This is meant to be a one-stop shop for discussing the works of Grant Morrison. There’s just a few things I wanted to try on a new thread, as well as bring everything under the one roof. This isn’t a complete list, but I’m hoping to add other stuff as we get to them. (Click on the hyper-links to go to discussions of the different books.) Let’s see how many of these stories we can get through…

 

1985-88 Secret Origins

Captain Granbretan - text story Captain Britain #13 (January 1986, Marvel UK),

• "The Stalking" (text story with illustrations by Garry Leach, UK 1986 Batman Annual)

• "Osgood Peabody's Big Green Dream Machine" (text story with illustrations by Barry Kitson and Jeff Anderson, UK Superman Annual, 1986)

Zoids Marvel UK - March 1986 - February 1987 Part 1 Part 2

• Dr Who Magazine Marvel UK - Changes (issue #118-9), The World Shapers (#127-9), Shock! (#139)

 

1988-90 Animal Patrol

St Swithin's Day  (with Paul Grist) Trident 1989

JLA: Ghosts of Stone Secret Origins #46

Arkham Asylum 1989 (See attachment below)

Animal Man (DC, #1-26, 1988-1990): Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3.

Doom Patrol (DC, #19-63, 1989-1993): Vol 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

• "Flash of Two Worlds" (Secret Origins #50, 1990)

Gothic (with Klaus Janson, in Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10) 1990 (Also, see attachment)

• Hellblazer: "Early Warning" #25-26, Vertigo, 1990.

 

1991-94 Odds and Sods

Kid Eternity, with Duncan Fegredo, DC, 3-issue mini-series, 1991

Sebastian O with Steve Yeowell, Vertigo, 3-issue mini-series, 1993

• The Mystery Play with Jon J. Muth, Vertigo, graphic novel, 1994

• Swamp Thing: "Bad Gumbo" (with co-writer Mark Millar and artist Philip Hester,) Vertigo, #140-143, 1994

 

1994-2000 JLInvisible

The Invisibles (Vertigo, 1994-2000): Vol I, Vol II, Vol III.

• Skrull Kill Krew (with co-writer Mark Millar) Marvel, 5 issues, 1995

Kill Your Boyfriend (with Philip Bond and D'Israeli, Vertigo) 1995

• Flex Mentallo (with Frank Quitely) Vertigo 1996

New Toys from Weird War Tales #3 (with Frank Quitely, Vertigo), 1997

 

Aztek, the Ultimate Man #1-10 (with co-writer Mark Millar) 1996

• The Flash: (with co-writer Mark Millar), Emergency Stop / The Human Race 1997

JLA 1997-2000

JLA/WildC.A.T.s one-shot crossover, 1997

DC One Million, 1998 Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Interlude, Week 4, Week 5, Epilogue I, Epilogue II

JLA: Earth 2, 1999

 

2000 - 2004 Marvellous Filth

• Marvel Boy, 6 issues Marvel 2000

• Fantastic Four: 1234 (Marvel Knights) 2001-2

New X-men, #114-156, Marvel, July 2001 - June 2004  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The Filth, Vertigo, 13-issues, 2002

 

2004 – 2013

• WE3 (with Frank Quitely, Vertigo, 3-issue mini-series, 2004

• Seaguy, Vertigo Book 1 2004, Book 2 2009

• Vimanarama (with Philip Bond) Vertigo 3-issue mini-series 2005

Joe the Barbarian, DC 8-issue series. 2009

 

• DC Comics Presents: Mystery in Space (tribute to Julie Scwartz) 2004

All Star Superman, 12 issues, 2005 - 2008

 

The Infinite Book

JLA: Ultramarine Corps JLA Classified #1-3 (with Ed McGuiness) DC 2004 (+ dedicated thread here)

Seven Soldiers 2005 -6 (+ dedicated thread here)

• 52 (with co-authors Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid), DC, #1-52, 2006-2007

Batman & Son (includes issues from #655-666), 2006-07

The Club of Heroes Batman #667-669, 2007

The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul with var writers, inc Batman #670-671, Oct-Nov 2007

• The Black Glove Batman #672-675, 2007-08

Batman R.I.P., Batman #676-681, 2008

• Batman RIP - The Missing Chapter 2010 Part 1 Batman #701 (also here)

Final Crisis, May 2008-January 2009

Batman and Robin, June 2009 onwards

• Batman 700 2010

Return of Bruce Wayne 2010

 

2012 - End of the world!

 

2013 Beyond Batman

 

Happy (with Darrick Robertson), Image, 4-issue mini-series, 2012-13

 

(682 - 20/03/12)

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Bulleteer #1- 4

This world swallows you whole and changes you, whether you want it to or not.” – Sally Sonic


The Origin – Issue one really summarises the themes of the whole Bulleteer mini-series. This mini-series concentrates on the way female superheroes are objectified and lusted after for their surface appearance rather than admired or supported for their heroism or compassion. The Bulleteer's strength and invulnerability comes from her metallic shiny skin, which we see her gaining in the ‘origin’ issue. When people look at her, they see only what they themselves are projecting on to her. They certainly don’t see deeper than her skin.

Alix’s own husband wants her to be forever young and beautiful. “Youth doesn’t last forever, unless you are a superhero.” He doesn’t seem to realise that she has a fulfilling job working autistic* children, and like Miracleman’s wife in Moore’s trilogy, she sees more value in being human. “Enough! Life’s not supposed to last forever, Lance!”

Morrison uses Alix’s plight as a good-looking well-proportioned superheroine, who only wants to do something worthwhile with the hand she’s been dealt, to examine some unhealthy attitudes in superhero comics generally. The obsession with youth and beauty, personified by the young ‘superheroines’ of ‘EternalSuperteens.com’ is shown to be some kind of fear of growing up and growing older which permeates the mini-series.

