Sep 11, 2013

Pop Medicine: "Water Fought Back."

Pop Medicine is a column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

“Water Fought Back.”
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

There are, ostensibly, thirty standalone, interlinked stories in Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory. They were released as seven four-issue miniseries and two bookened issues, and have since been collected a few different ways, none of which, unfortunately, allow you to jump from story to story outside the bound order easily without flipping back and forth. Small price, though, and you can flip around. It helps to flip around, which is good, because I’m a flipping around kind of reader. As I kid, I adored Finnegans Wake, a collection of Byron’s poetry, and some Mother West Wind volumes, because they seemed to encourage flipping around for this piece or that, rather than the straight through beginning to end reads that. Children’s books that were numbered intimidated me, or tired me. Possibly both. If you don’t read Seven Soldiers in different orders, chances are you’ll miss the trajectory of Lil Hollywood’s life or that Klarion and Justin are the same age.

This is a very simple column, because I have two fairly simple goals with it: get you to read or reread Seven Soldiers, and secondly, to celebrate the excellent things that might make someone want to read Seven Soldiers, reread it, or, as I am, write a column covering thirty awesome things from a comic overflowing with subway pirate lingo, horse feathers, decimated societies, nobility rediscovered, and an invulnerable mouse. It’s my favorite comic to read with 3D glasses on (particularly some Klarion and most Zatanna scenes). Clark Kent walks on in a Superman t-shirt to put change in a homeless ghost’s hat. There’s a singing cowboy with a secret shame. The art styles are so radically varied you can’t get tired of it all at the same time. And, the puns and wordgames! There’s a crossword puzzle. And, Sheeda really opens up when you pronounce it as Sidhe traditionally is, “She.”

The thirty best puns? Thirty most heroic moments? Thirty things appropriated from other comics, like Erdel Gates and the Emily the Strange look? Thirty potential identities for Zor (Alan Moore gone wrong? Satan? A Time Tailor? Bad dad writ big? A Merlin? A Shapeless Thing? Cary Bates gone into the DC Universe and gone evil with the transition? Golden Age villain)? Thirty top talking animals and other people? Let’s keep it big and simple.

I don’t want you to know “the plot” of Seven Soldiers of Victory. I don’t want to give you a summary or an explanation. There is a third way.

Thirty lovely bits from thirty stories:

Gimmix is a badass superhero. We see Gimmix, former Gimmick Girl, a few times throughout Seven Soldiers, and she’s usually a joke to everyone else. She’s a diva, she’s a fame-chaser, a bit whiny, afraid, and she wrote a book about cosmic horror that sexually and emotionally violated her in salacious fashion. Characters laugh at her rape, she wrote  a tell-all book apparently turns her assault into a hook, and she’s clearly playing up a character and a mask, with her plastic surgeries, fake youth, and constant name-dropping, but maybe she needs the mask. Maybe she really was horribly assaulted by nasties from beyond. Maybe that hurt. And in the first issue of the comic released, the opener of all the collections, Jackie “Gimmix” Pemberton is the one who saves everybody on her team and stops the big monster they’re gathered to fight. (And then she, and the rest of the team die, but before they do, she kicked a giant ancient spider-beast-thing’s ass with a can of What Every Girl Needs.) – from Weird Adventures
The Manhattan Guardian, a newspaper, is headquartered in a fantastic building in, of course, Manhattan, and it is staffed by a genius, two siblings, and a golem. Over in the Marvel Universe, there’s also a building in Manhattan, usually the Baxter Building, but sometimes Four Freedoms Plaza, that houses a superteam of a genius, two siblings, and a Jewish guy made of rocks, called the Fantastic Four. – from Pirates of Manhattan

King Arthur’s sword, here called Caliburn ex Calibur, can only be removed from its sheath by “the pure of heart.” We’ve had modern folks’ corruption built up in-story and in our general mythology. We’re more complicated, less pure people now. And, as individuals, we’ve all been more than a little bit if a bastard from time to time, which can haunt us if we let it. So, Federal Agent Helen Helligan is concerned she would not qualify as “pure of heart,” being modern and adult and having once dosed her little brother’s strawberry shake with fish oil. And, she pulls the sword from its scabbard anyway. Apparently an inanimate sheath judges less harshly than we might. – from The Perfect Knight Returns

When Justin, our Shining Knight, falls into the modern day, and smacks hard against the pavement of Los Angeles, we are given only emic clues, from a police badge to the names of streets, the clothes of passerby, to identify the city and the time period.  – from The Last of Camelot

All life has validity. Especially, as Shilo learns, when you eat ice cream as a kid, big brother beside you. – from Forever Flavored Man

Scary clown picture framed near broken glass. – from The Water

Is the Red God of Ys the same red-skinned evil called Warlock that Zatanna vanquished by freezing him as the Red God here is said to have been suspended from motion by her father, Zatara? Ys, in that earlier Zatanna tale, was the “other side of the world,” the part of existence that constantly renewed itself, things reestablishing, happening again and again. As much as is repeating itself in this story, that’s a lovely echo, even if unplanned. – from Talking Backwards

“Mister Miracle’s trials and resurrections have nothing to do with the main narrative!” continues to be the cry of so many people who forget one of the first lines in the first published part of this epic beast was the quoted (from True Thomas), “There is a third road.” – The Miser’s Coat

Alix never thinks long on her vulnerability. Her husband betrays and mutilates her. She can’t keep her shirt from burning off while diving into a fire. Her unbreakable steel skin doesn’t extend everywhere, and surely that ring of exposed flesh could break. Can’t sit alone without posing provocatively and looking hot. Her life is decimated by her lover’s shame and greed. She moves on and makes the best of things. – from Ballistic: How the Bulleteer Came to Be

“Mother Box? I’ve got a box and it kicks the @$$ offa yours.” The New God High Father in the body of a homeless man, hiding and scared and showing off. The good New Gods are all small, homeless, scared, and the evil New Gods are in nice suits and positions we are trained to think of as in charge, doctors, businessmen, celebrities and pimps. But the ego is big in all of them, and that’s probably why they’re trapped and Shilo Norman, with the New God of Escape riding him like a loa, is getting out. – Drive-By Derby

A magician, seeking bigger worlds, reaching for help, sees thousands of eyes in thousands of times all watching her, and extends her hand to us. – from Zor!

