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Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory: The Guardian (Review)

December is “Grant Morrison month” here at the m0vie blog, as we take the month to consider and reflect on one of the most critically acclaimed (and polarising) authors working in the medium. We’ve got a special treat for you this week, which is “Seven Soldiers Week”, so check back each day for a review of one of the Seven Soldier miniseries that Morrison put together.

The Guardian really just gives Grant Morrison a chance to play with a whole bunch of high concept crazy ideas inside a loose superhero framework, while allowing the scribe to play with various outmoded comic book concepts. Of course, there are elements of that within the other stories (and, to be frank, within most other major superhero titles the author has ever written), but The Guardian stands out amongst these Seven Soldiers of Victory miniseries as perhaps the most “Morrison-esque” of them.

Making headlines...

Part of me wonders if the genesis of this particular superhero came from The Guardian, a noted liberal newspaper published in the United Kingdom. After all, although “the Guardian” as a superhero identity has its roots in the DC Universe, it was never really associated with the wonderful concept of a superhero news reporter. In fact, when a new “Guardian” showed up at DC a few years later (a waste of this wonderful set-up, I might add), it was a fairly generic government superhero in the pages of the rather bland New Krypton.

Indeed, Jake acknowledges that “the Guardian” has had little to do with newspaper reporting in the name’s history. He explains that the newspaper The Manhattan Guardian “bought the whole Guardian trademark thing when the military sold off some R & D division called The Project.” Still, it’s a nice little concept and, as a reader based in the British Isles, I do appreciate the fact that there’s a newspaper superhero running around the DC Universe operating under the name “the Guardian.”

Going for gold...

Of course, that central idea is fascinating enough – the notion of an in-house superhero at a major metropolitan newspaper. However, not only is the core idea particularly smart, but the individual stories that Morrison chooses to tell with him are quite charming as well.One of the better things about these seven miniseries is the fact that each four-issue set isn’t necessarily confined to one storyline. In fact, this particular collection of issues almost sees Morrison dealing with one story-per-issue (with overlap and build-up and such). It’s refreshing in the era of six-issue arcs to not only see single-issue stories, but to also see them incorporated into superhero origins.

In fact, Morrison’s somewhat clipped style works particularly well here. I’ve gone on the record before stating that Morrison’s desire to avoid unnecessary scene transitions and boring exposition doesn’t always serve his story well. The most obvious example is, of course, Final Crisis, where Morrison spends five issues pushing the stakes as high as they will go and then is left with two issues in which to try to resolve everything. Here, on the other hand, the narrative whizzes along, but it doesn’t seem like anything’s missing.

The end of the world?

Consider, for example, the moment where Jake first hears his girlfriend’s father suggest he should apply for the job. “Larry, no way,” he replies, emphatically. “Absolutely no way.” Other series would dwell on the character’s reluctance and hesitance, having him reach some sort of emotional epiphany before deciding to put on the gold helmet. Instead, the next panel (not even the next page, the next panel), has the family proposing a toast, “… so it’s decided. To the Manhattan Guardian!”

Over the four issues, we get Jake’s superhero origin, a fantastic plot involving the “Ghost Pirates of the Spanish Main Line”, chaos at the global village and an exploration of the Newsboy Legion. None of it feels rushed or underdeveloped, and none of it feels like it’s just being handled in a perfunctionary way to get to the next stage in Morrison’s plan. Morrison is such a practiced superhero storyteller that he can even construct a single-issue background for Jake as “a natural born superhero just waiting for a secret origin to get him started”, without ever missing a beat.

Im-pressed...

In fact, it’s handled so well that I think The Guardian might share the strongest connection to its surrounding stories, even though a reader might be able to flick through it without noticing that it’s meant to be tied to anything else (well, save maybe the concluding chapter, but we’ll come to that). The wonderful subway pirates (and, by the way, I love the theory that Morrison is meant to be “no-beard” to Alan Moore’s “all-beard”) even drop some wonderful hints about Klarion the Witch-Boy as they relate “tales of underground markets where Puritan kiddie-snatchers from hell came to trade with talking rats.” There are some wonderful moments of overlap that you don’t even notice until you’ve read both stories – neither feels incomplete without the other, and yet they compliment each other so well. If you ask me, that is the key to a great crossover.

The fourth issue in the set is perhaps the most explicit issue of the entire Seven Soldiers collection in outlining the purpose and the goals of these seven heroes, each with their own distinct stories and character arcs. It makes the links between the stories explicit, and tethers everything all together in a way that manages to seem natural and logical. We also get a lot of background on the threat against Earth here, as Ed cryptically hints, “We don’t think the Sheeda are aliens, Jake.”

Trouble at the global village...

It’s nice the way that Morrison so skilfully integrates the Newsboy Legion into the DC Universe. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby back in the forties, these youthful reporters are such a strange and bizarre concept that it’s easy to see why Morrison took a shine to them. Of course, the concept has been re-tooled and reworked since, but Morrison actually offers a version remarkably close to the original idea. “Boy, we were cool, Jake,” Baby Brain recalls. “You should have seen us at our best.” Of course, like a lot of Morrison’s favourite concepts, they are also just a little bit outdated. “In the end, the world just got too big and too wide and too real for our little band of neighbourhood heroes.”

Here, at last, we also get an explanation for the central storyline and a reason for the Sheeda’s interest in teams of seven (hinted back during Morrison’s JLA Confidential story arc). “Seven will come by roads unseen, unknown,” the prophecy begins. “And end the queen of terror’s reign with a spear that never was thrown.” The Sheeda are targeting teams of seven and that, unfortunately, included the Newsboy Legion, just as it included the Ultramarine Corp. I’m quite impressed that Morrison did choose to explain this all, and do so in a relatively clear and straightforward manner.

Who Guards the Guardian?

The Guardian is one of the seven series that I have a strong fondness for. I think it’s just that the concept suits Morrison perfectly and the way that the first three issues give the writer almost complete freedom to explore any number of wacky and far-out concepts and ideas. Indeed, if one of these series could have spawned an on-going from Morrison, I think I might have wanted The Guardian. Or maybe Frankenstein. Still, it would have been close.

Check out our complete collection of reviews of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series:

2 Responses

  1. Guardian and Frankenstein. My two faves too. Good to see Frankenstein doing all right under Lemire, but a real shame that (Manhattan) Guardian hasn’t gotten more screen time. I usually like James Robinson, but his insistence at bringing back yet another clone as the (non-Manhattan) Guardian took the legs from under this getting a shot.

    • I agree entirely Simon, although I think I find Robinson more hit-and-miss. (He’s better allowed creative freedom and working with older toys nobody particularly cares about, but is weaker on big iconic characters stuck in the middle of silly editorial demands.)

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