Stories that don’t allow growth or the characters to mature by facing their own mortality aren’t complete. As Sally Sonic’s pal, the Teddy Bear King says – “We all have to die....sometime.” Sally Sonic herself is an example of someone who goes mad and bad because she couldn’t grow any older or more mature. (The way female characters in comics aren't generally allowed to grow up and become mature independant adults)

This fear of maturity and growth (and death is in there too) ties into Manhatten Guardian #4, where we saw the Newsboy Army of Nowhere Street ending in tragedy when they began to grow up and move beyond childish things.

Moving back from the big picture, comics’ poor treatment of female characters is commented on and disparaged throughout the 4 issues. In the first issue Alix asks her shrink: “Have you any idea what it’s like explaining to people that you’re a robot? ....a freak.” It’s a metacommentary on women seen as objects in comics. Also in Sally’s story we see how debilitating it is to her that she isn’t seen as a grown-up and is treated like a little girl all her life.

Even Alix and Sally’s fight begins with them bashing each other with a refrigerator. As in “Women in refrigerators”

The unhealthy depiction of women in superhero comics is the throughline in most of this miniseries and it is all foreshadowed in issue one, so it is a good origin issue, thematically.

The Mini-series – Issue 2 brings in Sky-High Helligan from Shining Knight and reveals background to issue #0. It turns out that the Latin American Boy Blue was the one who betrayed the Vigilante’s team.

A quote from Sky-High here might be another message from Grant to his readers: “Stay with me. I know its a lot of information, but that’s the way I work. Everything at once.” It is a response to those readers that think everything has to be answered and explained in the comic in their hand. (See my quote from Brian Hibbs here!)

Issue three is a great behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in the world of lesser-known heroes and the superhero fans. It’s a kind of realism, as perhaps a world saved by superfolk every few months would build up a celebrity culture around them, complete with lesser-known wannabes and devoted fans. This is what Morrison meant when he said that he was more interested in exploring what it would be like to live in a superhero world than in imagining what it would be like if they lived in our world.

Given the structure of the whole maxi-series, its a bit of a tease that one of the only surviving members of the Nowhere Street child-gang only starts to talk about the events surrounding the Vigilante’s death after Alix gets up to follow Thumbelina into the bathroom. Alix would have found out much more about the events she was mixed up in if she and L’il Hollywood had started to pool what they knew.

I loved Alix’s encounter with her feisty forebear, the original Bulletgirl, Susan Parr – now a sharp-tongued old woman. “Does it even matter to you that you are cashing in on someone else’s good name? I fought in the war.”

Her point is a good one, and could be asked of all the ‘creators’ who continue to profit off the hard work of the silver and golden age greats. It’s fun anyway that in a project that was slightly inspired by DC’s need to freshen up its brands and copyrights, that Grant gets one of the old school to voice an objection to this.

Morrison has a real talent for bringing people to life in a line or two and Parr almost jumps out of the page with her scathing comments. When hearing the short version of the Bulleteer’s origin, she asks “He turned you out like a hooker, then died? Was it shame?”

Superb!

I, Spider’s ambiguous loyalty is nicely played here. His closing in on Alix gave the issue a tension it wouldn’t have had otherwise. You were quicker to realise that he was on the side of the good guys than I was, Mark.

It’s strange that Issue 4 is almost entirely a flashback to the villain of the issue’s backstory. But it’s kind of fitting. Alix is pushed to the sidelines in each phase of her life. She is always just a pawn in somebody elses gameplan. She didn’t have much say in her husbands fantasies or their consequences. Helligan actually told her to keep quiet and act like ‘hired muscle’. The outcome of I, Spider’s hunt of her was completely out of her hands.

This is why I included Alix among the three ‘problematic’ characters/mini-series in SSoV. She never defines herself and what she stands for well. She is carried along by events. It was a whim that caused her to avoid the bloodbath at Miracle Mesa and she is quite half-hearted about being hired muscle or a bodyguard. Her single strong act of self-definition is to turn down newly dead Greg Saunders’ request to join with him against the Sheeda threat. Given how she has found herself in a world of “Sweethearts and Supervixens” (and of course Dumb Bunnies – that Grant didn’t even have to make up!), walking away doesn’t reflect badly on her. Still, it leaves her mini feeling very unfinished. Perhaps that is her ultimate fate. She’ll always be outside the world of normal people, and too sensible and down-to-Earth to be fully of the superhero world.

An Ongoing series – Again, I’d love to see an ongoing series of Bulleteer. She is quite passive, and not a razor-sharp strategic thinker, but she has compassion and empathy, and has been set up as someone who listens, which is a wonderful trait to have. As with each of these minis, Grant has supplied a full backstory and full supporting cast. It’s not hard to see that Alix would continue to bump into the likes of Mind-grabber Man and the original Bulletgirl. Alix’s sceptical stance towards the whole superhero sub-culture would make her a refreshing heroine in the DCU.

She is perhaps the one SSoV character that I genuinely am curious as to how she fared after this series. She was all alone in the world, using up the last of her savings, trying to do the right thing with the hand that was dealt to her. How did she resolve her issues with being a superheroine and a sex object? How did she earn a crust? Where is she now?

*This might be an in-joke of Morrison's. Alix goes from working with one group of autistic children to another depending on how you classify the average superhero fan!
Mister Miracle #1-4

“That void in your soul is to be filled, but you will have to be so strong to bear it…” - Motherboxxx

The Origin – The cover of issue 1 shows a crucifixion, as does the opening scene. In both Shilo Norman is held tightly onto a cross-like mechanism that is lowering him towards his almost certain doom in a miniature black hole.


The themes of this mini-series couldn’t be more explicitly stated at the outset. We are about to view the passion, death and resurrection of a superhero.

