Seven Soldiers (2010)
Reprints Seven Soldiers of Victory #0, Shining Knight #1-4, Guardian #1-4, Zatanna #1-4, Klarion the Witch Boy #1-4, Mister Miracle #1-4, Bulleteer #1-4, Frankenstein #1-4, Seven Soldiers of Victory #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by J.H. Wiliams III, Simone Bianchi, Cameron Stewart, Ryan Sook, Mick Gray, Frazer Irving, Pasqual Ferry, Yanick Paquette, Serge LaPointe, Doug Mahnke, Billy Dallas Patton, Michael Blair, and Freddie Wiliams II
I will not be able to fully unpack Seven Soldiers in this small setting. This is a book worthy of its own full-length book detailing the references, symbolism, and meaning that Grant Morrison has packed into it. I will spend this time talking about how much I appreciate and enjoy this book, touching on some thematic and structural aspects as we go. This cannot be an exhaustive deconstruction of such an overwhelming piece of comic art.
If you don’t know who Grant Morrison is, they are one of several British writers brought into American comics in the 1980s by D.C. Comics. There are three primarily discussed (though many more beyond them): Morrison, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman. Each of these writers is profoundly distinct in tone, style, and themes that interest them. Morrison is primarily interested in transcendental ideas, a believer & practitioner of chaos magick; they see their art as a way of creating sigils and releasing them into the culture to influence people into a more enlightened way of thinking. However, that doesn’t mean the work is didactic. On the contrary, Morrison is a comics lover, unlike your average fan, a true student of the form, synthesizing ideas from outside the medium and layering them in.
Seven Soldiers was a highly ambitious project in 2005-2006. It was based on an old, almost forgotten concept from D.C. Comics’ Golden Age (1938-1955). The Justice Society of America was a hit with fans in the 40s, so the company cobbled together another team of Green Arrow, Speedy, The Crimson Avenger, Vigilante, The Shining Knight, Star-Spangled Kid, and Stripsey. They were briefly resurrected for a JSA/Justice League crossover in the 1970s, but apart from that didn’t see much action. Post-Crisis, there were attempts to go back and tell stories from the new timeline with these characters.
Morrison struck upon an idea that allowed them to incorporate many of their creations written in notebooks. Over the years, Morrison, being a creative type, would jot down pages of notes and rough sketches of characters they would like to reboot or introduce whole cloth into the DCU. For Seven Soldiers, the concept is a team of seven heroes who don’t even know they are working in tandem. Each character has their own arc and plot, which intersects with the others. They have shared foes but do not realize this until the very end of the story. Seven Soldiers would be told over two book-ending one-shots and seven separate four-issue mini-series. The idea was that you could just pick up a single series and read most of the story. There was no need to buy everything unless you genuinely wanted to jump into the deep end.
The opening one-shot introduces a group of heroes, amateurs & veterans who have been gathered together by the Golden Age Vigilante. They attempt to take down a creature called The Buffalo Spider in the American Southwest, only to be massacred when one of them turns traitor. However, the real villains behind the story to come are the Sheeda, a race of beings in line with the traditional presentation of the Fae in mythology, a cold, cruel, and magical aristocratic species. The Sheeda are also insectoids with a hive-like structure ruled over by the Sheeda Queen.
The seven heroes we primarily follow through the narrative are The Shining Knight, The Manhattan Guardian, Zatanna, Klarion the Witch-boy, Mister Miracle, Bulleteer, and Frankenstein. The art, tone, and type of stories told in each book reflect a different genre of comics.
Shining Knight is not the same character as the Golden Age version. We learn that this knight is from a more ancient version of the Celtic myths that inspired the stories of Camelot. The Knight is hurtled into the present from around 8,000 B.C. after a battle with the Sheeda leaves all the knights of the Round Table dead except this ‘schoolboy.’ In present-day Los Angeles, Sir Ystin is overwhelmed and taken into police custody. In this series, we get to spend quite a bit of time with Gloriana Tenebrae, the Sheeda-Queen, and get our first glimpse of Castle Revolving, a place existing outside of space & time connected to all points at once. The artwork here, by Simone Bianchi, is stunning, very detailed and fluid, with great use of shadow, and very painterly though I think it was digitally colored.
The Manhattan Guardian is a complete 180 from that. It’s the story of Jake Jordan, a fired & disgraced Black police officer living in Cinderella City. He applies for a job at the mysterious Manhattan Guardian tabloid newspaper and continues with his life. Then strange things happen. He faces off with a band of literal subway pirates who travel the underground rails on their commandeered train of doom. Jake learns he has been selected to be The Guardian, a superhero & mascot of the newspaper. He is assisted by a legion of newsboys that work throughout the city selling the paper. He has a tenuous relationship with his boss, the mysterious Ed Stargard. Eventually, Jake learns of an earlier encounter between Sheeda and a team of seven kids in the 1940s, which helps him know what to do in the final battle. This is a more traditional, though still very Morrison-ion comic that features lots of action & bravery, incredibly influenced by Captain America.
