“Get that ring off, expose some skin!”
Seven Soldiers: The Bulleteer #1 is, at best, a comic that’s very confused about what it’s trying to say even as it’s convinced that it has something very important to say about superheroes. And, to be fair, the issue is filled with the debris and beginnings of interesting ideas and parallels to be drawn more fully — if, still, pretty unsuccessfully — later in the series; I don’t want to pretend that there’s nothing of value to be found here. But it’s also a comic that’s seemingly at war with itself, or else one that thinks it’s being clever and postmodern in being self-contradictory in regards to what might be its central conceit, without realizing that it’s simply undercutting itself at every available opportunity.
And what is that central conceit, anyway? The issue — the series as a whole, although I’m not really spoiling anything by saying that, I promise — seems to want to say something about female power (and the lack thereof, perhaps) in the superhero genre, and how that’s tied into the objectification of women in superhero comics. Really, though, it’s the flipside of that; The Bulleteer, intentionally or otherwise, is about the male gaze in superhero comics and the inability of men to recognize women as human beings with the same emotional range, intellect and ambition that men possess, instead of simply props to be used and abused when deemed appropriate.
Consider Lance Harrower, the unfortunate husband of the series’ eponymous protagonist. Despite only appearing in flashback throughout the issue — aside from dying in its opening sequence — Lance is the most important character in the whole thing; it’s his obsession not only with superheroes in general, but with the “Eternal Superteens” fetish website and “Sexy Sally Sonic” in particular, that is responsible not only for the accident that transforms Alix into the “impervious” “unstoppable” Bulleteer of the series’ title. Everything in the issue stems from his wants and desires, not Alix’s; indeed, she is especially passive, to the point of adopting Lance’s fantasy as her new life path for reasons that are, to be kind, somewhat unclear. Trauma? Survivor’s guilt? Plot contrivance?
(Morrison even foregrounds this in her final dialogue on the penultimate page of the issue: “Maybe Lance was on to something,” she says, talking about her new life plan. “There must be a reason for all this, right?”)
And what to make of the “Eternal Superteens” site, anyway? Is it meant to be a commentary on the seemingly unending, unerring sexualization of supergirls in the genre, or something else? Lance’s secret attraction to that site — an obsession, perhaps, given that it affected his relationship to Alix even before the accident that killed him and turned her into an eternal superwidow in her own right? — is simultaneously central to the series and oddly vague and uncommented upon, as if it’s an idea Morrison had left over from The Filth that didn’t quite fit into the overall Seven Soldiers ideal as a whole.
If all of this makes The Bulleteer sound as if it’s some kind of failed, yet nonetheless valiant, attempt to fight back against female objectification, maybe it is; it’s definitely a very failed attempt, though; even as Morrison indulges in confused and confusing gender politicking, Yannick Paquette’s artwork goes out of its way to sexualize Alix at every available opportunity, keeping her in her underwear or cleavage-revealing dresses for the majority of the issue, giving her a parma-pout no matter the situation. (“Expose some skin,” indeed.) The two shots we get to see her in costume in the entire issue — the cover and the final page splash — emphasize her breasts and her ass, respectively. If Morrison’s text is trying to shame us for leering at the women in superhero comics, Paquette’s artwork is whispering in our ear, It’s okay, just look at them, go on…
Should I recap the plot of the issue? Does that even matter in a comic like this one? It’s very simple, really: The issue opens in the now with Alix and Lance in an emergency room after an accident has coated their skin in an organic metal that suffocates and kills Lance. Alix, meanwhile, is saved due to the metal not covering one area of her body, allowing it to breathe. It may be the skin under her wedding ring that’s responsible, although that’s never explicitly laid out in the text and doesn’t really make a lot of sense, considering the metal did coat under their clothes; did Morrison not understand how rings work? Or human bodies, for that matter?
From there, the reader is taken in two parallel tracks: In the current day, Alix recovers from the death of her husband and her transformation into someone seemingly indestructible by choosing to become a superhero. In flashbacks, we see that Lance was trying to create the organic metal smart skin in an attempt to transform himself into a superhero with Alix as his sidekick, and also that he already had a secret identity of sorts, in which he was visiting a superhero fetish site and writing to one of the “Eternal Superteens,” fantasizing about her.
Alix, then, is grieving her husband twice: His physical death, but also the loss of the man she thought he was. (“Get that ring off,” as the doctor yells at the start of the issue.) That she nonetheless decides to live his dream — by, tellingly, adopting the superheroic identity he had planned to use himself — is a fascinating choice, but one left more or less unexplored by Morrison and Paquette.
Also, let’s take a second to consider what the metaphor of the wedding ring is actually saying: Does Lance die because he’s unfaithful, whereas Alix lives because she didn’t take off her ring…? Is there a moral judgment being made here, or something else, and regardless, what should we make of the idea that — by taking the logic of this admittedly ridiculous conceit to an unstated conclusion — Alix can apparently never take her wedding ring off or she’ll die? To complicate matters, the artwork repeatedly shows Alix without her ring, seemingly because Paquette and/or inker Michael Bair seemingly forgot to draw it in.
By the end of the issue, the reader is as confused and uncertain about everything as Alix is, which might be intentional. What is The Bulleteer? What is it actually about? Will any of this make sense by the end of the series? It’s an underwhelming, frustrating start to what might justifiably be said to be an underwhelming, frustrating mini-series, but that’s not to say that it’s worthless. Perhaps there’s something to learn from that starting point.
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Bulleteer #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Yanick Paquette
Inker: Michael Bair
Colourist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Phil Balsman