Friday, 14 September 2007

The DC Morrisonverse 5: They Fuck You Up...

Most of the things I've posted so far in the look back over Seven Soldiers have been about fairly obscure elements in the series, things that have in large part been ignored by other writers on the subject (possibly, I accept, because they're not as interesting as those subjects they have focussed on).

However, to move on to Morrison's other DC work (and, eventually, to Final Crisis) I think I need to cover one of the most covered aspects of Seven Soldiers, (and in this post I'll draw a lot on the posts of both Jog and Marc Singer ), fatherhood and influence.

If we look through the seven soldiers and their fathers, we see a pattern in those where they're mentioned:

Shining Knight - no mention is made of Ystin's parents, but Ystin has to kill the undead King Arthur, the most important authority figure in the young knight's life.
Guardian - No mention of his parents, but has to let his father-in-law, who is also his mentor, die.
Zatanna - Goes on a quest to find her dead father('s bequest) , ends up killing people in a recreation of his death, meets an evil counterpart of her father and finally has to come to terms with his death.
Klarion - Goes in search of his father and discovers him to be evil. Kills him. The only one of the seven whose mother plays a role in the story, but her role is minor. Ends up taking the place of his evil ancestor Melmoth (who introduces himself to the puritans with "Daddy's home!") after Melmoth dies.
Frankenstein - Had two fathers, both evil, and killed them both.
Bulleteer - No mention made of her parents, but her oldest ancestor, Aurakles, is portrayed as a once-great god who's now an accidental destroyer who needs to be killed.

Now the interesting thing about this is that Aurakles is also drawn as looking exactly like Alan Moore.
Morrison's relationship with Alan Moore is a tricky one, and he knows it. Morrison has said in interviews that he was inspired to start writing comics by Moore's work in Warrior, and his early work shows Moore's influence very heavily (for example the Watchmen visual references in Animal Man, and the striking similarity between The Coyote Gospel and Pog) but has also on a number of occasions been absolutely scathing about Moore's magical practices and later work. In fact much of Morrison's career can be seen as a reaction to Moore's work (for example his championing of Robert Mayer's horrible novel Superfolks makes sense when you consider it a stick to beat Moore with - Moore 'borrowed' more than a bit from the novel).

Much of Seven Soldiers can be seen as a reaction to Moore, or as homage, depending on the part of the work in question. Zatanna #1, for example (which I just typed as Promethea in a Freudian typo), contains the famous cutting parody of Promethea and the line about Zatanna's writing about magic being 'non-preachy', but it also contains an almost exact recreation of Zatarra's death-scene from Moore's Swamp Thing run. In fact a lot of Swamp Thing makes its way into the series - not only is Frankenstein very much in the same vein, but Zor is reborn as Solomon Grundy in much the same way that Alec Holland becomes Swamp Thing (in, of course, the origin story by Len Wein, who Morrison also claims as an influence) and Alix Harrower's job is working with autistic children, as Abby Holland (note the initials) did in Moore's Swamp Thing run.

But the aspect that has had most people talking is what has been interpreted as the inclusion of several avatars of Moore within the story, usually in negative roles. While the similarity in appearance of Aurakles to Moore might be charitably viewed as coincidental (and the similarity of Melmoth that some have pointed out extends only to him having a beard), and even the rivalry between pirates All-Beard (with his huge bushy beard and big hair) and No-Beard (bald like Morrison) can be seen as people reading too much into it, Zor is another matter.

Zor (rhymes with Moore) is one of the major villains of the piece (and in fact is also the person directly addressed by Morrison's avatar in the last issue), a magician who was one of the Seven Unknown Men ( who are all DC writers) but went renegade, who is responsible for much of the darkening of the DCU, and who has a beard of which he is comically proud. I wonder who that could be?

From The Comics Journal 176 (as quoted in a post on Barbelith):

Actually, at one point there was a sense that we were all marching into the future together waving the same flag, then I realized that we weren't, which is probably why I criticized Alan quite a lot, which is why he doesn't speak to me anymore. But I really felt the need to get out from under his shadow, because it had become so oppressive, and we were all being expected to do as he did.

This need to get out from Moore's shadow characterises huge chunks of Seven Soldiers, but another creator is equally present - Jack Kirby.

