Friday, September 30, 2011

The Seven Soldiers of Victory - Part 3 (Manhattan Guardian)

The Manhattan Guardian series is probably one of the more quirky stories of the Seven Soldiers of Victory series - but grounded itself with a personable tale of a disgraced and unemployed police officer given a second chance to rebuild his life and regain his self confidence.

The Guardian originally is an old concept. Jim Harper was a police officer who made himself into a vigilante to take care of criminals the law couldn't prosecute. He helped a group of scrappy kids known as the Newsboy Legion -- he wasn't the biggest hero in the 1940s, but he had a lot of prestige as a character, being created by the creators of Captain America, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Despite simply dressing in blue and yellow and wearing a helmet, the Guardian was also somewhat notable for being a little bit like Captain America - wielding a shield similar in shape to the shield Captain America had when he first debuted.

The Guardian was revived many years later when Jack Kirby worked at DC Comics and was writing the title Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy being a journalistic photographer, Kirby keenly took the opportunity to re-introduce the Newsboy Legion, along with the Guardian again. Yet unlike the on the street ruffians in the 1940s, this new group where different, as they where revealed to be clones of the originals. The crazy mad-scientist outfit of Cadmus Labs was developed in the pages of Jimmy Olsen, and provided all manner of science fiction craziness. Later on the Guardian became the de facto representative of Cadmus Labs in the pages of Superman for many years.

The Manhattan Guardian

The Guardian concept was completely over-hauled for Seven Soldiers - but Grant Morrison kept enough elements of the original concept that it never felt a betrayal of the concept. This new Guardian was also notable for being African-American, instead of Caucasian. What struck me about this new Guardian was how authentic he was written. Usually when comic companies change the race of a character, it can be an honorable attempt to increase diversity; but also can easily become a needless change, with little creative integrity in the development of the new character. For a man from Glasgow Scotland, Morrison really writes black characters very well, without falling on too often used cliches when white people develop black characters. I could be wrong through - I'm whiter than white bread; it's just my impression.

This new Guardian is named Jake Jordan, who is struggling with depression because he can't find work, and it's putting a tremendous strain on his relationship with his girlfriend Carla. Carla's father, Larry, points out an ad in the paper to Jake - the Manhattan Guardian Tabloid Newspaper - where the readers are the reporters. It was a real on-the-streets grass roots publication - and they wanted their own Super Hero to represent them. The idea was that the Manhattan Guardian didn't just report on crime - it fought it! Jake doesn't know entirely what to make of this, but Larry urges him to go and try it.

Jake arrives at the offices of the Manhattan Guardian for his interview with the publisher, Ed Stargard. Immediately upon entering the receptionists draw guns on him, with a television monitor of Mr. Stargard's face warning that terrorists where trying to capture him. Jake does what comes naturally to him, going into action he grabs riot equipment off of a passed out security guard and fights his way to Stargard's office to try and save him. People are shooting at him - it's complete madness - and only gets stranger. A gigantic clay golem confronts Jordan. There are words in Hebrew draw on the golem's forehead, and taking a cue from the legend of the Jewish Golem, Jake erases the markings, taking the animated life away from the creature.

Finally Jake gets into Ed's office only to find a darkened room with a TV screen. The madness has finally subsided as the video-face of Ed explains that this was all a test - this was the interview, and Jake performed well. Jake is confused and upset, but Ed said this was the interview of a lifetime for the job a lifetime. Ed then confronts Jake with his past from when he was a cop - footage from the night he had accidently shot an innocent kid, who Jake had mistakenly thought was a young perp who had just shot his partner to death. This was why he was kicked off the force - and the trauma of having killed an innocent kid had sent Jake into a deep depression. Jake tells Ed that he wasn't going to put up with mind games - but Ed convinces him that this is an opportunity for a second chance; a chance to regain his self respect and turn his life around.

Jake takes the job - and becomes the Manhattan Guardian. Ed's newspaper had apparently bought the rights for the Guardian-costume from the government - so right away this new Guardian interweaves with the old continuity of the old character, without destroying it. Jake is trilled to be working again, and is outfitted with equipment, support, and even a high-tech car for him to act as a full fledged super-hero. In a very funny bit it becomes painfully obvious that a super-powered automobile was not going to work in the congested streets of Manhattan.

While on patrol Ed contacts Jake, being in touch with him through a communicator, and tells him there's breaking news on the subways. Jake isn't able to get there with his car, so suddenly a kid pulls up on a messenger bike, showing him an ID as a member of the Newsboy Army, and gave Jake his bike as transportation, per Ed's instructions. Not the fanciest mode of travel, but it got Jake to the subways.

Another insane abandonment of logic is presented as it's revealed there are Pirates roaming the subways of Manhattan. Using subway trains as their pirate vessels, two rival pirate factions are warring against each other for a legendary secret treasure - and innocent bystanders are getting caught in the cross-fire. It turns out Carla and her father where on the train platform when the pirates where attacking, and Jake only makes it in time to help Larry - who tells Jake to go after them and save his kidnapped daughter.

