Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart (colors)
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: Grant Morrison’s epic thirty-issue undertaking, Seven Soldiers of Victory, begins with the words “They say a black flower grows for every secret drowned in Slaughter Swamp.” A mysterious organization known as the Seven Unknown Men maneuvers a team of seven second-string superheroes into being. Six of them gather, get to know one another, and go into battle against a giant spider. There is a reversal of fortune. The Seven Unknown Men set into motion a Plan B and then flee with the words, “This world is on its own now.”
Comments: The superhero team is dead! Long live the superhero team! Grant Morrison has done no less than simultaneously celebrate and destroy the fundamental concepts underlying such groups as the Justice League, the X-Men, the Avengers, and their countless imitators. In a three part tale, book-ended by a prologue and epilogue, Morrison has managed to create a superhero team composed of sympathetic characters (with just the right flaw-to-merit ratio to make them interesting), demonstrate what issues that team would deal with (from their status as “tenth-rate” heroes, to the inevitable office romance), and send them into their first defining battle where, naturally, all of their unexpected virtues, as well as seeds of their occasional future defeats, click into place for a heart-warming underdog victory. Despite their individual weaknesses, they work together to save the day. When does the next issue come out?
It won’t. Though he hooked the reader with six misfit heroes—Shelly, our point-of-view heroine, “diva @$$hole” Gimmix, “15-year-old Mexican kid” Boy Blue, fanboy-turned-hero Dyno-mite Dan, dark and mysterious Spyder, and their leader, a has-been cowboy known as the Vigilante— Morrison pulls the rug out from under the whole affair in a two-page spread of horror, punctuated by six black flowers in Slaughter Swamp.
The efficiency with which Morrison paints a portrait of this modern team is almost mocking. That he is able to inspire feeling for completely unknown heroes (in a genre whose readers tend to judge quality based on the appropriate representation of half-century-old characters rather than bold attempts at creating new ones) speaks volumes about the level of game he brings to the table, and stands as an indictment against the trend of “decompression” in today’s mainstream comics. Parallels can be drawn between what Morrison accomplishes in this single issue and the coup Warren Ellis pulled off in recent months with his “imaginary” first-issue line of comics, Apparat. But the self-consciousness with which Shelly narrates the team’s story is the first hint that this is all too iconic, too perfectly balanced, too good to be true. Witness: “In the world of the super-cowboys, there’s always blood . . . There are always special destinies. Tales of loss and vengeance. Family obligation.” Is this a character being developed before our eyes, or commentary on the conventions of the whole superhero genre? And later, as the team assembles in Arizona and begins to take shape, Shelly reports that “sleeping with I, Spyder . . . is my contribution to the complex intergroup dynamics essential for any super-team.” It is this hyper-awareness of genre constrictions, Morrison seems to be saying, that has created the need for a project like Seven Soldiers. By having his narrator explicitly state the thematic purpose of plot points, Morrison is clueing the reader in on his larger scheme, setting the stage for his ultimate project: A super-team book without the team.
Although each title has its own peculiarities, certain common themes are explored in modern super-team comics (such as Mark Waid’s Legion of Superheroes, to cite a current example), and Seven Soldiers #0 exhibits each of them: The team as family, workplace, or community; the team as misunderstood, or minority group; the tension between individual desire and group goals; competition as an impetus to a group achievement that is greater than the sum of its parts. By condensing all of these elements into one comic and so clearly identifying them—simply as a preface to a story that will, by design, contain none of them—Morrison is making quite a statement about the moribund nature of the super-team. “See,” he says, “you know the drill. You’ve seen this a thousand times. What else is there to do?” And this from the master team-book writer of New X-Men and JLA. As the press material regarding the Seven Soldiers project reads, “Seven reluctant champions must arise and somehow work together to save the world...without ever meeting one another” (emphasis added). Seven Soldiers #0 clearly underlines the revolutionary nature of the series.
