Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Well, only a day late (and it wasn’t my fault, I swear!), I have finally reached the end of the Seven Soldiers odyssey. It’s been fun, hasn’t it? We have been through some interesting comics, and certainly a ridiculously ambitious project that, despite some problems, most notably with the ending (as we’ll see soon), is a wonderful comics experience. It would be nice if more writers had the cajones to try something like this. Even if you don’t like Morrison (blasphemers!), you have to like that he tries interesting things. And the fact that he doesn’t quite pull it off shouldn’t diminish the awesome (in its actual definition) scope of this project.
But we’ll delve into that below the fold, where, as you might expect, lurk SPOILERS of all kinds! SPOILERS of the SPOILEST kind! Be warned. Oh, and Happy New Year.
In case you’re interested in reading any of the previous reviews, you could go to the handy category Our Dread Lord and Master set up for these posts, where they are in reverse chronological order. Or you could click on one of the covers below, which will take you right to my thoughts on that particular issue! Aren’t I swell?
Okay, let’s get to the Grand Guignol! It’s Seven Soldiers #1, delayed six months, building the anticipation among comics geeks everywhere, and delivering … what? Well, let’s see!
Before we dive in, I’d like to look at the three main themes present throughout this saga. Call it a review, if you must. These are themes that really should be present in a lot of superhero sagas, and the fact that they aren’t, I think, weakens those that lack them. Your views may differ.
1. Transformation. This is, of course, the main theme of the saga. Each main character, and many of the ancillary ones, go through some sort of transformative experience, and Morrison wants us to consider why they do, how they do, and what they become afterward. The idea of transformation is at the heart of superhero comics, and that’s why this series resonates with us, because we are forced to deal with different kinds of changes and examine them both as isolated incidents and within the context of the greater whole. Most of these transformations have to do with people becoming heroes and what makes a hero. We have seen that Justina’s story can be viewed as a metaphor for the transformation from a sexless girl to a sexualized woman. She spends this entire issue with that tear in her shirt, which exposes her bound breasts. Yes, she did it to herself, but it’s still an uncomfortable image, echoing the practice of feet-binding in China and, more closely, the idea of corsets and an idealized female form that is almost impossible to achieve naturally. Justina, in her journey, becomes a woman, but also overcomes the guilt she feels about Camelot’s fall. Jake Jordan must realize that he has it in him to be a hero, and that a mistake should not rob him of his self-respect. He too overcomes guilt, plus the idea that his girlfriend – Carla – likes him as a weakling, and emerges a hero despite his reservations. He is contrasted with Alix Harrower, who rejects the superhero life. Remember, Jake was going to quit until he heard Ed’s tale of the Newsboy Army and the Sheeda. Why is he convinced, when Alix remains unmoved by Saunders’ declaration that her destiny is to save the world? Is it because he took the job to gain his self-respect back, and she had “the job” forced upon her? Is it because his former job, as a policeman, lent itself to “heroic” deeds while hers, working with kids with autism, lent itself to less “showy” heroism? Something to ponder. Klarion, the amoral soldier, learns the ways of men, and transforms from wide-eyed child to somewhat cynical dreamer. Zatanna, who is the most superheroic at the start, must also deal with guilt and overcome it, and she does it by becoming a maternal figure to Misty. Shilo Norman has to change, too, from vapid celebrity to Messiah figure. His mini-series, while perhaps the weakest of the bunch, gives us a transformative moment that is most momentous in the series, because it is most explicitly stated. Shilo literally has to escape Life, and become something greater than the living. Frankenstein, we can argue, changes the least, but even he subtly becomes less of a blunt object and more “human” throughout the course of his series.
