“Ballistic: How the Bulleteer Began”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Yanick Paquette (p), Michael Bair (i)
Publisher: DC Comics
Lance Harrower wants to be a superhero so that he can score with a superhero sidekick that he chats with online, unbeknownst to his wife Alix. However, when he attempts to use his smartskin on himself, Alix accidentally is affected as well, leaving only one of them alive at the end of the day to become the new Bulleteer.
This is obviously the cheesecake book in the Seven Soldiers set, but with a Morrison twist. Although Lance has a gorgeous wife, he spends his evenings on the computer chatting with super hotties, wishing he could score with them. In fact, this seems to be his only purpose for the amazing smartskin he has developed. Alix sees the obvious military uses, but Lance is only thinking with the lower half of his body, and it ends up costing him his life.
The art was very appropriate to the feel of the book, putting all the curves in the right places, and showing the proper emotions, of which there are many in this issue. The coloring is also well done, adding depth to the characters.
While I thought this issue was pretty good, not great, I think the next issue will provide a better insight as to where the series is going, since that will be the first issue of Alix’s Bulleteer career. I’m interested in seeing how she goes about being a superhero, and what obstacles lay in her way.
Plot: Alix Harrower loves her husband Lance. He’s a talented genius. Unfortunately, he’s fixated on one unattainable goal; love with an immortal beauty. This obsession blinds him to the mortal beauty standing so blatantly right in front of him.
Comments: I don’t know if it’s true that Morrison had nothing to work with when it came to Bulletman and Bulletgirl. I don’t really doubt it. But this story is more a re-invention from the ground up than a stunning update (as he did with the demonic and witty Klarion) or a clever deepening of an already strong character (as he did with Zatanna’s adventure at a low ebb in her life). I guess that explains the name change, too. It’s all a bit schematic, as we don’t get too deeply into either partner, and there are few really new elements here. The husband’s obsession endangers himself and his wife, something we’ve seen recently in Ultimates with Hank and Jan. The sexual fetish is such an obvious story element you wonder why it hasn’t been used more frequently in the past. The impervious (perhaps sentient) skin thing is currently going on in Ultimate Iron Man.
So the real innovation here, in true postmodern style, is Morrison’s clever synthesis of all these elements into a new configuration. One that results in a reluctant female hero, carrying on the legacy of her foolish and deceased husband.
Of interest: There’s been some online confusion over how a story mounting a critique against sexual objectification can get away with such pin-up art even for its victim/heroine from Paquette. But he’s not doing anything the ever-clever Morrison didn’t ask him to. Just look at the hints along the way. The husband, usually the focus of these sorts of stories as the wife wails away in the background, is quickly dispatched. His name, by the way, is “lance.” Look at where that giant surgical saw is wielded on page four, just before a panel focusing on Lance’s glistening wedding ring. You know, the bond he betrayed, at least in his mind? All because he couldn’t bear his perfect wife’s mortality?
And the metaphors don’t stop there. What seems to be the principle power granted the wearer of the bulletskin? The experimental mouse bursts through a concrete wall to get at food. Later Alix, in a depressed rage, bursts through the basement wall of her home, searching for answers away from that site of death and betrayal.
She who was the subject of fantasies of penetration has become the ultimate penetrator. You can’t blame Yanick for using every means at his disposal to get that message across.
If you thought Zatanna in therapy would be the most depressing first issue in the Seven Soldiers universe, wait until you read “Ballistic: How the Bulleteer Began!” In a thoroughly upsetting tale of mad science and pornography, Alix Harrower becomes encased in living metal when her husband’s experiment goes awry. While Lance Harrower dreams of being of a superhero, it is poor Alix who must deal with the repercussions of his ambition—Lance doesn’t survive the bonding. Disfigured and widowed, Alix struggles to pick up the pieces but soon learns that her husband’s betrayal goes much, much deeper than she’d imagined.
God bless Grant Morrison. Or, you know, call on whatever deity may be relevant for such a blessing. Already going against the grain by emphasizing magic and wonder over grim realism, here Morrison eviscerates another of comicdom’s favorite prejudices, the Sexy Teenage Heroine. Taking the real world media’s obsession with youth and beauty and applying it to characters in a world of sexualized superheroes, Morrison’s commentary cuts to the bone. It also leads to a particularly compelling “reluctant hero” origin story—not only did Alix Harrower not ask to be the Bulleteer, but the source of powers is tied up in a complex web of emotion and heartbreaking betrayal. At least she’s got her invincible pet rat to keep her company.
