It's still forever in here.

*52 Dept: Week 7 wasn’t all that great an issue, for a number of reasons. For one thing, this issue's visuals (by current The Flash: Fastest Man Alive artist Ken Lashley and art collective ‘Draxhall’) are the first to cross the line from nondescript and somewhat awkwardly positioned to outright unattractive, with dour, stiff figures frowning their way through murky shadows and sometimes jarring perspectives. I suppose this team might have been chosen for the content of this week's story, involving a scolding Ralph Dibny popping over to Booster's for a nice round of blame and castigation. Oh, Booster gets what's coming to him this time, but it can't really resound while ensconced in a thick wrap of hammering shouts and turgid melodrama. But hey, at least we're explicitly reminded about how extremely important the unforgettable events of Identity Crisis were, eh?

Elsewhere, there's a little more interest. Montoya visits the Future Batwoman Estate for an extremely active encounter, punches flying and brows caressing as Renee's narration purrs "I could always press her buttons. And she could always press mine." It's all pretty silly, but at least silly in an engaging, punchy way. The real entertainment for me, though, still lies in Our Castaways and their adventures in Eden, now complete with sinister fruit (offered to Adam, no less) to match the serpent in the garden. It seems that time passes slower on that faraway world, allowing the creative team to cheat a little bit with their storytelling constraints. And on that note, it's still pretty neat how everyone finds ways to keep things humming along in real time, allowing characters like Montoya, who'd otherwise be up and running quickly after a big fight, to heal like actual human beings for once. It's pretty cute.

As for the story in the back, I’ll just concur with Abhay’s opinion:

Meanwhile, in the back-up feature, horrible comics are summarized by a horrible comic, creating something akin to the hall of mirror shot in the finale of Citizen Kane, if all of the mirrors were reflecting a big piece of turd instead of Charles Foster Kane. Which is what Orson Welles wanted to do in his first draft but RKO had ‘notes’ so…”


Eternals #1 (of 6)

I haven’t read any of the Jack Kirby material that this new Marvel miniseries aims to revive (although next week will bring a $75 hardcover promising to catch those of us with access to such funds up), but I’ve certainly perused some Jack Kirby revivals in my day. Most pertinent at the moment, I think, is the Grant Morrison-written Mister Miracle, part of the Seven Soldiers project, and strikingly similar to this new book. You’ve got your Kirby cosmic heroes and villains, brought down to Earth by circumstances unknown. You’ve got visions of grand war in space, contrasted against the mundane concerns of human living. You’ve got flashes of superpowers and the dazzle of media celebrity. You’ve got one hero badly hurt by sinister forces, some of which are posing as healers. You’ve even got knowing parallels drawn to Christian thought and tradition. It almost seems that Gaiman is constructing an ‘answer’ to DC man Morrison’s New Gods runaround by whipping up a reincarnation of the King’s mythic Marvel saga.

But then, I don’t know what comics Gaiman reads. I’ve certainly heard nothing on the topic ever stated by any of the primary parties. And yet - having read both, I’m compelled toward drawing comparisons, so similar are some of the surface elements, and so different what’s done with them.

It won’t come as a surprise to any that Gaiman’s book is vastly more straightforward than Morrison’s, but it’s worth emphasizing that this is a very well-constructed, carefully considered first issue, utterly attuned to the potential concerns of the audience, and carefully balanced to offer maximum access to as many as possible. At an extra-long 39 story pages, the reader gets a concise, understandable rundown of the core Eternals concept, a good variety of characters immediately set up with logical conflicts, a handful of canon tidbits that serve to directly enhance one’s understanding of said conflicts, and a broad sense of where this revamp might be going, both in terms of plot and theme. Time will tell how future issues will fill out the story - Morrison’s book improved when read as a completed whole, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this pamphlet makes for a far more intriguing and satisfying initial chapter than what was seen before.

So we’ve got characters like Ikaris and Makkari and Thena and Sersi and Druig and Sprite, all of them having filled up new roles in the human world, seemingly none of them totally aware of their identities save for Ikaris, though bits of their true personalities seem to be bubbling up. Some of them are struggling to make ends meet, while others are respected personalities or outright stars. But evil is also afoot, possibly the remaining Deviants, and eventually more than the beleaguered 'Ike' will have to realize what's going on. But for now, we learn of Sersi's business as a party planner, which is tied to some sort of scheme by Vorozheikan official Druig, which already has netted Thena, who's currently working for - Tony Stark. Yes, Gaiman is even game enough to plant this all firmly in the current Marvel U, with several references to the current Civil War served up as backing.

That's also worth noting, as Gaiman's use of Civil War isn't really concerned with the particulars of whose side Stark is on or the fallout of Spider-Man taking off his pants in front of everyone (or whatever it was he removed) - here, it's boiled down to pure political symbolism, governmental pressure on super-liberty applied via not impassioned declaration but cheese culture, reality television bent toward delivering the message of authority to the people with a spoonful of sugar. Gaiman even turns the tables in the story proper, titling the issue Intelligent Design, and slyly placing our in-continuity acceptance of the more dodgy bits of the overall concept in the context of pure devout belief.

Really! Skeptics like 'Mark Curry' are asleep to the truth within them, and dismiss true believers like 'Ike Harris' as religious nuts. They use logic to dismiss seemingly impossible things, while brushing aside the presence of miracles. But their lack of belief won't stop the creeping evil that infects this fallen world, aided by the wisdom of the glorious children of On High! Why, there's was even once the threat of a good old-fashioned Judgment Day, the Celestials ready to dump the lot of us into a regular Lake of Fire if our human ways proved too wicked. If Morrison gave Mister Miracle a Last Temptation before his escape from the Anti-Life Equation stuffed world, a personal conquest of the individual's Hell, Gaiman smartly taps in to a different brand of Christianity, the hard-preachin' fire-and-brimstone side of that other Kirby creation as the writer sees it. Another potent connection between the two and a sign of Gaiman's interest in the material. Nice Chariots of the Gods reference too.

And nice art. Penciler John Romita Jr. proves adept at both the high combat and the quiet conflicts, his lovely character art perfect for strange semi-gods itchy in human roles. There's two inkers (Danny Miki with Tim Townsend) and three colorists (Matt Hollingsworth with Dean White & Paul Mounts) credited, but nothing looks rushed or clashing, the deep, bold hues of mighty creation and the slightly dull tone of Earth life complimentary and fitting. Romita and company seem to 'get' Gaiman's story approach, and it works to the point where even the expected too-cute-by-half bits (this being a Neil Gaiman script, after all) like Sersi's meeting with Abi come off as natural looking, even if nobody can quite settle on what color the latter's underwear ought to be.

So yes, a good first issue. A strong thematic 'take' on the material, and a clever, intuitive construction. I sort of liked 1602 when it started as well, but it was never as good as this. I'll be looking forward to more.