Axel-In-Charge: Unmasking the "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Keeping with The God of All Comics’ Official Reading Order of the Seven Soldiers Saga, we next turn our gaze to the weakest of the seven mini-series. You know it’s true! This series started weird and never really got any better. It’s a shame it gives us crucial information about a crucial figure in the epic! But that’s the way it is. And of course, we can’t have a post without a SPOILER warning, so here it is: there will be SPOILERS in here. Let the SPOILING commence! And as we get closer to the end, I will be SPOILING future issues more and more!
Does someone out there know why Pasqual Ferry wasn’t on this the entire series? Did he go exclusive with Marvel or something? I’m sure it was big news when it happened, but I can’t recall why he left. The other artists try to ape his style, which I’m not sure was a good idea, because, let’s face it – Ferry’s art on this issue is only just okay.
The media is covering the latest stunt by the world-famous escape artist, Shilo Norman. He’s preparing to dive into a S.T.A.R. labs-generated black hole, just so he can escape it. The newspeople, predictably, call him “one of the seven celebrity wonders of the world.” One wonders who the other six are. Shilo Norman, Mister Miracle himself, has been around for a while, but I’m not sure when Scott Free actually turned the mantle of Mister Miracle over to him, nor what Scott Free is doing right now. It doesn’t really matter, except that this series concerns itself greatly with the New Gods, so it’s odd that Shilo didn’t learn more about them from Scott when he was learning how to be such a great escape artist. But, as I mentioned, you don’t have to know that much about Shilo to appreciate this series. You do, however, have to know more than probably should be necessary about the New Gods (even though we get a brief refresher course), a concept I have never found that interesting. Yeah, Kirby blah blah blah, but whenever any of these characters shows up anywhere, I get taken right out of the story. They don’t always ruin things for me, but they take some getting used to. Morrison, of course, has a nerd boner™ for all things Kirby and specifically the New Gods, so it’s not surprising they show up in the saga. Anyway, Shilo is suspended above the black hole, which is a tiny dot far below him. He is hung not unlike the crucified Christ, which can mean many things. This is, more than likely, foreshadowing on Morrison’s part. Shilo, after all, sacrifices himself for the good of the world. Morrison is obsessed with the Tarot, too, and there’s a Hanged Man in the deck (check out the cover for an even better view of this), which, apparently, can symbolize Odin, who hung from a tree for nine days to gain wisdom. So Shilo hanging above the black hole is fraught with meaning. That wacky Morrison! In the first issue of The Manhattan Guardian, of course, Jake hears about this stunt on the radio, which pegs when the series begins, at least.
As the countdown commences, Shilo asks the Mother Box (he calls it Motherboxxx) on his shoulder if they can use the time dilation effect as they fall toward the event horizon. Phew! That’s quite a sentence. A Mother Box is one of the gadgets that the New Gods use, functioning as portable supercomputers that can also open trans-dimensional holes known as Boom Tubes. Pretty handy to have. It’s apparently semi-sentient, as well, and functions as Shilo’s “familiar” throughout the series. Hmmm, where have we seen familiars before? The “time dilation effect” means that some other time slows downÂ compared to the observer’s own time. It’s all about physics, people! This kind of thing occurs around black holes, because the gravitational field is so strong. The “event horizon,” beside being a really awful science fiction movie, is the spot at which the inward pull of the black hole becomes so great nothing can escape. So that’s not a good place for Shilo to be. The restraints come loose, and Shilo falls. Something immediately goes wrong, and Shilo Norman, as the news says, “has, quite simply, ceased to exist!”
Or not. On the next page we see that he is face to face with Metron, who asks him what took him so long. Our Dread Lord and Master, who has access to arcane knowledge, posted a while back about what the page was going to look like. With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves if Metron is simply asking Shilo what took him so long, or if he’s asking the reader why it took us so long to reach this point – surely Morrison’s dense plotting is easier to comprehend than that???? Or, it could be a sly self-deprecating remark about Morrison himself – hey, Grant, why did it take so long to finish Seven Soldiers #1? I’m just spitballing.