2. The advent of adulthood. This ties in with the theme of transformation, as we see in Shining Knight. But that’s part of a bigger idea of what it means to become and adult and if that means a loss of wonder. The mini-series, as we’ve seen, are rife with references to growing up, clashing with parental figures, and losing the innocence of children. Justina, as we’ve seen, becomes a woman. Jake loses one father figure – Larry – and gains another – Ed. Zatanna’s entire series centers around her lack of true closure over her father’s death, and the desire to reconcile with him because she failed to save him. This quest is mirrored in her mentoring of Misty, whom she does not want to lose like Giovanni lost her. She overcompensates with Misty and ignores some troubling signs about her true nature – yes, Misty is a “good” person, but she’s still Sheeda, which plays a big role in SS #1. But she doesn’t destroy her relationship with Misty, and it allows her to break through and have that one last moment with Giovanni that was denied her years ago. The most obvious moment of childhood becoming adulthood is in The Manhattan Guardian #1, when the Newsboy Army confronts the Terrible Time Tailor in Cyrus Gold’s house in Slaughter Swamp. Klarion, meanwhile, epitomizes the Peter Pan complex when he realizes there is no need for him to grow up. Considering the kind of person his father turned out to be (since I guess we need to accept the fact that Ebeneezer Badde is his father), not growing up doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. He also loses not one, but two father figures (Ezekiel and Ebeneezer) and gains another – Melmoth – who also betrays him. Then he returns home and his own mother wants to burn him at the stake. Can we blame him for wanting to stay a child? Alix Harrower, despite her exterior appearance, also takes on a maternal role. Her job is no longer an option, but she tries to help older but emotionally stunted superheroes like Mind-grabber Kid and Sally Sonic. Frankenstein, of course, rebels against his “father,” Melmoth, and becomes a father figure to the lost children of Mars. The advent of adulthood doesn’t just mean rebelling against or becoming parents. As the Terrible Time Tailor implies, it means a loss of magic in your life. Morrison’s ideal is that our heroes will grow up and find a new kind of magic, a childlike magic that doesn’t preclude taking on adult responsibilities. This is what Zatanna is able to do – she grows up, and in doing so regains her abilities. This is all about overcoming negative emotions that are unnecessary. Guilt, of course, is the big one. Everyone has made mistakes, and will these heroes allow those mistakes to cripple them? They have lost their innocence through their mistakes, but they haven’t grown past those emotions. When they do, they can take the next step and realize that the magic they knew as children doesn’t go away, it just … transforms.
3. The meaning of myth and legend. Many of the series are concerned with mythology. Obviously, the Sheeda are figures from mythology, which is why people believed they were fairies early in the saga. Morrison has always been interested in myths, and in this epic, he tries to look at them and see what makes myths work and how things become mythic. Obviously, we begin at Camelot, and the fact that this time period becomes the shining ideal for all time to come is important. Justina discovers that the new world in which she finds herself is not a Golden Age, because there are no longer legends on the earth – or if there are, they are shackled, like Aurakles. Similarly, Klarion discovers that the basis of his people’s faith is missing, and this allows him to create new legends of his own. Klarion, as I pointed out, understands the power of myth, and is smart enough to realize that if he is in charge of mythmaking, he can be in charge of men’s souls. The idea of “becoming a myth” is prevalent throughout the series – all the characters, not just Klarion, understand the power that legends have, and therefore Don Vincenzo can go to his death with a clear head, and Shilo Norman can overcome the Life Trap by being something greater than just life. When he puts on his costume, Jake becomes more than just a man, he becomes a symbol, and the people he rescues at the New York Science Park recognize that. It no longer matters who the person is inside the costume, because the costume has become the legend. This is what Greg Saunders is trying to point out to Alix Harrower at the end of Bulleteer – she can’t escape her destiny. Her fate is the most ironic – she deliberately avoids her fate but ends up becoming the “spear that was never thrown” anyway. This is the way of myths – ask Oedipus about that. Myths seize the participants in their grasp and force them to their destiny, and throughout this series, our main characters have been manipulated into places that they would not have gone. But they are the gears of mythic forces now, and must play out their parts.
So those are the three themes running through the entire epic. There are more, of course, and we’ve looked at some of those for the past month. But these are the overarcing ideas that are present everywhere you look, and we’ll see how they come to the forefront in Seven Soldiers #1. So let’s open that monstrosity and see what we can find!
On the first page we are confronted with the sewing machine in Cyrus Gold’s cabin, and one of the Seven Unknown Men of Slaughter Swamp standing at the window. He turns to face the audience, and even though he’s speaking to Zachary Zor, he’s also speaking to the reader. He even has a DC tie pin, which is a nice touch. He tells Zor, and us, a story about the Seven Soldiers, who were destined to save the world from an evil queen, yet never meet. He also mentions that a secret order of seven angels keep the fabric of the universe from fraying, and one turned to harm and the others had to judge him. This is probably a reference to Lucifer and the Fall, which the Time Tailor ties in with the story we’re about to read, where one soldier “turns to harm,” and Seven Soldiers #0, where Boy Blue, we learned in Bulleteer #2, also “turned to harm” and betrayed the team. Betrayal is a staple of a lot of good fiction, obviously, and we should be looking for it in this issue. Who will die? Who will betray humanity? The mind reels!
