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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #194

“Grant Morrison and the Amazing Technicolor Word Processor” Week continues. I was going to talk about a different comic today, but I decided I needed to reread it before discussing it. That one will appear tomorrow. Tonight, I give you some relatively quick thoughts on his fantastic and quite recent superhero epic. (For more entries, check the archive.)

(updated 7/14 with snazzy images and some added text)

7/13/07

194. Seven Soldiers

Seven Soldiers 1.jpg

This is Grant Morrison’s most recent completed work (I’m not counting 52), and it was a really cool comics experiment that didn’t necessarily achieve perfection, but was still very, very good. In terms of structure, nothing like this had ever been seen before in comics. Thirty issues, comprised two bookends and seven four-issue mini-series. Each mini-series stood on its own and managed to tell a more-or-less complete tale in each issue. If one read them all, however, one was treated to a vast epic story with many interwoven plot threads. Depending on the order in which one reads the issues– whether you read them as they came out or one mini at a time (I’ve done both), it’s an intriguing and wonderful experience. This kind of modular storytelling hadn’t been done before. I wouldn’t say it completely succeeded, but it was a worthwhile effort.

Trust me when I say that this mega-series has it all. Death, rebirth, worlds within worlds, time-travel, meta-narratives, coming-of-age arcs, great power and great responsibility, numbers, myths, self-actualization and individuation, and what it means to be a hero. All of Morrison’s favorite themes are utilized, as well as a few others. It’s a deep, heavy work, that also functions on the surface as a mad adventure yarn.

And now, my thoughts on each section of the series.

The bookends: The opening #0 issue was one of the best single issues I’d seen in years, and the art by J.H. Williams was breathtaking, especially his command of various styles. The art was nothing, however, compared to #1, where he draws in a dozen or so different artistic styles, mimicking each individual artist from each mini-series, as well as a few others, like Kirby, for instance, plus one or two of his own. These bookends are super-dense, great pieces that set everything up, explain pretty much everything that needed to be explained, and conclude it all in masterful fashion. As art objects, they’re extraordinary.

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Shining Knight: The series that introduced Simone Bianchi to American comics, this book was a grand Arthurian adventure that set up the new Shining Knight excellently. Why haven’t we seen more of her? Have the kid join Teen Titans or something.

Seven Soldiers 4.JPG

Guardian: My second-favorite of the mini’s, I’ve discussed this before. It’s a great story in the mighty Marvel manner, which is interesting, because it’s published by DC. The Cameron Stewart art is amazing, but you knew that already. Subway pirates have never looked better, and the dignity of a man-turned-hero has never been encapsulated more succinctly.

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Klarion: A story about traditions and origins and finding onself. It restored Klarion to his weird pilgrim-y roots and had gorgeous, gorgeous Frazier Irving artwork. Surreal and scary, this one reads like a goth Kirby book.

Seven Soldiers 6.JPG

Zatanna: This is the story that actually made me like and care about Zatanna. For that alone, I have to love it, but it’s also a touching story with some fun mad ideas and beautiful artwork by Ryan Sook. Admit it– you touched your hand to Z’s in the final issue. I know I did. Twice.

Seven Soldiers 7.JPGSeven Soldiers 8.JPG

Mister Miracle: The only misfire in the whole thing. It’s due to the repeated art change-ups and the tangential relation to the main plot. This was the one I was most excited for initially, and it turned out to be my least favorite. Still, it’s about escaping from despair and transforming yourself into something new, which is a key theme of the whole Seven Soldiers story. I just with Pascual Ferry got to draw the whole thing.

Seven Soldiers 9.JPG

Bulleteer: A really fun look at superhero culture, it also pokes fun at the over-sexualization of super-heroines, which is funny, ’cause it’s drawn by Yanick Paquette. This is probably the most underrated mini of the bunch, filled with funny and touching moments and, you know, cowboy werewolves and stuff.

Seven Soldiers 10.JPG

Frankenstein!: Easily my favorite. Monsters, scary sci-fi, Mars, the Bride– Frank was a total badass and a brilliant character concept. Doug Mahnke’s art has never been better. I really, really want an ongoing out of this. The only lame bit is that Frankenstein only showed up in one panel of Seven Soldiers #1. Then again, he did do a helluva lot to defeat the evil Sheeda in his final issue. I would pretty much pay DC to see a Frankenstein ongoing. And I would sell them my first born to write one.

