Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
So I’m about a third of the way through this thing. Have I lost my mind yet? Some people would say I lost it years ago! But I feel sane, and isn’t that what’s important????
Hey, what do you know? SPOILERS lurk within. SPOILERS, say I!
This is the last of the “face” second issue covers for the first batch of mini-series. What’s the deal with them? I don’t know. This is by far the coolest cover of the bunch. Are they significant? Klarion, after all, looks quite Satanic on this one, which is good foreshadowing …
Klarion is perhaps the most interesting series so far, because the title character is so damned unlikable. He’s just a punk, really. We wonder how he will make his journey to being a hero, but we must keep wondering. It’s interesting how he fits into the whole Seven Soldiers idea, because of the fact that none of them are supposed to know what the others are doing. Technically, he saves Misty, but not by any conscious choice. Anyway, in this issue he doesn’t really do much that’s heroic, even though he does the right thing (sort of) in the end. So let’s get into it, shall we?
Klarion is facing down the Horigal, who rants about him breaking the law and being judged. Klarion, wisely, calls upon the Grundy to fight the Horigal, and that gives him a bit of time. He runs up the tunnel toward the surface, with the Horigal, who dispatches the Grundy rather easily, at his heels. But then a gun shot blasts the Horigal in the face, and a man who dresses and looks like Klarion tells him to hurry up. The man has, perhaps significantly, a green lantern, and he shoots left-handed. Come on, Klarion! Left-handedness means EVIL!!!! Doesn’t everyone know that? The word “sinister,” after all, comes from the Latin word for left! Sheesh. I like how Ebeneezer carries something like a machine pistol. He’s joined the modern world, man! Klarion is stuck on railroad tracks, watching a train bear down on him. He is overawed by the spectacle, but manages to jump clear in time (Teekl has no such problems and leaps away easily). The train, which is the President Clinton from The Manhattan Guardian #2, runs down the Horigal, leaving it blasted apart. Klarion says “That engine of light and iron! Angels of Croatoan!” Ebeneezer replies that it’s only a train and tells him his name – Ebeneezer Badde. Wow, not too obvious, is it? It’s interesting that even though Klarion appears to be a cynical little snot, when confronted with something he doesn’t understand, he immediately falls back to superstition. It’s not surprising that when he finds out that Croatoan is gone, he goes a bit nutty.
Ebeneezer tells him he has the look of Limbo Town – the Sheeda face. This is another nice little clue about who the Puritans are. Klarion tells him he lives at Bleak Villa, in Shackle Street in Limbo Town. They know how to name things in Limbo Town, don’t they? Ebeneezer offers him a choice to go back or come with him before the Horigal recovers, and tells him that Teekl will find him if he has the will, or they will both die. They reach Ebeneezer’s familiar, a big ol’ alligator, which is a nice nod to another urban legend about the sewers of New York. As they ride his familiar, called Fear-Naught, through the sewers, Klarion begs to be taken to Croatoan, and Ebeneezer says he will, although he implies that Klarion will be very disappointed. Then Klarion sees a bunch of children on the shore. As the children start throwing rocks at them, Ebeneezer tells him “they’re lost children who banded together to form one single creature, greater than the sum of its parts. A dragon with five hundred eyes to see with, five hundred hands to kill you. They know us of old!” The children are called Leviathan, but I wished it had been called Legion. That would have been cool. Klarion thinks this world is the most wonderful place ever, but Ebeneezer tells him he’ll soon get bored with it. Is this a comment by Morrison about the “real” world, which even he seems bored with? Maybe.
