Kirby Kastoffs: Graeme on Seven Soliders and then paying lip service to other 10/25 books.

SEVEN SOLDIERS #1: Oh, alright: Holy crap. First read-through of this, I spent half my time thinking, “Wait, what…?” and the other half marvelling over the amazing job that JH Williams does on the artwork, shifting styles every few pages to evoke the various artists whose work has been seen elsewhere in the whole Seven Soldiers event (as well as Jack Kirby, because it turns out that the New Gods tie into more than just the Mister Miracle arc here after all). If nothing else, this would easily be the best looking book of the year, thanks to the stellar job that Williams does here; his ink washes looking just like Simone Bianchi’s, his Mr. Miracle pages having the weird look of Freddie Williams, and yet all of it reading like a whole instead of a patchwork, and in doing so, drawing all of the visual styles on each of the separate minis together into a whole as well… It’s an amazing job. But like I said, that was the first read-through. That was when the art was distracting me from what was going on in the story, so I was all “Hang on, what’s going on, how did he get there, and what does that have to do with everything…?” Because, boy, this is a dense issue – There’s a lot going on, and it not only needs your attention, but your imagination as well. But when it has those, it really, really delivers.

I’m in a pretty good place to have read this today – I’ve been rereading the various chapters of some of the 7S mini-series recently, so a lot of the back story to this is fairly fresh in my mind. If I hadn’t done that, I probably would’ve been a lot more upset by what happened in this issue, because there’s more than a little backstory needed for this to make sense, especially from the Mr. Miracle and Frankenstein mini-series. It’s interesting to see that each of the seven soldiers has their character arc end in a manner that reflects the individual series; Bulleteer saves the world by accident, reflecting her ambivalence about being a superhero (which makes you kind of wonder what had happened to her between this and her appearance in last week’s 52), Guardian saves his relationship before saving the city, Zatanna finds that it doesn’t matter if you screw up as long as you keep trying, and so on. I don’t know if it’s meta-commentary or not that Mister Miracle doesn’t join in the main battle at all – as much as any of the other characters join, at least – considering that his mini-series was the furthest removed from the main plots of all of them, but the revelation of just what the Sheeda are, and that they end up working with Darkseid, makes the whole thing into some weird-ass Kirby Fourth World sequel that you really didn’t see coming.

(Actually, I’m in two minds about that whole thing. On the one hand, it really does feel like it has thematic connection to the Fourth World books, and a lot of Kirby’s other ‘70s stuff, and I really dig that, but on the other… It almost reduces the whole thing to epic prequel to another story, especially with the last page that says “To be continued!” without using those three words, and that kind of makes me feel as if I’ve been cheated somehow. Does that make sense? The evolution of humanity becomes a New Gods plotline, which ties in with the Mr. Miracle series and the one completely unresolved plot from that book: Whatever happened to the New Gods? I mean, yes I want Morrison to tell that story – with Ladronn artwork, please – but now I feel as if the entire Seven Soldiers story was almost just a McGuffin to get you interested in an upcoming New Gods one. Which isn’t to say that this story wasn’t awesome, just more… well, it would’ve been nice for it to have had a less obvious “This story isn’t finished yet!” ending, I guess.)

(That said, when you think about it, three of the seven soldiers have a Kirby pedigree already: Klarion, Guardian, Mr. Miracle…)

(No more parenthesis. I got it.)

It’s interesting to note that this is the most… serious that Morrison’s writing has been for awhile. As much as I enjoy Batman, say, or something like All Star Superman or Wildcats, there’s something of pastiche going on there. Or maybe not pastiche, but a feeling that it’s Morrison at play, not really stretching himself but comfortably writing things that he knows inside and out. That’s not the case here; there’s a sense of urgency and intensity, of just taking what he’s writing seriously, that’s been missing from his writing since… what, We3? Or maybe even the Invisibles…? It’s both good and bad, because it throws his more recent work into a worse light, but still. It’s nice to get again.

This isn’t a perfect comic, of course. For one thing, it’s six months late, which is never a good thing – but in a world of Ultimates and All-Star Batman and Robin, not that surprising – and for another, it’s probably too dense for its own good, considering that a lot of people are reading it and feeling as if they don’t get it. Nonetheless, it’s Excellent, a great writer and artist at the top of their game, providing a satisfying and ambitious conclusion to multiple series, and delivering a superhero story that fufills the promise of seven different ideas of what it means to be a superhero that also manages to wrap in a classic science-fiction concept and more than a little bit of playing around with the language of comics itself. Yeah, it’s late, but this is really one of those cases where the wait was more than worth it.

PICK OF THE WEEK, easily. But there were, of course, other comics that also came out this week, so let’s talk about them quickly, shall we?

ACTION COMICS #844: Or, Superman The Movie comes to comics. Richard Donner’s co-writing (or, as I suspect, his plot suggestions as fleshed out by somewhat starstruck and faithful to the Movie co-writer Geoff Johns) isn’t the only reason for me saying that, as everything here feels as if it belongs to Donner’s 1970s version of the character than the current Busiek version (Which is, in itself, kind of interesting – We have a ‘50s/’60s version of the character with All-Star Superman, and now a ‘70s version. Let’s wait for Robert Kirkman or someone to start the Byrne revival with an ‘80s version, and we’re getting closer to a franchise character where every audience gets the version they want), and Adam Kubert’s Clark Kent owes a lot to Brandon Routh’s recent recreation of Christopher Reeve. None of which is to say that this isn’t enjoyable, because it is, very much so – The plot is simple and yet open enough to offer some potential future drama, and Kubert’s art is bold and clear, using double page spreads at every opportunity for the (somewhat expected) “widescreen” approach. Very Good for a first issue, although we’ll see what they do with the set-up in later issues.

