On the other hand.

Seven Soldiers - Guardian #4 (of 4)


Unless, of course, the connecting fiber of the fourth issues of this project is, in fact, the lack of conclusion itself, Sheeda invading and interrupting the normal procedure at will. As Zatanna said back in issue #3 of her own book, to one Ali Ka-Zoom, “We were doing fine, having our “Thelma and Louise” meets “Bewitched” style misadventures until you hijacked the agenda for your own obscure ends.” Ali plays a big role in this chapter, too.


This is an excellent issue. I enjoyed so many things about it, but perhaps nothing more than how the ever-dull title character has finally been relegated to supporting player in his own book. Sure, the amusing Lee/Kirby action style of the series thus far is mostly dispensed with, but the dedicated focus Morrison lavishes on the project’s overarching background story is about as artful as an infodump of this sort can be. Which is quite artful indeed.

As expected, Morrison spends much of this final issue of the project’s first half exploring the adventures of that most obscure of this project’s many groups of seven, the Newsboy Army. But rather than simply tell us what’s going on, rattling off heretofore secret origins and forbidden info, Morrison deftly transforms the history lesson into a sad little reflection on the darkening of Golden Age playfulness. Fans of Flex Mentallo will sense a parallel or two cropping up, the quantum force of one world infecting another with its insecurities and doubts, though really it’s Morrison’s JLA: Classified run that provides the choicest point of comparison.

Neh-Buh-Loh, the Sheeda Queen’s huntsman, is a sentient universe that grew up with no superheroes. The JLA’s solution to the problem was to inject heroes into that universe at a young age, releasing them into a downbeat world. This issue sees the Sheeda blasting into a silly, childish universe, and changing it irrevocably for the worse. At the outset, the Newsboy Army, seven strong, enjoys a ridiculously naïve adventure in the jungle, with resolutely caricatured cannibal natives (“Blinka Blonka!”) clad in leopard skins and bowler hats pursuing them to a land of golden top hats; hats off to those adventurous kids! Ah, but it’s not to last. Just as soon as the team declares the formation of a United Nation of Kids on the streets of New York (“If grownups can’t organize to make things better, then the Newsboy Army will!”), this issue’s title, “Sex Secrets of the Newsboy Army!”, appears to mock their solemn vow.

In no time, the Sheeda appear, transforming good-hearted lug Mo Colley into a crazed killer, injuries to the eye now rampant (the evocation of Dr. Wertham is likely not unintentional in a book devoted to the fading of naiveté), sweet little kids dressed up like movie stars now splattered with blood and gunsmoke. Speaking of movies, look closely at the panels; colorist Moose Baumann has added a very subtle vertical scratching effect to his faded flashback color scheme, and the sides of each panel are intentionally faded more severely than average. It’s presumably meant to evoke a very old movie, perhaps one half-remembered, or even dreamt. It’s an admission of pure fiction (street signs: Nowhere St., Nowhere Sq.) - if anything in this book is realistic, it’s certain not those scenes. The most interesting part of this story (and the ‘story’ consists almost entirely of a story being told) is how violence and brutality seem to be existing outside the frame, even in the Golden Age. Obviously, those cops shot some other people at some earlier point in their history; they didn’t balk at the use of lethal force. It’s like the fiction is struggling to keep such things subsumed, out of view. But the Sheeda brings it into the frame, where it can now truly exist.

And then Millions the Mystery Mutt is too old and sick to join the team’s exploration of Slaughter Swamp, leaving only six, and… well, you know what happens, right?

Two things can be taken from this. Firstly, it’s worth noting that Millions is absent due to nothing more than the ravages of age; perhaps Morrison is saying that such childish styles of fiction are simply not built to last, and that the invasion of adult violence is inevitable. Certainly the team’s vigor declines as they grow up, save for Baby Brain, who can never ‘grow up,’ so to speak, and he’s the one masterminding the formation of the new Seven Soldiers. Perhaps it takes a genius, a ‘reclusive freak’ to carry the torch?

Secondly, yet connectedly, the Newsboy Army, unlike the other groups of seven-made-six we’ve seen, are not outright obliterated. Instead, they journey to the same location as the proper opening of the project itself, Seven Solders #0, encountering a strange sewing machine and a strange old man, both of which will be very familiar to devout readers, though they take on a more sinister edge. The former evokes the Time Sewing Machine overtaken by the Sheeda, who now appear to have a certain command over time itself (explaining the many targetings of teams of seven throughout DCU history, highlighted via yet another folkloric citation), and the latter is a visual twin to the Seven Unknown Men, though he only sews out cold adult reality:

I make special clothes, see. Suits you’ll wear when you’re older.”

And maturity takes its toll. In a purely plot-driven sense, Morrison has pulled a neat trick, making the age-based absence of Millions the focal point of the Newsboy Army’s destruction, while the much-alluded-to banishing into Ali Ka-Zoom’s cabinet of an Army conscript is but another rip in the suit of age, and barely even explained (though if you connect the information given on the climactic page with the title of the issue and a few scattered lines throughout, I think you can puzzle out the details of what exactly happened, unless I’m totally off-base - Barbelith has some interesting theories). But age is no excuse for growing old, as the end of the book sees a baby taking up arms, and Guardian decides to do what’s right. Amusing that the lurid headlines on this issue’s cover are inaccurate.

For added fun, read this along with Zatanna #3. Ali Ka-Zoom’s interactions with the Don take on a whole new resonance, two survivors from a different time, hopping onboard the big bus out of town. But if the cliffhanging finale of this miniseries says anything, it’s that going toward the future doesn’t have to mean going into the night. And that’s not a bad attitude for a 30-issue maxiseries to have, halfway in.