Monday, June 05, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian #4

The second trade closes with this issue, a major departure from the previous Manhattan Guardian stuff, and probably the strongest issue in the series. I was a bit wary as the issue began because Morrison seemed to be doing the same kind of Silver Age pastiche that Alan Moore did in Tom Strong, the kind of stuff that seems to be more fun for the writer than the reader. However, as the connections get revealed, the real purpose of these flashbacks become apparent.

Like Zatanna #3, this issue is remarkable in the way it draws the different story strands together, connecting all the Seven Soldiers titles and filling in the background on a lot of what we'd seen before. Throughout the series, we've seen many hero teams take on the Sheeda and fail, the knights, the heroes from SS0 and now the Newsboy Army. In the overall context of the series, this is setting us up for the union of the seven different miniseries characters in SS1. There's a major emphasison the failures of groups of six, all seven are needed in order for things to succeed.

If I have one major problem with this issue, it's the fact that it basically abandons Jake's story. In light of this and Shining Knight #4, it looks like SS1 is either going to be a really crammed issue, or we won't be getting too much resolution for the individual characters. Like Shining Knight, this issue ends with Jake claiming his role as hero and setting out to fight for good. Each of the series involves a crisis of purpose for the hero involved, every one of the major characters is feeling depressed, and uncertain of their fight, but by the end, their commitment to doing good is reaffirmed and they set out to battle the Sheeda.

Tracking back a bit, this issue does a great job of filling in some of the relationships we'd previously seen alluded to. It turns out that many of the supporting characters who've passed through the books were part of a superhero team in the past, the original Newsboy army. So, we find out why Ali Ka-Zoom was so sad about the death of Don Vincenzo a.k.a Kid Scarface, they were teammates on this vintage team.

The adventures of this kid gang parallel what happened in Klarion #3, where we saw a group of kids living a utopian, Lost Boys style existence. The gang here pledges to create a United Nations of kids, and never succumb to the problems that plague grown ups. However, as is inevitable with the passage of time, the kids move beyond this childlike state and take on the characteristics of adults.

One thing I didn't catch on the first read was the sexual relationship between Chop Suzi and Captain 7. She's become pregnant, and their move into the adult world of sexuality is what makes them reluctant to embark on the childish mission to Slaughter Swamp. The brilliance of Baby Brain is that this is a character who literally cannot grow up. So, the process of change is most painful for him, he's got to watch all his friends mmove on, while he is unable to move into the adult world. And the only method of persuasion he has is to cry until they agree to go to Slaughter Swamp with him.

Slaughter Swamp is a place of transformation, and hence the ultimate enemy for these kids who seek to live forever in a pre-adolescent world of imagination and wonder. I loved this whole sequence, it's very creepy, disturbing in a way that few comics are. There's a sense of everything breaking apart, the era that was being brought to a quick and drastic close.

As they approach the house, they see a lot of black flowers, each one representing someone lost to the Sheeda. Seeing the Queen watching the kids through the mirror is a throwback to Snow White and reinforces the fairy tale feeling that's present in the whole series. Apparently, the Time Tailor is different from the other bald men, they seemed to be working against the Sheeda, outfitting the new Seven Soldiers for battle, while the Tailor works for the Queen, gathering people for her to transform, as he did to Spyder in SS0.

Considering the chronology, I wonder if Spyder was working for the Queen when he went to Miracle Mesa, as a mole inside the group of heroes. I had always assumed that he was turned after the fight, but it would make a lot more sense for him to have been transformed in the swamp and sent in to facilitate their destruction. That's why he's the only one who made it out.

I love the tie in with SS0, when Ed talks about places unhinged from time and space, and indeed, I can feel the "strands of the web tightening." Ed himself sums up the theme of the issue eloquently when he says "In the end, the world just got too big...and too real for our little band of neighborhood heroes," the fantasy of childhood was over, the possibility inherent in being young destroyed when the Time Tailor reveals their future lives to them.

The idea of identity as a suit that you wear is a Morrison staple, tying back to fiction suits in The Invisibles. It's an idea reflective of the fact that personality is largely a construction and we can choose to reinvent ourselves with a different identity. Here, it seems like the Time Tailor is literally making their destinies and forcing it upon them. I'm not sure whether it's the same process that Spyder went through back in SS0, but it's a similar co-option of fate. The page in which their destinies are revealed is disturbing, and lends a poignancy to the previous issues. In light of what we know now, Don Vincenzo's final stand against the Sheeda isn't just about defending his home, it's about getting revenge for the fate that was forced upon him in the Swamp, a final act of defiance. Similarly, Ali's last stop to help Zatanna is a chance to make up for his failure here.

The background narrative of Chop Suzi and Captain 7 continues here as we find out that Suzi likely died in childbirth, and Captain 7 was branded a child molester for his relationship with her. He claims that it was consesual, but as of now, we have no way of knowing. I'm hoping that will be followed up on in one of the other books. For these characters, being a child molester is the ultimate crime, it represents bringing the adult world of deviant sexual desire into the innocence of childhood and puncturing the imaginative world that children lived in. Because he's older than Suzi, regardless of whether it was consesual, that puncturing of innocence definitely happened to Suzi because of Captain 7. However, it's still disturbing to see the team turning on their own and sending him into Ali's cabinet.

One ambiguity in this issue is whether Lil' Hollywood is meant to be Gimmix. They share a lot of characteristics, and Gimmix could certainly be an alcoholic. I'm guessing that'll be followed up on in one of the next issues. Another lingering issue is the idea of the Sheeda insects taking control of peoples' heads. In this issue, we see Mo Colley possessed by the Sheeda, but it's unclear whether this is the process that controls Spyder or if the thing that the Time Tailor does is something totally different.

The issue ends with Jake reclaiming the mantle of hero. The panel of Ed holding the gun is excellent, and all of the moody, blue art in the finale is fantastic. I think this is the best thing Cameron Stewart's ever done, bouncing between the crazy Silver Age stuff and the rainy present.

And emotionally, we get to see the resolution of Jake's dilemma. In issue three, he bottomed out, and decided that his personal life was more important than being a hero. Here, he becomes aware of the threat that the Earth is facing and decides that he needs to do something. I love the tie back to Larry, revealing that he was a superhero in the old days is perfect, in Jake he sees someone with the potential to pick up where he left off, and when Jake reclaims the mantle of hero, he atones for any culpability he had in Larry's death.

The ending reminds me of the final moments of Angel, rain pouring down, invaders from another dimension flooding in and no hope of victory, only the commitment to fight for good. I love Jake taking Ed with him and his final conversation with Carla. Then, the closing page hits the perfect high note to send our hero off for the final battle with the Sheeda.

With this each issue, this series gets deeper, adding thematic and narrative layers that enhance the reader's emotional involvement. With each series, Morrison is developing his trademark themes in new ways, and the interlocking narratives are something really unique. This issue was not only great on its own, it made the recent issues of Shining Knight and Zatanna better as well.

I've got the third trade on order, so it should be here soon. I can't wait.

Related Posts
Seven Soldiers #0 (5/17/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #1-2, Zatanna #1, Manhattan Guardian #1, Klarion #1 (5/21/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4 (6/15/2006)

No comments: