The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 1 | (Re-)Introduction, plus an “Eternals” TPB review

Leaving Proof 1 | (Re-)Introduction, plus an “Eternals” TPB review
Published on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 by

[Author’s note: The text in this article originally appeared on http://kittyspryde.forumotion.com on 24 June 2010 and may have had its content changed or edited since its initial online publication]

Welcome to Leaving Proof, a blog-styled bi-weekly column about all things comics-related. The main focus of this column will be reviewing old and current trade paperbacks and graphic novels, but I also plan on occasionally sharing my general thoughts and musings on the comics medium, the comics industry in North America and abroad, and pretty much anything else outside of the comics world that I feel you guys might be interested in.

So, who am I and why should you care what I think of TPBs and graphic novels? As to the first part of the question, my real name isn’t all that important for the purposes of this column. I’ve been using the “zuludelta” moniker on various websites and online projects for over a decade now, so anybody who really wants to can spend 15 minutes on the web on the task of connecting a name to my internet tag (it’s 15 minutes you’ll never get back, though). But in the interest of establishing “reviewer cred,” here’s a brief rundown of the relevant aspects of my background:

“Born and raised in the Philippines. In high school, qualified to attend the NSPC two years in a row for Feature Writing in English. Moved to Canada at the age of 19, permanently relocated to Canada in my early twenties. At various points both in the Philippines and North America, took university-level courses in human physiology, military science, neuroscience, linguistics, computer science, cognitive science, and the philosophy of art/aesthetics. Briefly tried my hand in the professional “creative” world, taking non-paying and minimally-paying gigs as a texture artist for a Vancouver-based start-up video game company, web designer for an acquaintance’s vanity publishing project, and illustrator/colourist for an Alberta-based writer’s abortive self-published comic book project.”

As for the second part of the question, well, if nothing else, I hope this column will help readers make better informed decisions with how they spend their comic book dollar. TPBs are a cost-effective alternative to buying single issue “floppies,” but with most major publisher TPBs costing upwards of $20 CAN, a regular comic-buying habit in this day and age of economic adversity is still far from frugal. I’d be absolutely ecstatic if readers of the column get more from the column than a “what-to-buy” directive, though. I have no illusions as to my uniqueness and place in the comics blog-o-sphere but if regular readers come away from a column significantly more reflective about the medium of comics, then I know that I’ll be happy and content with Leaving Proof.

With the messy job of introduction out of the way, let’s look at our first TPB:

Eternals
  • (Marvel Comics; 256 pages, original mini-series published 2006, TPB published 2008)
  • Writer: Neil Gaiman
  • Pencils: John Romita, Jr.
  • Inks: Danny Miki and Tom Palmer, with Tim Townsend, Jesse Delperdanf, and Klaus Janson
  • Colours: Matt Hollingsworth with Paul Mounts and Dean White
  • Letters: Todd Klein
  • Cover Price: $24.99 US/$26.50 CAN

The Eternals TPB CoverI’m probably in the minority among the comics-reading population in that I don’t count myself as much of a Gaiman fan. Oh, I’ve enjoyed some of his work (his novel Good Omens co-written with Terry Pratchett, the Death: The High Cost of Living mini-series) but I’m largely indifferent to the material that informs the bulk of his reputation (the DC/Vertigo Sandman material), though more out of disinterest in the genre than anything to do with his level of craft.

When I heard he was going to do a take on Kirby’s Eternals characters, I was intrigued. I’d always thought that Kirby’s later 1970s work for DC and Marvel was hit-and-miss. Without the commercial instincts of a Joe Simon or a Stan Lee reining him in, Kirby’s concepts and dialogue could get a little unfocused. Powerful stuff, no question, but not exactly accessible. Here was a chance for me to read an acclaimed writer whose preference for the high fantasy genre had led me to avoid most of his work.

I won’t attempt to re-cap the convoluted character and publishing history of the Eternals here. Wikipedia can do a better job. Go ahead, I’ll be here when you get back.

Done?

Okay.