Shilo Norman as a world-famous super escape artist has “millions in the bank, girls lining up, [his] face on billboards.” He is a “hero to a generation” and even seems to have that undefinable street cred.

In this last regard, it’s no harm that Shilo is black. He is the second African-American ‘Soldier’ of the seven, but whereas Morrison penned Jake Jordan as an urban hero who just happens to be black, Shilo’s background is a bit more front and centre when it comes to his identity. He lives the glitzy high-maintenance life of a really Bling 21st century black urban celebrity. Morrison plays beautifully against this when he has Shilo and his friend ZZ mock each other in the refined speech of Southern gentry. “Gaylord Malmaison, as I live and breathe, Sir!”

On the one hand, this very literate exchange shows that these successful young men aren’t stereotypical ‘boys in da hood’, but it also subtly invokes all that history, which they are no doubt conscious of. The sad history of slavery and freedom, which is a running theme of the whole project and this mini-series in particular. On top of all the other ways his life is gifted, Shilo happens to have been born into a generation where a young black man with talent can become very successful.

Shilo has everything anybody could want, but something is still missing in his life. The opening page of issue 1 states that Mister Miracle’s escape from the black hole is impossible: “You heard it from the mouth of Science itself!” Having mastered everything else in life by the incredibly young age of 23, Shilo is now risking his life pitting himself against the seemingly immutable laws of the physical universe itself.

Can he cheat gravity?” we are asked.

Shilo’s journey is set to bring him face to face with what is left to conquer after we have mastered the physical world and gained everything it has to offer. Thus Shilo has to struggle against death and mortality, the transience of life and the arbitrary way its events unfold.

Shilo’s journey begins in the black hole. (The black hole/vampire sun/ eclipse is a recurring motif in Morrison’s work – look for the black sun in eclipse appearing again and again in The Return of Bruce Wayne).

The art in this issue is fantastic. The first half, set mainly in the mind-warping black hole itself is masterful. It was a real shame that Pasquel Ferry couldn’t stay with Mister Miracle for the rest of the series too. The two-page spread where Mister Miracle comes face to face with Metron is a moment of calm and wonder, surrounded as it is by Shilo’s disjointed and broken perceptions in the black hole. “What took you so long?” asks Metron.

Metron is a being of science, but his science is much less limiting than the reductive rules of event horizons and gravity. His science has "telescopes that can probe the farthest reaches of a man’s spirit, profound equations to explain the meaning of Love and Hate". Metron’s is a limitless pursuit which allows for faith and love and real meaning.

In explaining Shilo’s significance, Metron says: “Remember who you are! Be proud!”

This might be as close as we get to explaining how this incarnation of Mister Miracle relates to Kirby’s Scott Free character. In SSoV continuity, it looks like Shilo didn’t meet Scott, but devised his own Motherboxxx and became an escape artist. Later in the issue we see that the New Gods of New Genesis are beaten and in hiding in New York (New York – hah!) in the physical bodies of street people. It seems that Shilo is the Earthly form of the New God Mister Miracle, or the receptacle for him. This makes Shilo the son of the All-father. Natch!

In the black hole, Motherboxxx starts to talk to Shilo for the first time. It looks to me that it was devised by Shilo as something to aid his concentration, a kind of techno-magical artefact to put him in touch with the forces within himself that made him a great escape artist. (This is based on the same principles as the real-world magic we saw in The Invisibles.)

In a comic filled with great moments, the folllowing revelation from Motherboxx has quite an emotional punch: “…You never knew what I was, but I was your best friend, Shilo. Even when you’re alone and far from home.”

Only in comics, it seems, can things exist which support us unconditionally like this. In fact Motherboxxx is very like Barbelith, the satellite on the dark side of the moon in The Invisibles. Like Barbelith, it protects and guides those lost in the maze of earthly existence and tries to make their previous, higher, existence known to them. Shilo may seem to be a young celebrity escape artist, but perhaps he is really a New God who just thinks he is an escape artist.

The relationship of the New Gods to men may be even more subtle than this, as they represent forces which are at work in society and the individual, and anyone can channel. To get back to The Invisibles, this kind of philosophy is very close to Haitian Voudoun, a belief system where Gods regularly manifest themselves by taking over the bodies of mortals.

Actually there is a strange tension in the comic on the consideration of these matters. “Demons and Angels are all within us,” Shilo hears from his shrink. “Their titanic campaigns fought over and over again in the churning mud of human hearts and minds.”

This sounds like a good explanation of what goes on in superhero comics. If they have any ‘meaning’ at all, it is as a symbolic drama showing these internal forces ‘acting out’. The trouble is that we later learn that the speaker is an evil minion of Darkseid, and knows well the falsity of his advice in Shilo’s case.

What to make of it all?

Shilo’s final vision in the black hole is of New Genesis and Apokalips. They are shown to be polar opposites, one a heaven and the other a hell. This two-page spread is nicely balanced with scenes from each world on either side and a scene from the ‘War in Heaven’ in the middle – a great scene of Orion attacking a horde of Hunger Dogs. To get back to the symbolic meaning of these comics, whatever this war between light and dark represents, it probably represents the same thing as the conflict between the Invisible College and the Outer Church in The Invisibles. We even have an Invisible-esque synthesis of both sides in Orion, who was Darksied’s son raised by the All-Father to be a champion of New Genesis.

Morrison actually has one of the characters in Animal Man state that comics are a hard medium in which to say anything worthwhile. There isn’t as much verbiage as prose and even then a lot of space has to be devoted to two-fisted action! One way he has gotten around this is by referencing his own work, so that a two-page spread like this can evoke all the philosophising and debate in the 60-something issues of The Invisibles. This is one of the ways that he is working on a completely different level to other comic creators.