For all this, one should not be left with the impression that this issue of Bulleteer is without its own prurient interest. Alix spends much of the issue in her underwear and is occasionally topless. This, however, is quite a different matter from a fifteen-year-old Supergirl running starkers through the streets of Metropolis—Alix is “of age” and the nudity is justified by context.
Yanick Paquette manages to maintain energy over what is essentially an issue-long domestic scene, which is to his inestimable credit. Alix does look a bit awkward in her first feat of super-strength, though, so it will be interesting to see how well Mr. Paquette handles more action-intensive episodes. The Bulleteer costume has a kitschy greatness to it, and it will be fun to see more of that.
“A Soldier Must Die…” Considering Alix Harrower’s luck so far, her silvery lifeline looks about four issues long. As with the other Seven Soldiers minis, however, those four issues will be sparkling with grand ideas and unexpected twists.
I first encountered Bullet Man as many in my generation encountered Bullet Man. He was introduced to the American public as a Shogun Warrior-sized toy with a very cool helmet and silver arms that would stubbornly not bend. Though, that did not make the toy less cool.
I later encountered the actual comic book Bullet Man and his lovely wife Bullet Girl as guest stars in a multiverse crossover in Justice League of America where the League met all the Fawcett heroes in a team up against King Kull. Since that issue, I've followed Bullet Man and Bullet Girl as guest-stars in the "Shazam!" feature in World's Finest and Adventure Comics. During the post-Crisis, Jerry Ordway also introduced an updated Bullet Girl--no relation to the Barrs--in Power of Shazam! I always had a soft spot for these characters, and I always will.
Grant Morrison for The Bulleteer does not ignore the history of Bullet Man and Bullet Girl. The silvery smartskin that covers the new hero Bulleteer draws upon the design of the toy. The inspiration comes from the Fawcett characters, yet this is Morrison. So he puts his own twist into the mix. Alix the woman who will become Bulleteer does not want to be a hero.
The Bulleteer is created through accident and design. Alix's husband dreams of becoming a super-hero to nail, in quantity and quality, some super-hero tail. You see, Alix's husband is a real prick, and the skin being smart senses that the world's better off without him. So, it kills him but hugs Alix. All right, now this isn't what literally happens but a seriously biased reading of what occurs.
Literally. Lance, the dead husband, is a scientist who is working on something called smartskin; its sentience has not been determined. Based upon the accidental exposure and super strong health of a test mouse, Lance believes the smartskin can be used for him and Alix to facilitate their creation of a new Bullet Man and Bullet Girl. Lance does, however, want to nail as much super-hero tail as possible. His fantasties are super-hero porn based, and I do believe this is the first time comic books acknowledged such sites.
When Alix discovers her husband's carnal secrets Seven Soldiers of Victory threatens to become another deconstructive super-hero book that in fact hates super-heroes. It's all there. Prick of a husband. Super-hero porn site. Trashing the myth with a corrupted ideal, but this is a Grant Morrison book, and Grant Morrison likes super-heroes. Thus, just when Bulleteer teeters into dark territory, Morrison introduces his hero to the reader. Alix finds her calling, and suddenly, nobody believes her protest:
"I'm not a super-hero."
Oh, yes, you are, and speaking for people who love and embrace super-heroes, welcome.
I said in previous reviews that Yanick Paquette needs to be put on a super-hero babe book of some worth, and I've gotten my wish. Paquette bestows quite a rack to The Bulleteer,. In fact, this is the largest cup-size I think I've seen on any of his female characters, but he balances out the boobies with a ripped, muscular body, enhanced by Bair, that suits somebody named the Bulleteer. Her waist is curved and thick. So there are no dangers of her torso caving in to her abdomen. Most important is that there is more visually to Alix than her metallic morning stars. Paquette constructs for the character a beautiful face in her human form, and he makes that face alien and her composure imposing in her Bulleteer form. There is no evidence that she can shift back and forth. That said, even as a human, there is no way she's drawn to be "twenty-seven." She's like no twenty-seven year old I encountered.
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