Saturday, 7 February 2015

Seven Soldiers Of Victory: Manhattan Guardian (#1-4)

"What did you bring me into? You have to tell me what this is all about" - Jake.

Manhattan Guardian is an interesting figure, although he is based on the 1942 character of The Guardian, created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, he became part of the DCU alongside the original Guardian who was still making appearances in crossovers and the like at the same time.  Loosely based on Captain America, both Guardian's do not possess super-powers, but sport body armour and an indestructable shield for fighting the forces of evil.  Morrison's reimagining of The Guardian sees him become the representative of a New York newspaper, not just reporting the news but actively participating in it.  The Sheeda don't really appear until the end of this miniseries, with the Manhattan Guardian getting involved with crazy subway pirates and learning the sad history of another rebooted Jack Kirby creation, the original Newsboy Army.  The art is nicely distictive, the Manhattan Guardian is the most straight-forwardly "super-heroic" and so we get very traditional no nonsense art by Cameron Stuart, with lovely thick black lines and simple, but effective colouring. Having artists tailored to the written style of each series is really the maxi-series major triumph, making each mini look distinctive and relevant to the writing.

The story begins in a subway station, a person is reading the newspaper "The Manhattan Guardian".  Suddenly a train pulls up and pirates come spilling out.  A bald man, identified as No-Beard grabs the man reading the paper who is called Soapy, and tears off the top half of his clothes, revealing a subway map tattooed on his back, which he gruseomely rips off.  Soapy warns him:

Soapy: "A c-c-curse on ye, No-Beard! All-Beard is coming!"
Introducing No-Beard.
Then the action cuts to Jake Jordan, and his in-laws watching him and his wife fighting coming out of a shop.  Jake's father-in-law Larry says Jake needs his self-respect back and shows him the job advert for the Manhattan Guardian postion, which Jake agrees to apply for.

He arrives at the newspaper offices for an interview with Mr. Starguard the owner.  The receptionists suddenly attack him and a giant head appears on a screen identifying himself as Ed, the owner and commands Jake to help fend off the "terrorist" attack.
Golems.  Every workplace should have one.
Jake fights his way to the lift while Ed encourages him along.  Jake puts on some security armour and finds himself fighting a golem.  Ed then congratulates Jake for getting this far:

Ed: "Oh this is no prank Jake.  Sure, the bullets were fake, but everything else is real.  Wouldn't you expect the interview of a lifetime for the job of a lifetime?"

We then find out why Jake needed a new job. He retired from the police force after accidentally shooting an innocent thirteen year old boy.  Jake then says he is no reporter, but Ed. says he has his Newsboy Army for that (based on an old Jake Kirby team of the same name).  He wants the paper to have it's own superhero and Jake finally agrees to take the job.

A happier Jake Jordan back at home shows of his costume and swish new car to his wife Carla.

Jake: "Read the label, baby.  I'm a working man again."
First day on the job.
Of course his experimental new car breaks down on the first day, so when Ed. alerts him to pirate activity on the "N-Line" he has to travel there on a Newsboy Army members scooter.  He's in a panic because his wife uses that line and when he finds pirates on the station setting fire to people he wades in and attacks.  The minion's of All-Beard take several hostages including Carla and board their train.  Larry is also there injured, he commands Jake to go after his daughter and Jake grabs the end of the train as it leaves.

Unfortunately the pirates cut the chain he is holding.  The subway train then disappears behind a brick wall that seals itself up once it's gone through.  Then another pirate subway train pulls up behind Jake.  It's No-Beard and he decides to help Jake and they travel through the wall:

No-Beard: "Now All-Beard the Damned and me are having a race to find a certain treasure and be crowned king of the Under Pirates."

Jake says he'll do anything to help No-Beard if it helps save Carla.  No-Beard says he is after the legendary "foundation stone, the heart of New York." The action briefly cuts to All-Beard, a ranting, raving maniac forcing his hostages to walk the plank.  Jake jumps from No-Beard's train to All-Beard's and starts to beatdown his minions.  The rest of No-Beard's gang also board All-Beards train.  Jake finally fights his way to Carla and the train leaves the track, arcing through the air and they all come tumbling out.
No-Beard and All-Beard, obviously.
All-Beard has found the legendary stone, unfortunately it is highly radioactive.  No-Beard challenges All-Beard to see who will be deemed worthy of it. But we don't see the ensuing fight.  Instead we see Jake and Carla and the other surviving hostage make their way back to the nearest station.  Then we cut to Jake at Larry's funeral looking guilt-ridden.

