Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #3, Mister Miracle #4, Bulleteer #4

I'm now all caught up on the issues that have been released so far, and it's looking like a nasty wait until issue #1 turns up. I'm hoping it'll be out by September. I'm sure the art by J.H. Williams will be worth the wait, he's going to have quite the task, to wrap up all seven stories in a satisfactory way. There's a ton of stuff to cover, and everyone seems to have different favorite characters that they want to see followed up on.

But, on to the issues themselves. Frankenstein #3 continues the character's journey through a crazy pulp horror world. I love the narration in this mini, going incredibly over the top, I love this bit: "Swirling fog. Bizarre inhuman cries. A mystery for Frankenstein!" Great stuff, I would love to see an ongoing series following Frankenstein's bizarre adventures, but I've also said that about nearly every other mini so far.

This storyline seems to be a twisted version of We3, with its cute bunnies and birds infected by a demon water. The story itself is similar to the cruise ship story from The Filth and Manhattan Guardian #3, all show how one corrupting element from the outside can destroy a closed community. This issue has a very X-Files vibe, as the government organization turns up and razes the town.

But the real fun of the issue is seeing Frankenstein confronted with the modern world, in the form of his lost mate, The Bride. I love the way she's designed, the four arms is a great touch and the two of them make a great couple in the brilliant "And Frankenstein deals death!" page.

With her appearance, we're back to the conflict between old and new. Frankenstein's ways have become outdated, but he is unable to update. It's a lot of fun watching Frankenstein kill the mutant cows, but the issue only has tangential relevance to the piece as a whole. The most significant thing is the fact that Frankenstein clings to his very strict view of good and evil, he can't fit in with S.H.A.D.E who are totally cynical, willing to do whatever has to be done to get the job done. Frankenstein's is an older style of heroism, and it's unclear whether there's a place for it in the modern world.

Mister Miracle #4 is a perplexing issue for me. I really need to do a reread of this mini because I didn't get a lot of what's going on in it. One of my big issues is the way that it's totally unrelated from the rest of the piece in terms of story, there are some thematic connections, but unlike the other books, we could have easily done without Mister Miracle.

The way I read it, the entire miniseries took place while Shilo was in the black hole, he's confronted with the anti-life equation as an inoculation, a test, and is then thrown out of the black hole ready to free the New Gods. So, the stuff we saw last issue was just one manifestation of this anti-life equation, confronting Shilo with the loss of his individuality, through the imposter Mister Miracle, and the loss of everyone he loves, to the plastification process.

Here, he confronts another trauma, the death of his brother Aaron, which he feels responsible for. You could read the entire miniseries as a chronicle of Shilo's fears and insecurities, all of which stem from the death of his brother. That's why we haven't heard about it before, because it took a while to dig through the surface concerns and find his deepest traumas.

As the issue proceeds, Shilo moves through a variety of parallel universes, confronted with all his fears. I did really enjoy the issue as I was reading it, it's only trying to piece things together that becomes difficult. This is an issue that you really need to break down and analyze before you can enjoy it.

Shilo's confrontation with Oracle brings back the motif of the spear not thrown, which ties back to Alix's decision not to be the seventh soldier at Miracle Mesa. I like the way Shilo's work as an escape artist is tied into him fleeing from his responsibilities. Death becomes the ultimate escpae, and he could choose to give in rather than be thrown through this endless series of increasingly degraded parallel existences. So, Shilo ends up confronting the fundamental force of restriction, a brilliant classic Morrison idea. By liberating restriction itself, he's able to overcome the anti-life equation and pass the test that Metron gave him. Shilo returns to the world, and the last page implies that Shilo has come to terms with his brother's death. So, much like the end of Zatanna, Shilo overcomes the psychological issues that were holding him back and emerges ready to battle the Sheeda.

I'm not sure if the New Gods stuff will be present in Seven Soldiers #1, I'd assume not, but we'll probably get some hint of the Sheeda as a manifestation of Dark Side. I'm going to give this mini another read, now that I know the basic structure, it should be easier to follow, and it'll be easier to enjoy outside of the expectations of forwarding the overall Seven Soldiers story.

On to the conclusion of Bulleteer, my favorite of the second run of minis. I mentioned before that this mini is structured a lot like Manhattan Guardian, and this issue is another notable example of that, as we follow the secret sex history of a supporting character, in this case Sally Sonic. I don't think this issue is quite as strong as Manhattan Guardian #4, which stands as my second favorite issue in the entire project, but it's a great conclusion to the themes and narrative of this mini.

I think the critical thing in reading this issue is the way that Sally's story functions as a what if for Alix, this is the person that Alix could have become if she'd allowed Lance to enact his will on her.

