I don't even know what day it is anymore.

*Current favorite series in the entire world: Toyokazu Matsunaga’s Bakune Young, which has been presented in English twice, once as serialized in VIZ’s late, lamented Pulp magazine, and later as a three-volume series of $16.95 books. These tomes date from 2000 to 2001, and can currently be found used for mighty cheap (I got the whole lot of ‘em for about seven bucks total). I’ve only read through the first two volumes thus far, the second of which actually might be the greatest action manga I’ve ever read, a nearly flawless mix of beautifully exaggerated character designs, broad comedy, lively characters, canny social satire, brilliant explosions, pure nonsense, genre parody, hallucinogenic set pieces, and page after page of dazzling, bone-crunching action. It’s really kind of a hard book to summarize in terms of plot - the title character is a mean, hulking young man who takes Japan’s National Treasures (as well as the local Yakuza head) hostage, demanding a hundred trillion yen in ransom. All sorts of zany characters show up, and most of them fight and die. Apparently things get political in volume 3, which takes place half a decade after the first 2/3 of the series. It’s really, really good.

Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #3 (of 4)

This is very good as well. Clearly, writer Grant Morrison is having an absolute blast with the narration throughout this rung of the project, even going so far as to adopt a different ‘voice’ for each chapter. I couldn’t tell you who this issue is supposed to be paying tribute to, but it works splendidly as its own uber-enthusiastic, over-the-top thing (“Swirling fog. Bizarre, inhuman cries. A mystery for Frankenstein!”), Doug Mahnke’s creeping, withered visuals offsetting the words through horrid combat, even if said combat is against delightful zombified furry critters. Yes, something weird in the water as turned every animal in Salvation Valley into a blood-crazed killer; the swirling walls of mice hearkened back nicely to We3, and it’s nice to see that we can now get man-eating cows outside of the pages of The Tick.

Naturally, Frankenstein wanders (literally) into all of this, though he’s interrupted by Morrison’s contribution to the One Year Later DCU, the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive (S.H.A.D.E.), an presidentially-formed hush-hush organization that’s secretly been performing works of metahuman espionage since the 1960's, despite its status as a “one-time” deal. Apparently, their mission never had to end. Also: they’re fairly blithe about their overall task, prone to sacrificing lives to get results, not above using people to protect economic interests, and more involved in cleaning up after the hazards unleashed by the development of questionable weapons instead of taking any sort of initiative. In other words, they’re the perfect opposite of the driven-to-a-fault Frankenstein, all Old Testament blood and thunder and zero politics. Last issue he reached a turning point when he learned of his connection to the Sheeda, and here he faces a mighty challenge: a world that’s no longer receptive to his methods.

The must crushing blow comes from the arrival of old flame the Bride, who’s hooked up with S.H.A.D.E. and essentially rejected everything that makes up Frankenstein’s identity. “The world has changed,” she flatly tells him, as the two of them rush off into battle with yet another man-made monster, also a tool of living human interest. As every constant reader knows, Seven Soldiers is positively loaded with frayed familial bonds, and the relationship between creators and their creations can be viewed as part of that (which naturally feeds right back into the project’s larger comment on revamping superhero properties, all of them creations gone or taken away from their creators). But the world Frankenstein is in constantly proves itself to be a cruel, baffling place; I’m surprised the misunderstanding giant hasn’t thrown a metaphorical child into the metaphorical river yet.

But as always, the hero prepares him/herself for the final transformation. Having leapt into battle with guns blazing against the drooling maws of carnivorous bovines, and having left a town of squirrels eating eyeballs and babies sucking on pacifiers and brandishing lead pipes, the monster continues to stride forward, silhouetted against one of the most recognizable icons of modernity. Even Morrison’s jolly narration suddenly stops when Frankenstein is in S.H.A.D.E. territory, only to restart when he’s loose, as if the writer’s funny throwback captions can’t quite exist in this new world, which is steadily getting newer - it’s revealed that Infinite Crisis is apparently taking place at the same time as this. An interesting element of doubt about the DCU’s future, inserted by one of its architects; but good drama requires doubt on that path to redemption.

