Thursday, June 15, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4

I've also read Klarion #4 and Mister Miracle #1, which are chronologically earlier than this issue, however, I'll get to those later, because this is an issue that deserves its own review, an issue that has now bumped off Manhattan Guardian #4 as my favorite issue of any Seven Soldiers book, and cemented Zatanna as by far the best of the Seven Soldiers series.

The whole series, and particularly this issue, feel like it was specifically targetted to appeal to me. It's like Gilmore Girls meets Buffy, but with Grant's themes and motifs thrown in there! I seriously doubt that anyone else could make something that hits on so many of the things I like.

The opening of the issue continues the Rory and Lorelai dynamic that Misty and Zatanna share, very close, and nicely poking fun at some of the more absurd stuff from the character's past. Zatanna is the most recognizable of the soldiers, and Morrison takes advantage of this, using the character's sometimes absurd past as a base to build her character from. The idea is that her ridiculous getups are "part of your magic" is very cool, implying that the construction of one's self image is an act of magical creation. The definition of magic is building something out of nothing, so Zatanna is able to build a superhero self image where really there's a lot of self doubt. As she says, she likes being on stage, because there she can escape from the concerns that hound her in her everyday life.

The series has shown how superheroing can be an escape from personal problems previously, in SS0, notably with The Whip, raising the issue of where the line is between a "crazy, fetish person" and a superhero. Zatanna adds another layer because she is someone is quite explicitly a performer, playing a role, and the creation of that alternate self image is her magic. When Misty puts on her jacket, she is affirming her adoration for Zatanna, even though she may be a Sheeda princess, she clearly meant what she said when she talked about how much she admired Zatanna back in issue 1.

So, that's what page one has to tell us about these characters. Morrison is perfectly suited to the comic book medium because his work is so dense. I feel like he and Moore couldn't work in film because their works are so full of ideas, it frequently takes a long time to process, and the fact that you can go through a comic at any speed really helps in picking up on their stuff. This issue took me 25 minutes to read, for 22 comic book pages, when I usually read prose at about a page a minute. That's how dense and affecting this issue is.

It's cool to see Vanguard still going despite the fact that his series has ended, though Misty and Zatanna's farewell is the emotional high point of the beginning of this issue. One of the few minor missteps in the issue for me is the "your very own crisis line," just because we're at such an emotional place there, and that took me out of the story a bit. If you read it as Zatanna joking to cover her sadness, it makes sense, but it just didn't quite make it for me. Though, I will say that on this page, Zatanna was just so Lorelai Gilmore it's hard to believe it wasn't intentional.

I really like the move into first person narration for the rest of the issue. It helps ground us in the emotional base of the story while all this crazy stuff is going on. This opening stuff gives us a pretty definitive answer on what makes someone a superhero, and confirms that the six from SS0 were heroes. It's all about being willing to sacrifice yourself to save others, to be a superhero is to take the initiative and fight where others stand down. The monologue on that page is one of the most eloquent summations of heroism I've read.

The initial appearance of Zor was a bit jarring, because he's such a ridiculous character, introducing himself as "evil incarnate." This series is largely about exorcising demons, removing the old, outdated ideas to pave the way for new ones, something that was most explicitly addressed in the battle with the tempter in issue 3. In this respect, Zatanna herself is much like the Sheeda, but she's fighting to remove outdated ideas, while the Sheeda are fighting to prevent humanity from moving forward. So, it's the classic Invisibles battle, the two sides need each other to make each other stronger.

The blue panel of Zatanna being shot is disturbing and I love the intercutting of lightning into the panels. Reading Mister Miracle made me appreciate just how perfect all the artists were for the first phase of Seven Soldiers. Sook may not be as flashy as Bianchi or Irving, but with this issue, he proves that he can do near anything and keep it emotionally grounded. His work here is perfect.

Zor is a twisted version of Zatanna's father, so it makes sense that while she's searching for her father, he's looking for a daughter. It's notable that he calls Zorina his "black flower," because the flowers themselves represented those who are corrupted by the Sheeda. I'm not sure if Zor is actually with the Sheeda, the issue seems to imply that he's summoned them to Earth, and if he's evil incarnate, it could mean that humanity's sin has brought the Sheeda down to Earth. However for the purposes of this issue,w hat's critical is that Zorina is Zatanna's dark doppleganger.

However, it seems that something of Zatanna remains and in a wonderful moment she casts a spell that restores Zatanna. The whole thing has a very kinky vibe, which ties into the Elektra complex that underlies a lot of the series. Zatanna has idealized her father and this is preventing her from having any kind of stable relationship, from finding the man of her dreams. She still has all these unresolved issues of inadaquecy, and guilt stemming from Identity Crisis. Initially, her quest for the man of her dreams leads to the unleashing of this demon, Gwydion. However, over the course of the series she has tamed her desire, and is now able to use it to her advantage, the man of her dreams is no longer someone who will save her, it's someone who can aid her in trying to acheive what she is seeking. It's an ally.

I love the idea of "an alphabet trapped in a tree that waits to become a book," that's such a Morrison a line, telling us that this Gwydion is all of thought potential, not limited by the confines of physical space. He's able to aid Zatanna as she moves into this magical realm.