At first sight Kirby appears to be treated better than Moore - three of the minis ( Guardian, Klarion and Mister Miracle) are updatings of Kirby's concepts, and Kirby's avatar in the story, Ed Stargard, is one of the heroes - he has behind the scenes put together the seven soldiers who will defeat the Sheeda.

However, Ed is also trapped in the body of a child, grown wrinkled and decayed, but still a baby - a pretty potent metaphor for the US comics industry that has largely been built on the back of Kirby. He is also revealed as possibly having contributed to the death of an old friend, and is generally a far more ambiguous figure than he at first seems.

Kirby and Moore could be seen as the 'fathers' of Morrison-the-writer, and Seven Soldiers as a whole says that 'fathers' are to be distrusted - as is all authority. The work undercuts authority figures at every turn (the Submissionaries are tools of the Sheeda, Stargard isn't the imposing man he presents himself as, Shilo Norman's psychiatrist is a minion of Darkseid, Melmoth is a slaver, the expert on the past in Shining Knight turns out to be the Sheeda Queen) and over and over the message that's hammered home appears to be 'don't trust anyone over thirty'.

Remember, as well, that in Morrison's evolution, Seven Soldiers comes after Seaguy (which it resembles in many ways), with its apocalyptic conflict with 'the Anti-Dad'. This ties in with the big themes of the series - to live we must change. We must outgrow the influences that formed us, and become ourselves. Zatanna is the books her father wrote, but she is not her father. Frankenstein is immortal because of Melmoth, but he still kills Melmoth. And Grant Morrison has been shaped by Alan Moore and Jack Kirby, but he has to move beyond them (whether he does or not is a different matter).

Oh see ye not that narrow road so thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness
And see ye not that broad broad road, that is the path of wickedness
... though some call it the road to heaven.

But don't forget... there's a third road.

(Next in this series - 52).

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi - love the blog!

Just wanted to let you know that the Mayer book is "Superfolks"

Cheers!

Andrew Hickey said...

Gah. Thanks. Fixed.

Falcon - man on fire said...

Yeah, I bought it for pretty much the (2-page) intro, 'superfolks' and then put it in a drawer shortly after attempting a read. Terrible stuff.

Anyway - 52 next, should be interesting; I've not seen anyone really attempt to explain the stylistic contiguity between 7S and the (only) weekly US book, which I think there might be a good bit of - really enjoying your work here, I must say, and there's always 'Downcounting' for bitter laughs = win-win.

Love that photo, of course, too. Keep it up!

zack soto said...

I'm kind of amazed that I'm constantly checking a blog named after the awful "Countdown" so religiously. This series of entries has been great!

Noah Sage said...

I've found this series of articles extremely intriguing. I'm a new reader to the blog, and am amazed by how well you understand not just media, but the creators of it. Your ability to dig deep into the symbolism and depth of the books is amazing. This is truly one of the best blogs on the web about comics, great job.

Hoatzin said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention Mister Miracle in this article. While his actual father isn't mentioned in the mini, one could argue Shilo's big brother held an important role as a father figure (the wordless final page is telling enough). And of course, it's his brother (or rather, the guilt felt over his brother's death) that keeps Shilo's potential "trapped". As Metron mentions at the end of the mini: "The monument you built to your brother's heroism has overshadowed your own life, your own potential".

Metron could also be seen as a father to Shilo in a metaphorical way, since it's Metron that "raises" him as a New God. His visual appearance as a kind, elderly black man towards the end of the mini can't be unintentional.

This is particularly interesting if we see Shilo as one of Morrison's "fiction suits" (certainly, the similarities are there), because it literally echoes his sentiments about being stuck in Alan Moore's shadow. Shilo's brother is even named "Aaron", which is suspiciously similar to "Alan".

And of course, although it isn't mentioned in the mini itself, the New Gods famously have a large father/son theme going on. There's Orion, son of Darkseid, who is torn apart between his Apokolips heritage and his New Genesis upbringing. There's the benevolent Highfather. There's Kalibak, Darkseid's other son (I'm not counting Grayven here since he's not a Kirby creation), who is constantly trying to please his father despite his father preferring Orion. And then there's the Mother Box, an important part of New Gods lore, whose "male" counterpart, the Father Box, makes its appearance in Seven Soldiers.

elias A. said...

