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Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory: Klarion (Review/Retrospective)

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.

I think that Seven Soldiers perhaps serves to illustrate the connection between Grant Morrison and Jack “King” Kirby. I know that Morrison’s detractors will balk at such a comparison, but I think there’s a lot to this. Kirby defined Marvel, working on flagship titles like The Avengers or The Fantastic Four or The Incredible Hulk, and he was as influential as Stan Lee in establishing what readers could expect from Marvel. However, he also did a considerable body of work at DC. While not as successful or iconic as his Marvel portfolio, I do think that it was some of his more wonderful and outrageous “high concept” work – things like the New Gods, for example, or Kamandi or Etrigan the Demon. I think one of the more intriguing aspects of Seven Soldiers has been seeing Morrison work with these types of crazy and ingenious ideas.

Morrison's on fire of late...

I think that there is an element of synergy between Morrison and Kirby. I think both were stroytellers interested in their own innovative concepts – ideas that many readers at the time might dismiss as “out there.” While the New Gods are now an essential part of the DC universe, I can’t help but wonder if they seemed as strange as Danny the Street or Aztek or any of Morrison’s own contributions to the grand DC tapestry. Seven Soldiers pays tribute to any number of classic comic book creators, while trying to introduce six new heroes to the wider shared universe, but it seems especially focused on Kirby’s creations, as if trying to push them to the fore.

Mister Miracle is, after all, a New Gods story – leading as it does into Final Crisis, another New Gods story. The Guardian takes another famous Kirby concept, and updates it, with Morrison dragging The Newsboy Legion into the modern age. Klarion takes the character Kirby developed as a foil for Etrigan the Demon, and gives him a new origin and back story, effortless tying him to the wider DC universe. In particular, I adore the way that Morrison has even taken the time to tie-in elements distinct from each of the mythologies that he chose as his subject matter. Here, for example, we get Morrison’s “secret origin” of “the Grundies”, including Solomon Grundy, whose Slaughter Swamp plays a large role in the thirty-issue maxi-series.

Not kidding around...

Between this and The Return of Bruce Wayne, it seems that Morrison is fascinated by puritan culture, or at least with the idea of pitting puritan society against monsters in some sort of grandly gothic style. Maybe it’s just that Morrison found Frazer Irving’s style perfectly suited to rendering that sort of world, or perhaps Morrison is fascinated by that sort of moral absolutism. After all, Morrison is a writer who uses his comics to write about comics, so perhaps the puritan culture and its associated moral absolutism serves as a valid reflection on the sort of public trials that comic books went through in the fifties, with The Seduction of the Innocent and the Comic Book Code. After all, why write about metaphorical witch hunts when you can write about real ones?

Indeed, setting Klarion in an environment that wouldn’t look out of place for The Crucible is an inspired touch. The fact that all the people happen to be blue adds a nicely surreal aspect to the comic, as does the fact that all of this is unfolding miles beneath New York itself. I like the way that Morrison doesn’t seem to divide New York by latitude or longitude, but instead by depth. His settings include the village near the centre of the Earth, the subway system, and the city itself. Even Mars can be seen as just another level above that – and the Sheeda invasion ship. It’s a nice geographic touch, one where his heroes aren’t necessarily divided by a distance measured in two dimensions, but also in how deepthey happen to be.

Beating it into his congregation...

The puritans that populate the village are fairly standard bigots, as far as Morrison is concerned – they’re the close-minded individuals who are more ignorant than evil, but seem unwilling to embrace new possibilities. Much like the two Kryptonians in All-Star Superman, or Magneto in New X-Men, these are people who are too stuck in their own particular viewpoint to realise that the world is constantly changing and evolving, and that there’s great beauty to be found in that.

And, much like Magneto, who found himself transformed from a victim of an attempted genocide to a perpetrator of one, Morrison saves a cruel twist for the inhabitants of his village, revealing that they are actually “inevitable changelings”, born of contact between a lost puritan village and “something not entirely human.” Melmoth goads them, “The royal blue blood of the Sheeda court is mingled with the human strain in your veins.”They are inherently impure, for all their fears of the risk of contamination.

Boy, is he in trouble!

It’s a lovely dramatic reversal, and one that Morrison seems quite fond of, with character frequently “contaminated” in an ironic manner. His two racist Kryptonians are poisoned by shards of their own planet, Lex Luther can only challenge the alien Superman by becoming just as alien (and then finds himself sharing a deeper understanding that he always denied), Magneto infected himself with another hyper-evolved life-form, despite his appeals for mutant purity.

At its core though, I think there’s an appealing innocence to Klarion, despite the title character’s quick wits and knowing smirk. The comic seems like an ode to childhood, with Morrison affectionately documenting the young Witch-Boy’s trip to the surface world, and lessons he learns and growth he experiences. Klarion is a child in a world that seems to prey on children. Not only will puritans attempt to control what children can and can’t enjoy (a witch-hunt that has drawn in entertainment as diverse as comics, Harry Potter and video games), but he has to worry about predators and exploitation.

It's a kind of magic...

Reflecting on the harsh moral teachings of his community, Klarion asks, “What sin? I haven’t had a chance to commit any sins yet.” I think that’s a beautiful line, and it sums up the appeal of Morrison’s take on Klarion. It’s an ode to that period of life when children should be out there making mistakes and errors and learning from them, so they can develop. He can repent later, but his community is costing him his childhood.

And childhood is over so very quickly. “Time to put away childish things, Billy-Boy,”Melmoth taunts one of his kids on turning sixteen, welcoming him to a grim life of hard labour. Sure, most childhoods don’t end with a life sentence on the surface of Mars, but Morrison seems to lament that we are so eager to allow them to end at all. There’s considerable appeal to Klarion’s youthful enthusiasm, and his excitement at discovering something new – Morrison seems to regret the fact that so many of us lose that sense of wonder at a certain age, falling into jobs and careers and cynical patterns.

We all get tied down in adult life...

And yet, Klarion is much stronger than we like to think he is – perhaps like children are. In this era of “helicopter parents” and wrapped children in cotton wool, perhaps there’s something to be said for the argument that kids aren’t as vulnerable as we like to think they are. Klarion is smarter than most of the other people living in Limbo Town, and has more wiles than the predators who would prey on him in the urban jungle. Of course, not all kids are “Witch-Boys”, but I think that kids generally handle stuff better than we give them credit for.

Outside of these wonderful ideas and reflections, Morrison’s trademark creativity is on display. I like the idea that even bad candy is exotic to creatures hiding underneath New York City, and I especially love the notion of “a Leviathan, made of fierce children.” It’s pure high concept Morrison, an idea that the author just throws in there, and yet remains wonderfully fascinating. As Klarion himself observes,  “What a world of mad wonders is this!”

From the Melmoth of babes...

I’m a big fan of Frazer Irving’s art, so Klarion automatically stand out for the wonderful stylised artwork. The panels look absolutely beautiful. I think the artistic standard across all seven series (eight if you count J.H. Williams’ opening and closing chapters) is very high, and I’m glad that Morrison got a chance to work with artist of this caliber on the series.

Klarion is a fascinating update of a concept that probably seems too wacky for modern audiences. Like most of the other characters used (save Zatanna, of course), Klarion has only appeared intermittently in the years since Morrison’s relaunch of the Witch-Boy. It’s a shame, because I think there’s a lot of potential here.

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

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