This won't last much longer, so let's make it count.

Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #4 (of 4)


In this issue, among other amazing feats, Frankenstein confronts an uncomfortable metaphor for human development, scores some cherry government funding, time-travels one billion years into the future, quotes Milton, explodes six mighty dreadnoughts at once, loses an arm, gets a new arm, learns to adapt his own wild ways to the requirements of a modern metahuman team, learns to use the internet, hijacks an inter-dimensional flagship like he’s in Grand Theft Auto, and destroys an entire universe by shooting it in the head and skewering it on a stick. “All in a day’s work… for Frankenstein!” In other words, it’s exactly as effervescently over-the-top as you’d expect from the final issue of this book.

It’s also the final issue of the final Seven Soldiers miniseries, leaving only the extra-tardy Seven Soldiers #1 on the table (latest tentative release date: June 21st), and so you’d probably also expect lots of wide-view megaproject work being done as well - you’d be right with that. What seals the deal as to Frankenstein being one of the strongest Seven Soldiers segments (oh, and since they’re all done now, from most to least: Klarion the Witch Boy, this, Bulleteer, Zatanna, Guardian, Mister Miracle, Shining Knight) is that it deftly juggles miniseries-only themes with the concerns of the larger project, neatly informing our view of the wide via our experience with the narrow. Yes, this issue might seem somewhat obscure to someone just peeking in out of curiosity, just from all the excess information flying around (and the obvious lack of an ending), but never does this monster seem strapped down to the table of a crossover - he wanders.

For those who’re looking at this particular chapter as Seven Soldiers #29 (of 30), get ready to break out those back-issues yet again, as there’s plenty of tie-ins to Shining Knight (keep your eyes peeled for a quick Justin cameo), Zatanna, and Bulleteer, plus citations of general Seven Soldiers sights like Miracle Mesa and Summer’s End, big fat references to writer Grant Morrison’s runs on JLA and JLA: Classified (the latter of which now quite firmly acts as a Seven Soldiers prelude), homage duly paid to Golden Age forebears, and a wink or two in the direction of Infinite Crisis. Against the odds, I think lightly connecting this project to Infinite Crisis has actually aided it, since it throws the book’s concerns with forgotten heroes and their potential for transformation into sharper relief - the world must now be saved by them, as everyone important is busy dealing with Superboy popping continuity in the kisser. Individual transformations eventually add up into something that can change the shape of the universe, or at least slow its slide into the gutter.

There’s two big indications of that in this issue, neatly housed in each of this chapter’s distinct halves.

The first half is a big throwdown with recurring project villain Neh-Buh-Loh, Frankenstein literally clashing with a universe on a snowy mountaintop. As always, Neh-Buh-Loh looks different here than he does in other segments of project, as if every one of the heroes who confronts him sees him in their own way - amusingly, artist Doug Mahnke at one point draws the villain in a style similar to that of Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines of JLA: Classified, during an in-issue summary of that storyline. Oh yes, we all get to enjoy a brief synopsis of those issues (#1-3, for the record), as Frankenstein uses The Internet! to download the fiend’s history right into his brain (hey - does that mean he’s pirating comics?!), from Neh-Buh-Loh’s Golden Age clashes with the first Seven Soldiers of Victory as Universe Man (at the behest of the Iron Hand, himself having appeared in Bulleteer) to his back-to-the-future birth as the Infant Universe of Qwewq. Stuff like this has been going on throughout this whole project, so it’s funny that Morrison takes this opportunity near the end of it all to indulge in a direct historical infodump, and doubly funny that it’s done through a character looking things up online, just as so many readers have done with the rest of the trivia in this project.

Anyway, Neh-Buh-Loh uses the fight scene as an excuse to unload his secret tale of woe as the Sheeda’s enforcer - he could have been big and bad enough to replace this universe with his own form, but a flaw is present inside him - at some point he learned to appreciate beauty, and hesitated in killing Princess Errrhiahchnnon, better known as Misty from Zatanna’s end of the project. This is due to the invasion of the Ultramarines into his system at the conclusion of Morrison’s run on JLA: Classified, “…medicine to hasten your end,” as Frankenstein puts it. Those who’ve read the JLA: Classified material know that Neh-Buh-Loh is, shall we say, very similar to our universe from an interior perspective, and it’s a cute extension of Morrison’s themes from that storyline that the thing keeping Neh-Buh-Loh from growing to replace a grand superhero universe with his own ‘realistic’ form (albeit a ‘realism’ concocted through the poisonous influence of supervillain Black Death - see also: the Terrible Time Tailor in Guardian) is the injection of superheroes into the ‘real’ world (see also: Flex Mentallo - Christ, these cross-references are getting thick). Ultimately, the strictly C-list superheroes of the Ultramarines have managed to stop the growth of a bad universe. They’ve transformed the biggest thing possible, in the end.

In the second half of this issue, S.H.A.D.E. finally puts two and twenty-seven together and puzzles out the Seven Soldiers megaplot (“I keep spotting repeated patterns in all the incoming crisis data. Read the FBI girl’s report!” - ah, poor doomed Agent Helligan, too far ahead of the game for her own good), and sends Frankenstein to Miracle Mesa just in time to hitch a ride to Summer’s End with Gloriana Tenebrae, wicked Sheeda queen extraordinaire. Frankenstein can get close to her since he has Sheeda blood, yet again triggering the ‘good children vs. bad parents’ theme as seen all over this project. Again, we get a big supervillainous speech, as the queen details the history and motives of the Sheeda. Not only are they out to regularly strip humanity of its culture at crucial junctures, but Summer’s End itself is just a ruined Earth they’re hiding out on, One Billion Years Later (999,999,999 more than usual these days, I suppose). But the Sheeda recur throughout human myth and story, not only because they pick on us, but because we are like them:

Humankind has ever preyed upon the Earth, and we are only the last link in that chain -- we super-survivor organisms.”

Indeed, the Sheeda can be seen in the context of this story as the logical conclusion to humankind’s own tendency toward exploitation, those so hungry to devour things that they’ve devised a way to travel through time and feast on what can be viewed as immature versions of themselves. And naturally, there’s nothing writer Morrison hates more than the wrong type of maturity! Together (yet apart), the Seven will use their newfound transformations and improvements to protect the world from an incursion of an arrogant mirror’s image of ourselves, eager to send us back to the Dark Ages for their own greedy cultural gain. That means Frankenstein gets to deliver his own spin on the old WatchmenI did it thirty-five minutes ago” standard.

And yeah, what of Frankenstein’s transformation anyway? He's joined S.H.A.D.E. now, despite their cynical attitude, and he's found a way to work things through in his own special manner, while also belonging to a group and arguably doing more good than before. The Sheeda queen makes loving reference to the lack of objective moral standards in the Sheeda world, but Frankenstein retains his rather black and white view of things - sometimes, evil just needs squashing. He's working in a formal, even corporate system, but he's stayed himself while thriving in a modern world - kind of like how he's actually a public domain concept being used in a corporate superhero comic. Really, if you want to go that deep, you can see this book as a little story about keeping things authentic in a word that seeks to cut you down - like writing superhero comics! In this book, all of humanity is geared toward waste: self-loathing and bloody revenge (issue #1), slavery and exploitation (issue #2), militaristic science (issue #3). This last chapter sees it exploded onto a cosmic, time-tripping stage. Sometimes, a figure has to rise to bring a little old fantasy back the world, and make it better. Before it picks up a spear and starts skewering people.

And isn't that what this project is all about?