Ebeneezer and Klarion ride Fear-Naught to the place where Croatoan is. We probably shouldn’t be surprised that it’s the place where No-Beard and All-Beard fought their final battle. This is where we see No-Beard, dead, which means that the bald pirate at the end of The Manhattan Guardian #2 was All-Beard. However, according to the annotations (to which you know I’ll provide a link!), Cameron Stewart says that Frazer Irving accidentally put No-Beard in there, even though he shouldn’t have been. Technically, it doesn’t matter, as the pirates don’t show up again, but it adds a bit of intrigue to the saga. Klarion tells Ebeneezer about his father and how he never returned from High Market, and Ebeneezer says, “Did he not, Klarion? Lost, ye say? Now that seems a mystery.” Ebeneezer says a lot of strange things like this. He seems to know Klarion when Klarion tells him his name, and when Klarion asks Ebeneezer if he’s heard of his father, Ebeneezer wonders if Klarion’s stepdad, Ezekiel, did away with his father. Klarion is too fascinated by the chamber where the pirates fought to notice that Ebeneezer knows who Ezekiel is and what his relationship to Klarion is. Again, it’s not important, because Ebeneezer won’t be with us much longer, but it’s intriguing. Klarion, however, has found the radioactive chamber, and thinks it’s pretty freakin’ grand. He finds the die that the pirates fought over (why didn’t the “winner” take it with him?) and Ebeneezer tells him that this is the house of Croatoan, where the witch-men come to be initiated into the “one great and terrible truth”: there is no Croatoan. He tells him that if he did exist, he “escaped” and left them alone, and only his “dreadful chains remain.” Klarion thinks this is great, because then he can remain a boy forever! Ebeneezer tells him he’s weird, which he is. This ties into the fairy tale subtext running through the saga – the wicked stepmother and the persecuted girl, and now a Peter Pan thing. Morrison once again contrasts Klarion with the other soldiers – they are working through personal issues and trying to become heroes, while Klarion just doesn’t care about that. He wants adventure, pure and simple. He plays a key role in the epic as a whole, but not what we expect.
Ebeneezer takes Klarion to the market, which is called Vanity Fair. I’m going to assume the reference is to The Pilgrim’s Progress, but if you think I’m going to delve into the allegorical mind of John Bunyan, you’re more insane than I am! Some guys at the market are sitting around talking, and one of them mentions that there was a rat buying and selling weapons at a stall, while another one says some scientists dumped some chemicals into the drain and mutated them. This hearkens back to No-Beard’s tale of talking rats, and also lends credence to the idea that the rat at Dead Man’s Junction really did sabotage the trains. We also learn (shocking!) that Ebeneezer is the “kiddie-snatcher” that No-Beard spoke of, and that they put the kids in cages. Klarion wants to write his own legends because there is no god, but Ebeneezer cynically tells him how silly it would be. This ties into the grander theme of making myths and legends, which we have seen in some of the other books, especially Shining Knight. Klarion’s need to believe in something is pretty clear, too, despite his jubilation that Croatoan doesn’t exist. He wants to be the one creating the myths. This is, of course, crucial to understanding his actions. Ebeneezer tells him he has to go check if it’s safe, even though we know he’s going to prepare the cage, and Klarion decides to look for Teekl. His familiar has found what looks like a King of the Talking Rats, and kills him pretty easily. Teekl is surrounded by Leviathan, who is hungry for revenge on Ebeneezer Badde. Klarion realizes he has been betrayed.
Ebeneezer, meanwhile, is with the other men, who are telling him that Mister Melmoth wants the real deal this time, not just another kid. This is the first time we hear of Melmoth, who is of course quite important. Ebeneezer is trading Klarion for porn, booze and weapons, which I find really humorous. They ask him about the whole tribe of Puritans, and Ebeneezer, who apparently doesn’t want to go all the way with his betrayal, pleads quietly that Klarion should be enough. Just then Klarion shows up and says, “And thus do I learn the meaning of betrayal.” He has brought Leviathan with him, and Ebeneezer first thinks they will take Klarion, but quickly understands they are there for him. As they drag him down, he shouts “I was trying to help you!” We’re not quite sure how, but it’s nice of him to say. Klarion smiles as Leviathan rips him apart. This is a crucial spot in the development of our hero. He learns the lesson of betrayal well, as we see later in the epic. He has seen that he can’t trust anyone, and that he must make his own fate. This is in marked contrast to the pirates, who battle over a die. Klarion keeps the die, but as a reminder of Croatoan, “who isn’t.” All he can trust, he says, is “change and chance.” He says this while riding on a cart not unlike the one Jake used to get out of the sewers. One of the children of Leviathan asks him to stay, and shows him Jake’s helmet, which she thinks is useless. Klarion says, “It depends on how you look at it,” another deeply meaningful statement, and shows her that it can be a good pot. He rejects her offer, and tells her to take him to Blue Rafters. He climbs out of the subway and into the light of New York. He rolls the die to determine which way they should go (how would that tell him?), but before he can do anything, a weirdly-dressed bald man taps him on the shoulder and introduces himself as Mister Melmoth. Oh dear.