Justin stands tall and poses like a badass. Wherever you fall on Justin, gay trans male, transvestite knight, Justin is queer without being swish, Justin is biologically female, but he doesn’t need to twist around to show both butt cheeks and both breasts off at once. Justin doesn’t wink or duck his head bashfully. Justin chins up the enemy. Hell, Justin chins up the reader. Strong. True. Good. – from The Last Stand of Don Vincenzo

Faces so full of communication. Big, emotive eyes. Expressive mouths. And all with the simplest of lines. – from The Deviant Ones

What would Boy Blue’s sonic horn be good for? It’s a surprise. – from Who Killed Seven Soldiers?

The thing with Dennis breaks my heart. Every. Single. Step. To the end and beyond. (And it’s still no excuse.) – from Bad Girls

Epic radiance from splash pages decorated with descending inset panels of story. Many times at once, and all large and at odds with containment – from Frankenstein in Fairyland

Klarion’s dad, who ran off years before, now sells him for some whiskey and porno mags. And, he probably did think he was helping him. It’s like a parable of bassackwards parenting, with dad riding a giant sewer alligator and wearing a pilgrim hat. – from Badde
There’s a reflective sheen on everything Dave McCaig colored, rendering plastic-coated and cheap the entire world. Plastic, cheap, and shiny. – from New Godz

“I had spider-sex with all your ancestors.” In case you didn’t find Melmoth creepy and see how shame works as a control in the other stories: “spider-sex” and a hidden society of rape victims who feel it is all their fault and responsibility. – from Burn, Witchboy Burn!

The lessons in magic are wonderful lessons for any life. (Any life is a magician’s life?) They’re very simple, the lessons, and expand to cover all and every territory. In contrast (as they’re intended to be) to Alan Moore’s edutainment lecture, Promethea, there’s no justification of cranky old misogynists or existential wand-waving miserablism. Just, “be prepared.” Always keep one card up your sleeve. – from Three Days of the Dead

On a flesh-eating horse, under two moons, Frankenstein violently liberates slaves on Mars! – from Red Zombies

The density and sudden spareness of the linework is sickeningly echoed in the thought balloon recanting of spoken dialogue, and the sad, quiet aside, amidst a declaration of pride and transformation: “Help me, Steve, something terrible is happening to me.” – from Uglyhead

Shilo is completely brutalized – burned severely, gelded forcefully, stuck in a wheelchair – and he’s shopping for adult diapers, just reaching for the box set a little too high. And, Boss Dark Side takes the box and puts it on a higher shelf. – from Radio Bedlam

“Where blue soldiers rode clockwork insects through the air, with eyes that lit up their prey.” A high speed police pursuit. – from Mood 7 Mind Destroyer

“The monster greed.” Each of the Seven Soldiers is presented with a monster embodying an unpleasant state we have all, at some time experienced. And while the pirates of the New York subway system seem cool, seem like they’ve turned a raw deal of being homeless rejects into something big and special, they’re just greedy. As with many societies seen in Seven Soldiers, the subway pirates are violent, petty, luddite thieves and slavers, like the Croatoan culture, the Sheeda, like organized crime syndicates. -  from Homeless Superior

The memory of poor, murdered Gimmix is toasted with wine transfigured from water using one of her own fabulous (inherited) tools, wielded by her friends from the convention circuit. – from 21st Century Schizoid Superhuman

The blind woman, Cassandra Craft, addresses the world around her through her hearing, her sense of smell, not by turning her face towards things. Small thing, but Ryan Sook and Mick Gray do it consistently in her body language, and few other artists in comics would bother at all. – from A Book in the Beginning

One human and one dog, both listed as “dead at fourteen.” – from Sex Secrets of the Newsboy Army!

An old woman utters a sincere prayer, and as with all wishes in this comic, it is answered. – from Siege at Century Hollow

Seven Soldiers of Victory is available collected in two volumes, currently, from DC. Andrew Hickey’s magnificent An Incomprehensible Condition serves as commentary and uses Seven Soldiers as a springboard to discuss quantum physics, metafiction, history, jazz, fairytale apples, and family dynamics beyond the borders of the comic. You should buy both, and my story made of stories, “The Subtonic Calendar” in the Spring 2008 issue of Yellow Medicine Review. (If I’m going to sell you DC Comics' and Hickey’s book, I might as well promote my own work.)

If ever Seven Soldiers starts to seem small and bounded to you, remember, this is a comic with many small, delicate moments and also, Nathan Eyring’s powerful pronounced colors, Frazier Irving’s dark, swirling, echoing lines, and Frankenstein threatening to make it rain hammers on the last king of the Earth. There’s a talking alligator in it, and he says nothing.

Seven Soldiers of Victory, An Incomprehensible Condition, and the Spring 2008 issue of Yellow Medicine Review are all available here:

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