That middle panel up there (you know, the one with the snake) is one of my favorite moments in comics.
That probably sounds like exaggerated praise for something competent-but-unremarkable. I mean, Morrison's words ("And for a moment, I feel the presence of a much bigger reality. Like mountains looming all around me.") are nicely evocative, and J.H. Williams III always makes pretty pictures. But it certainly doesn't hold to a candle to some of the wilder, more ambitious images that Williams created elsewhere — even in this very comic, Seven Soldiers #0, you just need to flip a few pages ahead to see a much more spectacular splash page of the Sheeda invasion.
Somehow, though, this unassuming, almost utilitarian panel always hits me hard. Something about the way Morrison and Williams pull in close, avoiding the obvious or grandiose image, makes it feel like they're leaning in to tell you a secret. The context is goofy — the characters, remember, are talking about superheroes in the Old West fighting a giant spider. But for narrator Shelly Gaynor, and for the reader, that goofiness falls away for a second, and you believe that whatever the hell "a much bigger reality" might be, it's there in the panel, if you just look close enough.
Rereading Seven Soldiers nearly a decade after its initial publication, I found that it's little grace notes like this one that have stayed with me. For example, I've never forgotten the moment when backwards-speaking magician Zatanna gathers her friends for a seance and commands them, Wollof em ni. Ditto the final image of Manhattan Guardian #1, with the titular hero dragged behind a fast-moving train through the subways of New York, along with an unlucky pirate who has, oh yeah, been set on fire. (Something I didn't catch before: That's the subway stop right by my office.)
Don't get me wrong, the construction of the series as a whole is pretty impressive. To recap: There were seven miniseries, each of them four issues long and starring a different, minor superhero. Plus two bookend comics, both drawn by Williams — one to kick the story off, and another to wrap it up at the end, adding up to a total of 30 comics. Imagine the old comics standby, the giant crossover, but good, and all orchestrated by one man. Each story takes on a voice and art style of its own, and they intersect in subtle, surprising ways.
The fictional edifice holds together, but barely. If you want to talk about problems, well ... Maybe we should start with the big villains, the Sheeda. Sure, the idea of an evil race from humanity's future traveling back in time to prey on its past sounds cool, but it makes almost no sense when you try to apply any idea of cause-and-effect. (Note to time travelers: Wiping out most of your ancestors, no matter how distant, is probably not a great strategy.)
Oh, and now that you've got me started, here's another thing: If you look too closely at Morrison's characterization, it starts to feel like anyone who's not a superhero doesn't matter somehow, like their personal tragedies are just stepping stones on the hero's journey of someone else. Manhattan Guardian is particularly guilty of this — the death of one major character, and then an off-screen, alleged rape, are only acknowledged inasmuch as they affect what really matters, namely, are the Manhattan Guardian and his pals feeling kind of bummed out?
I suppose that's a risk in any narrative, particularly superhero narratives (see: the death of Batman's parents, or hell, the destruction of Superman's entire species), but Morrison is at his best when he pushes against it, as he did in The Invisibles. And when your indifference to the supporting cast is a little too obvious, as it can be here, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Oh, and if you're hoping to see the individual stories of our seven heroes reach a satisfying conclusion, well, that final issue is going to be pretty annoying. In Seven Soldiers of Victory #1 (yes, the whole thing ends on a number 1), you really see the strain of wrapping up that many parallel stories in a single comic, even a comic that runs longer than your standard 22 pages.
The flaws bothered me a little more this time around, but even so, I was still amused, moved, or flat out swept along at the key moments. I guess that's what I'm getting at: These would be bigger problems if the whole thing wasn't so much damn fun. Sure, you could wonder why characters like Bulleteer are barely granted a cameo in that final issue, much less a real ending, but hopefully you're too busy marveling at the way that Morrison jumps between perspectives, and the way that Williams keeps switching styles to match.
You don't have to ignore the big picture, exactly, but that's not where you'll find the real pleasure, not in this or in most superhero comics. Instead, pay attention to the little character moments, the surprising action beats, and in the sudden appearance of a snake between the rocks, looking for something just below the surface.