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Seven Soldiers – Living Up to the Hype

by  in Comic News Comment
Seven Soldiers – Living Up to the Hype

At the end of Seven Soldiers #0, there is a hyperbolic description of the series:

Seven Soldiers comprises seven 4-issue miniseries – Klarion, Mister Miracle, Frankenstein, Zatanna, The Manhattan Guardian, Bulleteer and Shining Knight – and two bookend Specials, all of which may be read independently. Together, however, they tell a colossal tale unlike any seen in comics before.

Well, I thought that was a bunch of hooey. I had no doubt that I would enjoy the individual miniseries, but read together, I doubted they would be anything but, well, seven mini-series read back to back.

I was wrong.

Together, they really did tell a colossal tale unlike any I have seen in comics before.

And that’s pretty darn neat.

What struck me most of all was the manner in which all of the mini-series flowed together like they were actually intended to be read in this order. What’s even more unusual is that it felt this way, even though I did not read the comics in the order they were laid out in the tradepaperback, but rather I read each mini-series fully before I read the next, in the order they were released. It really proved quite fruitful, as certain aspects of comics that made sense enough initially now made a lot more sense, and certain aspects that were seemingly throwaway lines now made perfect sense. The amount of time and planning Grant Morrison must have put into these comics to make it read this way must have been staggering. Of course, the one book that did not fit in as well was Mister Miracle, and upon reading the final bookend, I think that Mister Miracle really did not achieve what it was meant to achieve (this doesn’t mean I disliked the four issues, I just mean as a part of the overall story, it did not do what it seemingly was intended to do).

So, as a large piece of work, it was amazing in the level of intricacy across different titles without losing any coherence in the individual titles themselves, but how about as smaller works?

Seven Soldiers #0 – I thought was practically lyrical in its greatness. JH Williams practically taunts us with his artistic skills, changing styles repeatedly without losing a beat. Joe Rice made a great point when the comic came out that the six soldiers represent different styles of various comic book creators, and Williams steps up to draw each one of those styles beautifully.

As for the story, it was gripping, funny, scary and even though it involved the slaughter of a group of heroes, it never seemed cynical. That is such a rare thing in comics nowadays – the avoidance of cynicism. Such a pleasure.

Shining Knight – What’s interesting in reading Shining Knight is to see how Simone Bianchi’s art sort of deteriorates towards the end of the series. At the end, it is sharp and impressive. Towards the latter issues, it seems rushed and not nearly as impressive. Still, that first issue is a sight to be seen. Between this and Klarion, these are probably the two funniest of the Seven Soldiers comics, as Morrison takes more than a couple of opportunities to make funny lines (My favorite is easily #1’s “Are you mad?” “Justin. I’m a horse. Whoever heard of a mad horse?”). This is the issue that sets up the Big Bad of Seven Soldiers, and she is handled quite nicely, especially the way the Shining Knight is given a “final foe” to battle, while the larger battle continues. Also, the idea of making the Shining Knight a girl? Brilliant twist.

Manhattan Guardian – This is probably the sneakiest book, as far as connecting to other books go. It connected to pretty much every title (except, I suppose, the Mister Miracle book), but it did so in a way not apparent at first (okay, except for the Klarion direct references). I love the way Jake gets his job as the Guardian (and the basic premise of a superhero working for a newspaper is quite interesting on its own), and the way we learn at the end how he REALLY got the job. The pirate stuff is pretty silly, but the problems between Jake and Carla are very real – and work well (By the by, silly but real describes Cameron Stewart’s artwork to the tee). The Global Village bit in #3 was good for some harmless fun, but the #4 story with the Newsboy Army? Perhaps Morrison’s best issue of all the mini-series, with its twists and turns, and the sad realities of life entering the world of the Newsboy Army…so poignant.

Zatanna – What’s interesting to note is how little Morrison actually DID with Zatanna. I think he seemed to acknowledge that, as a character, she’s pretty good as it is, so he did more with giving her a nice story to showcase the coolness that is Zatanna, rather than try to drastically change her. I appreciated that, as I enjoy the character. My pal Stony insists she would be good in a comedic comic. I dunno. Anyhow, Ryan Sook is amazing on this series, especially when Zatanna fights the shape shifter in issue #2. Nothing cooler than showing words in a book turn into a face!! I did not like the killing off of Dr. 13, as he is a great character, so I’m pleased to see him return for Tales of the Unexpected. This gives us the other half of the storyline for The Big Bad, making this a perfect counterpart for Shining Knight. They fit together like a pair.

