Just one today.

Seven Soldiers - Zatanna #3 (of 4)

Another good issue. As slow as this project was upon starting, it’s really started to grow on me. I was actually rather hostile toward the first issues of this book and Guardian, but just as Guardian’s most recent issue proved to be its best, so goes Zatanna. Contrary to what you might have heard, this issue isn’t just an explicit crossover with Shining Knight; it’s also tied in directly to Guardian’s backstory, regarding the seven-entity strong Newsboy Army, and some awful act they committed back in the Golden Age of the DCU, perhaps setting in motion the pattern of sevens, brought down to six, and all suffering greatly because of it. This recurring motif has appeared in every segment of this project save for Klarion (and I may just be missing/forgetting something there), and it seems that the origins of the conflict goes right back to this ur-seven, if you will. This issue expands on that notion.

Actually, with the sudden attention paid to themes of regret and past mistakes covered up, the more adventurous reader might be tempted to view this part of the story as a type of evocation (criticism?) of Identity Crisis; certainly Zatanna makes a thinly veiled reference to her role that that most infamous (Internet-wise) of comics summer tent-poles (“I’ve used my magic powers to change people’s lives and memories. I’m a lousy no-good spellaholic, and as far as I’m concerned, I can’t suffer enough.”). This book hasn’t shied away from DC publication critique before (see issue #1’s largely unsuccessful Promethea flailings), and since we now know there’s going to be some nods in the direction of Infinite Crisis in the future, there might as well be reference made to an earlier Crisis. But, as one would expect, Morrison has no time to brook too much angst, as there’s yet more aged characters to roll out and play with.

You’d think this sort of thing would have gotten tired by now (seeing as how we're at part 12 of 30, looking at the project in a wide sense), but not at all; Morrison characterizes The Tempter as a wistful, saddened old-school villain, a little bitter at the lack of heft his modus operandi wields in the contemporary scene. And again, Morrison continues his play with notions of revamping and erasing characters and concepts, with the dialogue getting more explicit than ever: Zatanna tells him “You’re an outdated concept, an obsolete thought form,” and Misty’s means of destroying him is not to cast a spell of death, but for the character to “!nettogrof eB” As The Tempter remarks later in the issue, “I can’t die. It’s obvious there’s been an error…” and he's quite correct - corporate superhero properties don’t die, they just fade from applicability.

It’s no surprise that Misty realizes this. Being based on a character from a different comics company (IPC/Fleetway), she’d maybe have a special (if unconscious) insight. This issue, to nobody’s surprise, it’s revealed that Misty literally arrives from a different universe, sealing the allegorical deal, although it all gets screwy when you notice that it’s the same universe that Justin and Neh-Buh-Loh (a universe himself, actually) hail from. It’s the thought that counts, I think. Indeed, Misty’s backstory forms the tightest threads between the various books yet, as the story takes a distinctly Fables-style turn, although I think I know where Morrison is going. Having already plowed through Arthurian myth, Morrison is now pointing at other folktales and fables, suggesting a tradition of long-lived characters that can stand up to reinterpretation over and over again, surviving in fiction dimensions close to our own, for centuries and centuries. I expect Morrison strives to draw parallels between these older tales and extended superhero traditions, imbuing over sixty years of recreation with a veneer of ageless relevancy through sheer force of analogy. His is a tempting suggestion (even the corporate trademarked status of DCU heroes isn‘t that big a deal; the Brothers Grimm revised their own tales multiple times - first for initial publication, smoothing out those raw folklore edges, then over and over for subsequent published editions, responding to the demands of their market), and if I’m still not entirely ready to sign up, the whole attempt at least resulting in passably intelligent, crisply amusing superhero books with food for thought included at no additional charge. ‘Reading DCU titles without wanting to tear out my eyeballs’ is maybe not the heartiest recommendation I can offer, but it stands well for a worst case scenario, I think.

And I haven’t even gone over everything. I trust everyone’s picked up on how Morrison has decided to bring back the ‘kid sidekick,’ even giving Misty a cute lil’ Zatanna knockoff costume to match the return of the title heroine’s fishnets and boots. I ought to mention how art team Ryan Sook and Mick Gray manage what strikes me as a lovely homage to Shining Knight artist Simone Bianchi’s own style of talking-head narrative collage during Misty’s flashback to her origins, which naturally ties directly into Justin’s own backstory (compare the Zatanna page in question, p. 19, to Shining Knight #3, p. 15, for an apt comparison). Shining Knight, Guardian, and Zatanna are all brought together with the revelation of a certain character’s past identity. And next issue promises a direct tie-in to what when down in Seven Soldiers #0, doubtlessly extending Morrison’s preoccupation with revisions and enduring myths even farther.

Hey, I didn’t care for this thing at first (well, actually I enjoyed Seven Soldiers #0, but my opinion of subsequent issues then began to dip), but I’m being proven wrong, and that’s good. I like the way this is panning out. Hell, you can read my reaction to the project’s unofficial ‘prologue’ in JLA: Classified #1-3 as a small model for my reaction here; I was none too impressed until about halfway through, and I was pretty satisfied at the end. The same holds true here, and that makes me happy to look forward to further issues. Did you all notice that the secrets behind the events surrounding the Golden Age Seven, the Newsboy Army, are set to be revealed in Guardian #4, the ending of which marks the exact halfway point of the project? There’s something brewing, I think.