|The cover is a glorious|
I picked up the Seven Soldiers omnibus at the urging of Michael Gibbons, one of the few people I trust enough to take the recommendation of a capes-based comic seriously.
And it was a great recommendation; I can say that Seven Soldiers is one of the best superhero comics I've read.
Seven Soldiers has a lot going for it: the art varies wildly in style from series to series but it's uniformly quality stuff that reaches brilliancy more often than most, the plot is the kind of intricate maze of archetypes and ur-conventions and genre detournment that Grant Morrison is known for but it is rarely too pleased with itself, the story benefits overall from focusing on c-list and invented characters instead of DC's mainstays, and it mostly avoids the continuity porn that frustrates my enjoyment of a lot of superhero media.
|Hawkman and Superman! Double reference!|
We're comics now, bois!
That minor annoyance becomes a bit more pronounced in the Mister Miracle issues of Seven Soldiers. In those sections, the references to the New Gods and Kirbiana come fast and furious. Making matters worse is the unnecessary cruft that the Mister Miracle issues add to an already complex story that has a lot of moving parts; much of the Mister Miracle elements could have been excised without changing the overall effect of the story as a whole, so they're not really pulling their own weight. It tries a little too hard to bring in traditional DC elements into the picture.
Which is an odd choice, given the way Morrison develops a theme: delving into the past is regressive and fraught with danger.
CAUTION: SPOILERS LURK PAST THIS POINT.
Looking back, in anger or otherwise, holds progress in check throughout Seven Soldiers. In the first issue, the Vigilante tries to assemble a new Seven Soldiers squad--he wants one more hit of the old glory before riding off into the sunset and there's unfinished business that has re-surfaced from the past to be dealt with.
The team he assembles is a pale regurgitation of the past: I, Spyder is the son of the original Spider, Gimmix is the daughter of the Woman of a Thousand Gimmicks, Dyno-Mite Dan has replica magic rings that rip-off somebody else's powers, The Whip is the grand-daughter of another Whip, and Boy Blue has some unsavory connections to the DC rogue's gallery. This new crop of "heroes" is in every way as deficient as a fading echo; their trip into Miracle Mesa is a massacre--trying to relive the past was a fatal mistake.
|Bask in this illustration|
for a bit.
What is the past? In Seven Soldiers it is quicksand, the rip current, a black hole. For Mister Miracle it is a literal black hole--a cosmic-level spectrality tied to the rise and fall of gods, entropy, and the crushing density of trying to live in the shadow of the world's first superhero. As a stunt, Mister Miracle attempts to escape an artificially generated black hole and ends up confronting horrifying visions of the future that are all predicated on past events over which he has no control.
|Move over, Power Girl.|
Even once changed against her will, the past still makes demands on Bulleteer. Unable to continue her career as a caregiver to autistic children (her altered form scares them), she is forced into minor-league superheroics. Her powers enable her to do good in the world, but they also land her the dubious honor of acting as a bodyguard to a personality challenged mermaid on the superhero convention circuit. Washed-up nobodies want to "team up" with her. The possibility of doing supers porn looms ominously.
Bulleteer is impervious to most everything except the way past steers her life; ultimately, even her attempt to reject fitting the mold of the superhero archetype (as established by countless dog-eared and faded back issues) ends in triumphant failure--she's the Soldier who ends-up taking out the Big Bad, even though she emphatically doesn't want to. The past makes the present fait accompli and no one can swim against the tide.
|Resistance is futile.|
The Sheeda, it turns out, are us. They're the humanity of the future, doomed to a ruinous world barely existing under the light of a vampire sun. The only way the Sheeda can survive is by pillaging the past. Their incursion in the main plot line of Seven Soldiers isn't their first rodeo; they've already strip-mined the neanderthals for sustenance, fed on the fall of Camelot, and generally bled reality dry. They leave just enough scrap for humanity to reestablish itself in a new age. The cycle has to repeat itself because even a harrower of worlds knows that you don't drink too deeply from the grail.
|The Whip was the only one I was sad to see go.|
|I mean, come on.|
The irony, of course, is that as much as Morrison would like to critique that impulse, he cannot escape it himself. His cast of characters still bears the marks of what has come before; they have connections, there are clear reference points, and the story remains the same. Seven Soldiers draws on the tale of Snow White to give the Sheeda Queen an extra touch of drama, but that borrowing, like all the referential and allusional tropes we politely call "the greater literary conversation," is a rummaging through past stories to make sense of the present in way that condemns itself to a lens crafted by some unknown wordsmith lost to time.
Michael, if you've read this far, I hate to be the one to break this to you but: Seven Soldiers might be a story about stories. Or, at least, or inability to free ourselves from the story structures and archetypes we inherit and continue to use as we create.
|To beard or not to beard? That|
is the question.
The past is quicksand, the rip current, a black hole. Not even a chaos magician has the power to swim against the tide.