So many more books, but here's all I have time for...

Seven Soldiers - Zatanna #1 (of 4)


Hey, remember that Paul Chadwick interview about “The Matrix Online” that I babbled about a few weeks ago? Well, it's included in here. Apparently DC has decided to excerpt portions of the comic-sized promotional magazine that housed the chat, and the Chadwick stuff made the cut. So now you can enjoy both pages of glorious insight.

This book’s a little harder to place than average. Upon putting the issue down I was immediately reflecting upon Warren Ellis’ comments in his Apparat books on the topic of ‘response songs’, and how the theory can be applied to comics as works of art built to ‘answer’ other works of art. “Which, you kind of hope, is not the same as being reactionary,” as Ellis admits in the back of all four Apparat releases. “Zatanna”, the latest release in Grant Morrison’s Big Project, is partially a response to a certain recently-concluded long-form work by a certain acclaimed writer, one whom Morrison has not always exhibited an avalanche of friendliness toward.

But “Zatanna” also acts as another cog in the “Seven Soldiers” wheel, and as a revival of a well-known DC superheroine property, probably the best-known of the protagonists in this project to not have some sort of handy public-domain origins. There’s far more explicit connections to the overarching plot than average: a character from “Seven Soldiers” #0 plays a supporting role, suggesting that the ‘timeline’ of the various parts of the whole is not proceeding from left to right. There’s also yet another gathering of six super characters (this time with a ‘magic’ theme as opposed to ‘knights’ or ‘classic superheroes’), all doubtlessly rooted somewhere in DCU lore, that gets largely wiped out, although this one differs in that there’s no explicitly mentioned missing seventh member, and not everyone dies (although we don’t know for sure that there were no survivors of “Seven Soldiers” #0 either, keep in mind). There’s passing references to the Sheeda, and perhaps even a key to all of this mystery.

And where is the key found? In “Just Imagine Grant Morrison Creating Promethea”, of course! Indeed, errant “Promethea” inker Mick Gray is even on board to work with Ryan Sook’s pencils, as Morrison flashes back to Zatanna guiding her team into the Imaginal World on a quest to find her father’s lost books of knowlege, where they chat with strange beings and encounter unordinary page layouts and everyone spouts exclamations about what’s going on. And I almost want to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt and declare that the sequence is an outright parody of the most memorable aspects (for better or worse) of Moore’s work, given that the traveling group constantly babbles barely-contextual descriptive phrases, some of them directly contradicting one another (a skeptic is on board to provide a science-based rationale for everything, presenting a side of things a wee bit like Ellis' own suspected "Promethea" homage a few issues of "Planetary" ago). But no, I get the feeling that Morrison is working on a more corrective plane with this one; I realize the trouble inherent in quoting anything Morrison says in an interview, but Ian’s recent report did feature him clucking over the “glaring errors” in the final issue of “Promethea”, suggesting a desire to provide a more authentic view of Ideaspace. But without the benefit of a substantial framework carefully set in place, like Moore provided in earlier issues of his work, the sequence comes off as gibberish, barely mitigated by the fact that at least the dialogue seems to match what’s happening in the layouts, though no substantive understanding of the magical material is possible. And also, try as he might, Sook simply isn’t on J.H. Williams III’s level in crafting dazzling visuals, though his handling of more subdued pages is clear and attractive. At best the sequence works as unflatteringly derivative window-dressing that does nothing more than take us from Point A to Point B in the plot, not coherent enough to convey anything of magical substance and not pointed enough to act as effective satire. All that really catches your attention on the latter front is at the very end of the issue where a character complimentarily remarks to Zatanna “I love the way you write about magic. It’s so like, down-to-earth and non-preachy.” But given the relative difficulty with which Morrison presents his own ideas, I’m thinking less “MEEYOW!” than “Maybe Tim’s got a point about Moore simply being the better-spoken of the two on esoteric topics.”

There is a bit more story than that. The amusing framing-sequence has Zatanna explaining her troubles to a superhero support group. It seems she’s accidentally released the harbinger of the end of the world in a failed attempt to literally conjure up a date when she “should have been purifying [her]self a little more thoroughly,” her desire to overcome her horrible taste in men also ending up in the slaughter of several of her associates and the muting of her own magical power. Fortunately a bright young gothy girl admires her regardless, and apparently is magic-capable on her own, so Zatanna reluctantly agrees to be her mentor. The characterizations are decent; Zatanna comes off as mostly sympathetic rather than simpering, though the implications of another female superhero defined almost entirely though her relationships with men (namely her causing potentially world-ending damage via 'bad luck with guys' and her general reliance on her dad) probably won’t sit very well with all readers. But there’s three issues left to explore this aspect of the story, if the writer so chooses. If only his choices here were a bit better here; the evocation of other works is distracting and only takes away from the story as a whole, and even beyond that the most entertainment one can derive is through making connections with other parts of the saga. Otherwise, we just have some ok jokes and the title heroine going through what looks from here like a too-typical redemption arc.