Monday, 29 July 2013

Seven Soldiers of Victory volume one

Grant Morrison & others Seven Soldiers of Victory volume one (2006)

He's been on stage for twenty five minutes churning out the same improvised composition for electric toothbrush and washboard when the first bottle is thrown, then a beer can, then a few more at least one of which has been topped up with piss. Play some fucking songs, you tosser, somebody shouts...

I realise that slagging off Grant Morrison has become something of a guilty pleasure, an activity into which I slip all too easily because I think it's funny, and because I have unresolved anger issues stemming from three years or more during which I patiently spent my hard-earned man's wages on issues of The Unreadables with the understanding that it would eventually stop being shit, which of course never happened; so having once had occasion to regard its mystic slaphead author as the greatest comic book writer of all time, I felt slightly betrayed; and it wasn't that I failed to understand The Invisibles - it's just that it was, as I say, shit.

Anyway, everyone's entitled to the occasional droning musique concrète instrumental from time to time, and when the domed one is on top of his game, he really is astonishing. With this in mind I approached Seven Soldiers of Victory, reckoned by those whose opinions I tend to value as being pretty damn snappy.

All the same, I approached it with certain reservations, specifically that there is clearly one hell of a lot going on in Seven Soldiers, and - lacking confidence in my being able to keep track of it all - I was concerned that I might not get the full benefit. For example, I see from an essay incorporated by Andrew Hickey into his An Incomprehensible Condition: An Unauthorised Guide To Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers that sections dealing with the character of Klarion the Witch Boy draw on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progess - and never having read The Pilgrim's Progress, I've been dithering over whether or not I should first get into training with Andrew's book. Then again, I reasoned, I was entirely familiar with all the references which The Invisibles kept trying to rub in my face and they really didn't help, if anything serving only to increased my general loathing of that particular excerpt from Morrison's underpants; and there's something to be said for a comic book which can be read without first having to enrol in evening classes.

Seven Soldiers, I am told, might be viewed as a ritual undertaking designed to turn the comic industry into a sentient being, or something of that sort. This is only one of the myriad potentially deep and meaningful interpretations of the series, but I've elected to go in cold and with little idea of what to look out for, just to see if it works because as Andrew Hickey states somewhere or other:

Read a mediocre book, and you come out knowing exactly what the author intended, and what she wanted you to know. Read a great book, and you come out thinking things neither you nor the author ever thought of.

Furthermore, I'm going to take the story one volume at a time because that's how I roll, and I only have the first two at present, so we'll just have to see how it goes.

Seven Soldiers of Victory was originally one of those golden age comic books so definitively of its era as to resemble its own parody - now that we're all older and a little more cynical; seven superheroes, one of whom was a cowboy; Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy being two others - a sort of composite human flag I guess. DC Comics has a  long tradition of reviving and revising forgotten characters, generally with mixed results depending upon the writer and how much nostalgia is involved. Some tales were of their time and might have been better off staying that way, but if there's a new angle it can sometimes work.

I can't help but notice that Seven Soldiers seems almost like Grant Morrison doing what Alan Moore did with all those old Charlton characters he dressed up as Watchmen - although it's probably best not to read too much into that - and judging by these first eight issues, it looks like it might indeed work. The grinning kids dressed as flags are replaced by similarly obscure also-rans upon whom, lacking much in the way of back story, Morrison scrawls all manner of weird and wonderful patterns, artfully tying this version into the mythology of its golden age ancestor with some additional commentary on the genre made all the more palatable by the wit of the dialogue. That said, it's quite dense in terms of information, which has presumably led to the accusations of incomprehensibility, although on the face of it I would say it's more the case of Seven Soldiers being something which can't be rushed, and which rewards patience and consideration.

It's not perfect - some of the art seems a little underwhelming, and the Klarion sections keep threatening to become Tim Burton - which obviously no-one wants to see - but these are at present just minor niggles for the sake of keeping my hand in.

On the strength of the first volume, specifically on the strength of all its ultradimensional mutterings, Seven Soldiers has the potential of being The Invisibles that isn't shit: admittedly esoteric but at least it has a bit of a tune.


  1. You're pretty much exactly spot on with your assessment. I suspect it loses a little in being collected in trades -- part of the fun of the story is that it's modular to an extent, and didn't have a precisely fixed reading order -- and the end *is* actually a little rushed, but if you've enjoyed the first volume, you'll enjoy the rest, I think.

  2. I quite enjoy slagging off Morrison, in part because his interviews are always far more fun than the actual comics (unless Frank Quitely's drawing them, I adore We3) but also because he's someone who made his name by slagging off other creators which, to my mind, makes him much fairer game than some journeyman hack who's writing equally underwhelming stuff.
    Seven Soldiers was one of his better efforts but even there the Mindless Uns' annotations were, for the most part, far more interesting than the stories themselves which I struggle to remember much about except for thinking the Zatanna one was rather charming.