7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison
7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison tells the tale of the robed man who gathers six others to join him in his attempt to save the Earth. The robed man, Roark, has been guided by near-sentient computers created by other near-sentient computers: They tell him that in order to save the earth in the twenty-second century, he will need the complete team of seven gathered together. Once the team is complete, they go back in time in order to confront their nemesis, Erissa, a lizard-man who wants to change the earth so that it is dominated by reptiles rather than mammals.
The first half of the book is a series of last-minute life-saving maneuvers by Roark. Each character is saved from near doom, for a variety of reasons. For example, Tantalus, the insect-man, was about to be killed by an angry crowd upset that they lost money betting that Tantalus would lose his battle in a large arena; Mourna, a seven-foot Amazon with large claws for hands, is rescued from her slave-labor in the mines; and Ayleeen, who eventually learns to control her ability to create and manipulate fire, is almost killed in a duel with flaming swords. Each time Roark swoops in at the last minute to save them. They also save Urr, a robot; Hoorn, a face-less thief; and Kenrus, a brilliant inventor. Urr was about to be reprogrammed, Hoorn was being chased by police after a failed robbery, and Kenrus was floating in space in a capsule waiting for someone to rescue him. The second half of the book is about their journey together as a team and their coming up against Erissa, face-to-face.
Overall, the rescues feel a bit repetitive and the unraveling of the story’s ending is less than stellar. It’s solid, but there is nothing stunning about it; what is stunning about 7 Against Chaos is the art. The story should be considered a three-star tale, but the art definitely gets the full five-stars (hence the four-star overall rating for the book). I almost don’t care that the rescues are repeated six times because the artwork for each daring rescue distinguishes it from the others. Paul Chadwick, best known for his series Concrete, usually works in black-and-white, but this time, his artwork is colored by Ken Steacy, and the combination of Chadwick’s and Steacy’s artistry is absolutely brilliant.
I might not recommend the book for the story alone, but I definitely recommend it for those who want to see great art in the field of science fiction. There are many scenes in space as each person for the team lives on a different planet or moon or asteroid. And they need to travel through a black hole, which gives Chadwick a chance to draw some psychedelic scenes. Ellison’s work has been unevenly represented in comic book form (for example, both volumes of Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor), and this is another mixed success, since it’s the art, not Ellison’s story, that makes 7 Against Chaos worth seeking out.