J.H. Williams III, fresh off the conclusion of another epic narrative undertaking in Alan Moore’s Promethea, provides absolutely stunning art. The close up of Shelly’s face, eyes wide with terror, a hand impotently raised, in the final two-page spread is an unsettlingly apt illustration of the words of the demons attacking the team: “The harrowing has begun.” Throughout the issue, Williams shows his incredible range, from straight depiction of characters to realization of Grant Morrison’s most delirious fever dreams. Despite the presence of such A-list artists as Cameron Stewart on the creative team for the upcoming seven mini-series, it’s a shame Williams isn’t sticking around for the long haul. Those in need of another hit after this issue can look forward to his work on Warren Ellis’s new bi-monthly, Desolation Jones.
There is a moment in Seven Soldiers #0 in which Grant Morrison puts what amounts to a personal aesthetic statement into the mouth of his protagonist. As the team rides into its first battle, Shelly describes the feeling as “this dreamy piling up of weirdness and the impossible.” Morrison has made a career of taking the most counter-intuitive notions and realizing them, and there is certainly no shortage of “weirdness and the impossible” here (super-villains on high tech pogo sticks, and something called “the time-sewing machine” qualify), but what pushes this beyond the typical psychedelic physics of a Morrison story is the ambitious project it announces: no less than the radical revision of the super-team concept.
Before I get into my review…, No, I Spyder should not be missing an eye. That was Lucas Ludlow-Dalt, criminal from Starman: Grand Guignol and early issues of the current Hawkman series. This is his brother, Thomas Ludlow-Dalt.
Tomas Dalt is hired by the seven secret masters of the world. They transform him into something more than human. What that is, we don’t fully know. It really doesn’t matter, anyway.
Shelly Gaynor is the granddaughter of a crime fighter called The Whip. She revives the costumed identity for the thrills. She dreams of a grand, glorious death during one of those epic universe-threatening battles super teams are always fighting. She joins a new team gathered by Greg Saunders, The Vigilante. He needs help killing a giant spider. He wanted to bring back his old team, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, but the seventh member backed out at the last minute. So Shelly “The Whip” Gaynor becomes the sixth member of a team of wanna-bes, pretenders, and bottom rung heroes. She thinks it’s going to be like any other superhero cliché: Everyone has their assigned roles. They bicker, love, hate, but come together to win the day.
It doesn’t. It’s not supposed to.
Just read the comic. Really, that’s all I can say. You have to see it for yourself. You have to see how J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart are able to change their style with every location change. The western part reminds me of Moebius’s Blueberry. You have to see the twisting panel shapes as Dalt enters the other-dimensional home of the Seven Unknown Men. You have to see the panels fall apart at the end along with the team. You have to see the connections between the poem at the beginning and Shelly’s trip. You have to see these strange homages to Merry, Girl of a 1,000 Gimmicks, Little Boy Blue, and TNT.
You have to see the time-sewing machine. I don’t know what it does, but it sounds powerful and dangerous.
Every one of you should read this comic. I am definitely buying every Seven Soldiers mini-series. That’s all I can say.
If you read this comic and don’t like it, you don’t know how to read.
I don’t do DC comics. There’s been the odd Vertigo or Wildstorm (although I still can’t help but think of them as an Image imprint) series in there, and one or two issues of some series or another, but on the whole I’ve never really gotten into DC’s output. Their superheroes have always struck me as a bit dull, symbols of The Establishment rather than the fun, colourful types they should be.
It’s for those reasons that I was both anticipating and dreading this series. On the plus side, it’s Morrison reinventing classic DC characters, which should be fun to witness, but on the other hand, “classic DC characters” sound about as exciting to me as “the West Midlands Tin Mining Historians Collective”…
But all that said, I’m pleased to say that I actually enjoyed this a great deal, in part because it looks like Morrison isn’t really reinventing anyone but more starting afresh (to say more would be a big spoiler), but mostly because it’s pure Morrison Magic (patent pending).
Things start off like another JSA, with a bunch of old characters getting together for an adventure, not because the world is in danger, but because they want to prove, to themselves as much as anyone else, that they are heroes and not people masquerading as such. This aspect is done wonderfully well, and there’s nothing heavy-handed about it at all. Some of the characters are unpleasant, and some are pathetic, but all of them come across as likable sorts, and as readers, we want them to succeed.