We jump right in, as Gloriana Tenebrae tells her minions to send troops with witch-brands to the wheelroom to bind Frankenstein there. You’ll recall that as he is not dissimilar to the Grundys, the witch-brands can hold his body. She also tells them to “call our Huntsman home. Our undead Spyder.” Either Tom Dalt has been appointed the new Huntsman in the aftermath of Neh-buh-loh’s death, or the Queen has not yet been apprised of Neh-buh-loh’s death. It’s not clear. On this, the second page, we’re told in narration that Gloriana’s “plans of conquest lie in ruins” but she still believes her victory is assured. This again makes this issue somewhat superfluous – before it even begins, the Sheeda have lost! She still plans to rebuild the fleet and harvest the 21st century, so I suppose the Seven Soldiers still have a job to do – kill the Queen, but here’s why time travel epics never work for me – why does she have to harvest this particular time period? If the Sheeda exist at the end of time, can’t they pick a different time period and go harvest that one? If they get defeated in one era, why return? They have different eras to choose from, right? But if they don’t harvest this era, will it outgrow the bonds of Earth and be too powerful for the Sheeda to destroy further in the future? Do the Sheeda only exist because they are able to go back in time and reap the past, and if they are stopped, that timestream will cease to exist? See why I don’t like time travel stories?????
Gloriana says that the mirror’s prophecy concerning seven soldiers has obviously not come true, which is the cue for Justina to rise from the cauldron and challenge her. We saw the Shining Knight in one panel of Frankenstein #4, but who knew she stowed away in the cauldron itself? She should be nicely recovered from those wounds Galahad dealt her back in her series.
Then we get Grant Morrison’s secret history of the world, done in big-time Kirby-O-Rama art style (Williams’ art in this book is spectacular, of course). The New Gods show up – that’s Orion, Metron, and Lightray – and “refashion in their own image the primitive inhabitants of a primordial Earth,” giving them “fire, inspiration, and magic.” They build four mystical cities – Falias, Findias, Murias, and Gorias – to rest between labors. These cities, one of which – Gorias – has been mentioned before, are copped from Irish mythology. The New Gods were bored and horny, apparently, and they “mix together, in one incredible being, the traits of space god and Neanderthal warrior!” This is Aurakles, the world’s first superhero. He is sent to “tame the ferocious Earth.” We move from Irish to Greek mythology, as Morrison implies that the twelve labors of Hercules were part of Aurakles’ mission to “tame the Earth.” Aurakles, of course, is a combination of Oracle and Herakles. The gods, as is their wont, leave the earth and Aurakles to battle the 666 Monsters of Chaos, one of which is our pal Neh-buh-loh. They entrust Aurakles with Seven Imperishable Treasures: the sword (Caliburn Ex Calibur); the cauldron of rebirth; the all-knowing fatherbox, which we know as the pair of dice that the Puritans worship as Croatoan; the hammer (of Thor?); the Merlin, which we have seen is Gwydion, Zatanna’s “ideal man”; Pegazeus, the winged steed, who spawned a whole race of flying horses of which Vanguard is only an example; the spear, which is “enchanted” and “can carry death across time and strike a target many millennia away,” whose name is both “love” and “vengeance.” If you notice, we don’t actually see the spear in the picture with Aurakles and his bevy of beauties, because the spear doesn’t actually exist. Well, sure it does, but Morrison, ever coy, is using a euphemism for, well, Aurakles’ “spear of manhood.” His descendant, Alix Harrower, becomes the spear, which is why it can strike a target millennia away. It’s all metaphorical, people! The red-headed gene carries down through the ages, too, if you’ll notice.
