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Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory: Mister Miracle (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.

Morrison’s fascination with Jack Kirby creations continues. The author also reworked the Newsboy Legion and Klarion the Witch-Boy as part of Seven Soldiers, but Mister Miracle allows Morrison to play with perhaps the most iconic additions that Kirby made to the DC pantheon, dating back to his return from Marvel in the seventies, the New Gods. It goes without saying that this four-issue series actually serves as more of a lead-in to Final Crisis than an exploration of the Seven Soldiers mythology, but it’s still an absolutely fascinating look at some of Morrison’s big ideas.

No escape...

For those who aren’t familiar with the New Gods, it’s the cosmic mythology that Jack Kirby constructed using characters like Orion and Darkseid. Although they were introduced in the pages of Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen, they were only truly integrated into the wider DC Universe with The Great Darkness Saga during Paul Levitz’s run on The Legion of Super-Heroes. Since then, however, the characters and concepts have played a key role in the on-going affairs of the fictional universe. Morrison seems especially fond of them, incorporating Orion into his JLA run (and having them face Darkseid) while linking the mythology to the threat of Mageddon.

Morrison would go on to use the New Gods as part of his Final Crisis event, which would see the fallen deities attempt to rise up on Earth, the home of what would be deemed “the fifth world” – the logical conclusion being that it was humanity’s destiny to become “new” new gods. However, DC pretty much botched the lead-in to Morrison’s big crisis crossover. The Death of the New Gods, supposed to depict the “fall” of those classic archetypes before they would appear on Earth, was not well received – nor was the truly awful Countdown (to Final Crisis). It become clear from both of these attempts that Morrison was really the only person who could be trusted to handle his own concepts.

Preparing to cross the event horizon...

And, to a large extent, that’s what this four-issue miniseries is. It’s a prelude or an introduction to the upcoming Final Crisis, one that introduces characters and concepts that will pay off down the line. Of course, the miniseries was never really hyped as such, and it has very little connection to the on-going conflict with the Sheeda – so Mister Miracle just sort snuck by under the radar. In a way, it’s the most awkward of the seven series to really come to grips with, because it feels isolated from those around it, and dependent on a lot of external factors. Which is a shame, because it’s actually quite a strong little adventure taken on its own merits.

It’s interesting how Morrison deals with the mess that DC have made of the lead-in to his big crossover miniseries. In the first chapter, in the first pages, Morrison outlines his basic premise in clear and concise terms. “There was a war in Heaven. And the wrong side won. The Dark Side won.” That’s pretty much all the introduction you need, in three simple sentences.

A collision course...

Morrison introduces us to Shilo Norman, the new Mister Miracle, “world famous super escape artist” and one of the “seven celebrity wonders of the world.” The character was originally created by Jack Kirby as something of a protegé to the original New God, Mister Miracle, but here he exists using his mentor’s identity, but without any recollection of his interaction with the New Gods. There’s a genuine sense that something very wrong is going on, and that a cosmic mythology is re-writing itself as we read it.

It’s no surprise that Mister Miracle walks the line between Morrison’s Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis, dealing primarily with the power of myth and the cycle of reinvention. Morrison suggests that these sorts of stories are constantly reinventing themselves. We’re told, for instance, that Shilo “was selected, long ago, in the far future, before the fall.” These stories are timeless, occupying past, present and future simultaneously.

Indulging his Dark Side...

Returning to one of his favourite themes, the notion of why superhero stories matter. When Shilo explains his strange dreams and fantasies to his shrink, the doctor suggests that “ideas like that might make you a little crazy if you were to take them literally.” These tales are metaphors, vehicles for philosophical questions and exploration, an old myth made new again.

Darkseid the intergalactic tyrant is just another iteration of Boss Dark Side, victimising the powerless in the neighbourhood. Granny Goodness the expert in brainwashing and mind-wiping is just another version of Granny Goodness the pimp, selling his/her “demon girls” on the corner. Desaad the evil right-hand man and manipulator is no different from Desaad the manipulating psychiatrist. The story is constantly renewing and reinventing itself, and this cycle of gods and wars in heaven is just as relevant as the story of a small inner city community under siege.

Hanging on in there...