Jake valiantly tries to peruse the pirates, but reaches a complete dead-end. Jake then is met by the rival pirate gang, who Jake joins with - since they want the treasure, and Jake wants to get to Carla. Turns out the subway tracks beneath Manhattan go off the grid into secret tunnels, behind a fake wall, described by the pirates as their underground world, where they make themselves into pirate kings - turning their backs on the surface world that had rejected them. It's utterly insane drivel from insane subway-dwelling pirates - and it's simply fun! The whole idea is just so bizarre - but made fun by the smart and deft writing of Morrison.

Jakes manages to reach the other pirate train and rescue Carla - while the two pirate leaders continue to pursue the fabled treasure they where both so intent on. The two pirates reach a room filled with green sewage (described as radioactive), with an alter on a small island in the middle of the pool. The two pirates plunge head-long into the filth, and reach the treasure - said to be a powerful weapon of the gods. What they find, though, is a single six-sided throwing die. The pirates laughed -- this was the fabled treasure of the god these two madmen had risked their lives and killed to find? So in the end neither of them really wins, and eventually die from the radiation.

While Jake had did all he could to save Carla, it turned out not to be enough - because Carla's father Larry had died from injuries suffered at the hands of the pirates. Jakes relationship with Carla completely falls apart, as she keeps asking if Jake is a super-hero, why couldn't he have saved her father also.

The next issue proceeds on a completely new story line, as special scientific exhibit is being shown on Ellis Island. A multi-cultural map of the world is made into a tourist exhibit, where apparently it's suppose to show the disproportionality of the world's citizens, as it reduces the population of the planet to a more manageable 100 people - and show where most of them, statistically, would be living. Only a few people live in the North America, showing the divide of prosperity. It's really, really high-minded stuff -- and is really just another insane setting for another insane mission. All the 100 representative-people are automated robots - and because the creator of the exhibit is mad at his wife, he orders the robots to go on a rampage.

Cue Jake parachuting into the exhibit to help save the people there. There's a lot of action and fighting -- but it's really all window-dressing for the scenes shown inbetween, about the troubles Jake is having with his personal life. It's a while since her father's death, but Carla is still upset about it, and Jake, having built up his confidence once again, is prepared to propose marriage to Carla - which really was bad timing. Carla left him - and today Jake takes out his frustration on the robots in the exhibit while he gets the tourists to safety. Soon enough SWAT teams also arrive on the scene, retaking the command center for the park - where the scientist is ranting and raving about how his wife would rather sleep with the robots instead of him. Here's a fun secret - she's actually a robot too, that he had built and had rejected him; so he's completely off his rocker on multiple fronts. Luckily, because of Jake, no one was hurt; but that doesn't stop the robotic wife from chewing Jake out, now that she knows he's just a sleazy tabloid reporter, instead of a SWAT officer like she had thought.

The issue ends with Jake going back to the Guardian Offices to confront Ed - to tell him he's going to quit, as he can't keep doing a job that has destroyed his personal life. Ed, to explain and convince Jake to stay, opens up the secret room behind the TV screen to reveal who he really is. Ed is a huge elderly baby, having controlled the Manhattan Guardian operation with his superior mind alone. While freakishly weird, Jake is gladded by this revelation, as he can at least look Ed in the eyes, instead of talking to a machine. Ed tells Jake that he can't quit - because the greatest story of them all was about to break -- the Story of the Seven Soldiers of Victory who where going to save the world!

This is perhaps the first time the Seven Soldiers are explicitly stated as a concept outside merely the title of the series. Ed apparently knows about the approaching Sheeda invasion, and knows the legend that Seven Soldiers where destined to defeat the Sheeda. Ed says that they don't believe the Sheeda are actually aliens - but know that they appear throughout history, tearing down humanity whenever human civilization reaches its peak. It's explained that, because of the seven warriors legend, the Sheeda always attack groups of Seven. The original Seven Soldiers, where were originally attacked by Neh-Buh-Loh, and the recent group of heroes roped together by Greg Sanders - where the Manhattan Guardian lost one of their star reporters (Shelly Gaynor). Ed says that it's the Seven Unknown Soldiers, warriors who have never even met each other, who would finally overthrow the Sheeda.

This, quite frankly, was the most exciting chapter of the entire series - as it revealed so much, in a more clear manner, what our heroes where facing - and what they where destined to accomplish. Yet that wasn't the most exciting part -- the both exciting, yet terribly terrifying revelations where revealed when Ed explained his past.

During the 1940s Ed was part of a group of young adventurers who joined together to be the Newsboy Army. You see, this scrappy little dog in their group, named Millions, the world's richest dog, helped fund a printing press they helped put together. It's all very child-like kid-detective type stuff, as this group of assorted characters all have different skills they brought to the team. Ed acted as the leader, as he was the smartest - named Baby Brain, because of a condition where his body simply never developed, and remained an infant forever; though still aging. They show a delightful and just utterly charming adventure they have, with an Indiana Jones-style getaway on a self-made airplane, escaping from angry jungle natives.

