When I first had the chance to read issue #0 of Seven Soldiers, I was 15 years old, obsessed with Grant Morrison (after talking with many other long-time comic fans, I’m convinced this is an inevitable phase), and thought this was the most amazing set up for a story. But when I got the chance to read it again after almost fifteen years I spent the better part of its fifty pages going “…what the fuck is this?”
In fact, I read it about four times again before it even began to sink in that this was, at one point, the most phenomenal intro to a series that I had read. In short, I shot my angst-ridden teen self a glance in hindsight because honestly… I genuinely don’t believe that the famous Seven Soldiers issue #0 should have existed at all. Well, at least not in the capacity that it does.
This is the part of the piece where I’d normally give you a quick recap of the issue and what I feel about it. But what’s the point?
What I mean by that is: Morrison has always been a massive fan of metatextual content and textual red herrings. But in the case of issue 0, it presents in the form of characters who hold no real significance other than that they die (except for the Vigilante, obviously, but you have to read an entirely different comic to know that). And while that may work for the idea of side characters or throwaways in any other comic, they are never treated as such within this issue – especially when the purpose of this series introduction is about transformation.
Can personal evolution really happen when the characters aren’t even given a chance to become rounded in the first place? Let’s take Shelly “The Whip” Gaynor as the biggest example of this.
Shelly takes up a great deal of the story as both a main character as well as being the narrator so we get to connect with her the most. We know she wrote a book called “Body Thunder” (YIKES) about her choice to embrace a superhero lifestyle and then agrees to join the Vigilante’s new Seven Soldiers team for the publicity it could add to her image. Her transformation really comes together when the reader is able to realize that Shelly isn’t actually transforming into The Whip purely for appearance at all. It’s what she’s becoming entirely. Shelly-as-was doesn’t actually exist anymore. Even towards the end there is a magnificent line that reads “[…]and one by one we fall effortlessly into our roles. Our secret identities forgotten.”
But here’s the scoop: when you read that, does it sound like an empowered character? Nope! And here’s the problem: it really could have been.
Shelly is written as what could be an awesome example of a female character coming into her own and becoming empowered through hero work. I mean, it’s not the first time in comics that we’ve seen for-profit heroes seeking fame and fortune who go on to find their true selves through the goodness of being a hero. (Seriously, look at Luke Cage and Booster Gold!)
This could have been Shelly, too. But instead she is made into what I affectionately call a Famously Morrison Female – which is to say she could be something amazing if she were given the chance. (I say affectionately because I really was a Morrison fan back in the day.) And as those who go on to read the rest of Seven Soldiers know, the Shelly arc of this issue leads in an indirect way to The Bulleteer series, which is also delightfully problematic in terms of “badass woman in a bad scenario and is not allowed to properly flourish because of The Men.”
But I promise this is not another one of my “dammit, why are comics so underhandedly misogynistic rah rah rah!” essays. (It could be, because it’s about a Grant Morrison comic. Again… I mean this affectionately. Almost.) I bring up Shelly in particular because she is at the forefront of what almost every character in the zero issue runs into: that they serve no purpose despite having the ideal set up for one. .
Realistically, this issue could have been a normal (for the time) twenty-two page issue of Thomas Ludlow Dalt (aka “I, Spyder”) and his transformative run-in with the Sheeda… and then that was it. That gives the entire set-up that you actually need because the irony is that Seven Soldiers issue zero doesn’t even give the reader the point of what issue zero is actually about. All characters who live on are seen in the other twenty-nine issues, including Nebulo (the force that kills the team in this issue) as well as the Sheeda.
Maybe I’m being a bit of a broken record here, but had this whopper of an introductory issue been turned into two or three scattered in-between the individual character issues that followed it, then maybe it would make sense. But for the most part, this introduction into the new Seven Soldiers team was a big act of masturbation on Morrison’s part rather than the foreplay that it was meant to be.
Seven Soldiers of Victory #0
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: J. H. Williams III
Colourist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Chloe Maveal has written all over the comics internet – including pieces published by Polygon, WomenWriteAboutComics and The MNT. Chloe’s also the Culture Editor-at-Large for The Gutter Review. You can find them on Twitter here!