So the Neanderthal scientists launch a time machine into the future. Melmoth finds it and copies it, and goes back in time to destroy the Neanderthal culture. This leads back to the headache-inducing paradox of time travel – the only reason the Sheeda were able to go back in time was because someone from the past showed them how to. The Sheeda, we have seen, are a dead culture, just counting out time until the planet falls into the sun. At the other end of time (time as a MÃ¶bius loop, perhaps), the Neanderthals, whose culture is higher than anything stupid old homo sapiens has managed to crank out, seed their own demise with their hubris. It seems that Morrison is saying that we cannot reach too far, because we are the cause of our own destruction. The Sheeda destroyed Earth’s first culture, sure, but the Neanderthals gave them the means. The knights of Avalon were defeated too, but what really plunged the world into darkness was the first nuclear winter. Morrison implies we are going down the same path. This links back to Gloriana’s pronouncement at the end of Frankenstein #4 – aren’t the Sheeda human? Don’t they have a right to exist? Do we in the present have a right to exist if we abuse our power?
So we move on, and the Neanderthals die out, and homo sapiens replace them. 30,000 years pass, and finally Arthur, led by the Merlin, come to Gorias, which has fallen into ruin. He is there for his father, Uther Dragonhead, who rules the world. Arthur finds the sword, but he did not guess the secret of the spear. After Arthur became king, he set out to find the cauldron. The story implies that they went into the future, because they go to “Sheeda-side,” but it’s not clear. We once again get the quote from the Preiddeu Annwn about going into “it,” and only seven returning. The Sheeda did quite the number on them.
We go back, briefly, to the Time Tailor, who is sewing something. He tells Zor that the coat is really for him, not Cyrus, because he drowned Cyrus in the swamp. Recall that Cyrus rose from the swamp to become Solomon Grundy. He says more portentous things, like the fact that the Seven Unknown Men all look alike, and that time is screwed up in Slaughter Swamp. We have seen that the swamp is a “soft place,” where different times mix together. So the men are still – or perhaps always? – chasing Cyrus Gold, even though it happened 160 years before.
Then it’s back to the action, with a facsimile of an actual issue of The Manhattan Guardian – issue #777, of course. The Sheeda are attacking Broadway under the cover of Hurricane Gloria, which has finally made it to New York. The situation is summarized, and we get some other information as well. Harry the Police Horse retired, but Jake seems to riding him through the streets. Maybe Harry wanted one last shot at glory! We also learn that Benito Silencio’s father, Antonio, died of a heart attack. His son, of course, was eaten on Mars by the Martian horses, and the newspaper speculates that his death was somehow “connected” to that. Maybe he was despondent? There’s also an item about Shilo Norman, who reappeared from the black hole and then vanished again. No one knows where he is! We see Ed on his horse, breaking out of the newspaper to call Ed and tell him that horse lessons paid off. But he’s in the middle of a group of regular folk who are being ridden by the Sheeda. Down at the bottom of the page is a comic strip featuring Carla and her mother. They’re driving away because Carla can’t handle being with Jake because of his crazy life. Lauren tells her that it’s all going to work out, and Carla says it’s not a fairytale, despite the presence of all the fairytale elements. We have seen many of the evil tropes that show up in fairytales, but Lauren subtly points out that “happily ever after” is a key component in many tales, too.
And then there’s the crossword puzzle. Stupid, stupid crossword puzzle. Let’s tackle it, shall we? The answer to One Across is Lena. It’s hidden in the “whole name,” and the last two letters of “whole” and first two letters of “name” give us this. Lena, who is Ed’s personal assistant, is Chop Suzi’s child. The speculation is that the “twin” is Lars, who is another employee of Ed. Makes sense. This kind of puts a dent in the theory that Cap 7 molested Chop Suzi, because I’d like to see the Punnett square that gives us two Scandinavian children from the union of an Asian girl and a black guy. The answer to Three Across is Bors. He split the atom, after all. Four Across is Badde. This confirms our suspicions that Ebeneezer Badde is, in fact, Klarion’s father. One wonders if Klarion knows. Seven Across is Gloriana. I’m not sure why, but it is. Nine Across is Open, which again contained in the words “winO PENitent.” One Down is Loa. Life Or Anti-life. The loa are voodoo spirits, hence the reference to Haiti, and the “capitals” mean we look at the capital letters. Two Down is Abednego. We get that from the clue – “a bad ego.” Abednego was one of the three men thrown into the fire by Nebuchadnezzar because they wouldn’t worship his idols. I still wonder why Judah wasn’t named Meschach, but oh well. I still don’t get Four and Five Down: Be and Do. Can anyone explain? Six Down is Lance. A “lance” is yet another euphemism for the phallus, which “ruins a maiden and makes a wife.” Seven Down is apparently GM, as in Grant Morrison. The Time Tailor/Unknown Man in this issue certainly bears a resemblance to the God of All Comics, doesn’t he? Eight Down is One. Seven into seven equals one. Really, only two clues – One Across and Four Across – give us any solid information about the story, unless I’m missing a lot. So it’s basically Morrison doing his typical “I’m smarter than you are” thing. I know I promised to back off the Morrison-bashing, but this thing that he does it probably his worst attribute. Yes, you’re clever, Grant. Thanks for rubbing our face in it.
