Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Seven Soldiers of Victory - Part 1

I read what I think is maybe one of the best comics ever made. Seven Soldiers of Victory was a different breed of comic, attempting new things with the comic book medium - and subsequently creating a master-piece in creative art. At the time the series was published, though, it didn't proved commercially successful. I was there when it came out, and despite it having many Golden Age characters, which I usually like, I passed on it. I think a lot of people passed on it as well, which made it's great artistic achievement completely parallel to it's commercial success. I believe when it came out in TPBs, 4 different TPBs collecting the series in order of publication, it equally confused prospective fans. I passed on it a second time there as well. So why did I try the series now? I've since become an incredible fan of Grant Morrison's work - and despite hearing how challenging the book was, I thought I could use a challenge in my comic reading. What I finally saw, getting two Hardcover books, collecting the entire 30-issue saga, gave me exactly what I was craving - a complex, imaginative and monumental achievement of the comic art form.

I've decided to write and give my opinion and impression of the various series (Seven 4-issue mini-series, with two book end issues). I hope you enjoy this series of posts - I worked really hard to try and mention all the really relevant points of each book, and how it affected the DCU in general.

To begin, I suppose I'll explain what the Seven Soldiers of Victory where to begin with. They where a loosely affiliated group of golden-age heroes. Their most notable adventure was their last one - when the Seven Soldiers of Victory where revived for the annual Justice League and Justice Society team up in the pages of the 100th issue of the JLA. It was a wild and insane adventure. A villain called the Iron Hand summoned a menace called Nebula; a foe the Seven Soldiers of Victory seemingly gave their lives to try and stop. Yet the Seven Soldiers where not dead - Nebula has cast they all to various times in history, and it fell to the JLA and JSA to go back into history and save them. They brought back all the the Seven Soldiers - but one of their members died, giving their life to finally end Nebula's menace once and for all.

Apparently those JLA issues featuring the Seven Soldiers was very influential to a young Grant Morrison, who has said that was the comic that turned him into a serious comic fan, and eventually a stellar comic writer as an adult. Morrison, as a comic writer, has always pushed the boundaries of what comics can do. He's said in interviews that Seven Soldiers was an opportunity for him to tackle a lot of different perspectives, and to really challenge himself as a writer. I think he did a phenomenal job; he wrote these stories as potential openings to new on-going series - as he was taking C-List characters and reinventing them for a new audience. While new on-going series never actually sprang from this series directly, it's influence has subtly been seen throughout DC Comics in the the years since this series was published.

The first issue of the series was labeled "Seven Soldiers of Victory #0". Issue #0 would open the series, with issue #1 acting as the finale; essentially book-ending the diverse group of mini-series.

This opening issue is told from the perspective of Shelly Gaynor, aka the Whip. She was a legacy character, the grand daughter of the original Whip, a zoro-like Whip wielding hero. Morrison's update for the Whip took the concept away from a cowboy theme and straight to a dominatrix-style costume; which despite the outrageous style, worked out very well. Shelly was essentially a thrill-seeker, using her super hero exploits to write as a columnist and best-selling author.

One of the original Seven Soldiers, Greg Sanders, aka the Vigilante. He was a modern-day cowboy, and was looking to recruit a new group of Seven Soldiers to take care of an old case he had once tackled. He had previously fought this gigantic spider - a legend out west, called the monster of Miracle Mesa. Sanders thought he had killed the spider long ago - but found it was still alive.

The other people who responded to Greg Sander's call where a collection of Z-List heroes, if ever there where. Marry Pemberton, aka Gimmix - who was snobby and used expensive high-tech gadgets.

Thomas Ludlow Dalt, aka I, Spyder was bow-wielding hero with a Spider-theme. He possesses perfect aim, and knows a lot about Spiders, which was useful for their mission.

Boy Blue, a 14-year old mexican kid with a sonic-horn with a ghost-like costume.

The final member was Dyno-Mite Dan, who had two powerful rings, able to give him explosive powers, which he had bought on eBay.

This was a group of losers, and everyone knew it; but they where going out on this adventure anyway and where going to try their best. It didn't help matters that, for this new version of Seven Soldiers of Victory, they only had six members -- someone hadn't showed up like expected. Still, this rag-tag group of lame characters where presented with real personalities and charm, and where written very well, giving you an emotional connection to them; which was very important for what was coming.

Of note - this issue's opening scenes first began in Slaughter Swamp. An era of swamp land outside of Gotham City, this place was a haunted horrible place - having given birth to the zombie-behemoth Solomon Grundy. Grundy never actually appeared in the series, but his origins are tied to Slaughter Swamp - and invariably to the entire series. It's here that the Seven Unknown Men of Slaughter Swamp sew the fabric of the universe together. In this area of swamp land, reality is soft - and things bleed through. I, Spyder was hired to come to this swamp by the Seven Unknown Men. He came to the only cabin located in the swamp to find, called the Gold Place, where an extesential transformation took place. The Seven Unknown Men wanted to prepare I, Spyder - and make him a better warrior. They augmented his abilities, giving him "perfect aim". They said they where doing to him to try and protect him from the Sheeda, who where already trying to take hold of him.

The Sheeda -- they are the main enemies of the series, and never has there been a more interesting or uniquely introduced group of villains. They first appeared in a 3-issue JLA story written by Morrison - where little winged warriors, the size of mosquitos, where able to attach to the back of a person's neck and control their actions. They where barely a foot-note in that 3-issue story, as they just took control of some Super Heroes and had them wreck havoc.

This is the thing about the Sheeda - their invasion is microscopic at first. No one even knows they are there, and thus no one can stop their preparations for war. So it's a silent invasion - in effect. Their first mass attack came right after Sanders and his group had killed the Giant Spider of Miracle Mesa. It turned out to all be a trick - as they weren't the ones doing the hunting; the Sheeda where hunting them. Lead by the Celestial Huntsman, Neh-Buh-Loh, an entire invading army (full sized, not the mosquito-sized ones) rampaged and stormed the entire group of heroes - killing nearly every one. "The Harrowing of Man" had begun. All these lame characters, who we where given a small bit of connection to, where violently and gruesomely stripped away; their deaths being a powerful opening prelude to the series.

This issues was drawn by J.H. Williams III, who was handling the art of this issue along with character designs for the entire cast. His work is simply engrossing - as every page and panel set-up is a work of art in of itself -- cramming multiple panels of story into a single page; making this first opening issue seem longer than it might actually be.

In upcoming posts I'm going to cover the 7 different heroes that comprise this series, and point out their effect in the DCU since. First up will be the Shining Knight.

If you're interested in this series, you can find the two Hardcover volumes here, and here, for a very reasonable price. A word of warning, though; don't get one volume without intending to get the second -- as a lot of the story is very inter-connected, and is best read the entire way through.

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