The transition from charming scrappy child-like adventures to a more grown-up and terrifying world simply felt jolting when I read it - but it made this weird little chapter in the series one of the best parts. See, the kids in the Newsboy Army where growing up -- but they go on one last adventure together when a local friend of theirs randomly goes on a murdering spree, subsequently being shot to death by the police. Apparently the kids knew this man very well, and knew he would never do anything like this -- and found a possible answer in a mosquito-like Sheeda spine-rider attached to the man's neck. Being kids, pointing this out to the police wouldn't lead to anything - so they investigate the situation themselves and discover a link between the case and a notorious swamp outside of Gotham City: Slaughter Swamp.

The kids all decide to go on one last adventure, braving it all going into this dangerous swamp - not knowing what they would find. They reach the old shack in the swamp, the Gold Place. Inside they find an erie sight - the Sheeda Queen inquiring about her future fate, and how Seven Soldiers are destined to kill her. In the rooms sits a lone sewing machine and a creepy old man who turns his attention towards the children. This is the Terrible Time Tailor, a fallen 8th member of the Seven Unknown Men - who instead of repairing and re-stitching reality together, was actively working to tear it apart. He tells the children that he makes very special suits - suits you wear for the rest of you're lives.

Suddenly the scene shifts to a board, denoting the paths all the kids would take in their lives. Two of them where marked as "Dead at 14". One, who would grow up to be Vincenzo the Undying Don, was labeled "Guilt-Ridden Undead Mass Murderer." The young boy in the group noted for always wearing a top hat and knowing magic is labeled "Homeless Schizophrenic". Ed Stargard was labeled "Reclusive Freak", and the most horrible one of all was the football star who was suddenly labeled as a "Child Molester and Murder" - suddenly flashing forward to a scene years later where he's telling the others "No. She wanted it" - and the top-hat kid and others in the group where killing their friend for his crimes.

This was what was so terrifying about this issue. The idea that you're fate and destiny can be robbed from you, rewritten, and made to be any horrible fate the Terrible Time Tailor choose. It was jarring, and frightening when compared to the happy kids depicted at the beginning of this issue. The Newsboy Army fell apart, and because of their newly written fates - they where driven away from learning more about the Tailor - or the Sheeda Queen they had seen.

Ed, though, had used his fate to build his Manhattan Guardian Newspaper - to bring the news to the masses while also finding out all there was to know about the Sheeda and their terrible plans for humanity. The battle was already beginning - the raining and thundering storm-swept streets of Manhattan suddenly had Sheeda Soldiers flying outside the windows, riding on the backs of gigantic flies, read to assault the building. Ed wants Jake to fulfill his destiny, and Jakes does just that - but picks up Ed to go along with him and keep him safe. The story concluded here, to be continued in the final issue of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

I really cannot express how mind-blowing this issue seemed to me. Maybe it was just because it was revealing so much information, or that it showed the dichotomy between the care-free adventures of Newsboy Army, against their forced-upon horrible fates later in life. Maybe it's because of my religion - where free will is such an important and integral part of my beliefs - that the idea of you're fate being stolen from you; I just kept imagining if you where suddenly labeled a murder and child molester - and then before you even blinked you're eyes several years have passed - and you've become just what you where labeled as. That's just scary. Not monstrous scary - but theologically and intellectually scary.

After the Seven Soldiers Series...

The Manhattan Guardian didn't gain much prominence in the DCU after the series ended; which is really a shame considering how great the character of Jake Jordan was depicted. He faced pure-crazy in every issue, but the humanity of the character shined through and kept the story sane. Cameron Stewart did such a terrific job drawing this world - it was cartoony, which played well with the craziness going on, but was ridged enough to depict things in a serious light when needed.

The Manhattan Guardian showed up a few times as background character - especially in Grant Morrison's Final Crisis mini-series.

The older Guardian, though, came back instead. Maybe the reversal of replacing the original Guardian with a new character, and a black man, didn't go over with fans as well as was hoped. Yet there where some meaningful connections made to Jake Jordan when James Robinson wrote some issues of Batman, and later Superman where he had the Guardian team up with Mon-El.

With the DCU Reboot that happened recently, the history of Cadmus Labs has been completely changed -- which unless he shows up, a new version of the original white Guardian doesn't seem to be in play. I think next time they need a Guardian to appear in comics in the future, they should go with Jake Jordan instead; as his connection to the changed Cadmus Labs wouldn't effect his origin story quite as much as it would effect a revival of the cloned Jim Harper.

The Seven Soldiers of Victory - Part 2 (Shining Knight)

Sir Justin, aka the Shining Knight, was a small time medieval-based character who occasionally was thrust into the present day to fight alongside the All-Star Squadron, and was one of the original Seven Soldiers of Victory.

