Morrison and Moore - like peanut butter and chocolate.

Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #2 (of 4)


For some damn fool reason, I could not get the Edgar Winter Group’s 1972 instrumental Frankenstein out of my head whenever I reached a page with the titular monster hero riding into battle atop a mighty Martian steed - a personal flaw on my part, to be sure.

Lots of opportunities for such internal musical accompaniment this time out; as we’re drawing nearer to the close of the Seven Soldiers project, strands are coming together all the more quickly, though the ever-attentive Grant Morrison sets this book apart from the talkative recent Bulleteer by scooping up some heaping helpings of fights and action and dramatic poses. Fittingly, the questioning title heroine of Bulleteer sits to the side as more experienced parties discuss larger matters, while the Monster lunges straight into battle, letting the exposition sort itself out.

The main ties here, though, are with Klarion, even going to far as to wrap up some dangling plot threads from the earlier series, which once again shores up Morrison’s (now admitted, as per my reading of Bulleteer #2) emphasis on this project as a single unit, rather than a coalition of miniseries - call it the ongoing federalization of Seven Soldiers. Yes, it is possible to suss out a coherent story from simply reading this miniseries; it’s very smart of writer Morrison to structure this one as a more-fragmented-than-average series of adventures for the title character, each issue taking him to a fresh locale. Series villain Melmoth was ably set up last issue as a major baddie, and you can certainly derive the manner by which Frankenstein got to Mars from the captions and dialogue provided here. Modular comprehension is not impossible.

But it’d be ridiculous to deny that you’ll get a good deal more out of this issue if you’ve read Klarion, which introduced most of the characters seen here, including poor hapless Billy Beezer, and provides much of the lead-in, like explaining why Melmoth is covered in bandages and missing an arm (once again, cute bit of planning there - thanks to the injuries suffered at the conclusion of Klarion, it doesn’t really matter if artist Doug Mahnke’s character design differs from what's been seen before). You’ll surely understand the action a bit better, like what the hell Melmoth is waving in the Monster’s face, why it’s freezing him, and why Melmoth is babbling about Grundy-men (and indeed, exactly what the hell a Grundy-man is). Of course, Morrison isn’t entirely dismissive of miniseries-only readers - he does make sure to point out here that Melmoth is immortal, and it’s because of the Cauldron, though you’ll have to have read Shining Knight to understand what the Cauldron is, or why Melmoth is making references to his bride. Truly, only a superficial understanding is possible for the non-comprehensive reader; the Monster is battling an old foe, who’s immortal, and knows bad magic, and is a mean slaver. And that's that.

For those who’ve read it all - they are served better, with strong doses of this project’s constant cleverness. Judging from Gloriana’s comments at the close of Shining Knight, I doubt this issue marks the end of Melmoth, though it does explain his motivations (like exactly what his purpose was in Klarion) in fuller detail, making him into probably the most interesting ‘major’ villain of the project (he’s certainly the most energetic). But even more interesting is the ties to Klarion, which extend up from the plot strands right to the title characters - I’ll confess that I’d never quite caught onto the matching flesh tones of these two Soldiers, which have marked them off as connected from the beginning. Now we know that they’re indirectly related, both of them with a measure of Sheeda blood coursing through their veins, though they couldn’t be more different in personality; what finally joins them beyond skin is their defiance of all of their corrupt fathers (Klarion with his town’s religious leaders, Frankenstein presumably with the good Doctor, and both with Melmoth, the arch father-by-blood of them both). The motif of familial bonds recurs throughout the ‘Melmoth’ wing of this project - his grand villainous plot boils down to an extremely heated domestic dispute with his estranged wife (questions of property division abound!), he constantly exploits his children, whether adopted (the kids in his Klarion #3 squad) or biological (the Witch Folk), and he’s only defeated, time and again, by his blood descendants, albeit somewhat removed in both cases.

As always in this project, with that close-up of the hero’s face staring out from an issue #2 cover, the protagonist reaches a turning point at the halfway mark. The Monster knows the truth about his origins now, and it’s up to him to decide where his mission will go now that his recurring foe is taken care of. It’ll certainly be fun to see how Morrison further joins the two Sheeda-related heroes here (if at all), whether through plot, action, Seven Soldiers #1 - hey, since we know that the ‘surviving’ Soldiers will play a role in the post-Infinite Crisis DCU, maybe Morrison will devote his segment of 52 to a Klarion/Frankenstein team-up, this odd couple of brothers-from-different-mothers traveling the world and having adventures. And you probably won’t even need to read anything else to fully appreciate it!

