Thursday, June 15, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Klarion #4, Mister Miracle #1, Bulleteer #1

First, just a quick followup on Zatanna. One of the things I love most about Seven Soldiers is the way that it's forced Morrison out of his comfort zones. In the case of Zatanna, that meant a return to a relatively realistic setting and everyday emotional struggles. In this respect, it has a lot in common with one of his best works, Kill Your Boyfriend. If KYB was required reading in high schools, we'd have a lot more people falling in love with comics.

Anyway, on the conclusion of the first wave of minis. Klarion has been the only one of the first four that didn't really click for me. Issue 2 was great, but other than that it's just felt a lot less emotionally urgent than the others. I never got a strong sense of Klarion as a character because he's defined entirely in relation to the society he comes from.

It turns out that Klarion and all the Kroatoans are Sheeda hybrids, fathered by Mister Melmoth. Melmoth is another incarnation of the devil archetype we've seen from Zatanna. I love Melmoth gloating about having sex with the Puritan girls, his freedom here is so far removed from the repressed culture Klarion comes from. If they are victims of complete repression and withdraw from the material world, Melmoth is someone who goes too far in indulging in its vices.

This ties us back into one of the primary issues of the series, the difficult transition from childhood to sexually mature adulthood. Melmoth represents the potentially deviant violent expression of sexuality. He's the charismatic center of the book, a lot more fun than Klarion himself.

While I didn't love this issue, it is a satisfying final fight. Teekl seems to be an avatar of Klarion's aggression, and here we see them literally fuse into some kind of new form. We find out that Melmoth has bathed in the cauldron of rebirth, implying that he's meant up with Gloriana at some point between Shining Knight #4 and this issue.

So, we end with Klarion having safeguarded his village going off to battle the sheeda aboveground. This is a neat resolution of his character arc, first he runs away from his village, shamed, and wanders above ground without purpose. But, by the end he's gained the respect of the village, saved it from outside intruders and now returns above ground to save the world he's just seen. It was a pretty good series, but I just didn't dig the Puritan setting that much, and the art, while aesthetically fantastic, wasn't as emotionally enveloping as that of the other series.

It's a bit jarring to all of a sudden plunge into new stories after getting used to our first four soldiers. True to form to the other series, the first issues of Mister Miracle and Bulleteer are generally removed from the overall Sheeda story, though presumably we'll see connections emerging as we forge ahead.

Mister Miracle is based on Jack Kirby's New Gods characters, and I'm not sure if it's that I haven't read that, or just the issue itself, but I was rather confused and a bit overwhelmed by this. It makes sense, but it's a lot to take in, and unlike the other soldiers, we don't really get a sense of Shilo as a character.

I do like the opening sequence, where Shilo slips through into another dimension, though I'm not sure how Metron ties into the Seven Unknown Men. If we're proceeding from the assumption that the higher beings appear in a form suited to the world of the protagonist, it makes sense that Miracle would meet this diety dressed as a superhero.

The basic issue for Shilo is that he stumbles into this higher realm and finds it difficult to return to his old lifestyle as a celebrity daredevil. His life feels insignificant in light of this massive "war in heaven" that's going on all around him. It makes him need more from his life than just the perks of celebrity. Later in the issue, the twisted demon prostitutes tie into the theme of sexuality as deviant destructive force that's running through the whole series.

This leads us into the most sexually driven series of all that we've seen so far, Bulleteer, a character and series that have all kinds of issues with sexuality going on. In Manhattan Guardian #4, we saw sexuality as something that destroyed the utopian existence of our childhood heroes, the inevitable encroach of age and maturity into childhood. Aging is played as a destructive force in Klarion, and the major issue with Zatanna is how her guilt causes her quest for the "man of her dreams" to go awry. She's the only soldier who seems to have reconciled her issues, everyone is left broken by the approach of adulthood.

Alix is the opposite of what we saw in MG4, she's someone who's totally defined by her sexuality and is threatened by aging, not because it will take away her childhood, but because it will take away her sexual assets. This is a series that's sort of like those movies that tell an incredibly violent story as a way of examining the nature of violence itself. You're forced to simultaneously engage with the material on a surface appeal level and as a comment on that appeal. Reading the series, it's almost ridiculous how much Alix's breasts are emphasized, and as the reader, we are inclined to treat her as just a body, rather than a fully formed character. So, we're put in the same position as her husband, focused just on her body and not on the actual person.