And then Morrison throws in one of his ideas that are genre-breaking and yet at the same time bafflingly simple and obvious, and things are thrown into disarray, just in time for the main event to begin.
The ideas on show here are great, and the execution of them is wonderful. I’ve always thought Morrison’s scripting has been underrated as people focus more on his plots and ideas, and yet again he scripts these characters with wonderful subtlety. And the big ideas are there too, with multi-dimensional overlords (who look strangely like Morrison himself) and elaborate divine plans all going on in what in anyone else’s hands (I’m looking at you Geoff “Soporific” Johns) would be an exercise akin to semi-professional paint-exsiccation scrutiny.
I’m not that familiar with JH Williams as an artist (or in any other capacity, I hasten to add), but I’m quite impressed by the work here. He has no trouble keeping up with Morrison’s imagination, and there are some stunning visual displays here, both within the panels and in the panel shapes too. I also appreciated the subtle ways that Williams modifies his style just slightly between chapters, scenes, and even characters. Cowboy-Bloke (as I said, I don’t do DC) is drawn in a grubby, scratchy style befitting the fact that he spends all his time out in the wilderness, and as such has become weather-beaten, tough, and rough around the edges. Posh-Bitch (see?) on the other hand, is drawn in a way that makes her look perfect but strangely sterile and stilted, embodying her superficial nature. It’s excellent work, and fits the story and characters perfectly. Dave Stewart’s contribution as colourist shouldn’t be overlooked either, as he has some triumphant moments here. It really must be great fun to be an artist on a Grant Morrison comic.
So I’m impressed. Even as someone who generally enjoys Morrison’s work, I wasn’t expecting much of interest here, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is a good fun story that manages to also say some interesting things about superheroes and the type of people who would take that up as a career, and why they might subsequently give it up. It’s an effective short, self-contained story as well as being an excellent introduction to the main Seven Soldiers super-storyline (!), so it’s good value for money too. That said, I’m not sure it’s inspired me enough to invest time and money into picking up every issue of the upcoming quasi-crossover-thingie (mainly because the protagonists of that do not appear here, but again that’s heading into spoilerish territory…), but I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to Morrison’s grand plan.
Plot: Superhero Shelly is searching for bigger thrills, so she enlists with a cowboy out of time and his string of third-raters for a big wild ride. Promethea artist Williams finds a suitable new home in a story that recalls the apocalyptic visions of Moore as well as Morrison himself.
Comments: I’m not quite sure how this 30-issue conglomerate of stories is going to work yet. Grant understands the comic book formula so well he’s well-positioned to both parody and renovate it. But sometimes he’s content to just enact it, in the most rudimentary way possible, as a sturdy, bland framework upon which to string his wordflow. While that is still loads better than not telling a complete story due to structural inadequacies, it can come to seem a bit schematic. This issue reads like an old-school giant-size or annual, divided into chapters, each one serving a particular act-like purpose. It’s retro and cool, if not perhaps as exciting as his most challenging work.
Rather, it feels a bit like a re-visitation to Flex Mentallo’s world, where the heroes exist somewhere between reality and flights of hallucinogenic fantasy. Except this time, the fantasists are the heroes themselves. Each of the characters Morrison has assembled is living out their own dreams of themselves; the wonder, within such self-centered autism, is how they communicate at all. They are most definitely not the JLA, as they keep reminding us.
Most interesting: Shelly’s alter-ego the Whip recalls the Exterminatrix from Morrison’s Marvel Boy series. That femme fatale was a rebellious girl trying to decide whether to be loyal to her daddy or another man. This rebellious girl is trying to decide which man to be loyal to, casting about for a male influence to sate her unspecified, troubling passions.
What’s refreshing within that stereotype is that Shelly’s a writer, and thus the author’s most immediate stand-in, the everywoman at the heart of this installment. While not quite thought balloons, the narration clues us in to her feelings, fears, doubts and hopes. That sort of interior monologue, being privy to their thoughts as they act, is something that’s been denied so many heroines lately, and this flow of thoughts is the vine that roots and grounds the unfolding petals of this story.