Alan Moore Spells it Out

I mean in some senses, all of humanity’s gods, since Paleolithic times, are in some senses a fiction. That is not meant to disparage the entities in question, because I hold fiction in a very special regard.”

It would have been nice to have an actual Moore comic to slide in here - unfortunately, the expected conclusions of both Tom Strong (#36) and Tomorrow Stories (Special #2) have been delayed until early February and late January, respectively. Thus, all we’ve got is this new $9.95, 80-page prose book, which is simply an extended interview of the Magus by author Bill Baker.

As the type of sorry obsessive who actually has an ‘Alan Moore reference’ section in his bookcase, I feel especially odd in declaring this book to be perfectly nice, if inessential as far as Moore information tomes go - that’s because I’ve read enough on Moore (whether through prose or interviews with the man himself) to have heard much of this material already. I guess it’s not much of a surprise, given the setup; like many people who’re often asked to submit to interview, Moore has a certain set of ‘stock’ answers and anecdotes he doles out in certain situations, whether through affirmative design or simple repetition. This won’t affect interested readers who maybe haven’t read a lot of chats with Moore, and who thusly haven’t heard about how he worked hard studying Louisiana after getting the Swamp Thing gig and therefore knew the territory better than many US writers, or how he devised that gigantic chart with all of the plot complications of Big Numbers on it that looked like the work of a madman, or how he knew League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was going to be great because it’s such a simple idea yet nobody had done it yet. This is a nice, succinct, informative book for those less-submerged readers, probably a good introduction to Moore’s theories of magic and story, with a bit of the old career highlights tossed in.

For others, there’s a few interesting tidbits. Baker is particularly interested getting Moore’s thoughts on the creative process down, though he doesn’t hold his subject to any particular topic for too long; this isn’t a very tightly structured interview, though it is a logical one, as the chat moves organically and unbroken from topic to topic until the book is over. There are no chapters, no headings - actually, Baker hardly talks at all, so lengthy are Moore’s answers to nearly every query. You’ll get plenty of pontification of how magic is language, how words are the key to the human experience - it then moves into more nitty-gritty talk about Moore’s influences and germination as a writer, eventually flowing into Moore’s feelings on research and procedure, thoughts on comics vs. cinema, coverage of a few specific works, and more.

Again, it’s not much that Moore junkies haven’t already heard, though Baker does uncover some good details, like how Moore is apparently more prone toward improvisation in his ABC work than he ever was before (thinking back to that Big Numbers chart). It also says a lot about Moore’s attitudes toward research and preparation (filling notebooks with longhand passages and thumbnails) that he almost never revises his writing after he’s entered his work into proper script format - the first draft is the final one for Moore (and apparently this extends to his prose work - Moore claims that the entirety of Voice of the Fire reflects his very first drafts, save for the famous final chapter which he revised after agreeing with his editor that it was a bit weak). This does lead to a few tight situations - there’s a funny story about a complicated miscommunication between Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Todd Klein in regards to a certain double-page splash in Promethea (Moore’s script for that single spread of the comic was ten pages long), climaxing with Moore re-scripting dialogue over Williams’ finished art in something akin to the Mighty Marvel Manner as a means of salvaging the spread’s meaning.

It should also be said that there’s certain temporal concerns to be taken into account here - the interview was conducted in 2002, which leaves certain passages, most tellingly a restatement of Moore’s now-repudiated ‘if Hollywood wants to give me cash to make movies out of my work, let them come’ philosophy, somewhat obsolete. On the other hand, some of it becomes almost haunting, like Moore’s estimation of having about 15 months to go before pulling out of ‘mainstream’ comics again. And other bits, like Moore’s recommendation of Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil as an impressive new book, aren’t really harmed by their somewhat aged status (Moore also enjoyed House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, which I’m reading now on Mark Fossen’s recommendation).

So it’s a decent little book, if of somewhat diminished effect to intensive Moore students. It offers a few good insights, some smart details, and a couple new tidbits. And Moore is always a fairly funny guy, an entertaining interview, which makes even some repetition go down smoothly. Inexpensive too; might be worth getting.