Sovereign Seven: The Saga of Cascade and Maitresse

Earlier this month while recovering from nasal surgery I started a re-read of Sovereign Seven, the comic book series written by Chris Claremont that was published by DC Comics between 1995 and 1998.  Sovereign Seven ran for 36 monthly issues, two annuals, a Sovereign Seven Plus Legion of Super-Heroes special, and two short stories in the Showcase anthology.

Sovereign Seven was unusual in that it was a creator-owned series, yet it was set firmly within the DC Universe, with appearances by numerous established characters such as Darkseid, Superman and Power Girl.  I cannot think of any other comparable arrangement before or since at either DC or Marvel.

I hadn’t looked at most of these issues in almost a decade.  Reading them again, I found the series is still interesting and entertaining.  Claremont did some good work with pencilers Dwayne Turner (who co-created the characters), Ron Lim, Jeff Johnson and Tom Grindberg on these stories.  Inking was provided by Jerome K. Moore and Chris Ivy on most issues.

The Sovereigns are a group of aristocratic refugees from different parallel Earths whose worlds had all been conquered by the mysterious Rapture. They were gathered together by Rhian Douglas, aka Cascade, who was fleeing from her seemingly-tyrannical mother Maitresse.

We never learn the precise nature of the Rapture, but in issue #15 Cruiser describes it as “the bliss of blind, unreasoning submission, without a soul to call your own, without the responsibility that comes of making a moral choice.”  That actually brings to mind the Anti-Life Equation from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World epic.  Whatever it is, the Rapture has conquered & corrupted innumerable worlds across the continuum.  As explained by Reflex in S7 Annual #1, “The Rapture has cost us everything and everyone we hold dear.”

The main setting of the series is the Crossroads Coffee Bar, situated at the intersection of three states, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. Living up to its name, Crossroads also contains portals to other dimensions. Crossroads is run by enigmatic, immortal sisters Violet Smith and Pansy Jones. It is here that the fleeing Sovereigns find sanctuary and employment.

One of the most intriguing aspects of S7 was the relationship between Cascade and Maitresse.  Claremont is rightfully recognized as one of the first comic book writers to script three-dimensional, strong, independent female characters.  His work with Rhian Douglas and her mother Morgan continues in that vein, resulting in pair of fascinating characters in a deeply dysfunctional family dynamic.

Rhian and Morgan come from an Earth in a reality where the entire solar system has been imprisoned behind an impenetrable barrier, all to keep Maitresse from escaping.  Cascade first learns of other realities when telepath Taryn Haldane, aka Network, makes contact with her.  Cascade uses her teleportation power to join Network. Exploring the multiverse together the pair locates the other five Sovereigns, rescuing them from the Rapture.

Cascade’s greatest fear is that her mother will find a way to follow her and escape imprisonment.  As seen in Annual #1, the entire fabric of reality on Rhian’s Earth is subject to the moods and temper of Maitresse.  An outraged Rhian lectures her:

“The world’s not some toy, created for your amusement! You can’t just change things – alter peoples’ lives beyond recognition, even destroy them – on a whim. It’s cruel and wrong and I won’t be a part of it any longer!”

Later on in issue #3 Cascade describes her mother as “the essence of all that’s evil” with seemingly only the Rapture itself a greater menace in her mind.

Indeed, at first the evidence appears to back up Cascade’s claim.  We do see Maitresse completely rewriting the fabric of reality on a continual basis on her Earth, and in the first issue she casually immolates her trusted adviser Morgrin for disagreeing with her.  Maitresse, believing that her daughter has betrayed her and become corrupted by the Rapture, is more determined than ever to escape her imprisonment, no matter the cost.

However eventually we begin to see evidence that Cascade’s perception of her mother is not entirely accurate.  In issue #27, during the cosmic upheaval of the “Genesis” crossover, Cascade and Maitresse have their locations swapped, with Rhian imprisoned behind the barrier on her alternate Earth and Morgan joining the other Sovereigns at Crossroads in the DCU.

Having been told repeatedly by Cascade that her mother was their “greatest foe,” the rest of the Sovereigns are very surprised when Maitresse saves them from an attack by the Female Furies, and afterwards lays down in a bed of roses, serenely contemplating the beauty of the natural world.