Zatanna was one of several characters Morrison did not create for this comic and is instead a mainstay of the DCU. She is a stage magician who practices magic that involves speaking her incantations backward. We find Zatanna at a support group for superheroes who feel like they just don’t know what they are doing in a world so full of them. She meets a young girl, Misty Kilgore, who becomes her apprentice, and the two set off on a journey to capture the deadly shapeshifter Gwyndion. The artwork here is at moments in the style of ‘cheesecake,’ a term used for pin-up model art of the mid-20th century. Morrison is progressive-minded enough that while Zatanna may appear very sexy, she isn’t simply written as an object. I found this to be one of the funniest books within the story; Zatanna’s personality pops in ways I don’t think I’ve ever seen another writer do with her. I would have loved to see Morrison continue this one as an ongoing.
Klarion the Witch-Boy is a reboot of a Jack Kirby villain in The Demon comic from the 1970s. This Klarion is the inhabitant of Limbo Town, a dreary, almost always rainy place full of blue-skinned people in Puritanical dress. The village’s dead are resurrected as Grundies, mindless servants of the living, toiling for eternity. Klarion clashes with town leader Submissonary Judah. This causes the young witch-ling to journey out of his village for the first time, discovering where he is and who he is, not entirely what he has been told. I love Frazer Irving’s art in this one; probably my favorite art in the series next to Dough Mahnke’s on Frankenstein. Klarion is also a fun rat-bastard of a character, nasty & playful in all the best ways. The world of Limbo Town feels like the best Tim Burton ideas distilled into comic book form, and I really wanted more of this.
Mister Miracle is Shilo Norman, an escape artist selling out stadiums with his act. Nothing can hold him. Shilo doesn’t realize he’s being pitted against the dark gods of Apokalips now, reborn in earthly forms. He becomes trapped in “The Omega Sanction,” a metaphysical prison meant to suck the will out of the hero, causing him to submit to death. But, of course, that doesn’t happen. At the time, D.C. was killing off Kirby’s New Gods characters in preparation for Final Crisis, and this was apparently Morrison trying to reboot them in a more updated form. This is my least favorite of the seven books, not that it is not terrible; it just feels the most unrelated to everything else until the very end, which ties back to the Sheeda narrative.
Bulleteer is Alix Harrower, a woman with no desire to be a superhero. Her husband, Lance, on the other hand, is obsessed with becoming one and develops a thin metal skin that can bond with collagen resulting in an indestructible person. Lance tests it on himself, seeping into his lungs and killing him. Then, in a moment of panic, he touches Alix, covering her in the material. She does not die, though, and finds that because she was wearing her wedding ring at the time, the metal could balance itself. So why was Lance not wearing his when he ingested the formula? Let’s just say there’s a lot to find in old Lance’s search history on his computer in the basement. Bulleteer has some of my favorite ideas of the seven comics, doing a great job of exploring aspects of a world overpopulated with super-people. This gives us a brief glimpse of the world of super-porn and a sub-culture where regular people try to augment themselves to be like the ones they see flying overhead daily.
Finally, we have the big guy, Frankenstein. That’s precisely who it is, the monster from Mary Shelly’s novel and visually inspired by James Whale’s classic film. After dying in the Arctic, Frankenstein is revived by a madman. Years later, the series finds him taking on supernatural threats and getting closer to the truth about the villainous Melmoth. Frank takes on a high school outcast with violent telepathic powers given to him by the Sheeda, uses an Erdel Gate to travel to Mars, liberates children slaving in mines on the red planet, and is even reunited with his Bride, now a special agent for the clandestine organization SHADE. This, along with Klarion, is my favorite of the batch. D.C. did publish a Frankenstein ongoing as part of their New 52 initiative, but Morrison was not writing. I need to revisit that at some point, but I doubt it can live up to how damn good this is.
How do these seven tales tie in together? Well, that’s why you need to read the whole thing. Morrison pulled off one of the most ambitious feats I’ve ever seen undertaken in comics. This is a complete story with a deeply satisfying ending that is just as exciting & powerful as the best comics you’ve read. The greatest sin here is how D.C. Comics and that moron Dan Didio fumbled the ball on this one. Morrison was giving these people gold, so many new ideas and things to explore in a D.C. Universe that was rebooting itself. Yet, they completely dropped the ball, barely using any of these ideas past their introduction. Here’s hoping one day soon, some clever writer or editor can dust these concepts off and let them grow & develop how they should. In the meantime, get a copy of this one ASAP and enjoy.