By Graeme McMillan
“This world swallows you and changes you, whether you want it to or not. Until you feel like you’ve gone mad. You’ll see.”
For all its minor deconstructionist tendencies – and this fourth issue is filled with those, as Morrison and Paquette try to turn their sex-worker-panic femme fatale into a fully rounded character with the application of faux tragic flashbacks and irony; they fail, sadly – The Bulleteer is, in the end, a series built around one last minute formalist trick that seeks to redeem a long-running flaw of both the series and its title character.
By the end of “Bad Girls” (and, oh, what a title, given that the issue is the long-promised clash between the series’ title character and “Sally Sonic,” the online temptress that stole her husband in a figurative, if not entirely literal, sense), Alix Harrower finally does the one thing she’s failed to do to that point: She expresses what she wants, and what she wants to do is quit being a superhero — a decision that ends her comic.
Taken on the face of it, it’s both a darkly funny joke — literally the last line of dialogue on the comic is Alix saying, “It’s over. World, save yourself,” at which point her series concludes, leaving the world to save itself — and the culmination of what had seemed like a worrying fault in the series as a whole; that Alix was passive to the point of barely being present on the page, seeming like a guest in a comic that was in theory based around her. The series, to that point, had teased the notion that Alix was so close to becoming a “real” superhero, if only she could find the right in, and when finally offered the opportunity — a showdown with her own personal arch-nemesis! — she finally takes a stand and rejects the life entirely.
“I’ve tried really hard to make this work. I’ve tried to use my so-called super-powers for good,” she explains, on the series’ final page. “But I don’t want anything more to do with this twisted, horrible world! I don’t want archvillains or team-ups or my own special “destiny,” you got that? I’m saying no. No to all of this!”
This reading offers an argument that The Bulleteer is a story about power, and a lesson that a superpower — or, to follow the metaphor, any external show of strength — isn’t what makes someone powerful; instead, it’s the ability to stand up for yourself even when facing pressure to do otherwise. Alix, the argument runs, didn’t become truly powerful until she stood up to the ghost of the Vigilante and told him that she didn’t want to save the world. This is what empowerment looks like!
Let’s give Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette the benefit of the doubt and say, sure; they were playing a long game and writing a four issue origin story about a woman not being a superhero, and in making that decision, finally completing a journey to escape her husband that started in an indirect fashion back in the first issue of the series.
It doesn’t work.
It’s not that it doesn’t work in The Bulleteer. In terms of this series, there’s a case to be made for it. Alix chooses not to be a superhero, and her story continues away from the prying, voyeuristic eyes of the reader; that’s fine. (And the reader is a voyeur, according to this series; they’ve been likened to the porn consumer in the first issue, to the leering con-goers in the third. Hell, just Paquette’s cheesecake depiction of Alix throughout the series makes us complicit in the male gaze, whether we want to be or not.) But Alix’s story doesn’t end with the end of this series; by the very nature of Seven Soldiers as a project, it continues into Seven Soldiers #1, and that issue explicitly robs Alix’s decision of all meaning, and all power.
In Seven Soldiers #1, Alix doesn’t just fail to escape the superhero life, it’s demonstrated that she didn’t actually have any choice in whether or not she got to save the world at all. She wasn’t actually given the choice to refuse her destiny; even though she tried to, it got her anyway. If the final issue of The Bulleteer is intended to show that Alix suffered through four issues of trauma and humiliation to gain the ability to speak for herself, the very next time the reader sees her — an appearance planned by her creator all along — strips her of all agency and underscores, once and for all, that she never had any say in her life after all.
The Bulleteer #4, and the series as a whole, is a cruel, cruel joke.
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Bulleteer #4
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Yanick Paquette
Inker: Serge LaPointe
Colourist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Phil Balsman
Graeme McMillan is a writer for the Hollywood Reporter, Wired and Playboy, as well as being one half of the Wait, What? podcast. He can be found on twitter here.