Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
We’re down to the last four days!Â Can you handle it????Â More specifically, can you handle the weirdness that is … Mister Miracle #4?????
As usual, we have SPOILERS to look forward to.Â Come on – you know the drill!
Hmmm … I wonder if there’s enough foreshadowing on that cover?Â Morrison is certainly not going for the subtle approachÂ here!
Okay, so I’ve tried to wrap my brain around this issue.Â It’s not that it’s ridiculously complicated, it’s just that it’s, you know, weird.Â Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
In the beginning, Shilo Norman is a child, hanging from a complicated trap while his older brother, Aaron, who’s a policeman, tells him that he’s never going to get out of it.Â Shilo says, significantly, “I can get out of anything.”Â On the next page, the splash, we see Shilo in his wheelchair and bandages and casts, thanks to his beating last issue.Â He holds several pills in his hand, but we’re not entirely sure if he’s trying to commit suicide or not.Â Given the way this issue plays out, it’s a good possibility.
Shilo lives through versions of his life, because he’s in the Life Trap that Dark Side put him into.Â So he sees himself with a young wife and daughter, and then suddenly as an older man with a teenaged daughter, and then suddenly as an old man on his deathbed.Â Rabbi Dezard, who is, of course, Dr. Dezard, shows up, and Shilo freaks out because he realizes this isn’t his life.Â We flip back to his childhood, as he hangs from his trap and tells Aaron he’ll be able to get out.Â We see him witness Aaron getting shot, which seems to happen at different times in his different lives.Â Then he’s some kind of super-cop, guarding a “homeless god.”Â Ah, here we get some information about the overall epic!
Shilo is holding a weird-looking key, and he has to go into a cell where the god is.Â He enters and says, “Oracle?”Â This is not Barbara Gordon, but a character from Justice League #100, the first appearance of the Nebula Man.Â Shilo enters and tells the god it’s time – they’re going to execute him because he “killed a whole bunch of superheroes and civilians.”Â Do we know if this actually happened?Â Is Morrison referring to events in other comics?Â Anyway, Aurakles (the dude’s real name) asks him, “Did … did the spear finds its mark?”Â We have heard, in The Manhattan Guardian #4, that the mirror into which Gloriana Tenebrae looksÂ speaks a prophecy about the spear that was never thrown ending her reign.Â Aurakles, we learn, “throws” that spear – it is, in fact, Alix Harrower, who is his last descedant.Â Alix, of course, kills Gloriana Tenebrae with a car, which could be seen as a spear that is not thrown.Â Aurakles can see through time and space, so he sees all of Shilo’s life, and wonders what he has become.Â Aurakles also mentions that he was “broken in the torture chambers of the Sheeda at Summer’s End …”Â We have seen the chains in the Chamber of Croatoan.Â Was Aurakles tortured there?Â He is not actually Croatoan, but why would the Sheeda need chains to secure a pair of dice?Â I’m going to say that Aurakles used to be there.Â Remember, too, that this might not actually be the “Seven Soldiers” reality.Â So who the hell knows, right?Â As Aurakles speaks to Shilo, the “god exterminators” – Dark Side and Dezard – show up, but the door won’t open and no one can get through to Shilo.Â Aurakles continues by telling Shilo that he has also run from his responsibilities, but he can set Aurakles free and “break this chain.”Â Notice he doesn’t necessarily mean the chains that hold him, Aurakles – heÂ says “break this chain” after he says “set me free.”Â He could be speaking metaphorically – I know, big shock in a Grant Morrison comic book!Â We’ll get back to this.Â Outside the cell, Dina Bell, Shilo’s partner, is trying to convince him to ignore Aurakles, because “he’s insane!”Â But inside, Aurakles is asking Shilo if he’s one of the 666 Monsters of Chaos – you know, I remember when Monsters of Chaos toured Pennsylvania back in the day and Van Halen was headlining with Anthrax and special guest Slaughter!Â Sing it with me:Â “Up all night, sleep all day – that’s right!”Â What, wrong Monsters?Â Oh, okay – we’ll learn slightly more about the 666 Monsters of Chaos in Seven Soldiers #1.Â Aurakles asks the crucial question: “Wilt thou give thy life that Aurakles might save us all?Â Wilt thou give thy life for me?”Â Shilo doesn’t say, “My name’s not Wilt,” but he does make the point that his life is all he has.Â Aurakles cares not and says, “I will set you free!Â I am the Lord thy Destroyer!” and Shilo disappears into his beard.Â Which is kind of strange.
