Well, what do you know?
Seven Soldiers #0
Amusingly, the cover art seems to indicate that the full title is “7 Soldiers of Victory” issue #0, while the information page in the back refers to it as “Seven Soldiers Special” #0. The simpler “Seven Soldiers” #0 is what’s in the legal text, so as usual that’s what I’m calling it.
That information page was a very good idea on DC’s part. Not only do they give out a nice concise overview of what the project is setting out to do, they even provide a tentative release schedule for every one of the thirty comics that will eventually comprise this project, the book at issue here being the first. Well done. And yet, I still have some questions about some of the things that have been said about this project, dutifully repeated on this back page.
“Seven Soldiers” as a total unit will be comprised of seven four-issue miniseries, and two bookend specials, all of which may be read independently. Does that mean that the two bookends together can be read independently as a two-part story, or that they each stand on their own? I’d have to go with the former if I were in the mood for granting the benefit of the doubt, since this particular bookend doesn’t work very well at all as a single story, and I’d hate to read it as an early indicator of the project’s ambitions not quite panning out.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s quite good as a set-up. Not so good as a single story, largely because there’s hardly any ending (unless taken on the most basic ‘oh no the heroes were being hunted the whole time and now they die’ level, which isn’t very satisfying at all, placing the impact of the conclusion on the level on one of those “Tharg’s Future Shocks” Morrison used to write at “2000 A.D.” There’s a ton of loose ends too, even a nice little ‘To Be Continued’ box at the close, so I may have just been operating under a misunderstanding. Maybe both of the J.H. Williams III-illustrated books join to form their own story, and this is only the first half. That seems probable.
I’m only going over this since “Seven Soldiers” as a whole is such an ambitious undertaking, spanning well over one year of releases, and purporting to present a collection of both stand-alone and interconnected adventures, and it’s only fair to examine the work on the (tall) terms of achievement it has set out for itself. But just as I was (maybe) confused by the stand-alone status of this particular volume, I think the whole concept of ‘stand-alone’ needs to be discussed as well.
“Seven Soldiers” #0 is quite thick with references to other books. I’ve been assured that there’s a connection to “Starman”. I’ve been told there’s a tie-in to the more recent “Breach”. I’m sure that some of the older heroes Morrison mentions in this book have their part in DC history. The miniseries to come are also tied to the DC past. None of this really bothers me; my comprehension of the story wasn’t limited by not being aware of any of these connections. It didn’t stand in the way of the story. Indeed, I’m guessing that a thick stew of revamping and reviving will prove to be integral to the final work’s themes, which at this early point seem to gravitate toward the idea of the ‘revamp’ itself.
Take the lovely opening pages. Williams is teamed here with colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein, and they craft a lovely, brooding atmosphere as Z-list superperson Tom Dalt is escorted through the swamp to a meeting with Seven Unknown Men, who then confront him in a psychedelic wonderland nightmare of hues and abstractions. We can’t see the Men, but they inform Tom that they’re going to use “tools and machinery you wouldn’t understand” to change him. “We’ll get you some cool new clothes, Tom,” says one of the men. A new costume. A new attitude? Kind of like what I’m expecting for the seven upcoming miniseries (go here for a nice guide to the original characters Morrison plans to make over, and read the comments too). Mr. Dalt will soon return, as a very new (yet sort of the same) character. Who is Tom Dalt, anyway? I got that feeling that he was a pre-existing character while reading. I now believe he had something to do with "Starman", from what I've indicated before. It doesn’t matter; I got what Morrison is working towards.
The story continues, and we meet the new Whip, granddaughter of the original Whip, mystery man of the American southwest. There are few more efficient ways of revamping a hero than having his descendants carry forward the torch, after all, but this Whip is largely interested in thrills, writing about her superhero experiences, and moving on to even higher levels of superhero adventure. Naturally, the next step is to join a team, so she checks the superhero want ads in Powerhouse Magazine and gets herself a job with The Vigilante, not the asshole in the ski-suit that I’m familiar with, but a cowboy adventurer who ran with the original 7 Soldiers of Victory, dating back to 1941 in our world. Small-time character, really. But as he warns his young new associate as they ride through the desert, sometimes the low-grade heroes encounter the craziest things, and there‘s a giant spider on the loose, and he wants to recreate the original Soldiers to face the threat. Unfortunately, the seventh soldier never showed, so they’ll have to deal with six, and I wouldn’t be surprised if all of these characters are tied to the past in some way; one of them has superpowers derived from old Golden-Age mystery rings he bought online. One of them seems to be based on the Golden Age kid headliner Little Boy Blue. And one of them is Mr. Tom Dalt, ‘I, Spyder’, decked out in an all-new style. He has been revamped.
