By Greg Pak, Robert Gill, and Guy Major
Gilad Anni-Padda has fought all manner of foe, but in the far-flung future of 4001 AD his only remaining opponent is mankind itself. Greg Pak and Robert Gil craft a story as old as time itself in a dystopian world as immersive and hypnotic as any Miyazaki tale. An entirely self-contained arc, there’s no Geomancer to protect or immortal brother to crossover with, instead Eternal Warrior volume 2: Eternal Emperor follows Gilad on a truly epic quest to battle the inevitable. It is bar none, the best Eternal Warrior story ever told.
Page one, panel one opens with the caption “Marshlands of Little Rock 4001 AD” and from there we’re off, content to know that all the traditional trappings of the Valiant Universe are a thing of the past. Instead Pak simultaneously widens and narrows the scope of this new world, hinting at the technological fall of our modern society that has led to this luddite-like existence and letting the reader’s imagination run wild at the potential prospects of an entirely new world two millennia removed from our own. Here we see a visibly aged, yet softened, Gilad who’s content to live in a place he believes free from the petty and brutal conflicts of the past. He has been trying to reach this point for so long, it is effectively heartbreaking to see it stripped from him as the story progresses. Pak has scripted a cinematic experience; a Mad Max by way of The Lord of The Rings that kicks off with a scene very reminiscent of the beginning to Princess Mononoke. That is to say, it is instantly alluring, begging you to explore this unfamiliar setting with a Gilad that is twenty times more likable than his more rage-driven, conflicted younger self. At its heart, Eternal Emperor is a quest of reflection and acceptance that Pak has operatically structured.
After a mechanical beast attacks his small village community, resulting in exposing all who dwell there to fatal levels of radiation, Gilad and his granddaughter, Caroline (who was exposed as well), venture forth in search of medication. Along the way they find opposition in exponentially more threatening dangers, from a small band of bandits, to their regional boss and his robotic dangers, to the King who commissioned these dangers be built, and eventually to a three thousand strong death-cult. We follow our protagonists from one place to another, unraveling the mystery of what this world is and how it came to be, as it plays out like a fairy tale (a horrifically violent one, sure) or more accurately, The Wizard of Oz. Gilad’s playful relationship with Caroline, with his inquisitive wry smile showing each time he asks her what course of action should be taken, is beyond charming the throughout. Throughout, Pak keeps the reader inside of Gilad’s head through the caption boxes, providing insight into his awareness and denial of the true tragedy unfolding. These four issues are poetic in their simple, straightforward presentation of a formidable grandfather-granddaughter tandem moving from point to point to accomplish their stated objective, meeting allies and foes along the way, but ruminating under the surface until the very end is the ultimate futility of their quest, and what it means to come to peace with it.
Robert Gil ensures that this, the greatest Eternal Warrior story ever told, is also the best looking Eternal Warrior story ever drawn. His line is soft and detailed, conveying the years of wisdom and experience in every wrinkle on Gilad’s face and the youthful innocence of a wide-eyed Caroline. Even in moments of utter destruction, there’s a peaceful calm about the way this world operates. Its ornate backgrounds, the elaborately detailed horror of the cities and the vivid lushness of nature are all so convincingly alive and real. Gil’s design work is something to behold as well with the monstrous stretched skin mask of The Boss and the streamlined futuristic armor of Gilad being the best examples. Robotic hounds and behemoth Mech suits trample their way across the serene vistas torn from the pages of Arthurian myth with such care, it’s nearly impossible not to get lost in the grandeur of each page. Nothing is obscured under the weight of heavy inks or enveloped in shadows, no; everything is flayed open (sometimes quite literally) for your eye to absorb. Gil might be very detailed in his rendering, but the art has plenty of room to breathe balancing action-heavy panel sequences giving way to massive splashes at just the right exhalation point. It’s made all the more impressive with the enriching colors of Guy Major who’s vibrantly lit skies and swath the blended textures of a weary, yet hopeful world. The neutral color palette of the peasant-like clothing serves to better allow for the pop of Gilad’s emperor’s-red cape and the muddied browns and greys of yesterdays metallic weapons stand in sharp contrast to the living, breathing cools of the thriving flora and fauna. The one scene of utter decimation, a brutal siege of unadulterated violence, is fantastically filtered through an ensanguined red that burns right of the page thanks to Major’s keen tonal utilization. Together Gill and Major have shaped an alluring, anachronistic world in vivid detail that one never wants to leave.
Eternal Emperor is magnificent epic journey through what feels like an entire epoch. It’s small and unimaginably vast at the same time with the question of the inevitable curiosity of man leading to its own destruction at the heart of it. Greg Pak and Robert Gil leave all the detritus of the past, both Gilad’s fictional history and the publisher’s established continuity thus far, and plunge the reader into a fully realized future that is mesmerizingly beautiful. Nothing is required to enter into this arc, save for an open mind and a taste for truly captivating adventure.