However, the first few pages are all about naive Golden Age superheroics, fragments of life from an age that's gone. In the DCU, the past really was this magical place where you can fly around with your teddy bear sidekick. I like the way that parallels peoples' idealized versions of the past in our world. People ignore the darkness of the era when constructing our view of the 1950s nuclear family. It's tough watching Sally lose everyone she loves and then be unable to grow up. She's got the same dilemma as Li'l Hollywood and Baby Brain, an inability to grow beyond her childlike appearance. In the series, adulthood is generally seen as corrupting and dangerous, as in Klarion #3, but perpetual childhood is not an answer either. There's two kinds of growing up, one is to have adulthood forced upon you, as happened to the Newsboy Army with the time tailor, the other is a more gradual growth and claiming of adult responsibility. That's what Klarion and Justin's arcs are about, bringing them to the point where they make the conscious choice to grow up and fight evil. Sally is never given the opportunity to grow up, and that is what makes her go along with her own exploitation.

The major issue I have with this issue is that Sally doesn't actually look that young. She's got massive breasts, in her post whistle form, I don't think anyone's mistaking her for a child. I can understand that DC might be uneasy with having someone who really does look like a child engaged in these porn films, but the disconnect between image and narrative ends up hurting the issue.

Sally is someone who's extremely jealous of what she can't have, namely a normal life, someone to grow old with. So, she lashes out at stable relationships and destroys them, a behavior pattern detailed by Thumbelina last issue.

It's in her relationship with Dennis that we see how Alix and Sally have the same basic issues. Dennis is someone who wants to exploit Sally to forward his own ends. In this book, being a superhero is tied up in all kinds of sexual issues, which makes Dennis' claim that he's happy to meet "Someone who believes in goodness and decency and honor" deeply ironic, particularly when two panels later he's telling her "Let's fight crime, Luv. Together." This is another spin on the sexual "team-up" that Lucian proposes in issue 3. Unlike Alix, Sally goes along with Dennis and allows him to mold her into a pornographic parody of the hero that she once was.

The scene with Dennis telling Sally he can't fight crime because they don't have enough money is another great moment where superheroing is brought down to Earth. In a lot of ways, Seven Soldiers is the first significant statement on what it would really be like to be a superhero since Watchmen. Watchmen had some of this street level, insignificant hero stuff, but it was mostly about Batman or Superman analogues. Here, we see what it's like for the c-list hero, people who aren't even able to be heroes because they need to work the "secret identity job.

I love the idea of "evil serum," it's another spin on the anti-life equation or the guilt monster, a reduction of all that's bad in the universe to one substance. The panel where Sally is smoking the cigarette and we see her through a cloud of smoke is fantastic. The cigarette in holder is such a classic evil prop and the art has lost its Golden Age clarity and become a moodier, more real style. Paquette's shifting styles throughout the mini are very impresssive, and other than the issues with Sally Sonic, he's done a fantastic job.

Sally Sonic is who Alix would have become if she'd gone along with what Lance wanted her to do, and when she defeats Sally, she finally resolves the anger she had over her husband's infidelity. The woman he loved was pathetic and damaged, unlike Alix who is still whole.

The end of the mini was pretty shocking. Due to the Sheeda invasion and the hurricance glimpsed in Guardian #4, the hospital is unable to send an ambulance for Sally. But, before she can move Sally, Alix meets Greg, and at long last is given the opportunity to claim the role as the seventh soldier that she abandoned long ago. I'm unsure the significance of Alix being a descendant of Earth's first superhero, but one function is clearly to emphasize Alix's importance in the overall plan. When she didn't go to Miracle Mesa, all involved died and the Sheeda gained a foothold on Earth. And now that she refuses to fight once again, things are not looking good for humanity.

Alix rejects Greg's offer to fight, saying that she doesn't "want anything more to do with this twisted, horrible world." This mini was all about the dark underbelly of the superhero world, the twisted sexuality and darkness of those on the superhero fringe. Alix tried to help people, but the superheroes she encountered were more concerned with having sex and promoting themselves. Any sense of actually helping people was lost, and Alix is not going to be caught up in this dark world anymore. It's a logical move, but it's clearly going to cause problems in Seven Soldiers #1. Presumably that will be about how she comes to terms with her issues and rediscovers the possibilities of heroism.

Greg reminds me of Frankenstein, both are old testament style heroes who are able to return from the dead. They are heroes who are needed in the world, and do what they have to do, but don't necessarily get enjoyment from it. It is their duty. In that sense, they are the total opposite of Alix, who is emotionally engaged in her heroism and is able to make the conscious choice to not go ahead with it. Greg has been brought back from the dead and "saddled with the job" of recruiting her, presumably by the seven unknown men. I'm guessing there's something to the issue of the choice to be a hero versus the duty of being a hero. Alix cannot be forced into the role of hero, it's a choice she has to make. I'm guessing that her innate goodness will eventually allow her to overcome her issues with the superhero world and embrace the role of do gooder. I would love to see her meet up with the Guardian while she's going through Manhattan in issue 1. The two are clearly parallel characters, people who had the role of hero forced onto them, at great personal expense. It's in the final moment of choosing whether to embrace that role that they differ.

I'll cover Frankenstein #4 in my next post, and also do a runthrough the whole series to date, picking out themes and concepts that recur and also do a bit of speculation on what will occur in issue 1.

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

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