Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Seven Soldiers of Victory

I've been reading quite a bit of Grant Morrison scripted comics recently, one way or another. Over the last couple of years I've followed the big DC events Infinite Crisis, 52 and Final Crisis, as well as All Star Superman, parts of his run on Batman and Batman & Robin (which seems to haev stalled, so who knows what's happening there). On a whim, I decide to take a look at his "mega-series" The Seven Soldiers of Victory.

I'm not sure why I chose to read it, really. Unlike my usual pattern of relying on fate to deliver me something to read, I had to actively go in search of these (later volumes don't appear to be in print, even!). It's true that I like to read comics at bed time rather than prose, so I'm often after something to fill this wind-down part of the day, but I can usually make my monthly comics purchases last, and then a new copy of Fortean Times will arrive or a Private Eye to fill in the nights before I can get back up to Gosh.

However, I seem to be on a bit of a Grant Morrison kick at the moment. Over the years I've read a lot of his work starting with early 2000AD and bits and pieces in Warrior and Crisis. Back then, he seemed to be over-shadowed in the younger generation (that came after Alan Moore, Pat Mills, Wagner & Grant etc) by Pete Milligan, who was producing some pretty nifty work with Brett Ewins, Brendan McCarthy and Steve Dillion, among others. However, in the meantime Morrison's star has ascended through his work on American comics, starting with mini-series and graphic novels for the then-new Vertigo label, such as Kid Eternity, and then on his big breaks, Animal Man and then Doom Patrol. After these came even more cultish work The Invisibles (which I have yet to read) and similar stuff like The Filth and We3, which have made him a cult figure for certain types of comic fans (of which I guess I am one, although I hasten to point out that I am neither tattooed nor excessively pierced).

Alongside that stuff, though he's been working steadily for some of the main characters of the big two, which seemed to climax with with Final Crisis in 2008. Only Alan Moore combines these two streams of mind-bending oddness and deep understanding of super heroes and who they work. Like Moore, the oddness absolutely feeds right inot his supers work, is absolutely necessary for it, and I think it's that aspect that I really like about Morrison. There's nothing I like more than a beautifully unapologetic nutter willing to back their vision to the hilt!

The Seven Soldiers came out a year or so before Final Crisis and seems to be an early run on some of the themes, albeit with a cast of minor-characters in the DC Universe. In this one, the re-envisioned New Gods get their first (I think) outing and we get a glimpse into the fourth-wall busting metaverse that Morrison has flirted with for years (on Animal Man, eg).

So, for those who can't be bothered looking it up one wikipedia (which is a great source for comics continuity) THe Seven Soldiers of Victory were a golden super-hero group of those old-fashioned type of superheor that are always a little kooky and strange. Super heroes are tied to the fashions and concerns of their time, of course - Morrison (and even more so Alan Moore) have spent twenty years or more telling us that's so - and these guys are no different, existing in that strange transitional period when pulp cowboys, detetctives and generic adventurers still mixed with the super-powers.

Morrison doesn't bother much with these original characters, except for an update of the Shining Knight, and concentrates on various other obscure characters,plus Zatanna, daughter of Zatara and occasional member of the Justice League. That continuity's pretty much superfluous here though as anything other than background detail. While it's clearly set in the DC Universe of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, this is more of a generalised deconstruction of various super hero cliches. The difference between this and Top Ten, say, is that this has that DCV resonance to rely on that Alan Moore has to create whole cloth. This is most effective in the recasting of the New Gods - the names Darkseid, Mr Miracle, Granny Goodness, Metron and the Black Racer immediately evoke decades of comics history. It also provides vital emotional context for Zatanna's story - the death of her father (during Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run, of course) weighs heavily on her mind and she gets similar scrapes along the way.

Morrison notes in the introduction his desire to create a team of heroes who never meet, but make up a separate part of a larger story, unaware of the role played by the others. Each of the Soldiers' four issue miniseries is illustrated by a different artist, and each one has a very distinct atmosphere and plot arc, yet they all kind of join up into one long narrative, book-eneded by a one-off at the beginning and the end. He largely pulls it off, but as with all his more disjointed works I found it a little hard to keep up with the main story line. Actually, I think it's simpler than I thought, just complicated by the presentation (although I'm still not entirely certain how Melmoth fits into the Shee plotline). That's okay, though, I expected to have to work at it and it's nowhere near as baffling as Final Crisis!

This comes in four trade paperback collections, featuring the comics in the order they were published, rather than as discrete miniseries (at two to a book, or something) although you can read them that way if you like. I may well do so in a few months when I've let the first read through settle, and in fact I'm rereading the Final Crisis at the moment. However, I do hope to get to the comic shop soon and I'll have another big pile of fresh comics goodness then.

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