He is next checked out by the newspaper's doctors, turns out the Subway Pirate story increased circulation by 40%.  Jake is unsure if he wants to continue as he is a "magnet for death and trouble."

Ed: "Larry saw the best in you and knew it was worth fighting for.  Even dying for.  Make him proud Jake.  People need their Guardian".

The story ends with the image of No-Beard, horribly radiation scarred driving his train.  He and his crew of living skeletons have become legendary.

Narration: "But it's only some old homeless guy.  Sick and soon to die."
Another dauy, another story.
The next story begins with a group of people on a tour of "New York City's most unusual science park."  It shows the Global Village at work, reducing it proportionally to the size of an actual villiage and populated by robots.  Showing a picture of the statistics that shape cultures.  Suddenly the tourists are attacked and the video fed turns to static.

Ed: "Robot's with rifles.  Vulnerable human flesh.  A front page Guardian story just blew up in our face"

And Jake is dropped in via helicopter to save the day.  We then cut to a distressed scientist contemplating his dead colleagues who were overseeing things:

Jorge Control: "Was gassing everyone a verismillitude too far?  God help me.  I only wanted to teach her a lesson in global realpolitik".

 He then contemplates that "leaving out the guns seemed so dishonest."  Back in the park, the robots have cornered an old man, and his daughter and grandaughter.  He stands up to them, but gets shot.  Before they can kill the other two, Jake arrives and smashes the robots heads off.
Robots PWNED.
The woman giving the tour (Hannah Control, wife of the other scientist), arrive and ask Jake to protect them, Hannah thinking he is legit law enforcement.  As Jake leads the tourists, he carries on battling the robots, as he does so he flashes back to talking with his mother-in-law and how much she misses Larry.  Then having dinner with Carla who says "they have to talk".  She says the more danger he gets pushed into, the more he likes it.  And that she was happiest when she didn't have to worry about him coming home in a body bag.  Jake reacts angrily:

Jake: "Are you gonna..tell me you liked it better when I was beaten and broken like a dog?"

Back in the present, Hannah Control says she may have caused this catastrophe by being rude to her husband over breakfast that morning.  She grabs a pair of machine guns and she and Jake carry on fighting but are outnumbered.  When all looks bleak, suddenly the Newsboy Army parachute in armed with bats and flamethrowers and the robots are beaten.  As Jake angrily grabs a robot, he has a final flashback to Carla shouting as him that "a big stupid superhero" like him should have been able to save her father's life.  "But I had to save you" says Jake to her retreating back.
The Cavalry arrives.
With the park under control again, Hannah says she'll be suing the newspaper for damages, for fooling her into thinking he was the police. Jake stalks off without a word.  Back at the newspaper offices, Ed says he heard about what happened with Carla.  Jake tries to quit, so Ed says he will show him his real self and tell him the secrets of the original Newsboy Army.  And the final page reveals him to be an aged, wrinkled baby in a high tech crib like thing.

We meet the original (well the Seven Soldiers original) Newsboy Army in flashback.  This group consisted of Captain 7 (an African-American boy in a football uniform), Ali Ka-Zoom (a young stage magician), Vincenzo 'Kid Scarface' Baldi (an Italian boy in an impeccable suit) Chop Suzi (an Asian girl, the team's mechanic), Edward 'Baby Brain' Stargard (an infant prodigy), Little Miss Hollywood (an impressionist, the daughter of Irish immigrants) and Millions (the world's richest dog).  They are a group of kids in their teens who have fun adventures with each other.
The original Newsboy Army in happier times.
Back in the present, Ed explains that the image he projects on screen is what he would have looked like if he had grown up normally. Jake continues to say he wants to quit.  Ed says first he must hear about the Newsboy Army's last adventure.

