Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS: An Introduction

I know what you’re thinking; a couple weeks writing at Christopher Bird’s blog, and I’m already stealing his bit. But I assure you, this was not my idea. Someone issued me a challenge, and never let it be said I shrink from such things.

So: Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series. I don’t know that it’s the “best” thing Morrison’s ever done, but I personally find it the most interesting. There’s a lot going on thematically that you can either choose to engage with and go down philosophical and sociological rabbit holes, or you can just let wash over you and engage with it on an almost subconscious level. Structurally, it amazes me every time I read it how well it all fits together, both in theme and in narrative; the ideal way to read it isn’t in a book, or even on a computer with connected hyperlinks, but maybe as some sort of 3D holographic interface in which you could see the point where Klarion’s encounter with the Horigal intersects with the pirate train from Manhattan Guardian, and then watch the two streams go on their separate ways again.

But, leaving aside all that fancy stuff, on the most basic level, Seven Soldiers was an attempt to “transform a neglected, third-string, C-list DC property into a strong commercial feature with franchise development potential.” In his introduction in the first collected volume (where that last quotation also comes from), Morrison says he gave each character “a first issue origin story, a well-defined opening character arc and enough conceptual fuel to run for years, if fan support demanded an ongoing title.”

So did he succeed? According to the standards of the second quotation, I think he did, because I think most of the concepts are pretty well set up by the end of the megaseries. But by the standards of the first? Not a bit! This is something I complain about all the time, and I suspect it is why Plok issued this challenge. None of these characters have been given an ongoing series (well, Zatanna’s getting one, I believe, but she’s got the JLA connection and was probably the least revamped of all the characters, and it’s not likely it’ll carry much of the Morrison stamp on it anyway), and very few of them have appeared even in guest-starring roles outside of comics Morrison’s written. In the case of the Guardian, the new version’s been dismissed in favor of the old one in James Robinson's Superman comics.

Why is that? Part of it is a nostalgia-driven market suspicious of new ideas (or even new takes on old ideas), and part of it is Morrison’s reputation. Not only is he considered a difficult act to follow because of his status as a popular, top-tier writer, but a lot of people have convinced themselves you can’t follow Morrison. “Oh, he just has these cah-rayzee ideas; must be the drugs!”

Very well, then. If paid professionals are not going to have a crack at it, then a dude sitting at his computer very late at night is going to do it for free.

Here are the ground rules for this game: I am going to assume that the comic book market is a very different place, and that all seven books were successful enough to warrant an ongoing series (I may in fact be pretending it’s 1992, when pretty much anything with a character resembling a superhero sold like crazy), and that I am writing all of them. They’ll be interconnected to some degree, like a mini-universe inside the DC Universe (but they’ll still interact with that main DC Universe), but probably to a lesser extent than the original mini-series. Morrison went out of his way to find connections between all the characters, and it would be silly not to exploit that. Readers of Morrison's series may also remember that Millions the Mystery Mutt, world’s richest dog and former mascot of the Newsboy Army, appeared at the end of Seven Soldiers #1 to be given control over the East and West Coast mobs as the Dogfather; this will show up in all my imaginary series as an important plot point, if for no other reason than it’s too crazy not to run with.

The posts will go up whenever I finish them (hopefully once-a-week-ish). Each post will cover one ongoing series and will discuss themes, the status quo and storytelling engine, and –- like MGK’s similar posts –- a bunch of intriguing-sounding mysteries I am only going to hint at, and if you want to learn how they turn out, someone is going to have to put me in touch with DC Comics to write actual scripts for real. (Note: This is not going to happen.) Or just take me out to a bar and buy me lots of drinks. (Wait wait: WHY NOT DO BOTH?)

Unlike MGK’s posts, however, mine will not have cool little graphics at the top, and for this I can only apologize.

I hope to have the first up by the end of the week, and we’ll see how this goes. I’ll start out with the one that seemed the most explicitly set up by the end of Seven Soldiers, and my semi-namesake – Ystina, the Shining Knight.


plok said...

Ha! For my next trick, I dare the poor nerd to stab himself in the eye with a fork!

Looking forward to these.

Justin said...

Don't! I need both of my eyes if I'm ever to become a fighter pilot.

Also, without depth perception, the 3D holographic Seven Soldiers interface I am totally building in my garage will seem less rad.

Josh said...

Kill me if you want but Shining Knight is the only seven soldiers book I bought so is it fair of me to say it was my favorite? I'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say. Drinks shall be forthcoming if I like your words... face punches if not.

Justin said...

I can't help but notice that both comments I have received threaten bodily harm.

Funnily enough, Shining Knight was probably my least favorite, just because I liked the others SO MUCH, and I thought the stuff on the periphery of the main plot was more interesting than the main plot itself (I kind of feel like Shining Knight was the most "important" to the higher structure).

But the ideas I've had based on the status quo set up at the end are entertaining me to no end. Morrison set these series up to write themselves, just add ideas. These all should of course, in a perfect world, be accompanied by Why You Should Draw SEVEN SOLDIERS. You and me on Zatanna or Manhattan Guardian or Bride of Frankenstein? They would have to invent a new category at the Eisners for RADDEST ongoing.

BTW, I need to call you and ask how the shindig in MN went, and how I hate that I couldn't go, but I'm moving my brother into his apartment today. BUT SOON...!

Josh said...

I don't think I could draw Shining Knight... horses are hard to draw. Everytime I draw one it looks like a big dog. And zatanna requires more of the cheesecake artist like Adam Hughes or Frank Cho and frankly I'm not that talented. Now Bride of frankenstein or Manhattan Guardian...right up my alley. Lets do it.

Justin said...

I don't know that Zatanna *needs* a cheesecake artist, though, because what if he couldn't draw the strange visuals?

I think Bride of Frankenstein and Manhattan Guardian would do well under your pencil. They're the "big crazy idea" books, and you can match pretty much anything I come up with but make it better. Also, this sounds weird, but I really love the way you draw buildings, so Manhattan Guardian might be a good fit, although Bride is generally crazier.