For Grant Morrison's series, the Shining Knight's mythos where completely over-hauled - but kept the original framework of the character intact. There was also another big change to the character that, if you didn't know before reading it, you might not have been able to guess until it was revealed in the 4th issue. (If you don't want to know, then stop reading now.)

The Shining Knight

This was probably one of the more mythic of the series in Seven Soldiers - as it tackled the original legendary myth of King Arthur, Camelot, and the Round Table. The concept of Camelot being a cycle, or archetype, is developed here (essentially meaning there are rises and falls inbetween eras when humanity's best shine brightest). This Camelot takes place in the year 8,000 B.C. - so it's a much earlier version of the Camelot concept.

The story begins at Camelot's fall, with the Sheeda launching an invasion on humanity. The Sheeda are winning - their advanced technology and ruthlessness is winning the day, and all seems lost. The Shining Knight, though, is not about to give up the good fight - as Sir Justin of the Broken Table (instead of Roundtable, since they where being broken up) flies his winged horse Pegasus into the Sheeda's floating fortress, dubbed "Castle Revolving".

I simply love that name - Castle Revolving; it instantly seems mythic and awe-inspiring. Inside the dark fortress Sir Justin discovers the Cauldron of Rebirth - one of the fabled 7 imperishable items, which can revive a person from death and keep them alive forever. The Winged Horse Pegasus gives Justin advice (yes, it talks) as they come into this fortress of evil. Many of Sir Justin's friends and colleges have been captured by the Sheeda - tortured and completely warped of any previous identity of self, the Sheeda are experts in devaluing and destroying the soul of a person for their amusement and entertainment.

Sir Justin encounters the Queen of the Sheeda, Gloriana. She carries a mythical sword with her - supposedly a sword only the pure of heart could ever wield, thus it is sheathed. This sword is called Caliburn Ex Calibur, another of the 7 imperishable items, stolen by the Queen. The Shining Knight is able to get close enough to grab the sword - and not only unsheathe it, but wield it against Gloriana. To ensure Gloriana is not able to remain immortal any longer, Sir Justin lifts up the Cauldron of Rebirth and throws it into the green river surrounding the chamber. The Queen is outraged, saying that he doesn't understand what those pools of water actually are - that the Cauldron will forever be lost in time. Eventually the Shining Knight is forced to flee, and goes with Pegasus, leaping into the water to escape the fortress.

Castle Revolving isn't just a colorful name for this flying fortress -- it's a castle that travels through time, and falling out of the pool of water off the side of the castle Sir Justin and Pegasus fall - right into an entirely different age.

The Shining Knight and the steed Pegasus land hard onto the streets of modern day Los Angeles. Pegasus seemed to had broken their fall, but they where still hurt and confused as police officers surround them. They had fallen directly into the middle of traffic, and the sight of a Knight in Golden Armor with a winged horse was quite a disruption. Justin tried to explain; he would later realize the shields on the officer's uniforms where denoting them a peace-keepers - but Justin could not communicate with them yet. The language Justin spoke was a form of Welsh, turning Justin's name to Ystin. Justin is arrested and put in a police cruiser. The police keep talking to Justin, asking if he has a name. He replies in his foreign and indecipherable tongue...

"Ystin. Arach Avallach, Fir Sheeda."

I read somewhere that this was Justin saying his name, that he was a Knight of Avalon, and wondering if the LAPD where of the Sheeda. Regardless, not being unable to communicate Justin then proceeds to use his strength to break free of his restraints and break out of the car - fleeing. Out alone on the dark streets of Los Angeles, Justin is completely out of his depth. This land is completely different from the one he knew; yet a familiar threat soon shows itself. A dark cloud of a monster appears before Justin. Only the Shining Knight can perceive this creature, a Sheeda creation - a Mood Destroyer - which merely speaks to a person, piling on the weight of the guilt Justin already felt for failing his kingdom. The creature tells Justin that he had done the same to the Perfect Knight, Sir Galahad - and had destroyed him in this way.

Justin proceeded to wander the streets of LA, seemingly talking to himself as guilt continues to tell him of the Sheeda's indisputable destruction of Camelot, Avalon, and all the world he had once known. During this Justin helps fend off hoodlums who where bothering an old homeless man in a top hat - which seems to make the Guilt Monster evaporate. Not knowing what to do after this, Justin suddenly finds modern clothing covering his armor. Justin does not know how this happened, but he regains his courage and declares that even while only one Knight remains, Camelot and it's virtues and ideals will still endure.

Meanwhile Pegasus has been brought to stables to recover. Though it seems the local Mafia Don had requested this animal from the police. See, this was Vincenzo, the Undying Don - he seemed to have an interest in all things strange or mythological. A winged horse is quite a find. The Don dubs him Horsefeathers.

Justin turns up at a police station and turns himself in. Believing that he can more calmly explain things to the peace-keepers of this time, Justin hope he might be able to receive help.