First, in the case of Guardian and Bulleteer you are streching the "common" father theme extremely thin. Aurakles may be Bulleteer's ancestor, but she never deals with him at all, so that hardly counts.
In Klarion and Zatanna the father theme is obvious, I agree.
Frankenstein kills his makers because they made him a zombie, and Justin kills his mentor Galahad because he was turned into a zombie. A very obvious and superficial case of fighting authority, but I guess it can count as a metaphor for refusing authority when it has turned into a lifeless shell that's lost it's credibility. Except that Galahad doesn't demand authority and Justin knows very well he is controlled, so that hardly applies. Only an example of overcomming emotional attachment to a former authority figure which intellectually can be easily refused. Not very meaningful to me, but it counts for the common theme I guess.
Frankenstein's rebellion is also totally obvious, without any emotional struggle or learning process necessary to overcome his authority figures, at least none we are shown. (Presumably once with his creator there could have been, but who knows.) But I will also count it as using lifeless zombie as a metphor, this time for a "father" that didn't give his "son" what was necessary for a good life.

But is that really a common theme for the whole event? I said it before, for me it seems absolutely necessary that a central message or symbolism has to be also central for the connecting story elements. And is it?
The common element is the Sheeda threat. Is fighting them fighting authority?
Shining Knight: Not well executed, but I guess one could say it, the way I described.
Frankenstein: In the fourth issue, only in a very minimal connection cause the Sheeda are connected with his creation. But his confrontation with the queen can hardly be called a conflict with authority or father figures. He also experiences no emotional conflict whatsoever anyway.
Bulleteer: I guess one could call her inner journey one that has to overcome superficial and perverted views of superheroics, and instead reaching real heroism. But that is linked to the Sheeda conflict only in the way that those are the enemies she should be heroic against when she has mastered her journey. So I wouldn't count it, descendant of Aurakles or not.
Guardian: Unless it happens in issue #4 which I didn't read, not at all. The death of his step-father really doesn't count here, it's just a tragic event he didn't forsee, no authority or father conflict that deserves the name.
Zatanna: Again like with Bulleteer, her struggle is to become heroic (again), and she faces father issues, but those are hardly connected with the Sheeda. Maybe Zor is connected with them, I won't claim that I got or remember all the detaits, but he only is traumatic because he targets Zatannas own father issues.
Klarion: Sure, it counts. But due to Melmoth, not the invading Sheeda themselves.

So, Melmoth. What is his role, his "symbolism"? The Sheeda are ruled by a queen who got rid of her husband. So does that mean that total absence of male authority equals perversion and evil? Easy to see that symbolism, but hopefully one Morrison didn't intend.
When Frankenstein (and Klarion) fight Melmoth, he actually wants to stop the invasion, admittedly with his own evil aims instead. So a male authority figure who isn't in charge anymore but maybe could get back in charge is a symbol how lack of male authority has screwed things up, but getting it back won't make things much better? Really stretching the metaphors now. More obvious seems to be that Melmoth is not in charge of the central conflict, and his part in the shared "male authority" theme is less central to the whole event than otherwise.

To summarise: The authority conflicts you speak of are there, for the most part, and maybe are intended as a common theme, but that is not very well implemented and doesn't manage to become a really basic and central element or symbol to the whole event.

A authority connection just as interesting would be the previous Seven Soldiers, Ali Ka Zoom and the others. They are also father figures, or should obviously be, but don't really manage to do that. Examining that could lead to some additional insights, but again, the theme is not central enough.
Also, one example of an authoritative father figure you didn't mention: Greg Saunders, the Vigilante. And he is a force of good.


Still, what you said about this topic is far more convincing than some of the points of your previous blogs.
I already mentioned that in a previous comment, but again, you said:

"But I think there's a deeper meaning to gravity here. Much as Morrison used JLA to explain The Invisibles by paralleling it, I think gravity - a natural force against which our heroes have to fight - is being used for its resonance with a lesser-known concept in physics, one that I think is the theme - or at least one of the overriding themes - of the story.
I'm referring of course to entropy, and that shall be the topic of my next post."

Again, gravity has no direct physical connection to entropy at all. The "resonance" you speak of would only exist because "pull of a black hole" and the decay connected with entropy are both very obviously "bad" natural forces. So the symbolic connection would be "bad is something similar as bad". Yeah, very meaningful. And the way you want to see gravity in the other minis is because there are emotional situations which COULD be symbolised by gravity, but aren't? Please think about that once again, would you?
Sure, a black hole is an example of a "closed system". But if you want to talk about closed systems under the aspect of entropy, just do that and don't try forcing gravity into that context. That just creates metaphors and symbols which are so generic and arbitrary that they can mean anything and nothing.

