A (sort of) Comprehensive Look at Seven Soldiers

Now that it's finally over, Grant Morrison and his many collaborators' epic project Seven Soldiers is getting a lot of in-depth, intelligent analysis. Our own Mark Andrew helpfully rounded up some links to examples so I wouldn't have to, just to get you started and look at some of the usual (and best) suspects for that kind of thing. It's a series that really deserves that kind of insightful, literary approach.

So I'm not doing that at all.

Instead, I'm going to just give you my shoot from the hip, gut feeling snap judgements on each indivdual series. I will not talk about themes, metaphors, or anything else slightly literary, since there's that whole page from MarkAndrew for that. I haven't even read them all in one go yet, either, so I won't even talk about the project as a cohesive unit instead of 7 interrelated mini-series. I'll just tell you what I thought of each mini as it came out and how much I liked the project as a whole. Because that is, as Captain Charisma says, how I role; shallowly.

The bookends were easily my favorite parts of the whole series, even if the last one was a bit of a mess, to be diplomatic about it. As excellent as the artists on this project were, J.H. Williams is just on a completely different level than pretty much anyone working in mainstream comics, at the very least. They way he shifted styles in the first issue and played with the form in the last one was a joy to behold. I think the first issue was probably the most tightly plotted issue of the whole project, and was pretty much a self contained story, making it the more satisfying read of the two bookends. Issue two, however, was the more impressive work from Williams, because beyond drawing it beautifully, he also made it more readable than it would have likely been if anyone else had drawn it (other than Quitely, possibly), given that it was all over the place. I'm a big fan of comics where the artist has to become a stylistic chameleon, and Williams really got a chance to Of the minis themselves, Frankenstein was easily my favorite, simply because it was Morrison writing a superhero/horror/pulp hybrid comic, which I always have a nerd boner for. It's the closest we'll probably ever get to his version of Hellboy, so that easily made it my favorite by a mile. Doug Mahnke did an excellent job on the art. I'd liked his art on JLA, but this was just heads and shoulders above that. This kind of material really seems to be in his wheel house, more than straight superheroics, and I'd love to read more of it from him in the future. I'd easily by a Morrison/Mahnke Frankenstein ongoing. So yeah, this book won the "My favorite 7S mini sweepstakes" by a mile, if only because it was the one that was in a weird sub genre that I really enjoy a lot.

Bulleteer was my next favorite, for its off kilter take on superheroics and hey, boobies! It was an interesting use of Yanic Paquette's tendency to draw T&A, cheesecake, or whatever term you want to use. I'm not squeemish about that sort of thing (I own a Danger Girl paperback, for god's sake), and he's a good enough storyteller that the actual storytelling worked quite well. The last issue, Sally Sonic's secret origin, was right up there with the best single issues in the whole series, and this is another concept that would make an interestig ongoing.

The last issue of Manhattan Guardian was up there, too. In fact, it may have been my favorite single issue of the whole bunch and, given that the 7S minis were about the only thing I read in singles last year, my favorite single issue of the year. This and Klarion are pretty much neck and neck in my affections; both had wonderful art, although in completely different styles, a Kirby pedigree, and they even overlapped quite a bit (at least in the most overt ways of any of the serieses). Guardian suffered a bit from having some uneven quality; as much I dug the first and fourth issues, 2 and 3 were just kind of there for me. Klarion was perhaps the most consistently entertaining book of the whole bunch; I enjoyed every issue pretty much the same, and that was a lot. Almost as much as I enjoy using colons; which is also a lot.

As far as consitency, and a lack there of, Guardian can't hold a candle to Zatanna for inconsistency, though. I had high expectations for this one. Zatanna is the only character that I had any affection for going in to the serieses, of the pre-existing ones, and I was really expecting Morrison to pull out all the stops in this one, given his interest in magic (or magik, or however he spelled it). Ryan Sook doing the art was just icing on the cake.