(The evil New Gods that Shilo meets later in the issue also seem to have rainbow colours of The Invisibles ‘magic mirror’ in their eyes, showing their extra-dimensional origins.)

Metron shows Shilo the terrible outcome of the war in heaven – “The wrong side won. The Dark Side won.“

As well as leaving Shilo wrestling with the very Gnostic suspicion “What if I live in a world where evil came out tops?”, this revelation lays the groundwork for Final Crisis which wouldn’t see print for another 4 years! Interestingly, apart from Orion’s little skirmish, the War in Heaven and its result is only related to us second hand. We hear it happened, and the result, but don’t really see any of it. Maybe only the outcome is relevant to Shilo's story, but in any case, perhaps a clash of purely symbolic metaphorical forces is probably best kept off the page!

At the end of the 1st issue, Shilo meets the Black Racer, who is being channelled through an old homeless guy in a wheelchair. He tells Shilo that he has put on a wager with Metron that Shilo won’t survive what is to come. The Black Racer always bets on death, but the spirit of endless knowledge and enquiry is counting on the world-famous escape artist to find a way through the maze ahead.

The origin-issue cliff-hanger is supplied by the awesomely Kirby-esque “Drive-by Derby!”

In lots of ways this isn’t strictly an origin issue, but it does set up everything that this story will be about. It hints at the suffering and tragedy that Shilo is about to be put through. Because our hero is at the very peak of his success and abilities, the only way he can go is down.

What's left out of this 'origin issue' is worth noting. We only find out later that Shilo’s risk-taking and dissatisfaction with life is partly driven by the oppressive weight of guilt that he bears concerning his brother’s death. Most other writers would have mentioned it by the end of the first quarter of the story. Morrison often forces us to live through these things with the protagonists rather than stand outside the action. (The teachers in The Invisibles all knew that true knowledge only comes through experiencing something rather than just being told about it.)

Thus, as long as Shilo won’t admit to himself what is dragging him down, we don’t find out about it.

Finally, Mister Miracle is the third of my problematic mini-series here. Each were problematic for a different reason. Mister Miracle has a few problems. First of all there seems to be no connection with the rest of the Seven Soldiers story from the evidence of this first issue, and the connection in the later issues – concerning Aurekles - is very tentative. In showing how Shilo is being set up as a Christ figure, well, we’d have to ask if there is a real resurrection in the mini-series. Perhaps not, in which case Shilo’s story – thematically speaking - doesn’t really end with the fourth issue, the way the other soldiers’ do, but it is carried forward into Seven Soldiers of Victory #1. Likewise, it seems we have to wait until SSoV #1 to find out the connection between Darkseid and the Sheeda strand of the larger story.
I don't know if you're familiar with the original version of Shilo. He was introduced in the final issues of Kirby's Mister Miracle series as a boy that Scott and co. took into their fold. The death of his brother element derives from his introductory issue. In Kirby's final issue Highfather married Scott and Barda and the two left Earth. Shilo, like Oberon, was left behind. Apparently the character was revived in the 90s. This page has a list of appearances.

The "telescopes" line you quote reminds me of some of Kirby's dialogue.

If there are any references to Ted Brown, he was Scott's manager in the latter issues of Kirby's series.

Baron Bedlam and his multiple android bodies are also from Kirby's issues, but not his escape artist role..

I'm sure you're right about the crucifixion imagery, but Shilo's bonds on the cover are also very reminiscent of the ones Kirby drew.
I read and loved all of Kirby's New Gods over a decade ago, and I vaguely remember Shilo was a kind of apprentice to Scott Free.

Considering how much of Morrison's present DCU work ties in with the New Gods, I really should have reread the New Gods for background. I'd also have to reread all the Len Wein Nebula Man stuff too. It's hard to make the time.

I'm also taking this incarnation of Mister Miracle at face value. He doesn't mention Scott Free, and there are indications that he's the first Mister Miracle in this reality. However, reading the rest of this mini-series, he says that the Motherboxxx was made for him by someone, so my guess that he made it himself was wrong.

In the later Final Crisis Morrison tries to establish that the New Gods are powerful and little encountered by run-of-the-mill DC superheroes, and inspired awe even in them. I'm fine with this as just another remake of reality that happens in the DCU all the time.

I can see why Morrison went with Shilo for this story. Morrison put a lot of work into making the DCU more representative of society at large and inclusive of minorities at this time. It's great that there are two different African Americans, each quite different, in the Seven Soldiers. Also, black urban 'bling' superstars are probably at the very apex of today's celebrity culture, especially as far as young people are concerned, so it's another way Shilo represents someone who has absolutely everything at the start of this mini-series.

It's ironic that Morrison himself made over Shilo's reality at the outset here. Looking at the remaining three issues, much is made of all the alternate lives Shilo has to live, and it looks like a satire in part of how these superheroes now have to be killed and live again and have their lives made over on a whim. Not being able to die properly makes all their lives meaningless and cheap.

Shilo is hurt that Baron Bedlam is his replacement, but doesn't seem to realise that he himself is a replacement to Scott Free. Just as Bedlam outstrips Shilo's stunts, Shilo himself does things the original Mister Miracle never had to, like escape from a black hole, escape Darkseid's most insidious trap ever and even beat death itself. Not just cheat death, but rise from the grave!
Mister Miracle (cont)

The Mini-series – For my money Mister Miracle issue 1 is definitely one of the strongest single issues in the whole Maxi-series. Impossible physics-bending feats and transcendent Kirby-esque visions, wrapped up in colourful spandex.