I don't want to examine the common theme of "closed systems" now, but what I would say would be rather analog to the common theme of "father figures".
To summarise, my opinion of Seven Soldiers is this: Obsure symbolism cannot replace a central meaningful EMOTIONAL conflict.

Andrew Hickey said...

"Also, one example of an authoritative father figure you didn't mention: Greg Saunders, the Vigilante. And he is a force of good."

Is he? I suggest you reread SS#0

"Again, gravity has no direct physical connection to entropy at all. The "resonance" you speak of would only exist because "pull of a black hole" and the decay connected with entropy are both very obviously "bad" natural forces."

Which is what I said...

"And the way you want to see gravity in the other minis is because there are emotional situations which COULD be symbolised by gravity, but aren't? Please think about that once again, would you?"

No - what I said was that gravity occurs as a metaphor in several, but not all, of the minis.

These things are *explicitly* there in the series. Lines like (to pick two random lines from the issue that happens to be nearest to me, Mister Miracle 4) "So hot... flesh oxidizing in the combustion of time" or "That awful thought, its dreadful gravity like a black star with no exit" are actually there. I'm not even interpreting these things at all, really, just pointing them out.

"To summarise, my opinion of Seven Soldiers is this: Obsure symbolism cannot replace a central meaningful EMOTIONAL conflict."

I have just gone on at exhaustive length over thousands of words pointing out exactly what that central emotional conflict is - it's the conflict between the past and the future, between change and death. Every single one of the minis is about precisely that. The fact that Morrison doesn't use some heavy-handed 'Sheeda offer people powers like Satan with Jesus on the mountaintop' plot device in these stories like you want, but instead uses a modicum of subtlety doesn't mean that there's nothing there.

You seem to have a real anger about this - like just because you don't 'get' Seven Soldiers there's nothing *to* get, and you're going to damn well prove that. But even discounting my own observations, people like Jog, Marc Singer, Douglas Wolk and the commenters on Barbelith have found a lot in this material.

It really isn't just me. Seven Soldiers really is a complex work with a lot to say - about comics as a medium, about superheroes as a genre, and more importantly about real life. That you can't see that is, essentially, your problem. But these things are *text*, not subtext.

elias A. said...

I actually am rather amused, not angry at all. I'm just explaining my strong opinion that you are over-interpreting your source material. Of course that invites the easy come back that I just don't get it or am proud of my stupidity. Whoever reads this will from his own opinion.
And I'm not targetting you personally. As you say, a lot of people share your views. You were just there in the wrong moment. ;)

I didn't question that there are emotional conflicts in the INDIVIDUAL minis.
Each taken on it's own, some are great, some good, some rather weak.
And a lot of very meaningful things are said, sure.

But my point is that the CONNECTIONS between the minis have very little, if any, deeper meaning or literary quality. And if there is, with all due respect, your method of pointing that out is not very convincing. What I'd suggest would be to focus much more on the individual stories, and how the common themes you see enrich them and add additional insights - or not.

For example, I think Frankenstein and Guardian are rather simple adventure stories that resolve their conflicts in a rather superficial way, and whatever symbolism there is doesn't change much about that.

I guess I'll leave it at that. I said what I wanted to say. Sorry if I bothered you.

Andrew Hickey said...

"For example, I think Frankenstein and Guardian are rather simple adventure stories that resolve their conflicts in a rather superficial way, and whatever symbolism there is doesn't change much about that."

Elias, you've not even *read* the fourth issue of Guardian...

elias A. said...

"Elias, you've not even *read* the fourth issue of Guardian..."

Yeah, and I admitted that several times. So I assumed it would be understood I meant the first three issues. But your right, I guess I should have added it another time.

So does the fourth issue radically change how one has to look at the previous issues? I'm honestly curious.

Andrew Hickey said...

Yes, it does. It's possibly the single most important issue in terms of knowing what's going on in the present-day part of the story.

plok said...

Glad Elias isn't angry! And I hope I won't make him so if I say that, at least as far as a black hole is concerned, gravity and entropy do have something important to do with each other in the physical sense.

