When I think about the Guardian’s story in Seven Soldiers of Victory, I think about the subway pirates. They’re more than just metafictional representations of Alan Moore and this book’s writer, Grant Morrison, waging war against one another. The story told here, about a ragtag group of people society has discarded, roving about a secret system of tunnels in search of something greater is a distinctively captivating concept — just ask Jordan Peele. The idea of subway pirates also feel distinctively of New York, a city so dense and full of stories that you can easily imagine that, despite there being so little open space, there’s always something fantastic happening outside your field of vision.
Yet, in rereading the Guardian’s miniseries in preparation for this essay series, what struck me about this story were not the fantastic elements, but rather the heightened-but-based-in-truth elements of classism baked into it.
Manhattan is often considered a playground for the wealthy. However, contradictorily, it is simultaneously a physically disgusting place to be. Designer brands buy flagship stores not with the intent of turning a profit—but simply to say they’ve made it there. Yet at the same time, you’ll find that most of the subway stations people use to visit these stores smell vaguely of urine, are so poorly regulated that WNYC felt compelled to put together a map of some of the physically hottest stations, and that, increasingly, trains just don’t even come.
The gap between the haves and the have nots in America is rarely clearer than it is in New York City. That gap existed when Seven Soldiers was published and it has only widened since. As such, I find it fascinating how directly The Guardian miniseries engages with that concept in a wide span of ways. These threads ultimately come together in a cohesive argument that showcases how New York’s thriving local cultures are often corporatized to appeal to rich trend seekers and ultimately weaponized against the communities that built these cultures.
Take our lead, Jake Jordan. The very first moment we see him, he’s arguing with his partner, Carla, about money. Jake used to be a cop, but lost his job because he shot an unarmed teenager by mistake. And since then, at least through the eyes of Carla’s father, Larry, Jake has lost respect for himself. So, what does Larry convince Jake to do? Well, he gets Jake to enter an audition to become a corporate superhero for the “Manhattan Guardian,” a tabloid that parodies institutions like the NY Post or Daily News.
The Guardian purports to be a paper of the people — featuring stories written by their readers about fantastic occurrences in New York. However, despite the populist concept, the paper’s offices are housed in an enormous skyscraper. That enormous building serves as a staging ground for Jake’s audition. As soon as he steps inside the offices, with no warning, he is assailed by employees posing as violent and murderous terrorists whom Jake has to stop from reaching the boss of the paper, Ed Stargard.
We’ll come to learn a great deal more about Stargard as the Guardian mini-series goes along, but from the moment he “meets” Jake (we only see his floating head through a screen here, Wizard of Oz style), the whole idea behind the Guardian just seems more than a little twisted. Stargard confronts Jake about the crime that got him fired from the NYPD. He then poses Jake’s chance to become the Guardian as an opportunity to “dig you out of the hole you got yourself into.” This sounds like an honest effort to help Jake find personal redemption and do moral good until Stargard immediately follows up this deeply personal play for Jake’s time with the notion that The Guardian needs a superhero because it needs a “gimmick” to stand out from its competition in the news business. Their new motto goes: ‘we don’t just report crime: we fight crime!” We’re not just here to help you, Jake, we’re here to help ourselves.
Comics has always been an industry where money blatantly muddles with myth — just look at Tony Stark, America’s former-arms-dealer-turned-darling-rapscallion. And New York is comics’ historical seat (in America, anyways). DC and Marvel both used to be here — and Marvel still is. There are little nods to that fact throughout Guardian #1. For example, there is a golem that Stargard invented who bears more than a little resemblance to the Thing from the Fantastic Four. Then there is the Guardian concept itself, which heralds from a 1942 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon DC comic and feels oddly similar to another character Kirby and Simon had created 13 months prior at Marvel — Captain America.
However, where Captain America hides the fact that he is a corporately branded avatar behind rousing speeches and stories about independence, Seven Soldiers’ Guardian is nakedly commercial. His design makes nods to the power of superhero mythology through its golden shield and fancy costume. The Guardian also fights crime, of course. But at the end of the day, at least as we’re told in this issue (there will be more to this later), Jake ultimately exists to create stories that move papers.
And so we have Jake Jordan, this man who has tragically become a “have not” in a city that constantly constricts those without wealth—essentially pushed over the ledge into this world he does not understand. There’s a promise of $5000 a week and a chance for personal redemption, but by the end of this first issue, we understand that that redemption will come at the cost mortal risk to those Jordan hoped to be redeemed in the eyes of.
Which leads to a question greater than subway pirates and glittering myth in the great grimy city: was it fair to make Jake Jordan fight at all?
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Manhattan Guardian #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Cameron Stewart
Colorist: Moose Baumann
Letterer: Pat Brosseau