Zor torments Zatanna with her feelings of inadaquecy, the idea that she isn't a good superhero, a disappointment to her father. However, she takes his barbs and dismisses them. So, evil incarnate turns out to be Zatanna's own self doubt, and to battle with it, she has to reassert her own self worth. It's a fantastic device because it allows Morrison to resolve all the issues that were laid out in the series while still engaging in big superhero action stuff. In light of the series' gender issues, one could read a lot into the line "It's a magnificent beard and I know you want one," which plays on Zatanna's feeling that she isn't living up to her father's legacy.

From here, we go into another classic Morrison thing, peeling back 2-D space to move into a realm beyond traditional space-time. The top panel of the "no encores" two page spread brings everything crashing down to Earth and exposes the absurdity of the whole venture. The whole of Seven Soldiers is about searching for the transcendent moment when self consciousness disappears and one can just be a hero. Each of the characters has fluctuated between self conscious self doubt and commitment to what has to be done. And these two symmetrical panels play that conflict.

The reaching hands page is another incredible Morrison moment. He's gone to this territory a lot, most notably in Animal Man, where the title character reached outside of his universe, or Grant Morrison reached into his. Here, Zatanna doesn't make it to our world, rather she reaches into some kind of higher plane within the DCU, something we've seen teased quite a bit, but never gotten full insight into. Clearly, there's a metafiction element, with their floating letters and typewriter keys, plus these guys' physical resemblence to Grant. However, what we've got is more the idea that these Seven Unknown Men are deities within the DCU, always present, looking down on the heroes. In meta terms, they would be the ones bringing about the continuity revisions, updating heroes as they did to Spyder in SS0.

Zatanna is apparently the first hero to reach beyond the physical plane of the DCU, up into this higher plane. Here, we get some insight into what's going on with the Sheeda. It seems that The Renegade, who took the form of Zor to battle with Zatanna, opened up some kind of rift that allowed the Sheeda into the universe. The "Time Tailors" are responsible for keeping things in order in the universe, but this 'Renegade' has caused a major problem and now they've assembled this team to fight the Sheeda threat. The trials that the Soldiers experience during their individual scenes may all be engineered by the Seven Unknown Men, as a way of providing them with the training and experience that the SS0 team did not have. It's all about preparing them for the final confrontation. That's why it's fitting that once each soldier reaches a place where they're ready to fight the Sheeda, their series ends, and their story will presumably pick up again with SS1.

There's definite meta stuff here, the card that Zatanna is holding seems to be a caption box, illustrating her thoughts. Plus, we've got the idea that these guys' 'records' are actually all the characters in the DCU. If you're writing this universe, you would be able to summon anyone, be they dead or alive in continuity. This ties into Morrison's idea of the supercontext, because all human life on the planet is connected, it would be possible for these guys to move through spacetime and bring Zatanna's dad back.

The whole Seven Soldiers project seems to be aabout doing a treatment of the same concepts developed as The Invisibles and The Filth, but within the confines of the DCU, and the superhero genre. It's a fascinating idea and the series has so many layers, commenting on both our reality and the nature of fiction.

The next page is one of the most powerful moments in anything that Morrison has done. Obviously, I love The Invisibles, but I feel like Morrison's recent work has been more emotionally affecting than his older stuff. We3 was a very emotional read, and this is another moment that just touches something so primal and emotional. For the whole series, we've watched Zatanna struggle with her lack of confidence, her guilt and feeling that she's letting her father down. However, here she finds out that he loves her so much he sees her as his legacy. The idea of Zatanna as his books is such a powerful metaphor because it works on both an emotional level and a metafictional level.

This final moment between the two of them really got to me, I couldn't move on to the next panel, I just stayed in that place for a little bit. It's brilliant writing and a fantastic conclusion to the character's emotional arc, her father's love confirmed, Zatanna can now go on living as his legacy.

More than any of the other books, this series has a pretty solid conclusion. Zatanna is rehibilitated and she is now ready to be a hero again. It's notable that she is able to resolve her own parental issues by becoming a parent figure to Misty, and if they stay together, Zatanna can redeem Misty from her past, and create a new legacy for herself.

Emotional issues resolved, Zatanna is ready for a new adventure. She is no longer running from her role as a superhero, she embraces it, and it looks like she and Misty will now join the other heroes in defending the world in SS1.

This is the most satisfying conclusion to an SS series, but it's also the one I'd most like to see continue. In Zatanna, Morrison made a hero who's unlike anything he'd done before and gave her a wonderful mix of crazy magic stuff and totally down to Earth emotional issues. It's the same thing that made Buffy so potent, the fact that she would work out her emotional conflicts through this apocalyptic battles. That said, even if we didn't see anymore, she gets such a perfect finale, and the moment where she meets her father is one of the best things Morrison's ever written.

But, there are some lingering issues. These "time tailors" seem to be decidedly good, aiding Zatanna and assembling the soldiers at the start of the series. So, is the "Time Tailor" seen in MG4 a Sheeda agent? A rogue Unknown Man? I suppose we'll have to read on and find out. Other stuff I'd really like to see, Misty's adventures in Tibet and more of the Newsboy Army.

So, great work here creating something that's both pop fun and emotionally grounded. I wish I'd mentioned to Grant when I saw him that I would love to see him and Sook team up for some more "Thelma and Louise meets Bewitched" style misadventures.

Related Posts
Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #4, Zatanna #3 (6/3/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian #4 (6/5/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Klarion #4, Mister Miracle #1, Bulleteer #1 (6/15/2006)

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