NEW AVENGERS #24: And, finally, the plot monster that is Civil War comes to New Avengers. It has to happen, really; we’ve had, what, three issues of Civil War crossovers in this title that have provided the character beats that the main mini-series has been entirely devoid of, but finally the overpowering of character by what the plot demands has reached this title as well, as what is supposed to be a solo story about the Sentry’s struggle with what’s going on becomes a lead into Silent War (coming in January 2007, true believers), with the Sentry acting as exposition device #987 explaining why Civil War really didn’t come out of nowhere, no, honest, and the Inhumans respond by telling the reader why they’re going to be at war with the human race in a few months time, before Iron Man appears with a page-long monologue about just how hard Civil War is for him, honestly. It’s not just that none of it rings true, it’s that none of it feels in the least bit organic, which is one of the main problems I’ve had with Civil War in general: I can’t buy it as a story, because it feels like nothing as much as the manipulation of plot by writers who want to shock the reader instead of entertain them, and have no problem doing whatever it takes to do that (The portrayal of Iron Man, which is becoming somewhat schizophrenic depending on what title he’s appearing in, is the best example of that, I think, especially when you compare his “I will help [Captain America] open his eyes and see that the world around him once again has changed. And from there we’ll start the healing process” with his “Imprison all the bastards who oppose me in the Negative Zone for life” schtick in the J. Michael Straczynski-written titles). Pasqual Ferry’s art is his usual beautiful work, but it’s wasted on this Crap.

STAN LEE MEETS THE THING #1: Well, that’s kind of depressing. Stan’s third tribute book sees him play things more or less straight, which is much less interesting than his last two condemnations of what Marvel has become: Stan apologizes for making the Thing into a monster, and he more or less says “Hey, I get ta beat things up and get lots of pussy! Fergit it, skinny!” Which is… um, alright, I suppose. The back-up strip, by Roy Thomas and Scott Kolins, also falls victim to being too respectful, leaving the two-page cartoon by Johnny Ryan to be the highlight of the new stuff. And even that is pretty weak. Okay, and that’s only because the reprint of Fantastic Four #79 is really rather good.

SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #23: Fill-in creators Tony Bedard and Adam DeKraker disappear after a couple of months, and suddenly the book regains some of the momentum that it’s lost over… hmm… the past couple of months. Coincidence, or something more sinister? And not only the momentum, but the element of surprise, as well: Did anyone really see the return of where the majority of the issue takes place? Or, if you’ve been avoiding spoilers and solicitations, the return of that particular character on the last page? I don’t know if this return to the quality of the first year of the book is more than temporary, but I’m certainly hopeful that the focused storytelling that’s on show here sticks around, and a refocused-and-hopefully-less-under-the-52-deadline-gun Mark Waid continues to remember that, as nice as subplots are, it’s always nice to have an A plot, as well. Okay to Good, depending on where you fall on the Legion fanboy spectrum.

SUPERMAN/BATMAN ANNUAL #1: I may be sick, because I actually really enjoyed this remake – sorry, “reimagining,” if the cover is to be believed – of the origin of the World’s Finest team. It’s always nice to see Ed McGuinness art on Superman (It’s the way he does the chin, really), and even if he couldn’t do the whole book (I wonder if this was around the time he went Marvel-exclusive…?), the three other pencillers who complete the book keep the look pretty consistent. Joe Kelly, meanwhile, manages to keep his plot fairly straightforward for a change, and manages to get back to writing Deadpool thanks to shamelessly admitting the character’s “inspiration”. It’s not going to win any awards, but it was a nice fun little book. Good.

It was a pretty dull weak, all told. I wanted to read the Civil War: Choosing Sides book out of curiosity for how Marvel do books rushed out to fill a percieved gap in the market that are full of short teases for future Marvel product, but there was only one left in the store when I was there this afternoon, and Brian should probably sell that to someone who really wanted it. Bri did try to convince me to review this month’s issue of Rear Entry, which has a cover just like you’d expect it to after hearing the title, but I demurred, because of my shy demeanor and a desire to avoid Kate taking the piss out of me as I read it. So, we’re left with Seven Soldiers as the undisputed PICK OF THE WEEK, and I’ve already told you, and New Avengers as the fairly obvious PICK OF THE WEAK. The TRADE OF THE WEEK is the new Runaways collection, RUNAWAYS: PARENTAL GUIDANCE, which has Brian K. Vaughan managing to still make me upset when he kills off that one character, even though I knew it was coming. You bastard; she was my favorite character in the series.

(Yes, I know that I’ve promised you that I’m going to review FABLES: 1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL after getting it mailed to me this week. I’m still going to, but I wanted to gush about Seven Soldiers first. Sometime this week, honest.)

Next week: 52 hits the halfway mark, so I’m probably going to say something about that. And Superman Confidential, as well, which – if nothing else – has a really nice logo. But that’s enough about me and graphic design: What did the rest of you read this week?

(And now, when I go to post this, Jeff's already posted his reviews! Jesus! Okay, now I have to see if we're being psychic twins about Seven Soldiers or not...)