On the next page Ed quotes something Shelly Gaynor wrote about the need for heroes in our society. Ed, as we know, digs superheroes, and he sums up one of the themes of the saga: “I’m calling it INSTANT MYTH!” The mythology that has been created around these heroes is happening right now, not in some distant past. This is Morrison’s joy in superheroes, which we’ve seen in so many of his comics. The idea of experiencing legendary feats as they happen appeals to him. Jake then bursts through the page of the newspaper onto the actual streets of the city. Remember, the Guardian comes out in a timely fashion – literally as the action is happening!
Alix, meanwhile, is driving Sally to the hospital, but Sally remains unrepentant. It’s interesting to see Justina fighting the Queen on this page and others, “outside” the panels. They are, of course, displaced from time at this point, as Castle Revolving moves backward through time toward the present, and not unlike Zatanna’s battle with Zor, this one takes place beyond the confines of the comic book world. We get a quick glance of Justina stabbing Gloriana through the chest, and then we’re back in New York, with Zatanna arriving on the scene with Misty, both of them riding Vanguard. The horses shoot lasers from their eyes – that’s kind of handy. Vanguard senses Justina nearby, so he leaves them and goes to find her. Misty uses her die to put Zatanna to sleep, because she has to go it alone from now on. She says she now understands that the only way to stop the Harrowing is to take Gloriana’s place as Queen. The Sheeda riders circle around her in a halo, because they recognize Melmoth’s daughter, Rhiannon. Zatanna wakes up and feels foolish for falling for the “sidekick-turns-bad” twist, and suddenly Ali Ka-Zoom is there, telling her she’s just surfing the spell of seven. He gives her Gwydion in his jar back to her and says, “They didn’t used to call me the Merlin of the Ghetto for nothing.” Just as Alix is descended from Aurakles, Ali Ka-Zoom is the descendant of the Merlin – whether a literal descendant or just a spiritual one doesn’t matter. He’s there to advise, and he gets Zatanna back on her feet and into the fray once more.
Klarion shows up, drilling his way to the surface and laughing because “war has come to Blue Rafters!” As he clutches his die, he wonders aloud which side he will choose. Oh dear, Klarion, you mischievous child! Misty, suddenly blue, walks up behind him as one (or both) of the die begin to ping. I did not like this sudden coloring change in Misty. It would have been far too easy to color her blue from the beginning, and I suppose you could make the argument that she was colored like a regular white person because she did it herself to fit in, and now she doesn’t care anymore, so she’s reverting to her natural color. I guess. Seems like a bit of a cop-out, though. In a fanciful narrative, the two children, the two heirs of the Sheeda, face off. Misty knows what Klarion’s die is, and he sort of does – “Croatoan” means “Fatherbox” in Sheeda, but Misty knows that if she puts the two together, she can challenge her stepmother. Misty gives it away by telling Klarion that he holds in his hand a weapon of the Gods, and Klarion is able to distract her with a paradox – stupid time travel! – and Teekl grabs her die when she, startled, drops it. In that instant, Klarion decides that if anyone is going to take over from the Queen, why not him? Why not, indeed?