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I’m all about potential here on 365 Reasons, usually enthusiastically blathering on about how so many concepts have such unrealized potential, and that they deserve for someone to come along with a bit of spackle and make them awesome again. Well, finally, I can say that yes, there’s a comic that realizes this potential, and that comic is Seven Soldiers. It wasn’t just the lead characters– Morrison also brought back a host of other cool heroes, villains, and supporters, and made them worthwhile to read about. Whether it was through a revamp or a dusting off or even if they were brand new, every character in this was well-realized. Each title hero could carry their own ongoing.

Did Seven Soldiers work? In my opinion, yes. Was it a good story? It was, on the whole. Is it a reason to love comics? Hell yeah. I never expected to buy the whole thing, but it captivated me from the very beginning, and I made sure to see it through. It was totally worth the expenditure. No one writes superheroes better than Grant Morrison.

For much, much more on Seven Soldiers, check out the Annotations provided by the posters of Barbelith. I believe there’s a contribution or two from me on there, and many from CSBG reader Mario Di Giacomo. It’s a huge, in-depth look at this mini-event.

For a huger, even more in-depth look at the mega-series, however, read Greg Burgas’ 31 Days of Seven Soldiers series from December of last year. He says everything that needs to be said. All of his posts are archived in his final entry here. Enjoy.

13 Comments

Bill, it always cracks me up when you feel the need to apologize for your posts. This is a great series, and if some are shorter than others, who cares? I have discovered several cool new (to me!) things because of this series, so thanks!

SEVEN SOLDIERS never made the splash it should’ve, did it? So far we’ve seen jack and squat done with the characters, the concepts, etc.

This of course doesn’t negate its quality as a series- but still, it would be nice if a few writers had followed its lead.

Simone Bianchi is actually a man. He had a great interview with CBR recently where he extolled the virtues of actually finishing comics on time.

The her was referring to Ystin, not Simone. But, yes. Thanks. :)

This is a sad day, as I won’t be reading this entry after following along for the previos 193 (wow, it’s been that long?!). I simply don’t want to spoil the read since I have these trades sitting on my shelf. I think shall have to read them when I finish with my current novel. I’m looking forward to checking out Burgas’ “31 Days…” posts once I am done. I’ve been looking forward to them and it seems the time is almost here.

Is it too late to put in a plug for Sebastian O? That was a great Morrison mini. Of course, I agree with all of Mr. Reed’s choices as well so I guess you can only fit so much into a week.

Dan (other Dan)

July 13, 2007 at 11:17 pm

Hm, short and crappy? Sounds like someone was hurrying to write a Blackhawks pitch. Please check out my Superman of the people idea and give me some feedback!

Seven Soldiers is one of those projects where I definitely enjoyed it, but most assuredly did not understand it. I mean, I made sense of the plot and everything, but there is a shitton of symbolism in there that I’m not equipped to decipher.

Maybe someday I’ll be educated enough to grasp it.

Someday I will have to do a bloggy blog post about why the Mr. Miracle mini was the “key” for me to fitting all of Seven Soldiers together and having it make sense. The 3rd and 4th issues in particular are probably the best issues out of the entire project, and his conclusion is the most satisfying.

One thing that frustrates me deeply about Seven Soldiers is how it restarts all of these characters with a ton of supporting cast and references to previous history/continuity and whatever and NOBODY has even bothered to use them. Zatanna? Probably going to be reverted to a lame cypher character. Bulleteer has already reverted to a lame cypher character when her central conceit is great and full of potential. Frankenstein might be further covered by Morrison as he’s said time and time again he’s wanted to do, which is cool. Mr. Miracle ESCAPED DEATH for god’s sake and nobody can be bothered to use him. Manhattan Guardian also has a really cool concept that is sufficiently modern enough to be workable in the DCU. Shining Knight would be an awesome Teen Titans character along with the supercool Little Barda and Young Frankenstein. Klarion is just begging for a series, a precocious, mischevious teenager who just so happens to control two extremely powerful magical artifacts, access to friggin’ time travel and an entire army of creepy future zombie soldiers.

Ah, so disappointing.