A special FBI agent, specializing in meta-humans, is called in to handle the case. An expert on ancient mythology also shows up. Encountering this expert, too late does Justin realize that this is in fact the Sheeda Queen in disguise. The Queen dispenses with her illusion and attacks the FBI Agent, with Justin attacking the Queen head on.

There is another purpose to the Sheeda's appearance in this era - they have also come for the Cauldron of Rebirth - which they have finally discovered is in the hands of the Undying Don. Neb-Buh-Loh had come riding a giant monstrous spider, leading Sheeda forces to attack the Don. Killing the Don is their objective - but they have a much more devious plan in mind. The Don is struck by a arrow through the heart, but as always when injured is taken by his men to the Cauldron of Rebirth -- and while the Don is healed, but a tracking device implanted in him along with the arrow, which gives the Sheeda the exact location of the Cauldron. A full fledged attack is launched on the Don's estate; Pegasus tries to help, but is equally swarmed by Sheeda. Vincenzo is killed yet again - but with all of his enforcers dead, there would be no revival for the Undying Don this time.

While this is happening Justin continues to fight against the Sheeda Queen. Gloriana has a devastating card to play, though - as Sir Galahad, the once perfect Knight, is brought out to kill Justin. The Sheeda have done their work well, destroying all the goodness and righteousness Galahad once stood for. Everything that made him who he was had been stripped away, leaving a blood-thirsty monster in his place. Justin is devastated by this as he is beaten and bloodied by the once Perfect Knight. Then the Queen suddenly smells something - and orders Galahad to stop. She realizes Justin's secret - as the Queen is able to smell her blood: menstrual blood. Justin is in fact a woman. This distraction gives Justin the chance to strike and kill Galahad. Holding the decapitated head of Galahad, Justin declares...

"Gloriana. I am your death."

The final issue fades to a flashback to an earlier time during Camelot's war with the Sheeda. The stable boy, Justin, begs Sir Galahad to allow him to fight. Justin says that he has trained in secret and is able to fight. Seeing the desperation and willingness to fight for their Kingdom, Sir Galahad officially Knights Justin as Sir Justin. That is about where the story ends - to be concluded in the final issue of the Seven Soldiers series.

I have to say this was a remarkable story. What could be a cliched and tired "Knight in Modern-Times" tale became an epic frame-work for the entire Seven Soldiers series as a whole. It demonstrates the ruthlessness of the Sheeda - and what will happen to the modern Earth if the Sheeda are allowed to repeat the Harrowing of Man, as they have done repeatedly through history, always at the peak of human achievement.

I don't know if the reveal of Justin actually being Justina was known to readers beforehand - but anyone simply reading issues #1, 2 and 3 of the Shining Knight mini-series would have had no idea that Justin was in fact a girl, until revealed in issue #4. For the course of the series Justin, yes, was perhaps a long-haired and skinny warrior - perhaps a little effeminate looking; but nothing in the plot would have indicated anything more than Justin simply being a youthful boy. It's not explain why Justina pretended to be a boy at all; but it was evident that she loved Sir Galahad, and perhaps this was her way of being closer to him; in addition to wanting to defending the Kingdom as all the men had the opportunity to do.

This series was simply epic - and in large part due to the magnificent art of Simone Bianchi. I've seen his work in other books - and I am telling you right now, this Shining Knight series was his absolute BEST. His art was detailed, but malleable enough to portray the most unrealistic things, and have in stand side-by-side with a real life setting. It was simply stupendous. He also effortlessly depicted Justin in a way that never betrayed the fact he was actually a woman - but if you know before hand this secret, the way she looks was never overly masculine either.

After the Seven Soldiers Series...

The Shining Knight, though, didn't prove successful in the long term. I believe the gender-surprise confused more people than interested them - and while the Shining Knight would be seen as a background character during DC's Final Crisis mini-series (also written by Morrison) - she otherwise disappeared from the DCU stage.

The Shining Knight, though, returned to comics recently in the pages of Demon Knights - Paul Cornell's medieval team series. Since the DCU Flashpoint reboot, the time and setting for when Shining Knight exists can change - thus she's here during the Dark Ages, instead of in 8,000 B.C. Oh note, though, Cornell's series keeps the concept of a repeating age of greatness - meaning several versions of the rise and fall of Camelot. Also, unless it's contradicted here, you can always suppose Justin went on another time-traveling jaunt, and ended up in the Dark Ages now. It really doesn't matter either way - it's just good to see the character in use again. This time, though, the pretense of Justin being a man is not fooling anyone.

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.

