Thursday, June 01, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian #2-3, Zatanna #2, Shining Knight #3, Klarion #2-3

Moving along with Grant Morrison's massive Seven Soldiers project I'm consistently impressed by his construction of both the individual stories and the overarching narrative driving the enterprise forward. He's using similar concepts and story elements in each of the miniseries, but they're filtered through a different generic template, appropriate to each book. So, a mystical, medieval relic in Shining Knight becomes a pirate treasure in Manhattan Guardian. Very cool.

Guardian #2 is a big action issue, covering the confrontation between the pirates AllBeard and NoBeard. This has to be a reference to the Morrison/Alan Moore feud, he poked fun at Moore similarly in the classic 'Beardhunter' issue of Doom Patrol. It's always seemed amazing to me that the two best comic book writers are both interested in these same magical concepts, complimenting each other perfectly, and have the whole opposite hair thing going on. Moore and Morrison are creating the best work of anyone right now, in any medium. No one in film or novels can match them.

Anyway, this was a pretty good issue, I like the throwback to the guilt monster from SK2 on the first page. I like the action, but so far, this has been Morrison's least serious Seven Soldiers book. I really enjoyed the finale where NoBeard and All Beard duel over the six sided god-machine. This is a recurring element throughout the books, and I'm not exactly sure of its significance yet. It could be a reference back to the quote, "God does not play dice with the cosmos" that Morrison used back in Animal Man.

The issue's final moments, as Jake escorts the shellshocked passengers out of the tunnel and attends Carla's father's funeral are the emotional highlights, and nicely undercut the spirit of adventure we saw previously. The sadness of the funeral scene, the reality of "action" contrasted with Ed's enthusiasm is wonderful, a throwback to the juxtaposition of extreme thrills with extreme sadness from Seven Soldiers 0, and it nicely segues into issue 3.

This issue seems to recall the Libertania issues of The Filth, where we saw a contained environment break into anarchy. The idea of a community that represents the entire Earth in a small space is a throwback to the basic concept of The Filth, which was all about the idea of "As above, so below," that all systems have the same properties, it's just that some are larger than others.

The juxtaposition of the emotion and action here is something I've seen done before, but it works, and underscores one of the basic points Morrison is making with both this series and Seven Soldiers #0, the idea that being a superhero is frequently an attempt to cover for personal difficulties. Jake goes out and beats up this community of robots as a way of trying to come to terms with Carla dumping him. This culminates in the fantastic two page spread of Jake in the fire. That page tells you everything you need to know about his personal life.

And even with all this perosnal drama, Morrison and Stewart manage to stock the book with crazyfantastic imagery all throughout. The robots are great, particularly the stereotypical Spanish and French ones. The finale with a giant-head baby talking about the "secret history of the original newsboy army" is just such classic Morrison, over the top weird and intriuging like only he can do.

In the context of the larger Seven Soldiers story, this, like the destruction of Camelot in Shining Knight, is used to tease the potential fate of the Earth should our soldiers fail in their mission. It's another "as above, so below" moment, with the robots standing in for the Sheeda. The Sheeda seem to be the force that pulls humanity down, preventing it from reaching its full potential by destroying civilizations at their peak. Being a Morrison work, another valid interpretation is that they create change, preventing societies from falling into complacency and keeping things moving irrevocably forward.

Zatanna #2 isn't quite the masterpiece that #1 is, but it's still a lot of fun. I love the mentor/protege dynamic between Misty and Zatanna, the pop culture references again ground this series in a very realistic millieu. As I mentioned before, I love the way things are refracted through their specific books, so Manhattan Guardian takes place in a very Batmanish world, while here we've got an even more realistic single girl in the city vibe, with the only weird thing being that she happens to do magic. To that end, we see another appearance of the "six-sided God machine," in the die that Misty used to find Zatanna.

In terms of look and character, Misty and Zatanna remind me a lot of Rory and Lorelai on Gilmore Girls. I would love to see Lauren Graham play Zatanna if they were ever do a film of this series. I love just watching Zatanna at work battling this magical entity, particularly the finale where she shatters the mirror into hundreds of pieces. Seeing this guy spinning out on the panes of glass is another classic Morrison image.

The end of the issue reveals that she's converted her "ideal man" into a miniature bald fellow, who could be either Grant or one of the Seven Unknown Men. I could see some interesting combat happening on the micro level between this guy and the mini Sheeda scouts. And the issue closes with the return of the Phantom Stranger, who looks straight out of a 1930s pulp comic. And he's got the fantastic entrance line "Did someone use a sentence involving the word 'stranger.'" Morrison is able to create lines that just boggle the mind in their ridiculous popness, no one can write stuff that's just so overwhelmingly fun and cool, that entrance just puts a smile on your face.

