Friday, June 02, 2006

Seven Soldiers - Identity Crisis done right.

After reading three of the trades for Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers I’ve kind of noticed a theme of loss and solitude running through each story. There is a loss of innocence, people dealing with loss, and people losing a lot of stuff. Then each story focuses on the solitude of each of the characters. The Shining Knight is out of place and time, Klarion grew up in an isolated underground village and goes out on his own, Guardian works alone and is the sole symbol of his employer, Bulleteer loses her husband, Frankenstein is a solitary creature, Zatanna is dealing with her own loss and solitude, Mr. Miracle is running the razor’s edge of insane guy in his own world or displaced reality guy.

Each of them is on their own and lost something. Whatever it is that each of them lost is the catalyst for their solitude. They function on their own because each character has either removed themselves from society or was driven from society for whatever reason. Not only are they solitary and lost each of them is running from something or being pursued. Whether the pursuing is done by the Sheeda Queen or a haunting notion of feminine beauty, it is there.

I see these themes more than I do the themes of each character representing a type of comic book superhero. It’s a surface metaphor, and a very good one I’ll admit, but the themes joining these stories together are extremely powerful to me. Sure we don’t know what’s happening all the time and we don’t need to in order to enjoy these stories but we can relate to each of them on some level. They are alone and don’t particularly want to be but they accept it by never admitting to the fact that trying to avoid loneliness is what is essentially driving each of the Seven Soldiers. They want to simply fit in and be a part of a team. This sets up the series for one of the best tragedies ever created in the four colour comic book medium. Now, I haven’t read all of the series and am still waiting for the fourth trade so I may be wrong but these series are definitely not comedies so I see them as tragedies in the classic Shakespearean sense.

Each character is flawed through their own doing but mostly because others have put the heroes in a tough spot. The heroes are kept in their solitude because others are unwilling to look beyond whatever it was that isolated the hero in the first place. Now, the isolation may not be completely the fault of others – Guardian killed someone who was innocent and Zatanna is in a self-imposed exile, but each are kept there longer than need be because of their own perceptions of what other people think of their actions.

AS much as these stories are interconnected visually with a few characters moving between books and some visual themes throughout all of them, it is this sadness of being alone that strikes me the hardest. Just like the Sheeda invasion, there is something not quite right under the surface world of these heroes.

And yet, each of them continues on in the face of adversity. They sort of claim to just be caught up in the mess and doing what anyone else would do, but let’s face it, they aren’t anyone else. Yes they get caught up in something that is beyond their control but it is how they act and react to it that makes them seem heroic and pathetic. I mean in the pathos sense not the scornful sense. We pity them for the situation but we are captivated by their indomitable spirits. We see them each on their own and dealing with tragedy yet they continue to fight the good fight without making excuses for their solitude. I see sadness because I see them on their own not necessarily because of their own choosing. Yet at the same time I see each of these characters recognizing that solitude but not letting it become debilitating. It is quite simply life.

These themes of loss and solitude get reflected again through each character trying to recapture a part of the past or the future. They want to go back to easier times that were fun or times that were magical. To go back and do things differently knowing what you know now or going into the wild blue yonder and being open to whatever exciting prospect comes your way in the future. Klarion has the energy and enthusiasm or a teenager going off to college (or dropping out), Guardian is trying to atone for his past and lose himself in his work to make a better tomorrow, Frankenstein is dropped into a horrible high-school wish fulfillment story, Bulleteer is a beautiful 27 year old woman trapped in amber, Zatanna teams up with a young sidekick, Shining Knight is trying to find Camelot and live up to a past she was never a part of, and Mr. Miracle is a man outside of time and space who doesn’t know if he’s futuristic or not.

Each of them has lost some of their innocence and it makes for captivating storytelling. It isn’t simply the thematic remixing in each of the titles that makes this work as each series is good and well on its own. To me this is the loss of innocence and solitude that Identity Crisis was going for but in a manner that didn’t work when real world horrors were brought into a superhero story to set up a superhero power mystery. Where Identity Crisis fell apart for me was in that crucial moment. The motivation for the heroes was something that happens in my world – a murder and a rape, and it sets up a person backward talking someone’s memories away. No matter what the superhero crime was there is no way it could be more horrific than the two real world crimes used to set it up so the story falls flat when the two horrific crimes are dropped.

In the Seven Soldiers stories the real world crimes and horrors are mixed with the superheroics. There is murder and death and creepy sexual scenes but they are done directly because the people are superheroes. I, as a reader, am never drawn out of the story because it is always an equal mix of real world and superhero. Nobody has to break character to act in any way the plot deems necessary to move the story along. There is never an attempt to make the heroes more human to make the stories more realistic because these characters are presented as human first and are kept that way throughout their plotlines. Yes, even the monstrous ones are essentially human as they do what is right no matter what.

Yes they suffer and none of them really set out to be heroes but they don’t slap on bright coloured tights, go out and act like the paragons of human heroics and mention later that they did a whole whack of terrible things to keep up their sparkling façade. None of them had the sparkle to begin with here, so it works. It works because none of them are presented like average people in an average world. They don’t remind me of, well, me or act like anyone I know but I can see myself and people I know in each of them. These are characters first who are given “real” human traits and emotions instead of being characters who represent something more than human then later portrayed as an average person who won’t rise above real world problems. These characters rise above fantastical problems at the same time they rise above “real” world problems. Because of that they are my seven favourite heroes at the moment. I can’t wait to see how this all ends with the next trade and the ongoing series starting up eventually.

I know a lot of people have been praising this series for a long time now and I put it off, foolishly. But I never got more than some plot hints and exploration into how each series is looking at a different aspect of superhero comics and then more heaps of praise. Now I see why. It's really good and pretty much anyone who reads it will agree. It's complex and it's a formal exercise but it is also a hugely creative undertaking beyond that. When something is good it becomes hard to pinpoint what it is that makes it so good and when there is general concensus that something is good why spend more time examining it. I think that's been my failing here - criticism for bad things and trite happy comments on the good stuff. I'm trying with this post and that one from a little while ago to actually explore things I like and why I like them. That's why you don't see a lot of Alan Moore stuff on the blogs. We all agree that we like him and are worried to examine what we like under the microscope - you risk ruining it for yourself. I mean, maybe Mr. Miracle was meant to have a different artist on each issue - he's meant to be at odds with reality so why not get different people shaping that reality in each issue?

I hope to have another Seven Soldiers post sometime after I read the entire first series. Hope you're on the edge of your seat. I am. Simply because it's so damned good to read.


plok said...

Yeah, it's fantastic, eh? A breath of fresh air. But holy crap, Jon, I turn my back for three weeks and suddenly you're on this huge blogging roll! Nice to see. Now excuse me, I have to go read your archives. More later.

joncormier said...

Yeesh, don't go too far into them you'll get lost in pointless blogging.

I started to read this again and it's a bit incomprehensible to me. I'm hoping it's just the layout - ah it sounded better in conversation anyway.