The New 52 -- Recommendations and Opinion, Part 2

I've really enjoyed almost everything about the new DCU Reboot. The comics are fresh and exciting again - but there is one noticeable stain upon the whole initiative: the Batman books. I like the Batman books. I tried two of them this month - and while the issues I tried where good, and not too violent -- that cannot be said for the likes of Detective Comics #1, which had a final page showing the carved-off face of the Joker nailed to a wall. That just added to my disappointment with the Batman-office in general lately, as the previous Detective Comic arch was utterly inappropriately labeled - as it featured cannibalism. I kept hearing how good the story actually was; but I for one was quite disgusted by it - and I'm not even a little kid, which Batman books are more than likely to be given to. The less said about the utterly pornographic Catwoman #1, the better. It's a rather large disappointment to see - that such violent content is being mislabeled as either "T", or "T+" - when it's content that should be getting an "M" rating. Yet DC doesn't want to put an "M" rating on a Batman book - which begs the question why they are allowing such content on one of their lead characters to begin with?! I for one would like to read a Batman book that isn't marred by psychologically scarring violence and sex. I was intending to buy the new Jonah Hex book -- but I put it right back after seeing the prominently displayed dead hooker, nailed to the rafters as a warning for Hex to get out of town. I quite frankly don't know whether to trust the Batman books in the coming future, or the title Green Lantern Corps, written by Batman and Robin writer Peter J Tomasi, which stacked a mountain dead of bodies up as warning to the GL Corps, in addition to slicing disposable Green Lantern characters every which way. Seriously - DC - get the violence under control!

Anyway - regardless of that, here are the rest of new DCU issues I tried this month.

Superman #1

While Grant Morrison is redefining Superman's early carrier for a new generation in the pages of Action Comics, George Perez and Jesus Merino have the somewhat more challenging job of establishing Superman's modern status quo - without stepping on the toes of what Morrison is doing. Perez really rises to the occasion - though perhaps at the detriment of a more fun story.

See, this issue is PACKED full of new information about Superman's new universe. The Daily Planet has been bought by Galaxy Broadcasting Systems, with the old Daily Planet building being demolished, in favor of a new Daily Planet - now called PGN, The Planet Global Network. There's an entire sense of the failing of print media, on it's last legs in real life, being forced to move into the new multi-media age. Clark Kent is dead set against it, and is sticking to the print-media side of the organization, instead of taking an Anchor desk job. Lois Lane has been promoted from Anchor to Executive Vice-President of New Media; essentially meaning she'll be in charge of airing the weekly news. While all of this change might seem like a positive direction, I've simply never liked the idea of Clark of Lois being on TV as anchors. They did it before in the 70s and 80s. It's always felt forced - trying to re-interpret our characters for how journalism has changed, and it feels forced here as well. I don't see why the Daily Planet can't be what real news papers are doing - having print and digital editions. This just feels a bit more complex a transition than neccessary, just to make Superman feel more modern.

That said, I think in general it might have been a mistake to have George Perez headline this title, instead of somebody new to the Superman mythos. Because while this is suppose to be the all-new, all-different Superman -- it all feels very much like the old Superman. The style, pacing, and even panel design on this issue feels like a comic I might have been reading years ago. That's not Perez's fault, by any means - as he does what he does best: he brings the classic-style of comics that he helped create over the course of his carrier. The problem is -- I want something new! I don't want a Superman-book that feels like the old Superman.

Not getting in the way of Morrison's stories might also be in play here, to a harmful degree - the villain introduced in this issue couldn't have been more boring. It's a fire elemental monster -- and I feel like I've seen Superman face this kind of threat more times than I can count. Not this fire-monster specifically --- but the generalized, faceless, alien threat added to a story just as filler. The only interesting new development in the issue is a giant alien in the Himalayas blowing the world's largest horn - heralding some kind of big threat. That plot, though, doesn't go anywhere at all in this issue - and in fact specifically says to find out more about the horn in Stormwatch #1. Stormwarch #1 told us to find out more about the alien who blew the horn in Superman #1. This just feels like a needless and forced tie-in.

I am being overly harsh, though. For what it is - this is a very good issue, and expertly designed. If you're looking for the most bang for you're buck, this issue is it - each page packs in more story-development in every panel than some books have in an entire issue. There are 26 pages to this issue #1 - and each one is densely written. That's not a bad thing -- it takes you twice as long to read this issue than any other comic in the relaunch -- but it's simply not plot-development worth focusing on. It introduces all of the various, and pointedly ethnically diverse, Daily Planet employees - but it all feels very old and stale.

Oh, and the worst part of the issue? Lois Lane has a new boyfriend - and it sure as hell isn't Clark Kent. I know comic characters are suppose to be relatable to fans - but forgive me if I'd like to have a little escapism from my own lack-luster dating scene - and not see Superman be cuckolded, especially on the heels of making Lois and Clark's marriage not exist! I'm probably going to drop this book right away. Go read Action Comics instead. Clark and Lois might not be together in that book either, but at least I'm not feeling disgusted and grossed out by seeing Lois having shirtless gentlemen callers in her apartment - all while Clark can hear Lois summarily reject him through the walls.

Batman #1

This is a title I wasn't intending on getting. Its written by Scott Snyder, the same writer who did the cannibalism story arch I mentioned earlier in the pages of Detective Comics. So why would I try a title written by the writer I was previously having such a big problem with? Simply put - I loved the art of Greg Capullo. It just looked energetic and fun - and after examining the issue to death for any overt violence, I decided to give the issue a try. Let me be clear - it's not necessarily Scott Snyder I have a problem with; his tenure on Detective Comics, while gruesome, has been praised as one of the best Batman stories ever. He writes very well here too -- it's primarily the editors on the books who I'm blaming, who give the go-ahead for plots involving such overt violence to begin with - the writer who was given the green light shouldn't necessarily be blamed.

