Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The DC Morrisonverse 3: ytilautxetatem dna annataZ

Before I start this post, I'd just like to put in a quick plug. My own webcomic, Dumb Angel, is finally restarting after a lengthy absence. The latest page is drawn but I'm having problems getting it on the site - by the time you read this it may well be there, though. Let me know what you think of it...

One of the most common complaints about Seven Soldiers concerns Zatanna's role in the story. While the Zatanna mini itself is possibly the best-received of the minis (in part because its mild attacks on Alan Moore allow some reviewers to use Morrison as a proxy for their own assertions that the Emperor has no clothes, which says more about them than it does about Moore, Morrison or the mini), it has been asserted by many critics that Zatanna plays no role in the final issue, Seven Soldiers 1.

In fact, Zatanna may be the most important character in that issue.

Morrison has spent the whole of the Zatanna miniseries having her travel between dimensions, popping out of flat surfaces (the 'brane universes in issue 1) and, in the climax of her miniseries, meeting the Seven Unknown Men, who are the personifications of Morrison and his fellow DC writers.

Now, several DC characters had met their creators over the years, with for example the Flash meeting Cary Bates and, in one memorable issue of The Brave & The Bold, artist Jim Aparo being held hostage and forced to draw the comic in the way the criminals wanted. But this kind of thing has usually been played as a joke - just a throwaway idea, with no real significance.

The two big exceptions in comics have been Morrison's own Animal Man and Dave Sim's Cerebus, both of which had creator/creation meetings as the climax of their respective storylines. However, both these comics came from the same source - the classic cartoon Duck Amuck, and carried over a good chunk of Chuck Jones' moral (such as it was) - "like flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods - they kill us for their sport".

Zatanna's reaching out to the third dimension is something else though. It brings the readers, as well as the creators, into the story - we can no longer be voyeurs, but have to choose sides. And it does so extraordinarily effectively - I've read time and again that readers of Zatanna, when they get to the crucial point, have placed their hands against Zatanna's. (I, of course, am a rational adult who would never do such a childish thing. Of course.)

And at the climax of Seven Soldiers 1, Zatanna interacts with the readers again, and this time actually becomes three-dimensional.

Or rather she doesn't. She attains the illusion of three-dimensionality - and she does so at precisely the same time as she says "it's not about illusion or trickery". Words, as have been shown throughout Zatanna's story, can be untrustworthy.

Zatanna is absolutely essential to the story because she is the only character in the DCU who is capable of literally rewriting reality (which is why she is able to join the writers, however briefly, in her own series). Something that Morrison has noticed that I believe had never been made explicit before is that Zatanna's reversed speech bubbles look exactly like a speech bubble would if coming from someone facing her - that is, coming from outside the page, from 3-space.

This is made explicit in her climactic scene in SS1, where the reader actually responds 'ydaer', with the lettering, as well as the letter order, reversed. But few people have noticed what this implies - whenever Zatanna is casting a spell, she's projecting her words into our reality. In other words, she's changing the script.

This makes Zatanna one of the writers, as well as one of the characters, of the DC Universe, and thus we can see her as one of Morrison's 'fictionsuits' (Morrison's term for characters who are essentially avatars of the writer). It is notable that Morrison makes Zatanna a published author (whose Hex Appeal sounds very like Morrison's own proposed Pop Magick book) . Zatanna's whole story is about the interchangeability of words and reality within the DCU - she is searching for her father's books, the Libri Zatarae, only to discover that she is the book he has written in the universe. Gwydion is also portrayed at one point as being living words in a book.

When she calls on the universe to awake and the seven soldiers to strike, then, Zatanna is Morrison, trying to complete the story and also trying to bring about his project of making the DCU sentient. But she needs the help of the reader.

Morrison's point (well, one of them - nearly everything in Seven Soldiers admits of three or four different readings) couldn't really be more explicit - we can have comics full of hope, where good triumphs over evil, or we can have dark Sheeda 'raping our childhood' (which is literally what the Sheeda are doing with their wholesale destruction of previous times, but also a common accusation from the more unreasonable type of comic-book fan aimed at the powers that be at DC after series like Identity Crisis), but only if the fans, as well as the writers, want them.

Zatanna's spell is the point where everything starts to come together, where everything that had previously looked hopeless starts to brighten up. The split between Jake Jordan and Carla had been the biggest symbol of hopelessness in the series (used as an example of 'anti-life' in Mister Miracle) yet on the very next page after Zatanna's spell, they are reconciled. Zatanna has reached out into the third dimension and changed the script, chosen to use her free will rather than being the puppet of others. She's escaped from the Life Trap, and taken everyone else with her.

More on this tomorrow.


Justin Boatwright said...

I've been loving this look at Seven Soldiers so far. I have long been a Morrison fan but I'm just not smart enough or well read enough to read into his stuff on these levels but I love reading excellent analyses by someone who IS smart enough, like yourself. Great stuff and I can't wait to go back and read the series after you finish your critique of it.

Nobody said...

Interesting to hear that Morrison changes from reverse spelling to a mirror font for Zatanna's spell. I have all four SS trades but was derailed before getting to the halfway point and haven't returned yet.

But now that the Fourth World Omnibuses are coming out I'm not sure if I should read them first before restarting SS.

Can't wait till tomorrow's entry. I loved the metatextuality of Infinite Crisis, particularly Alex Luthor's editorial role in the universe, accompanied by Superboy-Prime, the whiny re-reader of DC history who is from our world. My favorite moment was when Alex was looking through the new worlds and said "Earth-Prime, where are...? YOU" as he reached out towards the reader.

I'm glad to hear Morrison is writing Final Crisis in case it reveals my prediction that the place the Earth-2 Superman, Lois, and Wonder Woman were whisked away to is an afterlife in Earth Prime where they discover their fictional nature and, as Morrison wrote in Animal Man, outlive their creators, outlive their gods, living again whenever someone reads their stories.

acespot said...

Your track record with saying "more tomorrow" isn't too good so far, so I'll look forward to more from you next week.
Still, I love it when I can get it.
How about some current comics to tide us over while you're composing?

Andrew Hickey said...

Heh... fair point. I'm on call a lot for my job, which means that when I *think* I have time off, often I don't. I actually worked 27 hours on Monday and Tuesday when I was rota'd in to do only seven and a half...

However, tomorrow I'm definitely *not* going in to work (I'm up writing this at 4AM - there's no way I'm getting up before lunchtime) so you can actually expect a post when I've said it's coming...

And it's actually quicker to write one of these than it is to do the new comic reviews, which is why I'm writing these. I have to struggle to find something to say about, say, last week's Fantastic Four, but the only problem with Seven Soldiers is trying to put the flood of words into something like a logical order...

Richard said...

Absolutely great review, analysis, whatever you want to call it.

I'll be picking the things up now to see what you're talking about!

Rich D said...

Great read as always.

Did want to point out that I think the "raped my childhood" meme dates back to the STAR WARS prequel years where it was a common complaint over at AINT IT COOL NEWS. I wish I could remember a little clearer than that when it first reared its head...

Ben said...

I don't have the Zatanna books in front of me. How exactly did Morrison attack Alan Moore?

Ben said...

I don't have the Zatanna comics in front of me. How exactly did Morrison attack Moore? Sure he can be irreverent, even to a fellow magician. But people might also be reading things in.

ATOM-HOTEP said...

I think the attack, specifically, was Zor going on about how fabulous his beard was.