The rest of the series, certainly the two middle issues, are a let down afterwards. Perhaps there is some alchemy in how a really good artist presents a script, but something is missing once Ferry leaves the project. Thematically, the let-down does reflect Shilo’s detached ennui with the world after he comes out of the black hole, but I don’t think that was part of the plan…

There are no wow moments in issue two. To cite Mark’s summary:

Shilo escapes the cars and gunmen who are after him. He follows some homeless men to their camp, and Mother Box reveals them as New Gods. Shilo explains all of this to his therapist, who is revealed as one of the Dark Side. He's been trying to subvert Shilo, and is in touch with a dangerous-looking guy with some kind of clone or robot force.

Perhaps Ferry might have made more of the vision of the New Gods in the derelict building site, but it is a minor panel here. Shilo later reflects on his meeting with the fallen New Gods – “Down in the dirt, there was brotherhood, and community and a vision… Like human life, all human life was precious.” However the artist didn’t really manage to communicate any of this to us.

It is really hard to say how much Grant’s best comics owe to the artists concerned. The muted unexceptional feel to these middle issues especially, might be what Morrison comics would feel like without his great collaborators. Not to knock Patton and Williams, but they are up against some comic greats producing some of the best work of their careers in this collection.

Some of the overall themes of the mini-series are developed. During their chess match, which they play parallel to Shilo’s struggle to survive the Drive-by Derby, Metron’s avatar plays “White supermagnetic force to black gravity.” Gravity is all that holds us back, holds us down and keeps us from flying. Thus the centrality of the black hole to the series. Gravity also represents reductive Newtonian physics; a type of science which denies things like faith and love and freedom.

This comic might have offered more when it was being published monthly. Readers would have longer to puzzle out how the New Gods and Darkseid could be in New York in this form, and what Dark Side’s gameplan might be. Followers of New Gods continuity might have been shocked that Darkseid / Dark Side seemed to have gained possession of the Anti-Life equation at last!

As I posted above, the strangest thing about issue 3 is that for all Shilo’s anxiety about being replaced, and his horror that his friends are turning into hollow ‘plastic people’, nothing is said about the fact that Shilo himself has replaced Scott Free as the DCU’s famous Mister Miracle. Dezard may be commenting on Kirby’s successors when he says “they applaud a hollow man now. Who has learned to copy you. A plastic man who smoothes away the rough edges for maximum appeal. While you become meaningless, outmoded by fashion.”

Many long-time comics fans would concur that the slick well-finished surfaces of modern comics often hide a hollowness. Comics like those of Kirby might have been rough around the edges, but they just shouted that they had something to say about our world.

There might be further meta-commentary on superhero comics here too, in Baron Bedlam’s method of performing his stunts. Each of his bodies can be destroyed and he can just pop up in a new body. Similarly, many readers today are being put off comics by the ‘revolving door of death’ phenomena whereby characters deaths are only gimmicks – literally stunts – which are meaningless because they will appear later with only a shrug on behalf of the writers. Mister Miracle lives through a succession of lives and deaths in the next issue, continuing this meta-commentary. Some of his deaths are in huge cross-over type ‘events’ and some of his deaths are sordid meaningless episodes of grim ‘n’ gritty.

The theme of replacements and copyists, heirs and successors is central to Morrison’s whole ongoing Batman run. No doubt Morrison has his own anxieties about the young turks snapping at his heels, but this whole maxi-series puts him well ahead of the pack. SSoV #1 in particular defies any sort of classification and really defies being copied in any way.

The replacement Baron Bedlam and Dark Side’s conversion of Shilo’s nearest and dearest into plastic people probably needed more room to be developed than half a comic, and the issue suffers for it. However, the ending has a horrible strength. What happens to Shilo here – being brutally beaten, castrated and set on fire – is probably the most extreme thing that I’ve seen happen to a lead character in a superhero book. The banality of it, with his assailants more interested in a party later on than the job in hand, increases the horror.

As usual, the readers have to do a lot of figuring out at this point. At the end of issue 3, Lightray and Orion’s avatars appear to the now horribly disabled and disfigured Shilo and tell him “The life trap has you in its grip.” “And there’s only one way out…” At the start of issue 3 we see the young Shilo tell his brother “I can get out of anything.” Cut to the splash page of Shilo having just killed himself with an overdose. Obviously super escape artist Mister Miracle as found his way out of the trap of existence as an invalid.

He is launched into a succession of what Dark Side calls ‘synthetic lives’. Dark Side believes that there can be no escape from the Omega trap. In one of his lives Mister MIracle is a jailor of superbeings, which is a great inversion of his ideal self. Here he has a very significant encounter with Aurekles, another God in chains, like Croatoan earlier. Shilo frees him, even though it costs him his life. Shilo’s plea “But it … its all I’ve got.” seems nonsense to us, as we know he’s jumping through what seems like an infinity of lives, but perhaps there is some kind of metaphysical lesson there. How can we be sure that this is only life we’ve got to live? Or even the best? Good art makes us ponder these big questions…

On some metaphysical level, perhaps, Shilo frees Aurekles just as Dark Side arrives to kill the Demi-God, but in SSoV #1 Aurekles is still being held prisoner by Dark Side. Morrison doesn’t make it easy for us, does he?

Omega – the life trap - seems to be a similar entity to Aurekles, but maybe that’s just the art. In any case, Mister Miracle gains his freedom by making Omega see that Omega too is trapped with him, and they can both escape together.

Metron takes the form of an avuncular psychologist to explain to Shilo that it was the guilt he felt for his brother's death that were the chains holding him back: “That awful thought, its dreadful gravity: like a black star, with no exit.”

“Now you have mastered Omega, life itself is yours to direct and manipulate.

Morrison’s personal worldview does seem very determinist. Everything is predetermined, the events of the future are as immutable as the past. Metron voices this somewhat in his consoling words to Shilo: “It was always going to happen this way, for him and for you, Shilo.”