But, of all the minis, other than Shining Knight, this was one left me the coldest the most. I liked bits and pieces of it; Morrison got to use his sense of humor most here, which is probably his most underrated virtue. The man can make me laugh. There were parts I definitely enjoyed. The fight in the last issue was great, and I actually liked the metafiction thing he did there. And I found the set up an interesting direction for the character, so much so that I thought a Zatanna and her apprentice comic could have been a great ongoing (that seems to be a recurring theme). But the whole didn't add up to the sum of its parts for me on this one. It was the most all over the place of all the issues, probably because my expectations of a Zatana comic by Grant Morrison were higher than they were for, well, any of the other characters, most of whom were blank slates (either because they were new characters or because I had little to no familiarty with them).

I noticed, in my limited readings of other people's critiques of all the serieses, that Mr. Miracle was the one that seemed to get the most criticism, mainly because it just didn't seem to fit with the others at all. While in a lot of places it read like some kind of Ultimate New Gods pitch that Grant was shoehorning in there because he had it in his hard drive or something, I enjoyed it for the most part. It had a more consistent story arc than Zatanna, and despite the fact that the art went from the sublime Pasqual Ferry in the first issue to a couple of servicable but not much more pencillers in subsequent ones, I still found it an interesting take on the New Gods mythology and a compelling mini, even if I'm not quite sure what happened in spots here and there. If that was a problem for me, though, I wouldn't read Grant Morrison comics.

This leaves me to Shining Knight, which was chronologically the first mini released and the first to finish (if I remember correctly). I did not like Shining Knight at all. At least on the first read through. Gorgeous art, to be sure, but I just could not make heads or tails of it. I'm not one to complain about coherence in Morrison comics. Part of what I like about them is that they take some thought to appreciate even on the superficial level I read them on. I usually find a lot of the criticism leveled against him for being incoherent to be knee jerk and exagerrated. But there are times when I find his work too obtuse for my liking. The last issue of Vimanarama and Arkham Asylum spring to mind. This is another one of those times. Maybe this will read better on that second reading I plan on undertaking one of these days. But the only thought I had upon finishing this series was "Huh?" I just couldn't make heads or tails of it, so things like the reveal in the last issue just added to my befuddlement instead of surprising me.

In the end, I can't be sure of how well this worked as the epically structured super project it was intended for until I read the whole thing as one story, instead of a collection of loosely associated mini-series. Maybe the issues, and in Shining Knight and Zatanna's cases serieses, that left me cold on first reading will work better when I view them as parts of a bigger whole. Or maybe my snap judgements will remain the same. In any event, I really loved following this series in single issues. It was pretty much the only thing that kept me going in to comic shops when it was being released, and I really liked the routine of picking up a month or two worth of minis and reading them in one go, comparing them to see how they overlapped and which ones I liked the most, which is how I read them most of the time, given my sporadic access to shops that actually carried the issues (I don't pre-order, for a variety of reasons; that didn't help).

Other than Scott Pilgrim (well, and Nextwave 1 and 2, even if I was just really high on hyperbole when I wrote that post), these comics were the only ones that really ignited a spark of enthusiasm in me when they were coming out. And that includes All Star Superman; I'm still trying to come to grips with how I feel about that series, but that is another post for another time. I would say that following 7S made me feel like a kid reading comics again, but that's not true, because I never had this much fun reading comics a kid (it doesn't help that I read a lot of shitty comics as a kid. It was the '90s and I was a Marvel Zombie. I couldn't help it). As a big Morrison fanboy, it was just nice to see him working with so many excellent artists consistently for pretty much the first time ever (at least in the work I've read of his). It beat the hell out of the revolving door of artists on New X-Men, Howard Porter's hyper dynamic but too stylistic for my tastes art on JLA, or Chas Truog's workman like but completely undynamic work on Animal Man.

In the end, I may very well enjoy the ride more than the destination, once I can finally appraise this series as a whole. but hey, if nothing else, it was a hell of a ride, and one that confirmed why Morrison is my favorite writer working on comics today. Even when he falters or doesn't quite hit the mark, it's still an interesting and often extremely entertaining journey getting to wherever it was he was trying to go. And really, that's all I ask for from my serial fiction.

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