But, I think they wouldn't need to, even if they didn't: because the link Morrison makes between the two concepts is a legitimate one just on a literary level, too, and in my opinion it's quite skillfully done. I see a lot of decent literary-grade physics in 7S, actually, but maybe that's just me...Morrison's said it himself, that he likes to write stuff the reader can bring a strong symbolic reading to if he wishes, even without there necessarily being any designed-in authorial "code" for him to crack. Nevertheless, one of the reasons I like 7S so much (and essays written on it almost as much) is that I feel there is more of a code in there, than there is in some of Morrison's other work -- just for example, the Red God is clearly red for a reason, as is the "red smoke" of entropic Summer's End (also, "the red mist" is a well-known way of describing a killing rage, isn't it?), and these are just the parts of the code which are given to us as a starter...but I won't go on about that in any more detail, I think, because once I started, who knows where I'd be able to stop? All respect to Elias, but I don't think Andrew's over-interpreted anything at all, here. In fact, I could stand to see him go a bit further.

Although one thing I think is a little peculiar about the online 7S commentary I've read is how little weight is usually put on the Bulleteer mini -- Elias, you almost get to it here, that Alix's struggle to define adulthood in a world established on the exaggerated (and deadly) trappings of childhood doesn't turn on the ancestry of Aurakles, instead (I would suggest) turning on the poisoned marriage-bond with her "creator" husband...but I should also point out, Ragnell wrote a very cool little piece some time ago about motherhood in 7S that to my mind held up extremely well, and so you see, with Morrison it's never "here's the key to it all!", but rather "here's the assortment of symbolic kernels I've tossed into this thing...now make a meaning from them, if you like." But not a random meaning, naturally -- "change or death", I guess that says it pretty well, but there's still an awful lot that could be unpacked from those three summary words.

And can I just say it again? Mister Miracle #4 is one of the best comics I've ever read. And I'm sure you'll disagree with me there, Elias...but oh well, that's what reasonable people can do, isn't it? Disagree. Personally I think you're under-interpreting 7S, but then of course your reading experience is yours, not mine, and it'd be asinine of me to suggest that you're stupid just because you're missing what I'm getting from it...

But, yeah: you should really read Guardian #4.

Sorry for the long comment, Andrew!

Andrew Hickey said...

Plok, thanks for essentially writing my reply to Elias for me. I've been too tired/busy to respond properly to comments, but that's essentially what I intended to say.

"at least as far as a black hole is concerned, gravity and entropy do have something important to do with each other in the physical sense."

You know, I *knew* this, but it was in a completely different part of my brain to the part writing these things, and I accepted Elias' comment at face value because that hadn't occurred to me even though it supports my interpretation. I suppose you can see why I dropped out of the astrophysics degree I was on.

But yes, it's the metaphorical connection that matters here, and that works.

Bulleteer is absolutely fascinating, and may be my favourite of the minis, but the thesis I was putting forward is most easily supportable by Mister Miracle and Zatanna, so those are where I tend to take most of the examples from.

"I see a lot of decent literary-grade physics in 7S, actually, but maybe that's just me..."

Nope - not just you. My own fascinations are more cybernetics/information theory/game theory type stuff, but I know exactly what you mean. Morrison is one of a *very* small number of mainstream comic writers who are actually scientifically literate, and can see the metaphorical and story possibilities in science.

"I don't think Andrew's over-interpreted anything at all, here. In fact, I could stand to see him go a bit further."

Ah, but I really couldn't stop. I've had to impose a strict word (and conceptual) limit on these things, or we'd end up with some sort of Talmud here - the midrash of Rabbi Andrew...

elias A. said...

I guess if you adress what I said directly I have to respond. True, a black hole is determined by gravity, and there gravity directly affects entropy. But that doesn't change that their physical theories are from unrelated areas of physics, and very rarely affect each other.

Let's look back on what Andrew said:

"The latter is, of course, the main question in the whole Mister Miracle miniseries. Gravity here is the life trap, a crushing force that we have to fight or die, a force that should by rights overwhelm us. In fact, much of the Seven Soldiers story involves the characters in orbit, sucked in by the gravitational pull of 'black holes' - absences (the missing god of the witch-people, the missing eighth soldier, Zatanna and Klarion's absent fathers) and occasionally pulled in by each other's force before swinging off in their own directions, their orbits perturbed by the presence of characters of whose existence they are unaware.

