By Steve Foxe
For the first issue of Klarion, I accused Grant Morrison of playing it a bit safe with Klarion’s characterization. Sure, he’s a blue witch boy from a secluded colony of Roanoke descendents, but he yearns to explore the outside world and escape his conservative small town just like countless other protagonists throughout literary history. We know Klarion will grow into his impishness, but at first, he simply seems earnest. If there is anything traditional about Klarion’s first issue, though, its second chapter reassures readers that this is still the Morrison they know and love directing the ship.
“YE SOUGHT A WORLD BEYOND LIMBO TOWN BUT THERE CAN BE NO SUCH WORLD!” bellows the Horigal, the imposing mish-mash creature threatening Klarion when the issue opens. “THE TRUTH WOULD BLIND YE!”
Note that the Horigal doesn’t say that there is no world beyond Limbo Town, but that there can be no such world—the Horigal isn’t dealing in facts, but serving as a violent, violet-hued enforcer of the status quo. For the restrictive norms of Submissionary Judah and the rest of Limbo Town’s ruling class to make any sense, residents must not be aware of better alternatives (see also: every authoritarian state in history). “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” the Horigal might as well shout. Horigal doesn’t guard the entrance to Limbo Town — it guards the exit… until a speeding subway train turns its interior organs to pulp.
In a brilliantly gory expansion of Klarion’s world, Morrison and co-conspirator Frazer Irving reveal that Klarion and his fellow Limbo Town residents live deep below New York City, separated from the DC’s second-most-teeming metropolis (after Metropolis) by a labyrinth of commuter tunnels. There’s probably a sex/birth metaphor to be yanked out of this scene, but let’s instead focus on Irving’s palette choices: while Limbo Town isn’t devoid of occasional pops of color, Klarion’s world throughout the first issue, and the first scene of the second issue, is almost wholly rendered in sickly green-blues, with his animal familiar Teekl (yellow-orange) and the horrible Horigal’s fins (purple) serving as the biggest contrasts. The subway car that crashes into the Horigal announces itself with a bright yellow glare — a color that carries over into the other non-Limbo Town scenes in this issue.
Along with the speeding train, Klarion encounters Ebeneezer Badde, another Limbo Town expat whose surname serves as this issue’s subtitle. Badde and Klarion leave the scene before the Horigal can recover, and Klarion, wide-eyed, interrogates Badde about life after Limbo Town. Each of Badde’s answers feels like air being let out of a balloon: “I’m just a man, Klarion,” he says. “Life is hard down here. Most days scavenging or sleeping, wondering what it’s all for.” If Klarion #1 kicked off a hero’s journey for the titular witch boy, Klarion #2 is already raining on that parade, suggesting that the four-issue tale won’t be as predictable as we might have expected.
Badde and Klarion quickly come across Leviathan (a name Morrison would re-purpose years later in the pages of Batman, Inc.), a hive-mind composed of lost children, mentally bonded into one being. Badde urges his familiar onward, but Klarion can’t help but marvel at the sight, so far removed from the humdrum life of Limbo Town. “It’s just a world, Klarion,” Badde cautions. “You’ll soon get bored.”
Badde indulges Klarion, though, ferrying him to the House of Croatoan, where the Witch-Men of Limbo Town come to be initiated into adulthood. The great and terrible truth of the place is that there is no Croatoan—Croatoan is an absent god, whose name is evoked by Submissionary Judah and others as a means of control, not devotion. Klarion’s response—a mad cackle, and a promise to stay a boy forever—is the series’ biggest tell yet that Klarion isn’t quite right in the head. Faced with the revelation that his life of toil and submission has all been for naught, Klarion doesn’t buckle or break, but retreats into impish, immature denial.
Following this grand reveal, Morrison seems to use Klarion and Badde to have a debate with themself. “If there is no Witch-God, we can easily make our own gods out of hopes and dreams and the stories of unsung heroes like you!” Klarion excitedly exclaims, making the best out of what could be a harrowing situation. “It might make for dull reading,” Badde replies. “Why bother with gods and heroes at all?” Any follower of Morrison—the author of a nonfiction treatise called Supergods—knows where they most often fall in this argument. And if what happens to Badde next is any indication, Klarion #2 makes the answer unambiguous too.
Left to his own devices for a moment, Klarion psychically calls out to his cat familiar, Teekl. Teekl has just slaughtered a rat king (“I fancied killing him and did”), winning the favor of Leviathan in the process. The hivemind of wayward children shares with Teekl that it seeks revenge on one known as “Hunter-of-Children,” and Teekl offers to bring them to meet Klarion. Hunter-of-Children is, of course, Ebeneezer Badde, who procures children at the behest of a new player, mentioned in passing as Mister Melmoth. Badde barters with several of Melmoth’s hired goons, offering to turn over Klarion in exchange for porn rags and other items from the world above.
Badde almost immediately regrets how far he has fallen, but it’s too late. Klarion, taking the betrayal as a “timely lesson,” sets Leviathan on Badde and Melmoth’s posse, despite Badde desperately urging Klarion to make a run for it. As Leviathan washes over him, Badde calls out to Klarion to call them off, but Klarion merely smiles and cuddles Teekl. In the aftermath of the carnage, one component of Leviathan offers Klarion a spot in the horde, but Klarion declines, wishing instead to continue on to “Blue Rafters,” some sort of Promised Land in the Croatoan myth structure. (The Leviathan emissary shows off a shiny gold helmet given to them by another visitor—the Manhattan Guardian, who battles with subway pirates along the very same paths Klarion now treads, in one of Seven Soldiers’ Easter-egg crossover moments.)
“And it just goes on and on,” Klarion observes, foisting himself out of the subway tunnels and onto a platform of people who seem only barely bothered by the presence of a blue boy in pilgrim garb, reciting twisted scripture while traveling with a large cat. On the final page of this issue, Irving opens up the world of Klarion to its most “realistic” color palette yet, with bright blue skies, beige-and-brick buildings, and the gaudy pink-and-purple wardrobe of Mister Melmoth, the previously mentioned child-collector, whose name Klarion sadly didn’t overhear earlier.
There’s a lot to process in Klarion #2, as Morrison subverts the hero’s journey, Klarion reveals his morally ambiguous nature, and Irving shows off his then-nascent command of color and mood. Already, readers have learned the revelations behind Limbo Town, and that Klarion might not be a fully trustworthy lead. After all, he takes the total destruction of his belief system pretty well—and cheerily denies mercy or forgiveness for the man who saved his life and led him on the path toward truth. Now unleashed on the surface world, and in contact with a sinister new figure, will Klarion find salvation or ruin in Blue Rafters…and might he even deliver ruin onto others?
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Klarion the Witch Boy #2
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Steve Foxe is one of the top comics critics out there today, and worked as the comics editor for Paste. He has also written for publications including PanelxPanel, whilst never forgetting his twin loves of Morrison and Moore. Check his Paste byline here for his most recent pieces, and find him on Twitter here!