By Steve Foxe
When I’m working on a story of my own, I test it by explaining it out loud to my boyfriend, who isn’t a writer. My working peers always have productive feedback to offer, but my boyfriend approaches the fictional world without the baggage of backseat-authorship, and is thus a whiz at pointing out issues in the bedrock, while I’m focused on building the narrative skyscraper up into the clouds. It can be incredibly frustrating to construct 80 floors to then be reminded that you forgot to install a front door, but it’s better to find that out when work is still in progress than to discover the error during the grand opening.
I’m beating this metaphor to death because my partner just recently helped me crack a problem I was having with an upcoming five-issue kids comic, in which the middle issues weren’t feeling integral enough to the overall story. If you were inclined to be particularly unforgiving, you could levy that same criticism at Klarion #3.
The second issue of Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving’s Witch Boy saga ends with Klarion ascending through the darkened subway into the bright world above — and straight into the waiting arms of the sinister Mister Melmoth. Klarion #3 picks up not long after, but — spoiler alert — ends with a reversal of the prior issue’s finale, as Klarion once more descends whence he came. Like the second issue, Klarion #3 also features a group of wayward children seeking Klarion’s membership, and a former resident of Limbo Town betraying the hidden village. All of this mirroring makes the penultimate instalment of Klarion feel like something of a U-turn or a stalling tactic — but none of it is done without purpose.
Klarion #3 skips ahead a bit from the end of the preceding chapter, as Mister Melmoth explains his research into Limbo Town to a shady boardroom headed up by a Mister Silencio. This is one of the moments throughout Seven Soldiers of Victory where understanding of events is deepened by familiarity with the other series. Mister Silencio appears elsewhere, and the suggestion that the Roanoke colonists came into “intimate contact” with something not entirely human is pretty clearly a reference to the Sheeda, the faerie-like foes gathering in the shadows. Still, reading Klarion in isolation, these callouts easily fade into the din of Morrison’s typically rich writing, where some throwaway lines hold as much narrative potential as many writers’ entire careers.
During this presentation, Melmoth details Klarion’s first days in the world above, where “every cheap and tawdry dime store” wows Klarion’s sheltered mind, and a glimpse of television causes the boy to laugh wildly then become violently ill. “Everything is new in his sight,” Melmoth says. “Everything is holy.” The next, silent panel after this line shows Klarion shovelling sweets into his mouth, as Melmoth watches on from the shadows like a wicked Willy Wonka. Irving provides a celestial swirl as the background for this image, highlighting both the absurdity and wonder of what’s occurring. Klarion might be a half-human magical child from a hidden subterranean world, yes, but he’s still a child, and what is childhood if not a persistent state of discovery of the world around you?
The reinforcement of Klarion’s own off-kilter innocence continues as the scene shifts to Klarion in a runaway “pumpkin taxi” (perhaps a reference to the pumpkin carriage of Cinderella, as this issue also features a midnight transition?), terrified for his life as the children around him urge the car to go faster and faster. Klarion pukes as soon as he exits the vehicle, but immediately wipes off the detritus and asks to do it again—either the words of an emboldened young daredevil or a kid eager to prove himself to his risky new friends.
These new friends are the Deviants, a gang of under-16 ruffians who work for Mister Melmoth. Leader Billy Beezer, on the cusp of ageing out of the gang and into Team Red, the over-16 squad, pushes Klarion to prove himself. The Witch Boy rises to the occasion by using his psychic bond with his feline familiar, Teekl, to help the Deviants sneak into a museum dedicated to Golden Age heroes (including costume cameos from the original Seven Soldiers of Victory). Once inside, the Deviants pester a pair of guards and then make off with a massive drilling machine that the allies once employed to turn the tide against the Axis powers.
The Deviants bring the drilling machine straight back to Melmoth, who proceeds to not so subtly pit Klarion and Billy against each other. There’s even a panel in which Irving frames Billy’s suspicious face within the crook of Melmoth’s curved cane, in case you had any doubt about Melmoth’s manipulative intent. Still, there’s a limit to how much Klarion takes the bait. When Billy cracks and directly insults Klarion’s capacity to ever lead the Deviants, Klarion responds that he doesn’t want to be a leader: “I’m only passing through. I’m an explorer.” Billy, clearly nervous about being on the doorstep of such a major life change, still attacks Klarion, whose eyes glow pink as the Witch Boy offers to tell Billy the hour and date of his death, finally scaring off the aggressor.
Hours later, the clock tolls for midnight, and a restless, newly 16-year-old Billy Beezer leaves the dormitory only to run right into Goldenboy, a former member of the Deviants who Billy clearly idolized. Goldenboy moved up to Team Red, but now reveals to Billy the terrible truth: Team Red isn’t another carefree gang, but a hard labor sentence, where young people run themselves ragged mining “gold in the red place.” Mister Melmoth shows up to confirm Billy’s horrid fate. “Time to put away childish things, Billy-Boy,” he says, explaining the portal that will take Billy to the mines. “No escaping it, Billy: you’re a man now. And a man needs a job.”
Unbeknownst to Melmoth, Klarion sees all of this through the watchful eyes of Teekl, and Klarion isn’t shy in sharing the truth with the remaining members of the Deviants. These wayward children turn to Klarion for leadership, but he rejects the offer yet again, telling them that he walks alone. Out into the pouring rain he goes, with only Teekl by his side. Thankfully for those innocent(ish) souls in Melmoth’s path, Teekl isn’t just a familiar, but something of an exterior conscience for Klarion. The drenched cat stands still as Klarion tries to rationalize his inaction. With fists raised and a frustrated scream, Klarion turns back to his “most obstinate beast,” and accepts that he must go down, down again to Limbo Town, to prevent a tragedy he inadvertently enabled by procuring the drill.
Taken at its most barebones summary, Klarion #3 walks back the ending of Klarion #2, much like the frequently meme’d Simpsons scene of Abe Simpson walking in and right back out of a room. But between these bookends, Morrison and Irving touch on one of the most universal themes in children’s stories: the anxiety of growing up. Each issue of Klarion has highlighted the Witch Boy’s desire to stay a naïve child forever, and to reject uncomfortable truths of adulthood. In the pages of Klarion #3, we see not only a nightmare version of growing older — the equating of Billy’s dark fate with the inevitability of becoming a man and getting a job — but also Klarion’s first real acceptance of mature responsibility.
Despite totally not wanting to be bothered, Klarion knows that he played a substantial role in giving Mister Melmoth the tool he needs to attack Limbo Town. No matter how desperately Klarion sought to escape Limbo Town, he — unlike Badde from the second issue — can’t bear to be party to its demise. And so the prodigal son must go back to the start, just in time for the end…
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Klarion the Witch Boy #3
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!