The scene shifts to Dr. Dezard’s office, where our friendly psychiatrist is trying to break down Motherboxxx.Â This is another weird bit of the issue – we just saw Dark Side and Dezard as “god exterminators,” and now here they are.Â But of course, Shilo is not in “their” reality, but Aurakles is part of their reality.Â We presume that because he’s a god, he can cross over realities as easily as he can see through time and space.Â Dezard tells Dark Side that the mother box is he dissecting has no soul, and that it must have escaped into Shilo.Â Dark Side is unperturbed – “If the god machine has merged her consciousness with his, then she too is doomed.”Â He says there is no escape from Omega, because it’s the Life Trap.Â Does Dark Side seem a bit more pensive than we’re used to here?Â He seems awfully world-weary, and I don’t like it.Â I want my Dark Side to be PURE EVIL!Â Shilo, meanwhile, is experiencing a number of lives, “each more degraded than the last.”Â We see in the middle of the Infinite Crisis, with OMACs fighting all the superheroes and the big guys dead in the foreground.Â The giant yellow tunnel in the middle of the page reminds me of the hole in the mountain into which the Pied Piper led the children.Â But I’m messed up on cough syrup, so just, never mind.Â We zip through other lives, including one in which he’s dead and the other superheroes are at someone else’s grave (which is where the cover ostensibly comes from, but we’ll see it’s just foreshadowing for another grave), and then the young Shilo finally breaks free from the trap he put himself in at the beginning of the issue, which leads directly to his confrontation with the Omega Sanction itself.
Shilo is back in costume, floating around in a weird blue haze.Â Suddenly someone speaks to him, telling him tht the trap follows him wherever he goes, and moves as he moves, unseen.Â The blue haze coalesces into a figure that laughs as it tells him it’s his life – the Omega Sanction!Â It is “living oblivion” and Shilo will be “broken and blinded by the explosion of being!”Â As Shilo relives all his crappy lives over and over, he says that he’s had a long time to think about the Life Trap, and that the Omega is trapped with him, so it’s suffering too.Â He says that everybody has chains they want to break, and Shilo understands that.Â He says that no matter what is holding “you” down, they should escape together.Â He appears to be talking to the readers here, which makes the lost metatextual comment in issue #1 make more sense.Â Dark Side blames Dezard, of course, because megalomaniacs never blame themselves, and then we get Shilo as a child, speaking to an elderly doctor, who can’t believe that Dr. Dezard missed the obvious with regard to Shilo: the guilt he feels because of Aaron dying in his arms.Â The doctor muses that Shilo has been trapped by that thought, like he was in a “black star, with no exit.”Â He had “no freedom to move, or to think, or to change things.”Â Aaron’s heroism overshadowed Shilo’s own life, but he has finally changed.Â The doctor tells him it was “always going to happen this way, for him and for you.”Â All he has to do is forgive himself, and he’ll remove the chains.Â Shilo stops crying and suddenly, he’s back in the black hole with Metron, completing the MÃ¶bius loop that this series has become.Â Metron tells him he’s been there for seven days (wow, another reference to seven!) and that he has survived “this first initiation” into the mysteries of the New Gods, and that his true life, his free life, is about to begin.Â Back at S.T.A.R. labs, the black hole generator switched itself back on inexplicably, and suddenly Shilo Norman appears.Â He looks really small.Â Is it just a perspective problem?Â He’s a bit stunned by what has happened, and on the final page, we see him eating the chocolate (which looksÂ like vanilla)Â sundae his brother promised him if his first escape was successful.Â He has come full circle, from his first escape to his latest escape.