Not for much. The six of them ride out to confront the big scary spider and manage to pull together as a team enough to put it down. William’s art is very nice with the action, reminding us that the more typical superheroics in “Promethea” were just as smooth and attractive as the more immediately unique parts. Even when he recycles some visual techniques from that recently-concluded earlier work, it’s put to good use: the appearance of icons in boxes to signify the abilities of all of the superheroes on a team was used to amusing effect near the end of “Promethea” to signify the re-forming of America’s Best (Tom Strong’s old team), here, such a technique is used twice, once at the team’s introduction before we know what anyone’s powers are (to stand in contrast to their somewhat uninspiring appearance) and once again in the heat of heroic battle (where we can appreciate what they’re capable of). Williams’ linework is a bit scratchier than usual, especially in the desert scenes, which fits the atmosphere of the setting. But his talent at bravura layout is called upon again at the end, as vile supervillains pop in to kill the (six) soldiers. Leading the charge is Neh-Buh-Loh, but unless you’ve read Morrison’s recent arc on “JLA: Classified” you’ll have no idea who he is besides some scary-looking fiend, which is maybe all that’s required for now.
And then, in the final scene, the Seven Unknown Men are seen, all of them aging bald fellows in fine suits, fleeing their base of operations, a gigantic sewing machine that apparently creates the timestream of the universe. But they don’t abandon ship before selecting seven more conscripts, for seven more miniseries. You can see two of them packing up what sure looks like Guardian's helmet in the back. And then they literally box up their revamps in lovely packages with pretty bows on top and set out into the backwaters of the DCU to offer up a little authorial intervention.
There’s quite a bit of talk about the nature of the superhero in this book. The set-up of superteam dynamics, the progression of the superhero’s career. And it certainly looks to me that the project will be dealing with the concept of the superhero revamp in a very direct fashion, which could be a lot of fun, and probably a bit more thoughtful than the average Corporate Superhero Event. This issue certainly had some fun action, and nice ideas. And if you’re directly dealing with revamps as a concept, than surely you need to delve into the past and concurrent histories of the DCU, right? It doesn’t really hurt the story, per se. But…
I’ve read Morrison’s arc in “JLA: Classified”. Thus, I know that the villian as glimpsed at the end of this book is called Neh-Buh-Loh, also known as Nebula Man, and that he is really the time-traveling adult version of the Infant Universe of Qwewq, itself with an origin in Morrison’s prior “JLA” run. Oh, and it’s strongly hinted that Neh-Buh-Loh is actually our universe, the reader’s universe, one where even the silliest villian can cause great havoc, because there are no superheroes. Or, at least there weren’t until the JLA sent the Ultramarines into Neh-Buh-Loh himself when he was still in infant form (thanks, time paradoxes!) and urged them to protect a harsher, crueler world.
So now, it seems that the reader’s universe is seriously intruding on the DC superhero universe, desiring to destroy superheroes. Al that can stop it is the revamp of a whole bunch of little-known, even forgotten heroes from the DCU past. The all-seeing, identical benefactors making heroes new to stave off the invention of a gritty, realistic world made ‘flesh’, which threatens the ruination of everything. Now that’s even more interesting to me; it seems like a literal exploration of Morrison’s well-known philosophy regarding the current direction of superhero comics, transformed into a working conflict within the confines of the superhero universe itself.
Of course, you don’t know all of that if you haven’t been reading Morrison’s other books.
But it’s a balancing act, these Events; casual readers and seasoned fans and veritable historians all know different things. And while this first glimpse of “Seven Soldiers” can’t work all that well as a single unit, it at the minimum offers a lot of anticipation for the future, although said anticipation level may vary depending on one’s acclimation with prior works before plunking down that $2.95 and jumping in.