I think the character design sufficiently emphasizes her assets that some of the outfits and poses are a bit excessive, but it's also understandable considering Morrison's point is to examine the nature of the gaze directed at Alix.

This issue is a return to form after the muddled introduction of Mister Miracle. We're quickly aware of who Alix is, and also who her husband is. I was surprised by just how much is in this issue, both thematically and in terms of story progress. I particularly like the way that Morrison intercuts the operating room with quick snippets of Alix and Lance's past, letting us know in just a couple of pages everything we need to know about them. These are beautiful, successful people, and Lance is worried that's not going to last.

Lance, like the Newsboy Army, is desperately frightened of aging. He has a dream that Alix is dead, and despite being only 27, he's aware that before they know it, they'll both be old. So, it's fitting that he would be attracted to online porn with Sexy Sally the Eternal Superteen. Sally was last seen in Zatanna #1, incredibly angry at the fact that she couldn't age. Yet, for Lance, her gift is everything he wants for both him and his wife.

The other element Lance is fixated on is being a superhero. In this world, superheroes are the celebrities, better than your average person and the center of attention. He's clearly someone who's always wanted to be famous, and as he's getting older, he sees the chances of that slipping away. For him, being famous and adored by the public is equal to being loved. He doesn't even recognize that he's losing touch with the woman who actually does love him.

With his metallic compound, Lance would solve both his problems, freezing the aging process and propelling him and his wife into the superhero world. Speaking about the original Bulletman, he says the brilliant line: "Everybody loved them. Except Hitler and the Nazis."

This leads us to the idea of this community of people seeking to become superheroes, putting their lives at risk to do so. This was an idea first addressed in SS0, and it's an idea that I love. In the world of the DCU, people like Superman and Batman are like gods, and if there's the possibility that by putting on a costume and fighting crime you could be like them, then someone who's dissatisfied with their life would likely put everything at risk to reach that status. It's about the search for purpose, that transcendent moment where you cease to be a "crazy fetish person" and become a superhero. For me, that line from SS0 contains the basic essence of the entire series, it's all about people seeking to find their purpose and get lost in the possibilities of fighting for good.

However as Zatanna makes clear in Z4 to become a superhero is all about selflessness, it's about making the choice to fight for the good of others while putting yourself at risk. So, people like Lance who see superheroing as a way to bring fame and fortune to themselves are completely misguided, if the minis prior to this have shown us anything it's that fighting for good is the hardest thing to do.

The idea of superhero porn ties back to Morrison's own Flex Mentallo, which featured an issue with an orgy of superheroes. Here, we see a more realistic view, people dressing up and playing superhero for online porn sites. This again ties back to the central line about the border between being a crazy fetish person and being a superhero, for Lance indulging in the pornographic fantasy is not enough, he pushes further, trying to make it real, and ends up getting destroyed by his desire.

There's so much conflicting symbolism in Alix's Bulleteer get up. This is a woman who heretofore has been defined by her beautiful looks and now she finds that she's not even able to work at her job anymore because the kids are scared of her. Her greatest asset has become her greatest liability, she's got a gorgeous body, but it's perpetually encased in a metallic sheath. So, she can never actually touch anyone.

Alix is left with no choice but to bea a superhero, and she takes on the mantle her husband intended for her, Bulleteer. Now, she's become this fusion of phallic object and decidedly feminine body, all the while actually cut off from sexuality. So, she's acheived the dream of the Newsboy Army, she's frozen in time in this one spot, totally sexualized, but at the same time completely removed from sexuality.

This first issue has a lot of great stuff, and I'm interested to see what happens to Alix from here. I've got no idea what kind of adventures she'll have, but I suppose we'll find out soon enough.

So, not too much of the overall story to ponder here. Presumably, the Sheeda will turn up again pretty soon, though we've still got one more first issue to go, Frankenstein.

Related Posts
Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian #4 (6/5/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4 (6/15/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #1, Mister Miracle #2, Bulleteer #2 (6/18/2006)

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