As Justina fights on, Misty tells Zatanna that he took her die and now there’s nothing to stop Gloriana. In the middle of the page, Sally Sonic is kicking Alix in the head while she drives. That’s a good way to get in an accident, young lady! My wife always waits until the car comes to a complete halt before she kicks me in the head. As Castle Revolving lands on New York, we see an interesting circular panel. Carla is driving past the United Nations building, where the Newsboy Army made their pledge and under which S.H.A.D.E. is having an emergency session. In the foreground, Jorge Control, from The Manhattan Guardian #3, walks along with his wife’s head, which talks to him. I guess we know now that Hanna is a robot. Father Time, meanwhile, tells the Bride, who is holding the fort at the Hero Museum (on Broadway and Lennon), who the Sheeda really are, thanks to Frankenstein’s e-mail from the future. Then he tries to contact Frankenstein, who is still in the wheelroom of Castle Revolving. He is asking for permission to to destroy an entire civilization as he cuts apart some Sheeda bad guys. Klarion shows up with a witch-brand and takes control of him, ordering him to go … Back … to the Future! Man, I’m so glad I go to use that! Misty is upset because if they beat the Sheeda, she’ll become Queen and she’ll have to prey on the past – she’ll have to be like Gloriana Tenebrae. This goes back to the theme of becoming an adult – are you forced to become like the adults who are dead inside? Is Misty trapped to repeat the mistakes of her forefathers? Zatanna means to show her a different way, one that allows her to grow up without losing her magic, which is partly what this saga is about. She addresses the audience (which could, I suppose, mean we are party to saving the world) and tells the universe to awake and for the Seven Soldiers to strike. She releases cards from her sleeves that show various scenes from the previous installments of the epic. By addressing the reader and reaching for us, Morrison is once again involving us in his ideas of heroism. Everyone has a stake in saving the world, and it’s up to the individual to make the world as good a place as we can. We saw this in his final JLA arc, where everyone in the world became a superhero, and also, to a certain extent, in the underlying theme of X-Men, where soon everyone would be a mutant with strange powers. But here Zatanna says we don’t need powers, we just need to grow up and realize how to be heroic on our own.
And then Carla runs her down. Well, not really, because she disappears just as Carla is about to run her down. Carla stops the car and Jake rides out of the smoke. The hurricane, you’ll notice, is gone. Carla wants Jake to stop the monsters, and Jake gets probably the best line in the book: “That’s okay, baby. I’ll get to them when we’re done kissing.” Go, Jake! Justina is still fighting Gloriana, and she mocks our knight because there is only one of her, not seven. She tells Justina that they were born to survive, and Justina says she had to learn. This is another crucial point of the series – the Sheeda have been living this way their entire lives, and the Seven Soldiers have had to come to understand what survival entails. She splits Gloriana’s head open, but even that is not enough. She throws Justina off Castle Revolving to her death. Oh, no!
And finally, Shilo Norman shows up. He confronts Dark Side and tells him he is there to accept his challenge if it helps end it. This Dark Side, interestingly enough, has never met Shilo, because Shilo is no longer inside the black hole. Aurakles sits next to Dark Side, shackled as usual. Dark Side speaks to Shilo as Darkseid, his real form, speaks in another voice. Shilo tells him he can see his true form, because he now has “god-sight.” We see Dark Side, with his god-machines in ethereal form around him, tells him that he promised the Sheeda this continent in return for Aurakles. Remember, Aurakles was most likely shackled below New York with Croatoan, but when the Sheeda gave him to Dark Side, he was moved. Dark Side will hunt the New Gods after the Harrowing. It’s not clear why he wants Aurakles. Yes, Aurakles is “beloved of the New Gods,” but what is Dark Side going to do with Aurakles? Hunt down the other New Gods and kill the original superhero in front of them, to make them suffer? Who knows? Shilo tells him that he’s taking Aurakles’ place, because he’s the ultimate escape artist, and he’ll get out of anything Dark Side puts him in. We saw this in the last issue of Mister Miracle – the sacrifice that Shilo is willing to make puts him beyond Dark Side’s power. What power does anti-life have when you no longer fear death? That’s the ultimate escape from Life, man! Then we learn that Dark Side really wanted Shilo all along! Ah-ha! He is the “master of the life equation” and the “avatar of freedom.” Dark Side wants him because if he dies, so dies freedom. Right? Unlike a good Bond villain, Dark Side pulls out a pistol and shoots Shilo through the head. As we leave the scene, his mother box pings. Given the final page of this issue, I presume his soul was escaping into mother box, just like hers escaped into his in Mister Miracle. I don’t think I’m far wrong.
