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#17 [Dec. 10th, 2010|05:05 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#17 SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY – Grant Morrison, J. H. Williams III, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Doug Mahnke, Cameron Stewart, Simone Bianchi, Ryan Sook, Pasqual Ferry

“Stay with me. I know it’s a lot of information, but that’s the way I work. Everything at once.”

A musical fugue contains multiple voices – whether instruments or actual singers – all clamouring at once in what would seem like a chaotic mess if the themes hadn’t been highlighted at the start so that later the listener instinctively picks them out of the din, making sense of the messy whole by focussing on only part of it at a time. Seven Soldiers Of Victory is a fugue in comics form. It’s also a crossover.

Comic-book crossovers rarely work very well. They sell a lot of copies because the more characters are involved in a story the more chances somebody will be invested in some of those characters – Pride And Prejudice And Zombies appeals to people who like Mr Darcy and people who like shambling corpses, right? – but they’re often a mess of creators working at cross purposes. Every creative team wants their hero to be central to whatever massive, unwieldy plot contraption had to be contrived to draw them all together, but that’s impossible in practice. That’s not to mention the jarring changes in tone and style, plot holes and the inevitable deux ex machina ending.

“Threadbare and ragged...the work of too many hands to ever fit properly...”

Seven Soldiers avoids that clash of cross purposes both by being the work of a single writer and by not having most of its main characters ever meet. Between two bookend issues, Seven Soldiers is actually seven different miniseries about seven different characters whose stories overlap and inform each other to varying degrees, but never actually get together to say, “Let’s go fight off that invasion!” and then pose for a dramatic double-page spread in brand new costumes.

They do fight off that invasion, though. The invaders are the Sheeda, and rather than being aliens or interdimensional monstrosities they’re our descendants from the distant future, a decadent Earth at the end of days called Summer’s End. Bored and jaded, they romp through time hunting the best humanity has to offer at civilisation’s peaks – the last time they were here King Arthur was around – and stealing our innovations to rejuvenate their own debauched and listless culture. Basically, they’ve come from the end of time to steal our trends.

“Can you see the pretty metaphor I make of this combat, Spyder?”

There’s a metatextual element here, as that’s an apt summary of where mainstream comics are in the 21st century: rapaciously pillaging the back catalogue for characters and concepts to dust off and revive for another round of nostalgic adventures. Amusingly, the Seven disconnected Soldiers who are our last defence against the Sheeda are all denizens of the back catalogue themselves. Klarion The Witch Boy, outcast from a secret underground society of Puritan witches, is a reimagined version of an old Jack Kirby character, as is the escape artist Mr. Miracle. The Bulleteer and the Manhattan Guardian are legacy heroes, taking on the mantles of older characters. Zatanna the magician is a DC character who’d been repeatedly pulled out of the box to go through some trauma and then shoved back in. The Shining Knight is a time traveller from Camelot and Frankenstein is, well, Frankenstein’s monster transposed to the modern day and given some of Hellboy’s attitude. The only protection against a future that wants to steal our ideas is a collection of old ideas revamped and freshened up, made relevant with a new coat of paint.

And maybe a brand new costume, because Seven Soldiers is a comic that wants to have its cake and eat it too. The Bulleteer is a satire of the way female superheroes are sexualised who nevertheless is drawn bending over provocatively as often as possible. The villains steal ideas from the past, which is exactly what Morrison is doing by writing these heroes. And if it didn’t end in a blatant deus ex machina, it wouldn’t really be a proper superhero crossover at all.