But I think there's a deeper meaning to gravity here. Much as Morrison used JLA to explain The Invisibles by paralleling it, I think gravity - a natural force against which our heroes have to fight - is being used for its resonance with a lesser-known concept in physics, one that I think is the theme - or at least one of the overriding themes - of the story.

I'm referring of course to entropy, and that shall be the topic of my next post."

First, as I already pointed out, Andrew claims to see gravity in the minis here because there are things that COULD be symbolised by gravity, not because they actually are. Besides Mr.Miracle he only mentions one panel with a speech bubble in Frankenstein. And I hope you don't want to include totally generic things that the characters are sometimes in space or fly or whatever.
I don't want to pick on you, Andrew, but I'm talking about your presentation now, not the source material, and I'm sorry to say, it is not very convincing.

And what is the "resonance" between entropy and gravity you speak of? That there exists one case of a physical phenomenon that is caused by gravity where gravity has actually a direct effect on entropy?
Seriously, that you call a "resonance"?
For the sake of the discussion I will sorta agree that both gravity and entropy are used as metaphors for negative, bad things. But again, Andrew claims they have a "resonance". What is that? That they are both physical phenomenons? Could a connection be any more generic?
Or that they both symbolise similar things? Maybe, but Andrew was claiming that the symbols THEMSELVES have a direct, poetical, and I suppose intuitive connection. If they have, he doesn't manage to give reasons for that, with all due respect.

"Change or death" may be a huge theme in Seven Soldiers, I don't disagree. But to me, literary merit is determined first and foremost by the portrayed emotional and social conflicts. No doubt that symbolism may add to that and mark deeper meanings and connections. But in my opinion symbolism can only be the illustration, not the message.

I strongly suspect that Seven Soldiers invites reviewers into an endless game of "find the hidden symbols" and therefore makes them lose perspective of the basic level of the portrayed human experiences, and how well THAT is implemented.

Just my opinion of course.

I'll give an example of an author you have probably never heard of, Karl May. In the late 19th century he wrote Wild West adventures who are still extremely popular in Germany. As he grew older, he started to write symbolic novels to illustrate his religious views. He put a lot of thought into his symbolism that should illustrate the journey to god. But because he still used a lot of the writing techniques of his wildwest adventures, especially when it came to resolving conflicts, the medium just could not support the message. Not to mention that the message, while including a lot of thought, was rather bland and dogmatic and didn't really cover the more complicated parts and emotions of human existence.

I'm not saying Morrison is as bad. Again, I like most of Seven Soldiers. But just because symbolism is intended doesn't mean it is actually GOOD.

To refresh a point I made before: It is easy to find other symbols. Like, why shouldn't be water a symbol for change? The important slaughter swamp plays an essential role and is a SWAMP, where water doesn't flow. Meaning central conflicts are not resolved yet?
Klarion's tunnels where he travels to freedom are half filled with water, he has to use a swimming creature. Water = Change?
And on her journey to get back self-respect Zatanna has to cross the Golden Gate bridge, over WATER!

Honestly ask yourself how you would have reacted if I had made those points not in a sarcastic way, but as a supposedly ambitious and awe-filled "analysis".
Maybe Morrison even intended that meaning of water, I wouldn't be surprised. But does it add anything meaningful or really worth noting?
And in my opinion, lots of the symbolism you claim to see is as generic and forced, and not very useful.

But I'm probably just too stupid, I know. So unless you want me to answer something specific again, I'll leave you alone now.

Kenny said...

I think Elias is right about everything, but here's where he really hits the nail on the head:

"I strongly suspect that Seven Soldiers invites reviewers into an endless game of "find the hidden symbols" and therefore makes them lose perspective of the basic level of the portrayed human experiences, and how well THAT is implemented."

The basic level of portrayed human experience in all of the Seven Soldiers minis is, in my opinion, awful. I think Morrison is someone who frequently has big ideas but lacks the skill to turn them into good stories.

I also think Elias's example with water is a strong one that illustrates his point well. Just because a common element is shared in a collection of stories doesn't mean it has any symbolic meaning outside of coincidence.

Sorry, Andrew, I know you're putting in a lot of work into this, but as far as the Seven Soldiers go, the emperor has no clothes.

