Thursday, March 08, 2007

Comic book chess

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 4 - by Grant Morrison, et al

I’ve missed a few updates as I get settled into my new job, which I love by the way. Unlike my old job where I pretty much got paid to fuck the dog and be extremely sarcastic and smug – okay that wasn’t in the job description or anything but it’s what I did in complete defiance of any attempts to manage me.

Anyway, when I read The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck on the train, I followed it up with Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 4. It was a bit of a mind fuck to go from one book to the other because I think Seven Soldiers as a collected work is good for the exact opposite reasons I consider The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck to be a good book. Seven Soldiers is an intentionally divided narrative, there are multiple artists working on multiple storylines which explore multiple sub-genres of superhero comics, all the while littered with adult themes and visuals. Sure The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck explored different types of adventure stories from cowboys to river-boat captains on the Mississippi it was used to explore different phases of one life whereas Seven Soldiers is exploring the actual genre of superhero comics and the team comic in particular. The stories in Seven Soldiers are presented as separate and complete yet connected simply because the company and author tell us they are, and while they share some root imagery or broad themes they’re not existing simultaneously per se. They exist as separate and play in a shared fictional universe whereas The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is one whole narrative following one life created to fit into a previously established history of the character.

I may be stretching for connections here but there are some even if both projects approach those shared points of storytelling from completely opposite ends. Where one story leads the other implies; where one story is chronological the other is multidimensional; and, where one story is focused on an individual the other is focused on multiple individuals rather than the team (as an individual).

I do feel I should start at the beginning again and read the whole Seven Soldier series in a few different combinations - in one prolonged sitting. I could read the different mini-series in their self-collected parts one-by-one as well as the issues in their chronological order as they are collected. It’s been a while since I read the previous volumes, so I was the teensiest bit lost on a few of the plotlines. I do feel that if I gave the entire shebang another read or two I’d be able to pick out a few more of the subtleties I missed on first pass. That’s just how my brain works anyhow. First read is plot, and if I’m lucky I pick up a few themes. Second read allows me to be way more open and analytical towards what is being presented – to follow themes, characterizations, and motifs throughout the work a bit more closely. On the first read I pick things up but don’t really hold onto them for very long as I move on to continue the plot.

It’s a bit like mental chess reading this series – fitting the pieces together and seeing how they move in anticipation of the other players. It’s not a puzzle because it’s too active and dynamic and the players don’t fit together to create a static and complete whole in the end. And, personally, I can start to play chess and be doing a fairly decent job but I get bored about a half hour into it (god forbid a game lasts that long) because I don’t have the mindset, or possibly patience, to consider how each piece will interact with each other in all possible combinations. Some people do, but not me. I’ve learned a bit and can learn more but I don’t really have the mindset anymore to care to spend the time to learn more. Okay, that was a long drawn out metaphor to explain how I think Seven Soldiers is a dynamic process between characters in the books, the books to each other, between book and reader, and ultimately between reader and creator. I think each of us can bring something new and different out of the act of reading this series and still not get to the crux of what Morrison was attempting – then again I also think we can. It’s a wonderful play between all these wonderful pieces which you will either love, hate or appreciate but not really have the patience to put up with it long enough to invest more time to discover more subtleties.

So what did I really think? I liked it. Not as much as I thought I would though but maybe I was expecting a bit more from the series than I got – it happens. I did enjoy the actual miniseries more than the two bookend issues. I feel like I could appreciate what the bookends were but I didn’t really love them the same way I instantly loved something like All-Star Superman or The Spirit. But what this series did do to me, which almost no other comics do, is make me want to start over from the beginning right away. I wanted to instantly re-read the entire thing – and that tells me there is something about this series I find enjoyable.

It’s not just the challenge of reading a dense comic. I have nothing to prove on that front, really. I can analyze and theorize until the cows come home (sometimes well, sometimes presenting nothing new as you, dear reader, have probably witness on this blog countless times). For me to want to go back and read something it needs to be more than just a challenge, it needs to be simply enjoyable as well. The shifting artwork, the different sub-genres are all aspects of this series that I really respect and find pleasure in. If it wasn’t for their beauty and interesting characters/plots then re-reading would simply be a completionist chore in order to prove I can draw connections that, honestly, someone else online probably has already completed long ago.

Nope, for me, this series was both familiar and unlike anything else I’ve read. They work alone but together, which is how it was advertised but I’m still cynical enough to be shocked when a comic book series actually delivers what it was promoted as.

Plus, Zatana was used as a hero, and a powerful one as a direct dichotomy to the way she was used as a weapon of mass hypnotic destruction in another mini-series. I’m also partial to superhero comics that break the fourth wall, so there was that.


Jason said...

I just picked up the first two volumes off of eBay. I had initially bought all of the singles and read it that way (and enjoyed it). But reading these trades straight through, as they are presented, was a challenge. I liked seeing some threads from one series tie into others (ie. the horrigal from Klarion getting hit by the train in Guardian), but I don't know if it was the difference in art or what. It was jarring to go from one series to the next. I went back and read each series in its entirity (as much as I could with only 2 volumes) and it was a lot more clear to me that way.

joncormier said...

It's all about the configuration here isn't it? No matter how you put the series together you'll find different levels of connection, which I actually find fun. Yeah it feels a bit like reading an anthology to read the comics in the order presented in the trade, but it's also a viceral experience to have to jump around a book to explore it and read the miniseries in their own chronological order - sort of how those panels in Seven Soldiers #0 were interwoven.