Eternals Two-Page Spread featuring the Celestials

The Dreaming Celestial: Bigger than Jesus

Gaiman’s story is based on the premise that the Eternals have, for a reason I can’t reveal without spoiling the twist ending, forgotten who they are and now live perfectly mundane, human lives. This state of affairs doesn’t last for long, as the waking of the Dreaming Celestial and the series of events it triggers lead them to discover their true heritage and place in the grand scheme of things. Gaiman has a great ear for natural-sounding dialogue for the most part, none of the gratingly precious I’m-so-clever nonsense we seem to be getting more and more of these days. I do have problems with the over-arching story, though. By the time we get to the end of the seventh and final chapter, it doesn’t seem like anything actually happened, with the Eternals no more involved in the workings of the larger Marvel Universe than they were before. Granted, this is par for the course for most superhero stories, where a return to the status quo is almost always expected at the end of a long story arc to encourage other writers to build on and add to the core continuity, but I guess I was expecting something more than a standard spandex monomyth. The TPB’s back cover text boldly proclaims that with this story, Gaiman and Romita have “[established] Kirby’s creations as a vital part of the Marvel Universe once and for all.” It could all just be empty hype, but I don’t think they did that at all. What we have here is a zero-sum tale that doesn’t really go anywhere at the end of the day.

Thena

I’m guessing her favourite colour is gold

The problem in situating the Eternals within the Marvel Universe, and why Kirby resisted the idea of having the Eternals interact with the rest of Marvel’s stable of superheroes, is that in most of the ways that matter, they are no more special conceptually than any number of super-powered beings that populate the setting. Kirby, inspired by the 1968 bestseller Chariot of the Gods? written by Erich von Däniken, used the Eternals to explore the idea that visiting aliens might have been the inspiration for the deities found in the world’s major myths and religions. But in a world where firmly established characters that are real gods (Thor, Loki, Ares, Mephisto), demigods (Hercules), and “non-god” beings of god-like power (the Hulk, Storm, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, the Watcher) exist and frequently interact with the human population, the Eternals, extraterrestials mistaken for divine beings by Earth’s early civilizations, come off as gaudily-dressed, super-powered, also-rans. Oh, and since this all happens in the middle of the big Civil War mega-event, be prepared to see forced references to the crossover that add absolutely nothing to the story.

Makkari

Not the Flash. Also, not Jesus (he acts like it, though).

I would be lying if I said that Gaiman’s past affiliation with the controversial Church of Scientology wasn’t somehow affecting my reading of the TPB, even if indirectly. I couldn’t help but note that the story’s primary conceit mirrors elements of the space opera at the core of Scientology doctrine, although I chalk it up more to coincidence than any deliberate attempt by the ex-Scientologist Gaiman to proselytize.  This was probably unavoidable and was to be somewhat expected, I suppose, since Kirby did use the Eternals as a vehicle for his own metaphysical musings inspired by von Däniken’s writings, which bear some fundamental similarities with the Scientology scripture written by L. Ron Hubbard. Still, Gaiman’s nods to creationist theories of “intelligent design” and his clumsy juxtaposition of the Eternal speedster Makkari as the stock messianic figure (he ends up being practically crucified in one scene, which I found hilarious in its overwhelmingly heavy handed melodrama) do nothing for me.

John Romita, Jr.’s blocky style, while not everybody’s cup of tea, is an appropriate modern update of Kirby’s pop art-infused renderings. JRJr’s stuff might not be the groundbreaking work today the same way Kirby’s was in the 1960s and 1970s, but he brings with him a similar sense of design and storytelling. I haven’t liked JRJr’s work this much since his stint on Daredevil 20+ years ago. Inkers Miki and Palmer (with an assist from long-time JRJr collaborator Klaus Janson) and colorist Matt Hollingsworth round out an excellent art combo that I’d love to see on other projects.

It probably seems like I’m dwelling on the negatives of the writing but all in all, Eternals is good read if you can find it in your local library or on sale for below the cover price. I don’t think this marks a return for the Eternals as a prime Marvel property (not that they ever were, when you really think about it), and I’m no more a fan of Gaiman after reading this book than I was before reading it, but if you don’t go in with inflated expectations and take the attendant dime-store quasi-spirituality with a grain of salt, it’s really quite a decent, standard superhero yarn with some of JRJr’s better recent work.

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