Marc said...

That certainly is a halfassed reading of water in Seven Soldiers, Elias, but I'm not certain it proves anything about Seven Soldiers to concoct a deliberately halfassed reading.

I think you're right that Seven Soldiers' modular structure and its many repetitions and overlaps invite readers to look for interconnections and meaning (something that extends far beyond "hidden symbols"--to limit the discussion to symbols is to overlook many of the project's ways of building meaning, a lot of which are sitting out in plain sight). But, as the saying goes, that's a feature, not a bug. Seven Soldiers invites far more reader participation and speculation than most superhero comics. That's not a bad thing.

I disagree, though, that these "symbols" and interconnections make readers lose perspective of the human drama of Seven Soldiers. If anything, Elias, I think you're losing that perspective, either because you genuinely didn't see that drama in the comics or because it's necessary that you don't in order to uphold your earlier statements. Sure, some of the miniseries are simple ultraviolent romps (Frankenstein) or joyless exposition dumps (Shining Knight), but Morrison also built some very moving stories like the lost innocence of the Newsboy Army, Zatanna's reconciliation with her father, or Mister Miracle's discovery of how to escape the forces that are limiting his growth out of grief and self-loathing (a very real emotional dilemma for which gravity is only a metaphor). Like Plok, I found that one of the most heartfelt, inspiring comics Morrison has written in a long time. Mileage will vary, of course--yours apparently does--but I don't think you get to program everybody else's reaction by telling us we're all ignoring the emotional side of the story.

Which brings me back to why I'm so skeptical about your sarcastic water reading. Kenny says that "Just because a common element is shared in a collection of stories doesn't mean it has any symbolic meaning outside of coincidence," but the use of water in Seven Soldiers is a particularly poor example for that point. Just because you say it's purely coincidental doesn't make it so. Your flimsy reading, which was built to be flimsy, ignores the fact that one miniseries assigned water a particular meaning that was not only deliberate, but expressly spelled out on the page.

In the final issue of Zatanna, Zatara explains the elemental structure that the miniseries has been quietly following--each issue has been centered around one of the classical elements and a corresponding virtue found in Zatanna herself. Water corresponds to her kind heart, and to the final issue in which she has her emotional reunion with her dead father. Now, I don't think this makes the comic particularly deep or anything--it's more of a clever magician's trick as Morrison exposes his own narrative structure, while the father-daughter reunion and Zatanna's discovery of her own worth carry the real weight of the story. And I don't think this meaning carries over outside the miniseries; elsewhere in Seven Soldiers, water can mean something else, or, more likely, nothing at all.

But it does mean that your water reading, constructed to show that any attempts to assign symbolic meaning in Seven Soldiers are arbitrary inventions of the reader, is itself an arbitrary invention that overlooks the careful design that went into the text. It shows us that a bad reading is a bad reading; nothing more.

elias A. said...

Marc:
To avoid misunderstandings: I didn't say that all of Seven Soldiers was lacking interesting human experiences. As I mentioned in my response to a previous blog entry of Andrew, on my own blog I have recently written a long review about Seven Soldiers where I explain my opinion in more detail. I actually admire the Klarion mini, and like Bulleteer. With what you say about Frankenstein and Shining Knight our opinions seem actually to be rather similar.

The water thing I said was just a simple parody of the kind of review I critisise, the first thing that came into my head. I wouldn't dwell too much on it.

While I admit that I generalised a lot, I mainly wanted to explain why Andrew's points don't convince me, especially what he said about gravity, and I think I gave concrete arguments for that.

plok said...

Not to be obnoxious, Elias, but I don't know why you would think that there are such things as "unrelated areas" of physics that keep themselves to themselves, at all. If nothing else, entropy and gravity have a concern with time in common...but beyond that, there's nothing aberrant about the way a black hole connects all three of these topics up, so I'm not sure why you seem to be willing to dismiss the connection so off-handedly as a flyaway case or freak instance.

Similarly, gravity and entropy needn't be standing in for some vague notion of "negative or bad things" in 7S -- instead, as I read it they are each standing in very specifically for the idea of ineluctability, and therefore their connection through that common representation is (to me anyway) a real QED sort of a thing. Gravity, ineluctable, check...entropy, also ineluctable, so also check. Me personally, I love playing "spot the hidden meaning", but this is hardly hidden, is it?