Naturally, there’s a lot of weird stuff in here.Â Was any of Shilo’s experience “real”?Â He has spent a week inside a black hole, yet he experienced things that occur in the other books as well.Â Was he simply in a perfect copy of the DCU, one in which everything occurs that occurs in the “real” DCU, but bends to his will?Â It doesn’t really matter, of course, but it’s just part of the weirdness of this issue and the series as a whole.Â We have to consider some things, however.
The idea of being weighed down with chains of your own making is nothing new.Â Everyone can probably name at least one pop song that uses that metaphor.Â So when Shilo speaks of this, it’s not terribly interesting, except, like anything else, in the context of the story.Â What has Shilo accomplished?Â He has defeated the guilt he felt over his brother’s death.Â It’s not the same kind of guilt that Justina feels (I’ve been calling her “Justine,” I know, but I forgot that in Seven Soldiers #1 she is actually called “Justina,” soÂ I guess I have to as well) or that Jake feels, even though it’s more similar to Justina’s than Jake’s.Â He feels guilty not because he was responsible for Aaron’s death, but because Aaron was the hero, and Shilo feels that if anyone in the family was going to die, it should have been him.Â Survivor’s guilt is a difficult thing to deal with, because it’s not his fault that Aaron died, but he has to deal with it.Â Only when he deals with that can he begin to be a hero and be free.Â This is just another way that we see these characters transform themselves.Â Shilo, quite literally, goes through several transformations – each life he leads is a change in how he perceives reality, but he finally understands that the Life Trap is just something we do to ourselves, not anything that Dark Side imposes.Â When he addresses the reader, he is telling us all to find that thing that’s holding us back and just get rid of it.Â There’s no reason to let it stop anyone.
More interesting in terms of the overall story (but less interesting if we’re looking at this as a character-driven epic) is Shilo’s meeting with Aurakles.Â I am very disappointed in Morrison in this regard: Aurakles is very important to the saga as a whole, and he shows up for the first time with only three issues left.Â It’s a cardinal rule of fiction that you shouldn’t introduce such a key player so late in the game, and although rules are made to be broken, in this case, I think Morrison left it too long.Â That’s neither here nor there, however, and we must deal with Aurakles as he comes to us.Â Aurakles is the shackled god, like Prometheus (yes, I know Prometheus isn’t a god, but bear with me), and is one big heaping metaphor himself.Â He tells Shilo that he can free him and break the chain, and it’s important that Dina Bell, Shilo’s partner, tells Shilo that Aurakles is insane.Â This is a world that does not believe in gods, and even when they see one, they can’t comprehend it so they call it insane.Â The people around Shilo are trying to convince him to embrace a “normal” reality, a reality in which notions like Aurakles have no place.Â The “mundane” vs. “magical” world is another overused metaphor, but in this issue Morrison gives it a nice twist, as Aurakles says that Shilo must, in essence, take his place so that Aurakles, not Shilo, can save the world.Â Shilo must become the shackled god, punished for the sins of mankind, while the original superhero – Aurakles – throws the spear that is never thrown.Â Shilo escapes from the Life Trap with the ultimate escape – his death.Â We don’t see it in this issue, but it explains his rather anticlimactic appearance in Seven Soldiers #1.
Ultimately, this is an interesting mini-series but still a disappointing one.Â In it, Morrison indulges in that weirdness that he often does, but without a lot of the heart that characterizes his best work.Â We care more about Shilo than we do about any of the cast members of the Invisibles, but it’s still not enough to pull this series completely together.Â The art, which was fine in the first issue, lousy in the second, okay in theÂ third, and decent in this issue, doesn’t help the cause.Â The biggest problem with this series is thatÂ although Morrison dealsÂ with many of the themes he’s examining in the other series, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the whole.Â Yes, Aurakles plays a significant role in the climax of the saga.Â But this series feels like it has beenÂ grafted onto the rest of theÂ saga, and that gives it a slightly off-kilter feel to it.Â Maybe that’s what Morrison is going for, considering the weirdness inherent in the storyÂ itself.Â Perhaps we’re meant to feel off-kilter!
The annotations give some good information about Dina Bell and others in the issue.Â So go on over and read them!
Next: Sally Sonic slugs Sexy Superhero!
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