On the next page, Vanguard rescues Justina, and then we get to the climax of the book. Gloriana knows that Misty is still alive, and curses Neh-buh-loh for his betrayal. This indicates that she does not know yet that Neh-buh-loh is a cosmic stain in the Himalayas. Tom Dalt shows up and she says he must “slay the child” and then they have to return to Summer’s End. As she hold a ubiquitous apple, she asks him if he found the spear. He says he did, as we know from the third issue of Bulleteer, when he tried to kill the spear, Alix Harrower. He tells her the “Seven” (Unknown Men) made him unkillable and gave him cold blood and perfect aim. He shoots her through the head and asks, “What kind of prey do you suppose I, Spyder would hunt?” This, of course echoes his question in Seven Soldiers #0, when he asked what kind of prey gods would hunt. The Queen and her apple fall from the castle to the streets below. As she lands and tries to pull the arrow out, the “spear that was never thrown” appears behind her. Sally and Alix (who is about to become the Harrower, making her last name rather prophetic) fight in the car, causing it to go out of control and slam into the Queen from behind. “Prophecy moves in for the kill,” indeed! You’ll notice that Alix’s car is launched because it runs over the rubble left by Klarion’s drill, which you can see in panels 2 and 3. Klarion might have gone over to the “evil side,” but if he hadn’t come through the ground at that point, Alix wouldn’t have killed the Queen. Nice attention to detail by Morrison. But what would you expect? As Alix stands and watched the car burn, Jake stands behind her (this and Klarion’s subjugation of Frankenstein are the closest any of the soldiers come to meeting each other). We are pretty sure that Sally died in the accident as well, because the police tell Alix there were no survivors.
Back in the swamp, the Tailor is almost done. He puts Zor in a “miser’s coat” – Cyrus Gold was a notorious miser and takes his top hat. He sews Zor up in the coat and leaves him there for his punishment, which is to be dumped into the swamp. He tells Zor that “they all live happily ever after,” which we knew was coming at some point. He leaves Cyrus to his fate and once again quotes the poem he told Tom Dalt in Seven Soldiers #0. Ali Ka-Zoom, meanwhile, takes Justina to a “school for heroes” (who attends that school?) and tells her that she just might be the queen of a new golden age just prior to the flood. Who knows what adventures await her? The epilogue continues with Klarion on the Sheeda throne, using his dice and laughing maniacally; Millions the Mystery Mutt inheriting Don Vincenzo’s spoils and becoming “dog-father” (which means The Manhattan Guardian #4 lied when it said Millions died at 14, unless Vincenzo gave him a bath in the cauldron of rebirth); and a cemetery. Jake, Carla, and Lauren visit Larry’s grave (the annotations say it’s Shilo’s grave, but there’s no wreath by it in the next panel, and why would they care about Shilo anyway?), and then Dark Side shows up at Shilo’s headstone. He lays what appears to be a black flower from Slaughter Swamp on the stone and says that “evil won the war” and “death rules the day.” He walks away, and we expect a big downer of an ending, but then, like some bad horror movie, Shilo’s arms burst up through the ground! He’s an escape artist, people – of course he could escape that!
Phew. Lots going on in this issue, although it does feel like sound and fury, signifying nothing. Let’s check out each soldier. Justina gets in a big ol’ sword fight with Gloriana, but doesn’t actually kill her. At least she does something! Jake doesn’t do much – he doesn’t actually rescue Carla, who drives to him. Sure, he rides through Manhattan killing Sheeda, but still – that’s grunt work! Klarion does quite a bit, but unfortunately, it’s all bad stuff. Shilo does almost nothing – he gives himself up and gets a bullet for his trouble. Frankenstein, who has done most of the dirty work in Frankenstein #4, appears on one page. One page! Finally, we have Zatanna and Alix. Alix doesn’t do anything because she really wants to, but she is the key to killing the Queen. Zatanna brings Misty to the party, which is something, because it spurs Klarion on, and she also involves the audience, which I’ll get to. So this remains a strange, anti-climactic issue, much like a big-budget summer action movie – all spectacle, not much else. It’s certainly better than many “big-budget” comic book epics, including the one taking place at the same time in the DCU, but given the build-up, it feels strangely hollow.
