*Excellent News Dept: Driving back home today, I was cheerfully invited by a member of my state’s law enforcement corps to make a delightfully copious donation to the commonwealth’s coffers, all on account of my frisky and energetic driving talents! I was more than happy to oblige, naturally, since not only would I be benefiting the state on this worrisome holiday weekend (I won’t be much of a worry, since I don‘t have tomorrow off!), but I’d also become instantly eligible to award additional lucre to my friendly automobile insurance company, on account of all the ‘points’ I’d racked up in one fell swoop! I must be on the high score table by now! What a big day!

Seven Soldiers - Shining Knight #4 (of 4)

Aaaaaaaaand with that the project apparently jettisons all pretense of functioning as anything beyond the 30-issue maxiseries that, to be fair, everyone was kind of treating it as anyway. Simply put, there’s no resolution here to the storyline built up across these four issues. Well, ok, maybe ‘no’ is a bit strong - there is a rather big revelation regarding Justin’s character, though it accomplishes little more than playing into yet another classic archetype and cooking up some tension with the zombified Galahad that probably would have worked more effectively had the non-slave Galahad actually appeared in more than two sequences before this issue or maybe delivered some dialogue or something. As of now, this series basically serves as a repository of helpful Seven Soldiers background information and mythological underpinning, with a couple fights and chases, and some play at themes of guilt and redemption hovering around a distinctly incomplete hero’s journey. To paraphrase Sean T. Collins, this miniseries was about as self-contained as The Fellowship of the Ring. Who knows? Maybe Morrison simply ran out of pages here, and the rest of the miniseries will snap into place like good little soldiers. Ah, but if this project has taught us anything, it’s that having only six soldiers in place shall bring nothing but catastrophe!

That’s not the big issue in my mind, however - my real concern is that the project as a whole is beginning to suffer from a malady that’s bedeviled Big Event crossovers throughout comics history: a breakdown of internal continuity. No, not ‘continuity’ as in “Oh man, Crazyface is acting totally different from his prior appearance in Vigilante #22!” but continuity in regards to simple interseries relationships acting within the boundaries of the crossover itself. It’s a rather mild diagnosis at this point, sure. For example, Don Vincenzo is strutting around bare-chested for all of this issue, and then is seen wearing a shirt in Zatanna #3, which clearly takes place in project continuity directly after the events presented here. Undeniably sloppy, but I understand how artwork gets hustled in time-sensitive projects of this magnitude. Some of it’s spatial: Neh-Buh-Loh is seen standing outside the Don’s abode near the end of this issue, the magical cauldron ’o youth by his side. In Zatanna #3, he’s still hauling it out of the Don’s house, which can’t be right since he’s already dealt with the Don at that point in the timeline. There’s more, but I’ll be generous and assume that the Don has highly eclectic taste in interior decorating, which explains why his inner chambers resemble a vast temple in this title and a tasteful upper-class summer estate in Zatanna, and that Misty’s reference to a ‘favorite toy’ in Zatanna manages to cover the fact that she thinks Neh-Buh-Loh’s spider steed is a living thing, while the Don thinks it’s a machine in the pages of this particular book (with each series’ artist rendering it accordingly).

None of that covers the miniseries-specific quibbles, though. Presumably the magic sword Caliburn, one of the seven imperishable treasures, isn’t that imperishable, since it gets smashed to bits fairly easily; lord knows why Gloriana allowed Justin to use it in a Sheeda-supervised duel, having made all that fuss over it in issues #1 and #3. Unless she wanted to destroy it, which begs the question as to why she didn’t just go and do that instead of carrying it around with her in issue #1, babbling about how Sheeda Science was going to crack the proverbial safe. More snarkily puzzling is why the amassed Sheeda apparently opted to purchase Justin a pair of Levis in the downtime between issues #3 and #4 (note that the cover of issue #4 still sports Justin’s pants in their original hue). And hey - let’s extend our yammering to DC’s own marketing hype: funny how the oft-repeated “A soldier must die - will it be [INSERT TITLE HERE]?” is simply cut ’n pasted onto the end of this issue, encouraging everyone to stay tuned until April of 2006 for the answer to a question that was originally applied to this issue. Is it on-the-fly editing? Last-second alteration? A simple bait-and-switch? Will all of these hanging plot threads even be resolved in Seven Soldiers #1? How about Zatanna #4? The especially cynical reader might posit the answer to be “In a post-project Shining Knight ongoing, probably not written by Morrison.” But we’re optimists here, right?

So I decided to read this entire miniseries again, after my initial underwhelmed go-through, this time as a miniseries and not as interspersed chapters of a larger work. And wouldn’t you know it, this issue seemed a little bit better than it originally had. The specter of guilt is a constant presence throughout (literally at one point), which at least affords the big fight scenes in this issue a smidge of emotional drive, on both Justin’s and the Don’s parts. Sure, the inter-character relationships are barely developed, but all the talk of purity and honor and conflicts repeating over and over does conjure a certain grandeur. It’s just that said grandeur seems more complete when plugged into Seven Soldiers as a whole; in this series, it strikes me as a glossy finish applied to an incomplete structure. But at least Justin’s journey makes some sense, though the destination is not yet in sight.

Reading these issues over again also explains why artist Simone Bianchi’s art seems to waver in clarity; the ¼-way substitution of the usually excellent Dave Stewart as colorist for issue #1’s Nathan Eyring did not prove beneficial to the book’s visuals in my opinion. Stewart’s hues are muddy and dark, apparently shooting for a rich, painted look, but often drowning Bianchi’s detailed linework, which mixes heavy shading on character faces and foreground objects with fine background strokes, sometimes even adding clean-line accoutrement to otherwise detailed bodies. The result is occasionally difficult to read, especially in action sequences. Even this issue’s guaranteed money-shot panel of the corpulent, bare-chested Don riding into battle atop a glorious winged steed, a machine gun blazing in each fist, is left somewhat muted as a result.

Ah, and even mentioning that panel brings me back to earlier qualms; won’t Justin and Vanguard ever meet again? Is this fodder for a different book (seeing as how Vanguard is also a current guest-star in Zatanna)? Some have indicated that Guardian, at least, has more of a conclusion in store. So will only a selection of these miniseries-specific events be covered in this project’s final issue? I liked the image near the end of this issue of the Don gazing upward and glimpsing Castle Revolving in the sky, just as a little child had done in issue #1. But again, this image only has real resonance because we know bits of the Don’s youth from other series, and what it means to the larger plot. I also picked up traces of Morrison’s folk tale evocations that I had missed before, sitting next to the more obvious Arthurian elements that run throughout the series; but this required experience with other series to fully grasp, though it does make for an interesting re-read. As a simple miniseries, there’s little that comes through.

And if I’m getting caught up in mechanics again, it’s only because such structural concessions are indicative of this project, not yet at its halfway point, perhaps beginning to slip from its mastermind’s control, which can’t bode well for an intricately connected mega-story, now can it? Cracks in the armor, and all that. I’m still liking how this all (more-or-less) fits together, which is maybe the best way to enjoy this project. It’s starting to look like the only way we can completely enjoy it. So I’ll keep hanging around, but for all the naysayers and ill-wishers: here’s your first substantive sign that Morrison may be in over his head.