I love the way Morrison uses the sci-fi setting of the black hole to give us another metaphor for the transcendental state of being outside time and space. He is able to illustrate that Shilo’s meeting with Metron there is outside any conception of linear time. After all he’s been through, Shilo is still just at the beginning of the conversation he had with Metron in issue one. Just as there, Shilo says “I’ve been here before…Feels like…” and the scene is replicated exactly. Metron tells him that this has been his first initiation and Miracle Man is released from the black hole a week after he originally entered it.

Shilo’s initiation in the black hole plays out just like the initiations in The Invisibles where time loses its meaning and the subjects jump through different periods of their lives. Bruce Wayne’s Thorgol ritual during 52, which he seems to be continually experiencing in his current run is another example of this kind of transcendental vision.

An Ongoing series – I don’t know how practical this would be. It now looks like there is no trap from which Shilo Norman can’t escape, and he can even come back from the dead! He is now the living embodiment of mankind's urge to be free. Further he has lived through an incredible quasi-religious, life-changing ordeal that has purified him of all the mental and emotional baggage that he was carrying around. It would certainly be difficult to write a series around such a hero. No wonder Morrison picked him as the only soldier to have a starring role in Final Crisis. I’m sure it was partly for the challenge of writing such a character! Of course, Shilo appears as a kind of mentor to the Super Young Team, which is a logical progression from where he was at the end of SSoV. (Shades of Zatanna there.)

Notwithstanding the dangling plot elements that have to be addressed in SSoV #1, this is a very concentrated, complete story. It was a tale well worth telling, despite some less than wonderful passages.
Just before I look at Seven Soldiers of Victory #1, the final issue of this huge narrative, I thought I’d have a quick look over the 29 issues that preceded it.

First of all I’ve realised that SSoV #0 is probably the only issue #0 in comicdom that truly deserves that number. Zero isn’t the first number of any sequence, it is NOTHING. Likewise, the team put together in issue #0 and their attempt to confront the Sheeda is a false start and comes to nothing. They have just about nothing to do with the true members of the real Seven Soldiers.

To continue the mathematical comparison, #1 should really be where it begins. Looked at this way, the bulk of the series – the contents of the 7 mini-series – are about the entire magical process of going from zero to one. This is the mystery of how suddenly “There is something instead of nothing” to quote the Black Priest we met way back in the Orqwith saga in Doom Patrol Vol 1.

Issue one is where they all exist and act as a team, even if they don’t realise it. The seven mini-series have all been leading up to what they do in issue 1.

Reading the minis separately did make for a different experience this time. I’ve been impressed how each has its own themes, tones, recurring motifs and narrative throughline. It’s been fun to think of how these 4-parters might have been launching pads for their own series, but I have come to the conclusion that if they weren’t being written by Morrison they would have been pretty pointless. What other writer could capture the flat poetry of Frankenstein’s speech, or Klarion’s youthful wonder and exuberance? Further adventures of Zatanna and Bulleteer in this vein could only be done successfully by writers confident in using elements of DCU history stretching over its whole 70 years.

What other writer can so successfully capture the kind of transcendental encounters with higher states of being that we saw in Mister Miracle?

It’s also true that Morrison often brings his stories to their very natural conclusions, which, is of course a no-no in ongoing comics publishing. Only the Manhattan Guardian and the Bulleteer are truly at the starting points of their superhero careers at the end of their minis. Zatanna is the only one who Morrison left as he found her, and the others pretty much have their stories wound up by the end of issue #1.

There is the zero to one thing, something from nothing, but otherwise having the last issue of a 30-issue series called #1 seems to be a big joke on Morrison’s part. Even in issue 1, Morrison uses Williams’ dazzling multi-styled approach to show that the team could never really exist together on one page as they each have their own very different comic styles, so the idea of this #1 being the start of a Seven Soldiers of Victory series is preposterous. Someone on Barbelith also pointed out that even if these seven got together as a team, then that would make it possible for the Sheeda to spot their existence in history and make moves to wipe them out. The team that saves the world without meeting each other is more than just a clever conceit, well executed. There are good reasons inside the narrative itself why they must never even know they were a team.

Which brings us to a tension that is often found in Morrison's work. It's true that he does open the door to wonders and magic, and often there is so much conviction in his work that the reader is almost convinced that Animal Man exists out there somewhere, or that Superman keeps our universe under his watchful eye in the Fortress of Solitude. (Or is it Batman in his secret bolthole on Pluto?) However a closer reading does reveal many instances where Morrison seems to admit that perhaps there is no great meaning to life.

Intimations of Gods and destinies are but shadows cast by "the titanic campaigns fought over and over again in the churning mud of human hearts and minds." This may be true, but there is a reason, I see now, why Morrison puts this admission into the mouth of Dezard, who lives to inflict despair. Klarion too, turns away from a theist view of existence. He's inspired by his experiences, and the die he finds, to declare to Misty "Life is a game of chance I've learned. The dice will fall as they may."

This is existential despair, to be alone in the universe without gods or true purpose. There are optimistic ways of looking at it as freedom, especially if you are exuberantly naive like Klarion, but on the whole it is a bleak worldview.

(The first issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne develops these arguments further, showing how it is innate in us to build meaning and complexity - mythology essentially - from the randomness of events.)

What I am getting at is that we do see the Seven Soldiers get pulled into the events leading up to the Sheeda invasion, and they are all in the right place at the right time to neutralise that threat in issue #1, but because they never meet, or even realise their part in the greater picture, it's always possible that their 'Victory' was just another random event in a random universe.

(Insert chin-rubbing here....hhhhhmmmmm!)

The Sheeda threat was in the background of the minis when they were read separately, but the next time I read SSoV, I’ll follow this Barbelith timeline in order to experience the whole story as a huge epic where the lead-up to the Sheeda invasion will be centre-stage.
Nice to see you back at it, Figs!