I’ll get into Melmoth later, as he becomes more and more important in the saga. What strikes us about this issue, which is very good, is not only the ties to the other series, most notably The Manhattan Guardian, but the development of Klarion in a disturbing direction. With hindsight, of course, this becomes easier to track, but even if you’re reading this issue for the first time, you notice that Klarion quickly goes from mischievous adventurer in the first issue and even early in this issue to sadistic puppet master without really worrying about his actions. You could argue that this is because of Ebeneezer’s betrayal, and that’s certainly a good argument, but could it also have something to do with the house of Croatoan? The Foundation Stone (the die) escapes its bonds, something, if we attribute some divine force to it, it appears it wants, as it draws first the pirates and the Klarion to it. Croatoan is absent, but couldn’t some residual divinity be left, imbued in the Foundation Stone, and might it not possess Klarion just a bit? There is no reason to believe this, and it’s certainly not in the text, but I can’t help but notice that Klarion becomes a lot more evil after leaving the chamber. Perhaps the radiation in the chamber affected him a bit, as well, even though he wasn’t in it that long. Ebeneezer’s betrayal is certainly the more conventional answer to the “growth” of his personality, but I wonder about the house of Croatoan.
The second theme of the issue is, as I’ve mentioned, the idea of creating myths and legends. Klarion is precocious, and he recognizes the importance of Croatoan in the Puritans’ lives, even though Croatoan doesn’t exist, and all the men of Limbo Town, presumably, know this. It speaks to the desire of people to keep power no matter what, and we realize that for all his zeal, Submissionary Judah is just another pathetic man trying to dominate those who believe. He knows that Croatoan doesn’t exist, yet he uses the power of a god to rule Limbo Town. Klarion quickly understands this, and he realizes that this control over legends is power, because people respect the supernatural. This is why he wants to write his own legends – he knows that if he can create a supernatural landscape and control it, he can then control people. Klarion is wise in the other ways of power, too – he gives Leviathan and opportunity for revenge, and one of the children practically begs him to stay with them. He has gained control over their minds, but he knows he’s made for bigger things, and leaves. We will see in issue #3 how much he has learned.
The idea of controlling legends isn’t new in this saga. The Seven Unknown Men attempt to control legends when they create Tom Dalt and (possibly) the other neophyte heroes in Seven Soldiers #0. There seems to be a consensus that they were involved in creating the others, even though Shelly Gaynor seems to be ignorant of them, and Dan, we’ve seen, bought his rings from Cassandra. Their involvement in the others isn’t important, though – they do create I, Spyder, and it’s obvious they are trying to turn him into some kind of mythic figure. Then, when they fail, they use the other accoutrements of heroism for the new batch of seven soldiers, although we haven’t seen directly how those things in the cardboard box on the last page of SS #0 got into the hands of the heroes. Morrison has always had this interest in myths and what they mean, and we seem to be getting two opposing roads to legend – on the one hand, Sir Justin is fighting for truth and justice and making his legend live in modern-day Los Angeles, while Klarion is shaping a legend that is significantly darker in modern-day New York. It’s interesting that Justin’s Los Angeles is much darker than Klarion’s New York. Yet the soldiers that come out of them are diametrically opposed. Klarion is Justin’s dark shadow.
What kind of person would I be if I didn’t link to the annotations? Not a very good one, I’d say. And please let me know if I’m missing anything in this issue, or if there are other good things out there in the blogaxy about it. We’ll continue with the evolution of Klarion next time, so be there!
But first: Justin in the box! And Gloriana Tenebrae rears her foxy head!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.