To read Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers as a straight narrative, or to take it at face value, is really to miss the point of the series. It is a deconstruction of the classic superhero team-up comic, done with malice aforethought and the intent of ripping down every cliché and classic trope of the genre. Which is to say that if you actually like that sort of world-spanning super-smorgasbord, you’re probably going to think Seven Soldiers is awful. If, on the other hand, you think that anyone at DC who even mentions the word “Crisis” needs to be put on six months’ sabbatical, this might be more your cup of tea.
The key conceit to Seven Soldiers is that it’s a superhero team-up crossover where the members of the putative team never really meet, and thus save the day by being in seven different places at seven different right times. In other words, it’s a team-up with no team-up, and no real team. Morrison lays that out from the beginning, when he sends a hastily recruited team of fourth-string characters out to get slaughtered. The action stands as a message: no traditional superheroing will work here.
Instead, we get a series of characters best described as back-benchers zig-zagging back and forth across time, space, and reasonable character motivation, unaware of each other’s existence, the role they are to play, or even the nature of the threat they’re about to face. About the highest-profile character present is occasional Justice Leaguer Zatanna, complete with vaguely fetish gear-inspired costume makeover. Other members of the ur-team include Klarion the Witch Boy, Frankenstein, the Guardian, Shining Knight, the new Teflon-coated Bulleteer, and Mister Miracle, none of whom are what a traditional comics fan would call world-beaters.
What they’re up against is literally a menace from out of time, the ravening hordes of the blue-skinned Sheeda. Apparently, every so often the Sheeda show up out of nowhere to ravage Earth’s dominant civilization, then vanish back to wherever and whenever they came from. It’s our turn now, but it has been prophesied that a team of seven soldiers will turn back the Sheeda, which produces some agitation on the part of the invaders. Sensibly, they decide to eliminate any seven-member teams they can find, which is why they can ultimately be stopped by a non-team, each of whose members does what they need to do to resolve their personal crisis and thus, coincidentally, help save the world.
There are some good bits in Seven Soldiers, most notably the Mister Miracle storyline, which manages the impressive feat of doing a truly original Darkseid tale. On the other hand, Morrison indulges his need to deconstruct every superhero trope possible at every opportunity, leaving an uneasy balance between his clear love for the deepest nooks of DC continuity and what feels like disdain for everything that’s been done with it.
And then there’s the ending, one which is either a masterwork of clockwork plotting or a nonsensical mess that ignores everything that’s already been established in the books. My reading tends toward the latter; the handwave of “incidentally, Frankenstein has just destroyed the entire invasion fleet single-handedly while you were reading about someone else” feels cheap, and the ridiculous ease with which the civilization-destroying Sheeda are ultimately dispatched is an anticlimax.
At its best, Seven Soldiers is a moving evocation of how small, personal stories can affect world-shattering events. At its worst, it’s an exercise in kicking over sandcastles, and deus ex machina plotting. For some readers, there’s enough of the former to outweigh the latter. For others, Seven Soldiers of Victory will remain a handsomely drawn four volume mess.