This issue starts off with a good format for introducing many of Batman's rogue's gallery all at once, as Batman is stopping a prison break out. It's fun and action packed, and with a twist of the Joker showing up, but instead of fighting Batman - he joins with him to help him take out the other bad guys.

It's later revealed that Batman and Dick Grayson where doing an undercover operation, with Dick using a holographic mask to make him look like the Joker, so he could be in Arkham and find who on the inside was allowing a breakout to happen. It was a random prison guard; the entire sequence wasn't meant to be a large plot-point, but a way of introducing us to Batman's rogue's gallery in an entertaining fashion.

Seeing as this is a book that may be an introduction to Batman for new fans, it appropriately covered other parts of Batman's life. All of his former and current Robins are briefly introduced as Bruce Wayne hosts a dinner presentation for Gotham's social elite. Older sections of Gotham are going to be torn down, to begin construction of new buildings, to help improve Gotham City. It's a symbolic way of having the Bat-verse move on towards a new direction.

Batman is eventually called back to duty when a dead body is found. This is perhaps the one part of the story, featuring the dead body - who looks like a human pin-cushion - that is violent; but isn't overt. This person isn't bleeding all over the place - he's already dead; so its not too violent so far. Batman gathers samples of evidence, including DNA, but is shocked to find out who that DNA points to. I won't spoil that plot-point for you.

Over all this was a good issue. It nicely introduced us to Batman's current status, and all of his supporting cast from James Gordan, Harvey Bullock, to Alfred and Vicki Vale where all characterized nicely, letting anyone who doesn't know who is who. I'll have to check out issue #2 before buying it -- but I might give the second issue a try to see where all of this is leading.

Batman and Robin #1

This is a title primarily focusing on Batman and Robin, and their unique and new relationship as father and son. For those new to comics that don't know, the current Robin is Damian Wayne, Bruce's biological estranged son. Damian is rude, argumentative and arrogant - but utterly charming in the continual way that he clashes with his father, who is constantly trying to instill discipline into the boy. Bruce didn't have a chance to raise Damian when he was growing up, as his villainous mother, Tail al Ghul, raised Damian to be a killer for the assassin's cult the Demon's Head. So being argumentative and arrogant is a real step in the right direction for the kid!

For people who read the previous Batman and Robin series, where Damian partnered with Dick Grayson while Bruce Wayne was M.I.A., Damian got along much better with Dick. It's humorously and accurately pointed out that Damian found it easier to honor and respect his father when he wasn't around.

This issue has an emotional scene where Bruce is trying to show Damian the location his Mother and Father where gunned down in. Yet in a surprising and refreshing twist, it's revealed that Burce is doing this because that area is going to be torn down and renovated by the city. There's a declaration of no longer dwelling on where his parents died, but rather on how they lived. While Damian couldn't be more of a snot during these scenes - it was nice to see this clear indication of moving the Batman-mythos in a new direction.

The main plot of the issue details a new villain, called NoBody, who is killing off members of Batman's international Batman Inc - in some vendetta against Bruce Wayne. The Batman of Russia is kidnapped and killed by being dipped in acid -- a rather violent scene, but not yet a deal-breaker for the series.

Peter J Tomasi does a good job of setting everything up for his new run on the series - and artist Patrick Gleason did a solid job. Gleason, in particular, is an incredible artist, and I look forward to seeing him give a fresh and energetic look to the otherwise dreary world of Batman and Robin.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1

Coming out on the heels of a Frankenstein Flashpoint mini-series, comes a new on-going series that I will find an audience and continue on past issue #6 -- because this series is simply a fun, dynamic, and plain crazy monster book - and simply a refreshing change of pace from all the Super-Hero titles.

Frankenstein, introduced years ago in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory series, sees the character, mixing the Marry Shelley version of Frankenstein with the more recognisable Universal Studio's version - creating a unique and ancient battle-hardened warrior, always fighting to protect humanity from evil. The Flashpoint mini-series was written by Jeff Lemire, and this on-going mini-series is written by him as well.

To frank, I was going to completely pass this book by. It just wasn't on my radar, and I fear that might be the same for other people. Yet this is a book I think a lot of people would enjoy, and should give it a shot. It's a futuristic, mad scientist monster series - with a quick-paced plot, with insane but charming ideas. The art by Alberto Ponticelli might not be everyones cup of tea - but his sketchy and loose drawing style fits in perfectly with the monster filled world of Frankenstein.

The series features Frankenstein acting as an Agent of S.H.A.D.E., the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive. The leader of this group if Father Time - an enigmatic and eccentric person who apparently has to regenerate into a new body every few years. He's regenerated into the body of a little girl right now, creating this really adorable dynamic of a pint-sized 12 year old bossing Frankenstein around. It's really just a silly and fun twist that I really like.