But does Morrison really care all that much about giving us spectacle? Probably not, or he would have done so. He wants to sum up the themes he’s been working on the entire time, without much concern for whether or not he delivers a completely satisfactory story. But does he even do that? For the most part, yes. Look at Frankenstein. The least changed of the Seven Soldiers, the one with the least character development, but also the one who affected the “events” of the saga, hardly appears in this issue. There’s no need for him to appear. His arc was over when he killed Neh-buh-loh, even before he took perfunctory care of the Sheeda dreadnoughts. Shilo, whose series never really fit in with the rest of the epic, also gets little to do in this issue, partly because he too had a more self-contained series. Alix, as the “spear,” has to play an important part in the issue, but again, she is the most fully mature of the Seven Soldiers, so her arc is pretty much done when she tells Greg Saunders to shove it. The others, obviously, have things to do, but they are also in need of more growth, and this issue gives it to them. Justina is able to exorcise at least some of her demons, Zatanna becomes a true superhero, Jake gets the girl, and Klarion becomes a myth like he wanted. So this issue serves a purpose, even if it’s not specifically to end the Sheeda threat.
Zatanna might be the most interesting character in this issue, because she is the one who engages the reader, just like she did in her series. She brings us in and makes us responsible for our own salvation. Morrison has toyed with this idea before, in his final arc of JLA, “World War III.” In that arc, every person on the planet becomes a superhero and helps defeat that big ol’ evil thing in the sky (whatever the hell it was). Here, he involves not every person on the DCU Earth, but us. This ties back into the whole theme of growing up. The Sheeda represent the bad side of maturity. They have grown up, but they have not “kept growing,” in that they have become a frozen culture, without hope. They have taken any sort of childhood innocence and perverted it, and they have turned into a cold, technological marvel without any magic to it. Morrison loves this theme, and we have seen it throughout the series. He is showing us that technology without soul is useless, and leads to extinction. He is charging the reader to learn how to be mature without losing what keeps us looking at the world as a marvelous place. We have to grow up, but we don’t have to become like the Sheeda. The Seven Soldiers all show us the way. Frankenstein shows us responsibility. Shilo shows us how to get rid of our fear. Alix shows us how to choose our own destiny. Justina shows us how not to hide ourselves from the world. Jake shows us how to overcome guilt. Zatanna shows us how to see wonder in the world. Klarion shows us how to make our own legends. In the end, however, it’s up to us.
This is why, despite its problems, is a successful resolution to the saga. It’s not a superb grand finale in terms of a cataclysmic event, which it seems the saga has been leading to, but it is a fascinating issue because of what it says about these themes. Morrison is too good a writer to allow this to be a failure, and it’s interesting to compare it to the other big DC event, Infinite Crisis. That also examined what it means to be a hero, but in far less subtle fashion than Seven Soldiers. Morrison doesn’t care about big events defining heroism, because he knows that it’s easy, when you have powers, to fight someone else that has powers. It’s what superpowered people do, after all. It’s far more difficult to overcome the things inside you, the guilt and the doubt and the fear that you just aren’t good enough. In Infinite Crisis, the heroes suffer from self-doubt, but it’s a shallow introspection, because the spectacle is all. The Seven Soldiers suffer, but they don’t whine about it, and therefore, it’s more interesting to track their progress through their problems, because it’s far more subtle and more rewarding. Seven Soldiers #1 is, ultimately, not about the Sheeda at all. It’s about the title characters – the Seven Soldiers, who each complete their journey here. Despite the feeling that we’ve somehow missed something important, we have been part of an extraordinary journey, one that reminds us of the power of fiction. Morrison has involved us in the story far more than, say, Mark Millar (Morrison’s protege), who attempts social commentary in a ridiculously heavy-handed and over-the-top way.
So we finish the epic, and comics are better for it. Morrison is one of a handful of writers who is wildly ambitious, and even when his reach exceeds his grasp, it’s still a wonderful thing to read. Seven Soldiers is not his best work, but it is an example of why he is such a brilliant comic book writer. It’s a magnificent epic, even with its flaws, and shows us again why comics are so much fun. Too bad it got overshadowed by, you know, crap.
For this issue, the annotations are pretty good. And of course, lots of people have stuff to say. Jog does. Patrick does. Marc Singer does. RAB does. Holy crap, everyone is smarter than I am! But no one else was crazy enough to do this in one month! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!
All right, I’m done now. I’m taking a break. My children no longer recognize me, and my wife has been giving the eye to the mailman. I have to put my house in order! I hope you had fun with this – it was quite the groovy experience!
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