Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Seven Soldiers: The Flaws that Make Perfection

If I could be doing anything right now, it'd be reading the just released Seven Soldiers #1. Alas, I have no car and cannot get to a comic shop right now, so I'll have to wait for the issue to arrive in the mail. I've done a quick skim of the critical reaction and it sounds like Grant pulled off the near impossible task of providing satisfactory conclusion for seven characters in forty pages. I'm currently rereading the series, about halfway through, I just hit Zatanna #3. On the first read, I wrote up extensive thoughts on each issue, but I wanted to do a quick discussion of how the project feels on the second read.

Seven Soldiers is a work that feels very special. I'm always charged after reading an issue, caught up in this narrative web that Grant has created. What makes this more exciting than a standard story is the interconnected nature of the narrative. You experience one small piece of this massive world, and a lot of the joy of the project comes from situating what you've just read in the overall context of the meta-narrative. That's a lot easier to do on the second read. I was confused by a lot of things the first time through, but it's easier to keep track of the seemingly unrelated occurrences on the second go through.

In structuring the series, Grant promised that each miniseries and even every single issue would tell a standalone story. He claimed that you could pick up a random issue and enjoy it, and while I'd agree that you'd probably be entertained, it's not really comprehensible. Each issue is standalone, but that's used more a structuring principle. He's reducing the fluff inherent in ongoing comics, removing the setup and taking stories right to the action point.

Look at an issue like Guardian #3, the theme park comes out of nowhere, but we get the idea of it in one page, and then it's right into the action. Through the flashbacks, we understand Jake's emotional context, everything is woven into the single issue story, I don't think a slow build was needed to make Jake's marital problems more effective. Grant uses emotional shortcuts to create the desired effect.

I've heard people criticize Grant's work by claiming it always feels like you missed an issue, but I think that's largely the point of these issues. He cuts out the issue where you'd do a slow build set up of the theme park, and instead sums all that up in one page and gets to the meat of the story. It's the same in Klarion #3, Melmoth sums up what's going on with Klarion, then it's right into the new story. I think these jumps might be jarring if you read each mini seperately, but as it is now, it feels like an Altman film, where we drop in on people at their interesting moments, then move away. So, the exposition in Guardian is happening while we're over with Zatanna.

Rather than each issue standing alone in terms of plot, I feel like each issue is a satisfying standalone reading experience. This is in reaction to the drawn out for trade storylines so prevalent in today's comics, where you don't get any payoff until the sixth issue of the storyline. Here, each issue has its own arc and leaves you with a lot of new material to ponder. The amount of thematic and narrative development in a single issue of Seven Soldiers is equivalent to what you'd get from a whole trade of Ultimate Spider-Man or Y: The Last Man.

I'm liking Klarion a lot more on this read. Once you know that Klarion is part Sheeda, it's easier to understand what Melmoth's trying to do, and how Klarion's rebellion plays into the larger story. I'd still say it's the weakest of these initial four minis, but that's just because the others are so good.

My favorite is undoubtedly Zatanna. This book is just perfect, a seamless blend of magical concepts, supernatural intrigue and very relatable personal issues. I get such joy from seeing Zatanna exorcize the magic shop in issue two, her skill shining above her self deprecating remarks. She's the character who feels most real here, and one of Morrison's most vivid characterizations in all his books. More than anything, I'd love to see Morrison write more Zatanna.

I'm planning on picking up 52 once it comes out in trade, because it features a bunch of the Seven Soldiers crew. I love these people that Morrison has created and I want to spend more time with them. That's the sign of a great work. Hopefully I'll get Seven Soldiers #1 by the end of the week, in which case it'll be a binge read until I get through the previous issues and am able to read the finale.


nicholas danger said...

I'm eagerly awaiting your thoughts on the last (first?) issue. I won't say anything as to what actually happens in it, but suffice to say I think it's a suitable finish.

Patrick said...

Nice, most of the big Morrison fans seem to think it's a good conclusion, so I'm hoping it'll work out. I'm hoping my copy of it will arrive tomorrow, I'm just about through the reread, so once it gets here, I'll be right on it.