The plot of the story is pretty simple - a town has been over run by hoards of monsters. S.H.A.D.E. is keeping the situation contained, but Frankenstein has to go in to try and solve the situation and rescue survivors. Father Time has a surprise for the usually loner-Frankenstein - a new squad of monster-themed troops for him to command. A vampire, mummy, werwolf, and mer-lady round out the group.

I simply love this book, and implore anyone interested in picking it up and giving it a try. I was going to pass it up until I saw another equally glowing review of the series, and I'm glad I was persuaded to give the book a try.

Green Lantern Corps #1

Like Batman and Robin, GL Corps is written by Peter J Tomasi - who returns to the title he helped build for DC Comics. Kyle Rayner is no longer on the book, which is a shame because of the bother-like camaraderie between Kyle, a dreamer, and Guy Gardner, a goof-off. Partnered with Gardner this time is John Stewart, who while not a stick-in the mud, is a much more serious Green Lantern than Kyle ever was. There's a good sense of friendship between the two, though, that's immediately displayed when they both experience difficulties with their regular jobs, given that their identities are public knowledge.

The issue is mostly set up, with John and Guy eventually returning to Oa to get a case to work on. They are in luck - because a Green Lantern Sector House has recently gone dark, and a group of GLs lead by John and Guy fly out to investigate. What they discover is a rather gruesome mountain of dead alien bodies, piled high into the sky, with two random GL members erected on stakes - as a message to the Corps. The issue opened showing the deaths of these two GLs - and while the blood might not have been red, limbs where being cut off repeatedly, until there was a heap of bodies and body parts. This is exactly the kind of violence I'm talking about - and this issue was labeled "T", when "T+" would have been more appropriate. The art is very good - but also very realistic looking, making scenes like this doubly gruesome. I always need titles to cancel on my pull list, and this might very well be one of them just because of this.

Green Lantern New Guardians

This new GL series stars Kyle Rayner, and is made by former GL: Corps creative team Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham. Being moved from the GL: Corps to this new title at first seems like a demotion for Bedard - but I think being the title with the mission statement of focusing on all the different Colored Corps is a pretty decent consolation prize.

This issue is really simple, but effective for readers who are new to Green Lantern. Kyle's origins story is pretty much re-hashed, as Ganthet gives Kyle that last Green Lantern ring in the universe. For fans, this is good as it's establishing the lack of change for Green Lantern continuity - though I think Kyle's regretful first girlfriend Alex is being left out of his origin now. That's all for the best, really, given her gruesome death when Kyle was first introduced.

Anyway - the issue quickly moves to the present, showing Kyle using his powers, and explaining some facts about the GL Universe along the way. Tyler Kirkman's art just looks stunning here - especially a splash-page, showing Kyle rescuing a falling construction crane. (How flimsy are construction cranes in comics anyway?)

The whole issue seems short, though, as it quickly moves ahead to show the crux of the series - all the other Colored Corps Rings are coming to Kyle Rayner, saying he has been chosen - just like he was chosen by the Green Ring. Representatives from all the Colored Corps are moving in, demanding their stolen Rings back - which is where the issue ends. This all seems very, very promising as a fun new series - but this first issue just felt very short, on a whole. I'd still recommend it, though; especially if you want to learn about the wider-world of the Green Lantern universe.

Legion Lost #1

My comic store was having a Buy 3 DC Comics, get a 4th free. I was due a 4th free issue this week, so I looked and looked to find something to add to my pile. I was having such a hard time finding something, anything, to get. I was planning on getting the Jonah Hex title -- but, as I explained above, the dead hooker turned me away. I looked and looked, and eventually decided to try Legion Lost. I like the Legion of Super-Heroes, and was reading the series when up until a while ago when I needed to drop some titles - and the Legion franchise was simply demanding too much of my money each and every month. So I ended up dropping the series completely. So trying out this issue, where this group of Legionnaires are cut off from the main book and trapped in the past seemed like a perfect opportunity.

The issue was very good. Fabian Nicieza writes all the fan-favorite characters comprising this cast very, very well. The art by Pete Woods is exceptional. The story is simple enough as well; the Legion is tracking down an escaped villain who fled to the past, and who is going to spread a virus in Earth's early 21st century. They manage to catch this guy, but not before the virus has spread - in addition to their Time Machine being busted.

The one downside to this issue is that much of the plot isn't explained. This issue is clearly spinning out of events that happened in Legion of Super-Heroes #1 -- which I didn't read, and subsequently left me putting the pieces of the plot together as it went along. The cast is fun and dynamic. I'll probably not continue reading this - but don't let that make you pass up this title if you're interested. I'd be buying it if I had more money; but I don't. Simple as that. So if you're interested, then it's a good series a try, especially since it's somewhat disconnecting itself from the main title, and should be more relatable since it's going to take place in the present day.