Klarion – Klarion might be my favorite of the mini-series, with its beautiful mixture of horror and comedy. Frazer Irvin’s art is marvelous, and unlike others, his art doesn’t dissipate in coolness throughout the whole series. He brings it all at the end just as much as he did in the beginning. The connection of Klarion to the Sheeda is intriguing, and the secret origin of Solomon Grundy was also pretty cool, but I think the best part of this series was definitely the way that Morrison goes back and forth between comedic scenes and horrific scenes, keeping the reader totally off balance. Irving is of great help on the horror scenes, as he captures the creepiness factor perfectly. Of special note is the fate of Billy Beezer in #3. Brrrr…that’s creepy. And Melmoth, as a whole, is a weird and imposing villain. Klarion’s dialogue is a lot of fun, but the highlights are seeing him react to everything in our world for the first time, and even to our concepts, like betrayal, which will certainly stay with him for awhile.

Mister Miracle – The biggest problem with this series most likely WAS the fact that it has three artists over four issues, including two on one single issue, but even besides that, perhaps the most important aspect of this comic, for the overall series, was the importance of Aurakles, and yet he’s barely IN the series! The basic idea behind the series, that of the greatest trap of them all, the “life trap,” is a neat enough idea, and there is enough other interesting things to keep one interested enough to still slightly recommend this series, but as a part of the whole, this mini-series was a big disappointment.

Bulleteer – This probably wasn’t the best of the bunch, but I have to say, it probably was the one I enjoyed the most, if only because of its, well, sweetness. Klarion was probably better written and better drawn, but the simpleness and gentleness of this series really touched a nerve with me. I thought it was a clever approach by Morrison to have Alix Harrower be this, well, NICE. Plus, obviously you have the cool subtext of #1, where her husband dies because he was unfaithful (so he did not have his wedding band on, so all of his skin was exposed, so he suffocated, while Alix was wearing her ring, so when the metal covered her, they took her ring off so she could have some skin exposed), so you can see where her very power is her honesty. And later, we see Spyder note that her weakness is that she listens to people (a note that he can kill her through an arrow through her exposing ear canal), and then right away, BECAUSE she listened to the problems of two lame-o superheroes, she was saved. I just love that idea. That she is a superhero who doesn’t WANT to get into fights. She’s only doing this because her husband DID this to her. The story in #4 of Sally Sonic was way creepy and sad. Yanick Paquette and Serge LaPointe did a nice job on the art for this series.

Frankenstein – After a creepy first issue, the rest of this series was probably the most straightforward of the bunch. Doug Mahnke draws creepy looking stuff well, so even in the straightforward fight scenes of the last three issues, especially #3 and 4 where Frankenstein goes to work for SHADE, there is just enough creepiness to keep everything lively. But while this series oozed cool (and had some nice connections), cool was its main ingredient, so there’s not much else to say about it.

Seven Soldiers #1 – Here, I think, Morrison probably got a bit TOO adventurous, as he seems to try to do SOOO much that a bit gets lost, as this issue isn’t nearly as cohesive as #0 was, but it was still a spectacular issue, and one that will reward readers during their second, third and fourth readings of the book. JH Williams once again puts on a display of amazing artistic talent, drawing whatever mad idea Morrison has with grace and aplomb. And Morrison has some pretty crazy ideas here, in particular, the classic sequence where the story is told in the form of an issue of Manhattan Guardian, the newspaper. That was amazingly cool. All told, the idea of seven disparate heroes all working as a team without ever actually seeing or knowing of each other? That takes some real skill, and it is most impressive that Morrison basically pulls it off. Each character does their share, even if some of their shares aren’t as prominent as one might like (like Zatanna’s spell – what did it actually DO?), but pretty much they all get their time to shine, and like any good gigantic ending, Morrison does a fine job of planting seeds for future storylines, putting almost all of the Soldiers into situations that could bear great fruit for future writers.

Also, I liked Spyder being a good guy.

And I loved the whole “spear” of fate ending Gloriana’s life, and all due to Aurakles’ descendent. Very cool.

And imagine how cool it will be the NEXT time I read it?

But yeah, Seven Soldiers – a colossal tale unlike any I have seen in comics before.

And I sure am glad that I have seen it now.

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