Metron does his weird, annoying way of speaking, then tells Shilo that “we” are lost. Since he’s not royalty, we have to assume he’s speaking about more than just himself. This, as it turns out, is true. The New Gods need Shilo, presumably because he’s an escape artist and can “find” his way out of being “lost.” Metron tells Shilo that inside the event horizon, even “he” cannot see or hear us. Again, part of the problem with this story is that it requires us to know that Metron, more than likely, is talking about Darkseid. Anyone who has only been reading the Seven Soldiers saga might think he’s talking about the Terrible Time Tailor or Melmoth. Metron invites Shilo to get snuggly with him in his Mobius chair, which evokes both a Mobius strip and the comic book artist, Moebius. Shilo is still freaking out, and Metron tells him to let go of fear or be crushed. We’ve seen this before – fear playing a big role in keeping our heroes from being true heroes. Now Shilo has to deal with it. Mother Box kicks in and tells Shilo that the void in his soul is going to be filled but he’ll have to be strong to bear it. Again, we see the idea of someone taking on responsibility and having to deal with it. Shilo is not a grown-up, because he has a “void” in his soul. But if it’s filled, he’ll have a responsibility to it. Mother Box hopes he can come through.
The next few pages gives us a brief history of the battle between New Genesis and Apokolips. The narration sounds like someone telling someone else a story, which it turns out to be. We can guess that Shilo is the one talking, and he is. He talks about how wonderful New Genesis was, but then there was a war, and the wrong side won. We see Darkseid standing watching the industrial machines of Apokolips, and the narration tells us, “The dark side won.” This goes back to Morrison’s anti-industrial (anti-progress?) bent, as Darkseid’s nightmare world reminds us (as it’s supposed to) of our own world, and it also recalls the knights of Avalon splitting the atom. As this is part of Kirby’s mythology, I can’t really hold Morrison responsible for coming up with yet another horrible industrial world, but it’s worth noting that he ties Apokolips and the Sheeda, both with out-of-control technology, together. Metron tells Shilo that he can either free the bright ones – the New Gods – or be slaves to the dark. He then at least names Darkseid and tells Shilo that he’ll meet him at the crossroads. Boy, I’m glad Grant isn’t going for tired old clichés denoting important life choices! He’s too clever for that, right?
Metron snaps his fingers (like a magician, like Giovanni Zatara?) and Shilo escapes from the black hole. As he kneels on the ground with the crowd going wild, he passes out. He wakes up to see his manager, ZZ, staring back at him. ZZ tells Shilo that everyone is having a party around him, but Shilo just wants to be alone. Shilo says that there has to be more to this life than what he has – another sign of growing up. ZZ says he understands a mid-life crisis – even though, as Shilo points out, he’s 23 – and that Shilo doesn’t know what to do when he’s done everything. During this speech, he’s holding a glowing ball that emits weird wisps of light. We don’t find out what this is until the third issue, but it still doesn’t make much sense. Anyway, we finally learn that Shilo is talking to a psychiatrist as he narrates this entire sequence. I don’t know about you, but I was suspicious of that doctor from the first panel. I mean, he has that billy goat beard, which is really Satanic. And, of course, psychiatrists are evil in general in fiction. Come on, people, you know I’m right! The doctor prompts him to speak about the events leading up to his “outburst,” and Shilo says that as ZZ led him to “party people,” everything took on a “flavor” like in Metron’s world, but bad. ZZ takes him up to meet some women. These women are a madam and her prostitutes, but they’re really Granny Goodness and the Four Furies – Bernadeth, Wunda, Lashina, and Mad Harriet. Shilo figures this out, and Granny doesn’t help things by sticking her forked tongue out at him, so he freaks out and runs for it. Back in the doctor’s office, he says he knows he’s not crazy as he looks out at the New York-that-might-have-been where the bulk of the saga takes place. The doctor suggest he might not want to take everything so literally, but then he takes a bite of a candy bar (like the one Klarion was impressed by?) and blood runs down his chin, so obviously the doctor is not someone Shilo should be trusting. He suggests this is all about the war within a man’s soul, but Shilo asks him what if it’s true, and he lives in a world where evil won? The doctor is dismissive of that notion, but it comes back to a world of dreary reality, where superheroes are a childish fantasy. We have seen this before, in the JLA Classified arc, where the Ultramarines are injected into a world that has no superheroes, and of course, throughout this entire arc, where the idea of heroes is scorned by “grown-ups,” meaning authority figures. Shilo is, technically, grown up, but he still has the immature mindset – he’s an escape artist, after all. He wonders why his self esteem is still lousy after seeing the doctor for three years. This mirrors the self esteem workshop that Zatanna went to in issue #1 of her series – both of them fail to find what they’re looking for from vacuous “adults.” Only when faced with a true challenge will they make it through to where they need to be.
