I was afraid it would be hard to dive back into the Seven Soldiers storyline after a six-month hiatus, but DC has wisely rekindled my interest with this preview (thanks, Jog) of the long-delayed final issue. It's the perfect appetizer for readers of this series, loaded with backstory delivered in a style that meshes Kirby's Eternals with J.R.R. Tolkien.
Among the other revelations, the preview lists all of the seven imperishable treasures that have been bouncing around this series. To get ready for the final chapter of Seven Soldiers I thought I'd take an inventory and see which ones have yet to put in an appearance...
The Cauldron of rebirth is easy; Kid Scarface had it before Neh-buh-loh recovered it for Gloriana.
The Merlin made of living language is easy, too; Gwydion, currently in Zatanna's possession, is one of the treasures.
The steed Pegazeus is the progenitor of the race of winged horses that includes Vanguard, Ystin's horse. The horses have gathered at the city of Gorias in the Himalayas in Frankenstein #4; in Zatanna #4 Misty and Vanguard are leading a, ah, flock? of them to San Francisco to get Zatanna's help (which brings two of the treasures together).
The Sword is troublesome; this should be Caliburn, Arthur's sword, which Ystin takes from Gloriana. Gloriana identifies Caliburn as one of the seven imperishable treasures, specifically "the treasure of Findias," one of the cities built by the New Gods. (The cauldron comes from Murias, and the winged horses congregate in Gorias. No word on the treasure of Filias yet.) But in Shining Knight #4 Galahad destroys Ystin's sword. That looks pretty perishable to me.
Is Caliburn a bit of misdirection, and if so, to what purpose? Is Frankenstein's blade the true imperishable sword? Did artist Simone Bianchi screw up in drawing the destruction of Caliburn? (Nothing in the script calls attention to the loss of this treasure, and the second preview page shows Ystin holding a sword that looks a lot like Caliburn.) Or did this just fall through the cracks of Morrison's 30-part story?
The Hammer has shown up only briefly, carried by the knight Bors in the flashback that opens Shining Knight #3. Bors uses it to forge the Arthurian A-bomb that ends Mordredd's reign but also begins the corruption of the last knights of Avalon. (That flashback says the knights carry three of the imperishable treasures, but it doesn't indicate what the other two are. They can't be the cauldron or Caliburn, which have been lost in time by this point, and I don't see a winged horse anywhere. Galahad is carrying a spear on his back in one panel, but I'm not sure that treasure should be understood as a literal spear.) No more recent signs of this treasure.
The all-knowing Fatherbox is a mystery. The name implies a New Gods connection, but Mister Miracle had a Mother Box (or Motherboxxx if you prefer).
Could the Fatherbox instead be one or both of the mystical dice that have appeared in Klarion, Guardian, and Zatanna? (An even more intriguing possibility if Croatoan is just another name for Aurakles, who has already slipped out of one pair of chains elsewhere in this series, or if it' s a name for the Fatherbox itself as Melmoth implies in the last issue of Klarion.) The last two preview pages show all of the treasures except the Merlin, which has no fixed form, and the spear, which may not be a physical entity at all, but they do show Aurakles peering at a small, die-shaped object in his hand.
Finally, and most important of all, there's the enchanted Spear that can slay Gloriana. The spear has some connection to the bloodline of Aurakles, the first superhero; in fact, it may be the bloodline. The preview tells us that Aurakles is entrusted with "the hushed and profane secret" of the spear, not the spear per se, and its ability to strike across time may refer to the bloodline being passed down from generation to generation. That venereal, reproductive transmission might also explain why the spear is called "love" as well as "vengeance."
We already know that Alix Harrower is descended from Aurakles, whose pale skin and bright red hair evoke the transformed Bulleteer. (Strangely, her name connotes the harrowing that the Sheeda are going to perform, but she would have gotten that from her husband, who had the rather suggestive first name of Lance. Can you inherit symbolism by marriage?) The resemblance between Alix and Aurakles is telling enough that Morrison didn't need to jump the gun with the Vigilante's sudden exposition in Bulleteer #4; this could have been one of Morrison's classic only-obvious-in-retrospect reveals if he hadn't spoiled the surprise before he planted his best clue.
The New Gods charge Aurakles "To bring order and meaning where incoherence reigns." For Morrison, that's the fundamental mission of any superhero--restoring meaning to a debased world where values are in freefall and words cannot be trusted. That places them in opposition to Gloriana Tenebrae, who exults in the degeneration of meaning, proudly telling Ystin that "Words can mean anything and everything, that is why they have no proper shape here." (Shades of the shapeless living language Gwydion, whom she turns loose on Zatanna.) This is quite a change from the younger Morrison who once presented languages with fixed meanings as implements of torture and control in The Invisibles, who wrote "Love means nothing at all. Life means nothing at all" as the most tender and romantic line in the entire run of Doom Patrol.
But Morrison is also indicating the ideal reading strategy for Seven Soldiers. He's telling us we have to find the patterns in the seemingly incoherent jumble of characters and plotlines, become like "Sky-High" Helligan or the Bride and fit thirty discrete pieces into a single narrative. The seven imperishable treasures make a convenient starting point for assembly, but we could just as easily look at the less explicit recurrences that have unified the series: the vanished, usually terrifying patriarchs, the dutiful or rebellious children who encounter them, all the absences yearning for completion, and the Romantic, tragic model of history and modernity as falls from grace. Morrison has thrown a lot of elements out there over the last twenty-nine installments; here's hoping the final chapter can pull them all together into some kind of order and meaning.