker' image that her husband gave her and is turning it into a legitimate heroic image.

So, four issues left to go, reviews will be up as I read them. Things are definitely picking up now, and hopefully the issue 4s will bring more of the threads together in preparation for the series' conclusion.

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Seven Soldiers: The Complete Post Index (6/28/2006)

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