Which is, by the way, a sad one.
God returns to show everybody how it's done. After reading Seven Soldiers of Victory, I felt as if I had been put in the washing machine and set on permanent press. Delicate this issue is not, yet every word and every scene emphasizes a reverence for super-heroes.
As promised, Grant Morrison re-imagines some of DC’s more obscure heroes. Only Greg Sanders, the Vigilante, returns unchanged and with the resonance that the character should issue. The Vigilante has been around for sixty years, and very little of his origin or history has been changed by DC--mainly because they likely forgot about him. Morrison treats him as an old pro, and although the infirmities associated with age afflict the Vigilante, he still can lasso a mean monster and fire his .45 Colt Peacemakers for a devastating effect.
As for the other characters, Morrison pulls off his usual magic. Each character is a diverse incarnation of their source character. Every character, however, possesses a common trait--they want to do good. Morrison gets the whole point of the super-hero. At the core, the super-hero wants to make the world a better place, and that core burns so fiercely that all of the facets that surround the core burn away. This is evident when all the heroes’ frailties and personal goals become lost when coming together to fight the monster. Each rusted sheen gives way to the hero shining bright. Unfortunately, this makes each hero worthy of the menace’s attention.
This is what separates Grant Morrison’s heroes from the postmodern deconstructionist movement against champions of justice. For other writers, Batman is psychotic. Morrison says no; he pretends to be crazy to serve the innocent. The new version of Merry the Girl of 1000 Gimmicks seems to be on the surface a money-oriented, borderline alcoholic, and in another writer’s hands, that’s all she would be--throw in booty sex and Bendis could have recreated her, but for Morrison there is a separation. Maybe she has these problems, but she comes through in the crunch, and through her intended actions, she saves lives.
Narrated by the new version of ultra-obscure character the Whip who lashed his way through the backup pages of Flash Comics, Seven Soldiers of Victory reads like a personal journey that becomes an epic that is beyond the narrator’s control. The way her narration reads, she sees herself as incredibly flawed and plagued by problems such as a death wish and a need for danger, but by the climax of the story, she starts seeing herself in a new light.
It’s easy to overlook the artwork when a force like Grant Morrison is unleashed. J.H. Williams, however, amazes, and it all fits with what Morrison is trying to say as he entertains. Williams, for instance, dresses up the Whip’s descendent in what amounts to fetish gear. Now, this is not meant to throw mud on the concept of the super-hero. Rather it’s an outward display of how she feels about herself and realistically captures what a real life hero might be reduced to wear if she could not sew or construct something clever and aesthetically pleasing. Speaking as somebody who proudly eked through sewing class yet still manages to make a super-hero costume almost every Halloween that looks cool, I can understand the problems associated with costuming that readers really do not consider. It’s easy to draw a costume, but making one is time consuming, and making one that lasts is nearly impossible. Given the rigmarole with
which a super-hero must contend, the Whip’s choice in fetish gear makes sense, yet it ironically intensifies her self-deprecation.
When rendering the Vigilante, Williams changes his whole style. It appears Greg Sanders stepped out of the pages of a Kubert book or a Charlier and Giraud Blueberry adventure. Williams makes the lines sketchier and rougher to
create the illusion of ruggedness in the hero and the terrain. He contrasts this look with a refined and sultry air for the new Merry and goes futuristic by way of post-Apocalypse for the Spyder. Williams’s work is a sumptuous blend of styles and certainly fitting with Morrison’s modern mythology.
That Morrison introduces or re-introduces these characters in a slam-bang adventure that does not shirk one shred of characterization and describes their histories--mostly composed only in this book--and their fates in what amounts to just one, not even double-sized, comic book really demonstrates how piss poor deconstructionists really are when it comes to writing. Morrison’s work displays just exactly how many elements you need to craft a meaningful, entertaining story while bestowing three-dimensions to characters for whom the reader will care and without smearing the concept of the super-hero.
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