Here Morrison’s humanism shines through. Cosmic awareness suggests that “every individual human story was worthy of… I don’t know… mythology.” This is the Morrison who gave every human being superpowers in order to confront Mageddon at the end of his JLA run, and who suggested that Earth would be home to “the fifth world.” To Morrison, humanity is a fundamentally wonderful thing, and we’re capable of amazing feats. This is part of Morrison’s fascination with Batman, I believe, and the key to how Morrison writes him. Batman is humanity as he stands amongst a pantheon of gods and monsters… but that’s a discussion for another day.

To Morrison, the worst thing you can do is to try to wash away a person’s identity, or sense of self. I adore the concept of Morrison’s wonderful mystery drug “flat” which seems to give the user the opposite of high, rendering them perfectly mediocre and removing any edge to anything. It kills imagination, as one user remarks, “inhaling flat shows you things as they really are.” Who’d ever want that? It’s a very clever Morrisonian concept, and one which feeds into Morrison’s notion of the anti-life equation (one component is “self = dark side”).

Does the event have a breakout star?

Here again we get a superhero clad in bright colours rejecting the notion of darkness and gloom for the sake of it. The real threat to Mister Miracle doesn’t come from strong goons, but from the bitter nihilism that it’s so easy to indulge. “We’re all so ugly and stupid and doomed,” is what this soul-destroying philosophy would have you believe. Dark Side attempts to defeat Mister Miracle by placing him inside “the life trap”, from which “there’s only one way out.” Yes, Dark Side is trying to kill Mister Miracle by forcing him to live an empty and pointless life.

Here we have Darkseid’s Omega Sanction, as the villain would use on Batman. It offers the victim “an endless succession of synthetic lives” which Mister Miracle must navigate “alone, without his guiding angel.” The Omega Sanction is life without purpose, without hope. It’s just filling the days, waiting for the end of things.

Ready for a Miraculous escape?

It’s interesting how Morrison seems to foreshadow the “hyper-adaptor” that would pursue Batman over The Return of Bruce Wayne. While in this case the entity seems to be a prison rather than a weapon, it’s still a sentient idea that Darkseid lets loose upon a person trapped within the Omega Sanction. It is “the trap that follows you where ever you go. That moves as you move, unseen and all around.” In other worlds, it’s like a hostile version of the world we live in. To Mister Miracle, the creature boasts that it is “ever shifting, ever adapting, I am the prison you can never escape.”

Perhaps it’s the same creature. To defeat Batman, you’d have to destroy the entire world (because Bruce isn’t going down without a fight). To defeat Mister Miracle – described by Metron as “freedom’s spirit” – you need to cage him.It’s telling that Mister Miracle finds himself trapped within “a mid-life crisis”, as we find the celebrity pondering his place in the universe and hoping, “There has to be more than this.” Much like Zatanna, Mister Miracle seems to be Morrison’s attempt to look at superheroes in the 21st century, after they’ve been picked apart and deconstructed to death. His arch-foe is apathy, or his own insecurity.

Oh my New Gods!

I like Morrison’s central idea, which seems to be that the New Gods exist as primal avatars of the wealth of human experience. Darkseid is tyranny and dictatorship, while Mister Miracle is the human spirit’s resistance to captivity in all its forms. Pretty much all of Morrison’s stories contain layers of metaphor and allegory (and the continuing imagery of the DC pantheon as the successors to the classical gods), so using the New Gods in such a manner works really well.

I also enjoyed the artwork from this miniseries, even is Pascal Ferry couldn’t finish the four issues himself. There’s a genuine “Kirby-esque” vibe to what’s going on here, which would definitely seem to be the idea – I especially love the work that J.H. Williams did in closing out the story in the second Seven Soldiers issue. Some of that artwork (featured here) is absolutely stunning, and it deserves to be mentioned in the context of this discussion as well as the over-arching review/retrospective I plan to do for Morrison’s entire thirty-issue event. Man, when you say it like that, it seems even more impressive.

Hello, have we Metron?

Mister Miracle stands out as something of the odd miniseries in a collection of seven odd miniseries. It’s quite jarring that his story seems completely disconnected from the others, but it’s an entertaining little prelude to Final Crisis in its own right. It also illustrates that Morrison was born to write the New Gods.

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

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