What I am getting at is that we do see the Seven Soldiers get pulled into the events leading up to the Sheeda invasion, and they are all in the right place at the right time to neutralise that threat in issue #1, but because they never meet, or even realise their part in the greater picture, it's always possible that their 'Victory' was just another random event in a random universe.

(Insert chin-rubbing here....hhhhhmmmmm!)

The Sheeda threat was in the background of the minis when they were read separately, but the next time I read SSoV, I’ll follow this Barbelith timeline in order to experience the whole story as a huge epic where the lead-up to the Sheeda invasion will be centre-stage.


That's a cool timeline. I think I pretty much got that chronology as I was reading it the first time, which is a testament to the many clear clues Morrison wrote into the story line. It's not simple, but it's all there if you're paying attention.

I've thought about the role of chance in these events as well. The probability of all seven stories intersecting so perfectly has got to be fantastically low, but it's not impossible. Of course the time-travelling of Frankenstein and the Shining Knight stacks the deck a bit.
The Seven Soldiers of Victory #1

This is indeed a most unusual comic. Tying up a whole Sheeda invasion, and sorting out the fates of all 7 soldiers would be enough for 40 pages. However, this issue also gives us a potted history of the rise and fall of the Neanderthal race in the DCU, sets the stage for Dark Side’s victory in Final Crisis and ties up (or sews up) the fate of Zachery Zor, the “Eighth of Seven” Unknown Men. He gets sewn into the fiction suit of Cyrus Gold, to become DC’s celebrated Solomon Grundy – one of the few supervillains to get a mention on a pop song.

As well as drawing in the styles of the other 6 artists, Williams does a great Eternals-era Jack Kirby for the Neanderthals, Euro-style Bandes Dessinees for the first and greatest King Arthur and a series of photo-realist pictures for the Manhattan Guardian tabloid. Although this comic is perhaps too ambitious in places, it largely succeeds. I’m sure introducing a whole prehistoric Neanderthal culture on which the rest of the narrative is built, in the 30th and last chapter, is not recommended in any writing course or manual, but it's sure as hell fun.

Equally ambitious, but much less successful is the tabloid newspaper sequence, mainly showing the Manhattan Guardian rallying the people of New York to fight the Sheeda. It’s only by reading the script pages that DC no doubt felt obliged to include, do we get an idea what Morrison is trying to do here. In the script, the Sheeda are to be drawn carrying away all the little worthless bits and pieces that, taken together, add up to this wonderful, mundane, specific world we live in – keyboards, family photos, hubcaps and pets. This doesn’t come across in the art at all. Also, at the end of the tabloid sequence Morrison specifies that “The Guardian rides through the mist towards us …Guardian seeming to become less man and more myth as he does so.”

Wow. How is any artist supposed to draw that? Williams is good, but handicapped here as he can’t even use sequential comic panels in the newspaper layouts, and the pictures he does draw have to resemble the badly printed murky grayscale photos of traditional tabloids.

The script also specifies that some of the New Yorkers are wearing pervy Gimp suits a la Pulp Fiction, as protection from the Sheeda insect warriors, but sadly Williams doesn’t get around to drawing these. Another difference between the script and the finished comic is that the final page of Klarion triumphant is to show “the two dice fused together as one geometrical solid, seeming to float off the surface of the page itself.” Williams just draws two dice.

As the only three script excerpts we see evidence big differences between Grant’s intent and the execution, it does make you wonder how much of Grant’s scripts make it onto the printed page. And also, indeed, how much of what we consider ‘Morrison at his best’ is a result of well-judged editing/interpreting of those scripts by his collaborators.

Still, ambition on this scale has to be allowed to fail a little. It’s a logical result of taking such huge artistic risks. It was also the case that Morrison’s original script would have made for a 100 page comic, which he pared down to 40 pages. I would say that this Manhattan Guardian sequence suffers the most from the editing.

Morrison is trying to show here how the type of unglamorous real life events that we read about in popular newspapers can be the base material that we transform into mythology. True, Guardian is acting like a real hero here on a white horse, but essentially Jake and his fellow New Yorkers are just schmucks like ourselves trying to survive the day. I’ve noticed only recently that this is a theme that Morrison has been getting at often lately. It may be a relatively new focus of his writing. My last post mentioned his (recent?) existentialist strain, but this may be a way to put a positive spin on it. We create our Gods and heroes and values out of the meaninglessness of the universe. In his current Joe the Barbarian, a whole fantastic world is built up from the odds and ends of a teenage boy’s private inner world combined with a child’s perception that their home is a whole universe.

The crossword is jaw-droppingly unconventional as a storytelling tool. ‘Lena’ is the answer to 1 across and this tells us that Chop Suzi had twins, who were employed in Guardian Towers by Ed Stargard. The answer to 4 across tells us that Ebeneezer Goode Ebeneezer Badde was in fact Klarion’s Dad! This is a huge narrative revelation to give away in this odd little corner of the comic. But Morrison often bucks against narrative conventions like this. In real life, if someone met their unknown parent by accident, well, chances are they wouldn’t know it. Just because it would make for a dramatic revelation doesn’t say that Klarion should find out about it. That Badde knew the truth when he met Klarion changes how his final scene reads if you look at it again.

Poor Frankenstein! After killing a malevolent universe gone bad and almost single-handedly stopping the entire Sheeda invasion, he is rather ‘unmanned’ in the finale. Klarion just makes a him his bi…. Grundy. I wonder what that means thematically, if anything?