Y’know, I’m going to go out on a limb here (and vigorously saw, no doubt), and say…maybe the reason that all of Grant Morrison’s concepts and characters get mishandled as soon as he stops writing them is that Grant Morrison’s skills don’t really lie in the area of writing as part of a shared universe. (Or, to paraphrase the Onion, “Have you ever noticed that the common factor in all your dysfunctional relationships is you?”)

Really, when you look at it, everyone has problems following a Grant Morrison run. Mark Waid couldn’t figure out how to deal with Morrison’s Batman (in the JLA), writer after writer failed at following Morrison on Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and his run on the X-Men, while fascinating, left the series at a point it was difficult to continue from while still maintaining the basic ethos of the Marvel Universe (“just like the real world, only with super-heroes.”) Ultimately, you wind up having to wonder whether they’re all bad writers, or whether Morrison just knows when to bail on a book. :)

That’s not to say that Morrison is a bad writer; far from it, I think he’s great. But I don’t think that he really leaves spaces in his work for other writers to inhabit; his work tends to imply more than is actually there, and when people are forced to deliver on the implicit promises he makes, they’re the ones who have to shoulder the blame for a situation they inherited.

For example, the Seven Soldiers. It feels, at the end, like they’re all set up to get their own series…but really, how much of that is true?

Bulleteer would be a terrible concept for an ongoing series–she’s maddeningly passive, doesn’t have any sort of compelling motivation to be a super-hero, and those are really her only distinguishing qualities.

Klarion has lots of powers and can zip about the universe, but without a clear set of motivations and a setting to inhabit, he’s too vague to get a handle on.

Zatanna is the same Zatanna who failed in numerous other comics incarnations, only whinier and without powers.

Frankenstein…I thought it was a situation where the less you saw of him, the more interesting he was, which is a tricky way to build a series. (Not impossible, though. With a good supporting cast, you’d be able to keep him at a distance and still make effective use of him; this, however, would be work put in by the new writer, not by Morrison. SHADE wasn’t nearly as effective a foil for the character as the girl from the first issue was.)

Mister Miracle is swimming against the current; the Kirby versions of the New Gods are just much more exciting than the “cloaked” versions Morrison gave us (not through any fault of his own, mind you; it’s just that Darkseid is cooler when he’s eight feet tall, made of rock, and shoots lasers from his eyes than when he’s a guy in a suit.) So you have a hard time keeping them interessted in the versions you’ve inherited from Morrison, and suddenly you’re “wasting his potential.”

Really, the best two are Shining Knight and Manhattan Guardian, and of these Guardian is the only one I’d say is actually fleshed out enough that it could actually be an ongoing series without having a lot of extra work done by the new writer to set up a workable status quo. (For example, the hypothetical Shining Knight writer would have to decide whether to follow through with the set-up at the end where Ystina returns to the past, or keep her in the present as an anachronistic super-hero as she was shown in the mini-series. That alone is a decision that will shape the series and possibly alienate fans of the mini-series one way or another.)

Again, I’m not saying that Grant Morrison is a bad writer when I say that he doesn’t set this sort of thing up nearly as well as he appears to. I’m just saying that he’s very good at offering these tantalizing hints and letting your own imagination fill in the blanks; it’s not the fault of the poor shmuck who follows him that they’re having to compete with the story you’re imagining Grant Morrison would have written.

writer after writer failed at following Morrison on Animal Man

Peter Milligan succeeded admirably – and Jamie Delano started well before he descended into drivel

“This kind of modular storytelling hadn’t been done before.”

Jack Kirby tried and failed with his Fourth World titles.

That was because A) Kirby was not that great a writer B) the comics were cancelled C) it doesn’t matter that Kirby was one of the greatest idea creators in creative illustrative history or that his pencils kick ass D) the Fourth World comics comprised four different series of indefinite (yet pre-disposed to be finite) length and scope, telling one over-arcing story. His original Fourth World was supposed to have an end. But no one remembers what it was, and the tale never received a middle.

The four comics in question are the Orion comic (entitled New Gods), Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, Mister Miracle.

Kirby failed. Morrison succeeded. Why? Smaller scope. More faith in the writer. A finite end within a short reach.

I know who Jack Kirby is, who is Grant Morrison?

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