Seven Soldiers - Mister Miracle #4 (of 4)


It was nice of DC editorial to thank all of the artists on this project at the end, as troubled as things got for a while.

Well, I’m not sure if I should be saying things like ‘sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one,’ since this issue’s revelations about what’s going on seem to include both the ‘Shilo is still in the black hole’ and the ‘Shilo is going to resurrect himself’ camps. It’s probably in your best interest to just read the series over again from the beginning; this out of all the Seven Soldiers miniseries is the one that’s undoubtably going to suffer the most from being broken up into segments in those future trade collections, as it really is paced as a single experience, its occasionally jumpy pacing ultimately revealed as a symptom of viewing the Life Trap. There’s a real build evident in reading this miniseries as a miniseries, a subtle breakdown of time, jumps becoming more and more fierce as the story moves on, culminating in this final issue’s whirl of living.

When we last left Mister Miracle, he was scourged and crucified... er, castrated and lit aflame and left crippled by the minions of Dark Side. Here, he encounters his Last Temptation before rising again, killing himself only to experience life after life in which he’s but a pawn of other forces, and always still bound - by himself, by his aching guilt over what’s apparently an in-continuity tragedy in his past, though I’ll be damned if I knew about that before hand. To me it seemed like the same problem that hit Shining Knight in its closing pages: a really big emotional revelation that’s simply never set up until it suddenly has to appear. As a result, it kind of lands like a thud, though at least here Morrison does a lot more with the material thematically.

From what I’ve been told (and I will get to reading all this stuff for myself eventually), Mister Miracle has always really been about escaping metaphysical things, like the captivity of one’s upbringing. Here, Morrison puts Shilo through a veritable battery of escapes - he escapes his broken body, only to find himself in a whole bunch of new, equally artificial lives (all of which are happening at once, perhaps through the magic of hypertime, which explains last issue’s connections to the larger Seven Soldiers universe despite the world being ‘unreal’). He then escapes the false perceptions of such living, only to be confronted with The Omega Sanction. Fortunately, the Mother Box(xx) is inside him now (just like Zatanna’s concluding revelation that her father’s knowledge was inside her all along - oh the connections!), and he convinces the life trap itself to escape its own position as a tool of Dark Side (and remember: the anti-life equation is but a way of seeing the world anyway), upon which he escapes the true bond, the final constriction - his own guilt. And then he escapes the black hole, for real this time. Note the triumphant sundae (which unfortunately appears to be vanilla, not chocolate) and the undone straightjacket in that final splash.

Be free. Free the gods. Free all of us.”

So says Metron, meeting up with Shilo on the seventh day, the biblical nature of that number now pertinent. Of course, Shilo isn’t rising to save humankind, but to save other gods. Each human, like Shilo, must ultimately save themselves, and can then become superhumans. More than any other miniseries in this project, this story seems to be looking forward to further adventures down the DCU pike, beyond the confines of this bottled metahuman world; it maybe isn’t too forward to wonder aloud if perhaps this arm of the project was initially conceived as its own separate entity, and one day found a way to get published, with perhaps some enhanced sales appeal, by latching itself onto a larger thing. If so, there’s no denying that the themes at least fit right into the larger Seven Soldiers saga (as well as other Morrison work, as Marc Singer notes), with a few plot bones thrown in to boot (dig those chains on Oracle following his capture by the Sheeda - hmmmm...).

And always, there’s that Jack Kirby credit. If this miniseries feels more detached from the megaplot than others, if it feels even paced to be its own separate entity, it does resonate with those New Gods themes, at least as I understand them. This one got a bit better as it went along; it’s still bumpy, and kind of obscure, and I can just imagine the reactions of those readers completely unacclimated to the New Gods mythos, but it does offer a coherent, appealing point of view. Not the strongest of the Seven Soldiers minis to me, but your milage will vary most here out of anywhere.