Mister Miracle gets a good 3-page sequence showing his sacrifice and a great fourth page to rise up again. I’ve said that he was the most problematic soldier, but his role here displays another narrative quirk of Morrison. He often shows us groups of elements that fit a schema in some way. Baby Brains says that he created 4 elementals, for instance, and we know that there are 7 mystical weapons and a team of Seven Soldiers that will help defeat the Sheeda. However, in the story we only see two of the elementals. Any other writer would have included the other two somewhere. Further, the seventh weapon, referred to as the Spear That Never Was Thrown but really Aurekles’ ancestor or perhaps his red-headed genetic line, is so abstract as to be invisible for most of the story. And look at the team membership. I, Spyder has his own story and would seem by his heroic intervention to be the Eighth of the ‘Seven Soldiers’, just as Zor is the Eighth of the Seven Unknown Men.

Morrison refuses to allow these obvious schemas to lock in too tightly. For one, real life doesn’t usually play out so neatly, and secondly it would restrict what he can do in his story. Similarly, Mister Miracle is both ‘of’ this story, and somewhat outside it, on a more symbolic level. On a plane higher than the other soldiers know of, Darkseid has bargained with the Sheeda to let them have the Earth of this era in exchange for Aurekles. It’s all very symbolic. The War in Heaven happens off-screen. Shilo giving his life for the ‘First Superhero’, too, is a symbolic act. How does this materially affect the fight against the Sheeda, or even work against Darkseid?

Morrison believes that everything that happens in the DCU is ultimately symbolic, so Mister Miracle acting on a more purely symbolic level has power there. The Mister Miracle portion of the story is also Morrison showing that no stories are self-contained. In real life, stories interlock. The First World War and Ireland’s journey from colony to independent Free State are separate narratives, but happened almost concurrently and each is a small part of the other. Similarly, Mister Miracle here sets up and leads into Final Crisis, as well as being a 'semi-detached' section of Seven Soldiers of Victory. It flies in the face of conventional storytelling wisdom and is another example of Morrison working out of no-one’s rulebook but his own.

Fractals, holograms, Gnosticism and various ‘As above, so below’ cosmologies are often cited as explanations of how Morrison’s stories work, but I don’t think I’ve seen a label for what Morrison is doing here with the Mister Miracle series. In the way it is a part of two different story cycles at once.

And there we have it. Another mind-bending Morrisonian mega-saga brought to its conclusion. It is probably his most polished and consistent long-form series up to the present. The Filth might be better but it had less than half the number of issues to keep at such a high standard.

That's a cool timeline. I think I pretty much got that chronology as I was reading it the first time, which is a testament to the many clear clues Morrison wrote into the story line. It's not simple, but it's all there if you're paying attention.

Apologies. By linking to the time-line in my last post, I didn’t mean to imply that the entire timeline was hard to follow, but rather I was just showing that section of it that listed the comics in chronological story order. A good reader would get the lay of it generally, but it’d be hard work to figure them all out chapter and verse without sitting down with a pencil and paper.

I've thought about the role of chance in these events as well. The probability of all seven stories intersecting so perfectly has got to be fantastically low, but it's not impossible. Of course the time-travelling of Frankenstein and the Shining Knight stacks the deck a bit.

Maybe the randomness of how the team almost unwittingly defeats the Sheeda isn’t the best example of the existentialist strain I’m identifying in Grant’s later work. Frank and Ystine are indeed most proactive and effective adversaries of evil in the end, and there is a lot about prophesies and benevolent gods in this story too. But I’m sure we will be getting back to ‘Myth Vs Mud’, especially in Grant’s more recent books, all in good time.
And there we have it. Another mind-bending Morrisonian mega-saga brought to its conclusion. It is probably his most polished and consistent long-form series up to the present. The Filth might be better but it had less than half the number of issues to keep at such a high standard.

The Filth was also far simpler structurally, which is amazing given how confusing I found it the first time through. Seven Soldiers was much easier to follow on first read (but I had read both The Invisibles and The Filth twice by then, so I suppose I'm not exactly the "average reader"). I gather that many readers found the conclusion unsatisfying, but I thought it tied things up very well. I agree with you that it would have benefited from more pages, but it really did a good job resolving just about all of the questions remaining from the miniseries. Mister Miracle was the main one that was somewhat unresolved, but it had largely operated on the outskirts of the series all along.
I did like Mister Miracle too, problematic as I found it. Maybe it spanned the greatest gulf between despair and Grant's trademark visionary optimism. Love the New Gods anyway, and this was a great, fresh take on them that didn't do a disservice to Jack's work.

(Shilo was depicted as a jailor in the slab during 'Joker's Last Laugh' btw. Morrison can be very respectful of continuity, even the less stellar bits of it.)

The seven minis were each almost equally good, though.

As I got stuck into each one, I found myself thinking it ws the best.
I just paid a visit to our much neglected Grant Morrison Discussion group. Once I'd blown the cobwebs away, I realised that there were steadily updating news items there on The God of All Comics.

I did spot one BIIIIG piece of news. It was from the people who publish 2000AD. As they say "This is our Marvelman."

Basically, they are working on reprinting Zenith, Morrison and Yeowell's early go at uniquely British superheroes.

I am agog with excitement at this news!

http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/comics/news/a255776/grant-morrisons-zen...

The headline jumps the gun a bit, as it only seems to be an aspiration at this stage.
Just to run it up the flagpole for whoever is interested, after I've wound up my look at St Swithin's Day and maybe dip into another comic or two, I plan to start rereading Morrison's JLA and perhaps some of the surrounding tie-ins. I haven't reread it systematically since they were originally released (and not even then, really) so I'm really looking forward to them. As Morrison's most popular, and populist, run, they should be a good fun fix. Hopefully you'll be able to join in!

(Mark - If you only read one mainstream superhero team book...)

DC One Million is probably my favourite crossover event ever, even from before I got big into Morrison, and I've picked up a lot of the tie-ins to it, so I'll be taking a good look at that, too, when we reach it.

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