I should just drop all other pretenses and dedicate this blog solely to comics by British writers whose surnames begin with the 13th letter of the alphabet. It's good to have a niche.
Bulleteer #2, by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette. Spoilers follow.
This is one of Morrison's loopiest chapters yet, not because the content is particularly outré--no heralds of the apocalypse with grandfather clocks for heads here--but because he continually forces us to revise our judgments about the story and the many stories contained within it.
The comic starts out innocuously enough, with FBI agent "Sky-High" Helligan coming over direct from her appearance in Shining Knight to explain the plot for us and revealing something of the aftermath of Seven Soldiers #0. It's not quite as eye-opening as the revelatory Guardian #4, largely because it's telling us what we already know or have guessed, but it's enough to make this issue another key part of the overall crossover and it provides plenty of cud for the devoted like myself to ruminate on. (The folks over at Barbelith have developed some pretty interesting theories about the traitors within each team of seven; this issue confirms that theory in a big way, with a twist I didn't see coming but which makes perfect sense. Those are a Morrison specialty, of course.)
The fun really begins with a visit to a dying Golden Age supervillain. First Morrison elegantly connects his take on the Seven Soldiers of Victory and Nebula Man to existing DC continuity. Then he conducts a standard, fairly obvious revisionist take on the Vigilante, turning him from a singing cowboy hero into a racist thug. Old SSoV enemy Solomano (heh) insists that villainy is just a matter of cultural perspective and says "My own people will call me a hero," and for about two pages it seems like Morrison might actually agree with him. But then Solomano says "there are no such things as heroes, only weak fools who want to believe in them!" and we know Morrison is setting him and us up for a fall since the Seven Soldiers project is about rekindling a belief in heroism (often among the heroes themselves). Solomano, briefly sympathetic, is now just a slightly more realistic version of Zor the Terrible Time Tailor, another villain who attempts to write his own revisionist narratives that equate maturity with pessimism and degradation and say heroism is impossible.
I can't say I'm satisfied with Helligan's alternative explanation for Greg Sanders's malice and his death-wish. (Tangent: how many characters in this narrative are old men and women trapped in young bodies, or old men trapped in dying bodies, or men and women who seek eternally youthful and unchanging bodies, or adolescents who seek the alien chrysalis of the Sheeda? In other words, characters who can't change, who resist change, or who pervert change?) Partly that's because Solomano's story seems so eminently plausible. If we were following the "what if superheroes really existed" logic of those infamous '80s revisions--and Morrison clearly is not--who would be a better candidate for a bigoted superhero than the guy who puts a bandanna over his face and rides around the southwest shooting at people?
Morrison brings up an ugly possibility, and then he shies away from it with a deliberately ludicrous story about lycanthropy. Sanders's secret accounts for the rage Solomano saw--it might even be said to act as a metaphor for the rage within him, possibly for the rage of bigotry*--but it lets him and us off the hook. I can see how Morrison needs to reject the Solomano/Zor/Grim 80s mode of revision for the larger purposes of his project, but he can't quite write off the racism that, to modern eyes, lurks in the figure of the Vigilante by exclaiming "He was a werewolf!" It's like saying Rorschach was only moody because he was a gnome: the figure raises very real anxieties that deserve much more honest representations.
(*Yeah, metaphor. When the narrative vehicle has absolutely no mimetic connection to the thematic tenor--when it's in fact providing cover to insulate the character against the uglier implications of those tenors--we have left literality and hypostasis far behind.)
Those qualms aside, the issue succeeds both as a narrative lynchpin for the Seven Soldiers macro-story and as a light-comedy exercise that wrings gentle humor out of the yoking together of disparate elements that turn out to be more connected than we first think (hence the werewolf gag, which has a good payoff). Helligan is the perfect character to anchor this issue, which is all about bringing disparate pieces together to assemble the larger story; when she describes her methodology ("I know it's a lot of information, but that's the way I work. Everything at once") she might as well be describing Morrison's own.
She's a smart enough investigator and an engaging enough protagonist that the Bulleteer becomes a guest star in her own comic. Paquette doesn't have nearly as many cheesecake opportunities this time (even with a cameo by the Whip!) as Morrison dials down the sexuality, but Alix still fits the story, and the story fits her comic. As a reluctant heroine who comes into the world of superheroes by way of their own fetish community she would have fit right in with the misfits and wannabes like Dyno-Mite Dan, making her the perfect candidate for the missing seventh soldier in the first issue. That revelation brings a belated sense of completion to their ill-fated group, and creates a real charge for readers who have been following this story from the beginning. With the arrival and confirmation of the missing seventh we seem to have reached some kind of critical inflection point; from here on it's a headlong rush to the climax.
Addenda: You may have already seen this midpoint evaluation of Seven Soldiers by Ian Brill, but it's worth reading; Ian offers a sharp overview of individual and cultural rebirth across the project as a whole. Jim Roeg collates all the Seven Soldiers criticism to date; I hope he continues to update the list. And Ragnell has a superb reading of Helligan and Bulleteer.