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)

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)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Battlestar Galactica: 'Lay Down Your Burdens' (2x19 & 2x20)

In my last review, I talked about how the show had never really developed any new plots after it resolved the stuff from season one in the big two parter, Home. This is a large part of the problems in the second chunk of season two, there was no direction to the show and most of the characters didn't have much to do. Now, it would have been possible to reinvigorate things by creating new character complications, however there was a sense that the premise as was had basically exhausted itself. It's telling that the only great episode in the season so far was the cylon episode, which had barely anything aboard the Galactica.

The season finale's first part opens with an overture sequence that recalls that fantastic start of Kobol's Last Gleaming. Talking about the first 100 minutes of this 135 minute two parter is a bit weird at this point, what you take away from it has very little to do with the vast majority of the events that occur.

I did like Sharon going on the mission to get the soldiers back from Caprica. For me, Sharon is by far the most sympathetic character on the series, this is someone who's constantly helping these people and still getting no respect. What more can she do to make them trust her? At this point, if she does betray them, it's not going to be because of some hidden cylon agenda, it's going to be because they treated her like shit for so long. If the storyline was done in reverse and a human prisoner was treated this way by the cylons, we'd be waiting for her to betray them.

At this point in the series, I feel like there's no inherent good and evil in the human/cylon relationship. As we've seen more the cylon world, it's become clear that there is division in their ranks, and they're recognizing that what they did to the humans was misguided. Plus, I just find the cylon world to be fascinating and on the whole, they're much more interesting characters.

The supposed moral authorities of the series are Laura and Adama, however the election plot just makes me like Laura even less. It's ridiculous for her to put the two Dean Stockwells out the airlock, even if he is working against the humans, this isn't a machine, it's a person with a unique personality, and killing him is just as bad as the cylons. Her constant opposition to Sharon, particularly the cruel taking of her child makes her an easily dislikable character, and attempting to steal the election only reinforces that. This is someone who's become corrupt in her power and awfully misguided.

This is a case where I feel like my emotional reading of the piece is not what the creators intended. Listening to the commentary, they indicated that the dilemma was supposed to be whether Laura does the honest thing or the thing that will ultimately help people. However, I don't see it like that at all. For one, considering these people have been trapped on their ships, on the run for a long time, it's perfectly logical to suggest settling on a planet, particularly when their ultimate destination is something that's only mentioned in ancient scriptures. They could be going for years and still not find Earth, so is it so absurd for Baltar to suggest moving to the planet?

I find Baltar's brand of moral ambiguity much more interesting than Laura's because the show treats him as a roguish character, while Laura is still held up as a paragon of virtue. Yes, he may inadvertantly lead to the destruction of Cloud Nine, and he may not be an ideal president, but your average person probably has a better life on New Caprica than they would if they were stuck on the ship still.

There were two really great scenes in the first chunk of part two. One was Lee's awkward walk in on Cara and Anders. This scene was a lot of fun for the fact that Cara was so oblivious to Lee's feelings, she was just totally lost in her moment. I also liked the gender reversal here, having her so possessive of a guy who is just on the show to be her boyfriend. You usually don't get to see relationships where the female character is both our point of view character and the one totally in control of the relationship.

The other great scene was the intercutting of Baltar and Gina's sex with his swearing in as president. It was really well shot, with a nice music cue and a great build to the nuclear explosion. I would have loved to have seen some more scenes with Gina during the weak part of the season, there was a ton of issues they could have covered with her, and considering her major role in the climax of the season, it would have been a wise choice to give her a bit more screen time.

So, from there we go to the great leap forward. I had heard there was some kind of shocking revelation that would change everything, and this was pretty surprising and certainly a smart creative choice for the next season. I love the initial jump forward, revealing Baltar's portrait and his harem of female admirers.

This time shift opens up a lot of creative possibilities and most of the rest of the episode is about revealing how things have changed for the main characters. The whole thing, from the meteor hitting the camera on, is full of throwbacks to the miniseries.

I guess the biggest issue I have with the end is the way the cylons are portrayed. In Downloaded, we're led to believe that the 'cylon heroes' will be changing cylon society and possibly seeking peace with the humans. Here, we find out that the cylons have abandoned Caprica and aren't going to fight anymore, so what is it that prompts them to return to go after the humans again? And what is it that prompts the 'cylon heroes' to decide to conquer New Caprica? I hope this is actually dealt with and not just written off as the cylons being bad.

There's a lot of potential with the new setup, the most interesting interactions on the show are those that takes place in the border between cylon and human society, and we'll be getting a lot more of that with everyone on one planet now. I think one of the big problems with the second chunk of season two was the fact that we no longer had the Caprica story, so we lost track of the cylons plan. Now, cylons and humans are inextricably linked.

What I hope we'll get is Six and Baltar reuninted, and Baltar working with her to try to find peace between the two races. Plus, we could get a bit of a love triangle with Sharon, the Chief and Callie. Plus, the cylon baby is still in play.

On the whole, I'd say it was a very smart choice, but not one that guarantees success. Alias did a similar jump at the end of season two and totally botched the follow up, leading to the series' decline. However, I feel like Battlestar has a stronger hand behind it, and we should get a strong rebirth with the third season.

Related Posts
Battlestar Galactica (2x04-2x07) (3/26/2006)
Battlestar Galactica (2x08-2x10) (5/19/2006)
Battlestar Galactica: 'Downloaded' (2x18) (6/7/2006)