Cascade soon returns to Earth, with Maitresse once again imprisoned behind the barrier.  At first Rhian cannot believe that the other Sovereigns are now questioning if her mother truly is the menace that she claims.  In issue #31 she angrily challenges their skepticism by asking “If she wasn’t so great a villain, why else would she have been imprisoned?!” However, soon after an event occurs which shakes Rhian’s beliefs to their very core.

In issue #35 the Eristoi, insectoid servants of the Rapture, arrive on Earth.  Cascade comes face to face with their leader, who mind-links with her.  Through this connection, Rhian discovers the true, tragic history of her world.

Rhian’s mother Morgan was her Earth’s greatest hero and protector.  Morgan learns the Rapture is coming to claim her world.  Donning the armor of Maitresse for the first time, Morgan flies up into outer space to confront the Rapture.  Unfortunately not even Morgan is able to stop the Rapture, which fires a devastating beam of energy at the Earth.  Every single living being on the planet is killed except for Morgan and her unborn daughter Rhian.  The Rapture, realizing that Morgan is the one foe who might ultimately defeat it, creates the barrier that surrounds the solar system, imprisoning Morgan for all eternity.

Finally coming out of the psychic link, Cascade is horrified at what she has learned.  Chastened, she explains to her friends:

“My mother. I was so WRONG about her. I believed her to be evil because from childhood I watched her play with our world and all its people as if it were her toy. She would reshape everything, on a whim, without hesitation or regret. And I hated her for it. It never dawned on me that everything I saw was a figment of her imagination. She was playing with ghosts.”

And so we learn that Maitresse, rather than a being of “ultimate evil,” is in truth a sad, lonely woman haunted by her monumental defeat, traumatized by her failure to save her world, and now driven by only two goals: to protect her daughter, and to escape her prison so that she can defeat the Rapture and avenge her fallen people.

Several years ago Chris Claremont was doing a signing at Midtown Comics.  One of the books I got autographed by him was an issue of S7, and I told him how much of an impact the revelation of Maitresse’s true history, and Cascade having to reevaluate her entire relationship with her mother, had affected me as a reader.  I forget his exact response, but I believe he mentioned something about wanting to address the the relationships between parents and children.

Thinking about it, I feel that the reason why it is such a moving development in the story is that it feels both authentic and earned.  Set aside the superpowers and the cosmic menaces and you have a mother and a daughter who have a great deal of difficulty understanding one another.  That sounds like a lot of families, doesn’t it?

In the final issue of Sovereign Seven it is revealed that the whole story was apparently a work of fiction written by two women, one of whom is the “real life” version of Morgan Douglas, and that she created it for her young daughter Rhian.  That is an interesting twist, the idea that Morgan would write a narrative in which her own daughter would misunderstand her and believe her to be the villain.

Perhaps Morgan was attempting to work through her own feelings about the role of a parent, her fears about the mistakes she might make, the difficulty she foresaw in trying to find a balance between being a responsible adult guardian to her daughter while still giving her enough independence and room to grow into her own person?

Looking at all of this from my own personal perspective, I realize that when I was younger I did not really appreciate my parents.  I felt they were too strict, too overprotective, and I resented them for being controlling, for trying to tell me how to live my life.

Now, as an adult, I am able to perceive that my mother and father were trying to be good parents, that they did have my best interests at heart, and that raising me and my two sisters was a very difficult task.  Perhaps their failure to understand why I made certain decisions was rooted not in them being uncaring or mean but instead in them having grown up in very different social and economic circumstances.

I can also look back at my own actions and now realize that there were occasions when I probably should have paid more attention to the advice my parents were giving me, to tried to understand the benefits of their own experiences that they were attempting to pass along so that perhaps I would not make the same mistakes.

Yes, there are definitely still things about my parents that I disagree with, but I do feel like I have a better understanding of and appreciation for them.

That is one of the qualities of Chris Claremont’s writing which I appreciate, that his characters who are real, believable people. His stories offer the opportunity to examine my own thoughts and actions, as well as the world I live in, through a different lens, an alternate perspective.  That is a valuable gift.