Even as I'm loving Zatanna, issue 3 of Shining Knight might be my favorite thing from Seven Soldiers yet. Justin's series seems to be carrying most of the "mythology" of the series, he's the only one who's actually encountered the Sheeda, and on the whole, his struggle seems to have the most direct impact on the fate of the Earth.

I was a bit confused by the start of the issue, wondering why so much time was being spent on these two detectives. Helen Helligan was a well sketched character, but we seemed to be getting a lot of exposition. I liked how Helen was a very real character in this crazy world, hoping to cut out of work to go to her sister's wedding. It's these small touches of realism that make the project unique, we're looking at a world of superheroes from the perspective of the ordinary citizen.

But once they meet Justin, things go crazy. I loved the revelation that Gloria was actually the Sheeda queen, and her transformation is really well done. There's a lot of interesting panel layouts here, keeping the heavy dialogue visually interesting. The Queen is really interesting looking, I love the two page spread of her and her crew killing the police. This leads to the incredible page where Justin fights back, grabbing a gun and shouting "Camelot Lives!" in one of the coolest panels in the history of comics. It's such a joycore moment, and confirms Justin's reclamation of the role of hero for this new age. He's not in this issue that much, but it follows up on the development in issue 2, where Justin reclaimed the mantle of protector. He may be stranded in a new world, but he's going to do everything he can to save it.

Then I was shocked to see I, Spyder from Seven Soldiers #0 back, working for the Sheeda Queen. So, apparently she didn't kill them all, she's taken at least one of them into her service, and possibly more. I'd love to see The whip return, we shall see. There seems to be some kind of Sheeda zombification, and Helen seems to be going through that process now.

If we're to take it that the Seven Unknown Men and the Sheeda are locked in some kind of eternal war, it's appropriate that they would both try to remake people to fit their image. So, as the series begins, they remake Spyder, then the Sheeda take him and remake him again. So far, Justin is the only hero who's been explicitly remade, though you could read Ed's transformation of Jake as a similar reinvention.

For the finale of this series, it looks like we're going to see Gallahad and Justin dueling, and running into Don Vincenzo. I'm really psyched for it, this series has come together in a really interesting way towards the end.

Finally, we've got Klarion. I wasn't a big fan of the first issue, but things come together a little bit as the series progresses. Two is cool because we get to see Klarion moving into our world. I loved seeing Klarion moving through the same space that was just featured in The Manhattan Guardian, the Guardian's helmet even makes a cameo. I like the idea that there's a whole secret world underground, and between the two series, we get a pretty vivid picture of it. Plus, his enthusiasm at elements of our world is exciting. The art and dialogue combine to give you the idea that this kid is just thrilled to be moving into this new world.

Issue three shows us more of Klarion's wonder at this new world, as he's manipulated by Mister Melmoth, a guy who's seeking to find the Croatoan society. I'm not sure if he's a Sheeda agent, or just a nasty guy. The issue is all about the loss of adventure and wonder that comes with moving from childhood to adulthood. Klarion is the ultimate child, someone for whom everything that we take for granted is new and exciting. It's a very Peter Pan thing, when Billy reaches sixteen, he's taken away from the gang of kids and turned into a slave for Mister Melmoth, the ultimate representation of restrictive adulthood. Melmoth says he likes the fact that "Everyone's looking very professional," and they're all dressed the same, that's what the adult world is all about, a major contrast to the varied outfits and styles of the kid gang.

Klarion seeks to walk away from his responsibility as a leader of the gang, he will not take over for Billy, only to be forced to move on when he gets older and numb to the wonder of the world. He seeks to be live only for himself, but he is soon drawn back to Croatoa. He may not like that world, but he can't allow it to be destroyed either. So, he sets off to return.

I still think this is the weakest of the four series, but it's got some good stuff, and I'm excited to see the conclusion. On the whole, I'm wondering how most of these series will end, do they all lead into Seven Soldiers #1 with a cliffhanger, or is it more that they close out their stories and then the heroes move on to the final battle in the final issue.

I'm loving this project. It's a totally unique thing in comics, and Morrison is taking advantage of his structure to do all kinds of different things. The need to do so many series is taking him out of his comfort zone and allowing him to explore some new concepts and character types. Right now, I'm wishing that all of these were ongoing series, every character has the potential to sustain a long term narrative, and perhaps Morrison will return to some of them after he finishes this series.

Related Posts
Seven Soldiers: #0 (5/17/2006)
Seven Soldiers: Part I (5/21/2006)

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