Ed: "We had powers you know?  Differences that made us being different, we tried to make a difference.  Boy we were cool, Jake you should have seen us at our best."

He tells Jake that old enemies of his are coming back.  That they did what they could but they're "coming back in murder factories as big as cities."  Jake demands to know what he's been dragged into and we begin a lengthy flashback.  The gang are printing a paper off when Ali-Ka-Zom comes in and says they have to see something. A man called Colley "the sweetest, kindest man I know" is fighting with the police.  He wrenches the eye out of one of them, so Little Miss Hollywood goes up and gently hynotises him.  He comes to his senses and rips something off the back of his neck and gives it to her, before the cops shoot him dead.
Analysing a Spine Rider.
The remains are of a Sheeda Spine-Rider, and back at their hideout Ed saays it takes control of the human brainstem.  He reads a story about Slaughter Swamp being "haunted" by killer fairies and wants to go check it out.  Some of the others are less enthused now they are older and have things like college coming up.  Ed starts to cry so they agree to go and check it out.

We then cut to them wading through Slaughter Swamp, they find a wooden shack with the lights on and go inside.  There they find a sewing machine (As used by the Seven Unknown Men), a old, bald man and a Sheeda.  There is also a mirror which talks as when the newsboy Army arrives they hear it say:

Magic Mirror: "Seven will come by roads unknown.  And end the Queen of Terror's reign with a spear that was never thrown."

Old Man: "She's searching the Mirror Files to find enemies to destroy.  That means you kids.  I brought her kind here to kill people like you."
Ed references Seven Soldiers #0
Jake then interrupts wanting to know what this has to do with him.  Ed. says the strands of the web are tightening.  That it got too big for a little band of neighbourhood heroes and that the old man said he'd make them clothes "to suit them as they got older" and seals their fate just like that.
The gangster is indeed, Don Vincenzo from Shining Knight.  We'll meet Ali-Ka-Zoom in Zatanna's miniseries and learn more about his magic cabinet then.
The lights suddenly go out.  The Sheeda are attacking new York.  Ed says they want to get him as he knows to much:

Ed: "Legend says that when the Sheeda come to harvest the Earth, Seven Soldiers will overthrow them.  They target teams of Seven see?  But they don't know about the Seven Soldiers of today.  Because none of you recognise each other!"

Jake realises Ed and Larry set him up.  Seems they used to know each other.  Larry said Jake was "a natural born superhero, just waiting for a secret origin".  So they gave him one.  Ed then tells Jake he has to get out of the building that he is his "last hope" against the Sheeda.  Jake refuses to leave him and hoists Ed onto his back.  He phones Carla to warn her something terrible is coming but he will save her then he and Jake set out into Sheeda infested New York.

Jake: "Call out the Newsboy Army.  We're taking to the streets."
Find out what happens next at the end of this month...
And that ends The Manhattan Guardian miniseries on another cliffhanger to the final battle.  The mini overall is very enjoyable.  The subway pirates issues are a lovely bit of urban fantasy made all the more fun if you imagine the bald No-Beard as representing Grant Morrison and All-Beard as Alan Moore as many have done.  The final issue helps explain some of the Sheeda Queen's motivations in targetting groups of heroes and lays out the premise that the Seven Soldiers will not fight together in the normal way in a straightforward manner.  Jake is a nice, relatable guy dealing with a troublesome homelife while flowering as a costumed hero.  The fate of the original Newsboy Armuy is chilling and introduces the plot point that one of the Seven Unknown Men had gone rogue.  All together this is good stuff, with nice simple artwork accentuating this, the most "traditional" hero story of the maxi-series.


  1. Is Grant Morrison a wizard, like Alan Moore?

  2. Not only is he a practicing mage, he was from a pretty young age, according to his semi-autobiographical book Supergods he started well before Moore did. The book is well worth a read if only for the image of Morrison in drag communing with the spirits. His "Promethea" ie: his statement of belief is I believe "The Invisibles" which I haven't read yet, but it along with his love of meta informs a lot of his work.

  3. this one was more understandable than the last, although the art isn't as good. the gaurdian seems like a cool hero though.

  4. I like the art, nice and chunky. Actually Jake gets his best badass moment in the finale now he's got his mojo back.