As Shilo leaves the office (and walks under a sign that misspells “Apollo” – presumably it’s the Apollo Theater), he sees a grumpy old man in a wheelchair, whom he originally thinks is Metron. The guy tells him that he did bet Metron that Shilo would lose it all at the beginning because he is too soft. Then he kind of obliquely reveals that he is the Black Racer, who used to cruise around on skis. Yes, skis. He holds a pawn and drops it as he tells Shilo he needs to be tested. Suddenly cars start flying (some literally) at Shilo, and he’s caught in the Drive-By Derby! And … scene!
Yes, we end on the Drive-By Derby. When I first read this, I was amazed by how stupid that was. Now that I’m re-reading it, I’m amazed by how stupid it is. I suppose it’s some weird tribute to the insanity of Kirby’s concepts, and I suppose if anyone can make a Drive-By Derby work, it’s Morrison, but considering we just came from The Manhattan Guardian #4, where the kookiness of the Newsboy Army concept didn’t destroy the tragic nature of their fate, in this issue, we haven’t quite yet invested in Shilo Norman, so when cars start flying at him, we shrug our shoulders and think, “So?”
The entire issue is like that. Sure, Morrison is again bringing in the themes he has been toying with throughout the saga, and Shilo certainly is a man who needs to understand what it means to be a hero, so of course he needs to be tested. The Fourth World trappings, however, keep us strangely distant. More than the other series, Morrison seems to be phoning it in on this series, probably because if you write a series about Mister Miracle, it’s apparently in the contract that you must reference every single figure in the Fourth World. Or maybe Kirby had a good contract and he stipulated it. That makes this far less compelling than a “regular” Morrison comic book, because he has to bring in all these characters who really aren’t that interesting. Metron, for example, is just dull. All he ever does is spout this pseudo-mystical crap and fly around on that stupid chair of his. Darkseid should be a fascinating character, and certainly in “Rock of Ages,” Morrison made him pretty interesting, but usually he’s just kind of a blustery bully (I say “usually” because some writers have made him okay, but those portrayals seem few and far between).
It does get better. Morrison manages to tie it into the main saga, and Aurakles, of course, provides a crucial piece of the puzzle. The problem with this issue is that it feels half-formed, and as we go through the series, the ideas of different worlds in different dimensions gets a little more development. It’s typical Morrison metafiction, but since New Genesis and Apokolips exist in different dimensions that the regular DCU (don’t they?), this could easily have been the mini-series that examines fiction and how heroes become myth. It doesn’t quite pull that off, but it at least approaches that. But so much of this feels like it’s not springing from the brain of Morrison, whence so many good things about Seven Soldiers come. Even the biblical connections to the word “Shiloh,” which we could easily believe coming from the fertile imagination of The God of All Comics, isn’t his, as Shilo Norman existed prior to this series. So not much in this first issue feels distinctively Morrisonian, and although some people might say that’s a good thing, in conjunction with Seven Soldiers, it’s not.
Of course, I can’t let you go without pointing out the annotations! If you know of any reviews that are nicer than mine (although, in the context of the entire epic, this gets the job done), let me know!
Next: Zatanna gets in a weird fight!
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