By Ryan K. Lindsay, Eric Zawadzki, and Dee Cunniffe
There is a sublime balance to Eternal that permeates each page. It’s a balance of stillness and kinetics, of blindness and clarity, and of the past and the future. Eternal loves to linger, to haunt, even as it propels itself wildly towards the inescapable inevitability. In order for one to achieve a legacy, an eternal lifetime secure in the annals of relentless time, sometimes all that’s needed is to live forever in the fleeting moments that get you there. Lindsay, Zawadzki, and Cunniffe have created a testament to collaboration with Eternal, an oversized, 64-page one-shot that manipulates time and examines our place in it while striking an emotionally resonant chord. While the action sequences certainly tantalize, the book, like the themes found therein, finds its strongest moments in the reflective still breaths between the gnarled gnashing of swords. You can’t kill your ghosts, but you can triumph over them.
Lindsay, in the back-matter, admits that the original script for Eternal was 24-pages until it made its way into Zawadzki‘s hands, at which point the talented artist decided he wanted to more meticulously explore all the elements of this shieldmaiden ghost story. The result is this unique one-shot which is thoroughly committed to its exploration of ephemeral meaning. The collaborative process is evident, with each creator equally spelunking into the thematic caverns to extract the most potent distillation of a shared vision. Eternal simultaneously begs you to stay in the moment, a setting sun or a tearful drop to the knees, but consistently thrusts you forward with the plunging of swords and indefatigable steps through freshly fallen snow. It’s in the book’s structure more so than any other component that Lindsay is most victorious. Framed and bifurcated with the brutal flashes of a final conflict, Lindsay succeeds at saying the most without ever penning a word.
It’s this pacing, of which Zawadzki and Cunniffe deserve equal credit, that gives the script its legs. Lindsay ensnares the ideas and questions of violence, reflection, and control in a rigid ouroboros that embraces its chosen genres while knowing full well when to get the hell out of the way. Lindsay leans hard into the more mystical elements of a Viking tale, appropriately considering the equal, if not greater, emphasis on the ghost story core that best illuminates the haunting themes of timelessness like a gjallarhorn’s blare. There’s clearly great restraint shown to limit hitting you over the head and letting the book breathe naturally, though there are moments when even greater restraint might have been more effective. There are just a handful, a sliver of occasions, where things were lovingly implied only to have a more direct line of dialogue or narration ever so slightly undercut the poetry of it all. That said, this remains one of Lindsay’s strongest works to date with its sharp focus and dedication to its beliefs and an impressive control of pace. Eternal is thoughtful and it’s saying something about what drives us and holds us back. What do we let go of? What do we lose sight of as a result? What burdens do we carry, for all the right and wrong reasons? These questions, and many more, come through clear as a day, and for that Lindsay deserves a hearty skol.
Here’s how you know Zawadzki crushes it with his storytelling: Eternal would effectively communicate every beat, every nuanced theme, and every emotional blow even if it were completely wordless. That’s not a knock on Lindsay, it is his script after all, so much as adulation of Zawadzki‘s prowess. Part of the joy of reading Eternal is noticing the choices he makes along the way and what makes them as effective as they are, not the least of which is the playfulness with time. The interstitial battle is as fine and as well thought out a choreographed fight sequence can be, with physical mechanics following not only logically, but gracefully, as it ebbs and flows. It’s in these particular moments that a meta-commentary on the book as a whole can be found; the little beats that make up the larger whole can be frozen and lived in for as long as we want to remember them even as they quickly become the past. The effect is not unlike intentionally slowly moving through a flipbook one page at a time as opposed to the rapid flickering they normally require; as a result, the small moments linger and build tension (or grief or triumph or introspection) more powerfully than any gore-filled splash page in your typical superhero fare.
Zawadzki‘s line work and hearty blocks of ink bring great heft to his characters and, when combined with his methodical yet creative layouts, deliver a feast of visceral sensations. Because he controls time so well, there’s an empathetic response inherent in so damn many of the scenes. Steely eyed looks of determination, earth-shattering collapses, and that solemn silence of the calm before the storm; there’s just so much to feel during the journey. Nowhere is this more present than a sequence of four stacked horizontal panels exponentially zooming into the eyes of our shieldmaiden heroine, Vif, as the blood and sword slashes spew around her. In her eyes Zawadzki tells a story of a lifetime, of anger and vengeance and fighting for the future, in a manner that is so palpable it’s genuinely shocking. And the way it sets up the page turn? *Chef kiss ad infinitum*
To be honest, though Zawadzki utilizes creative layouts a plenty here (with the Nordic knot themed panel framing and the changing of seasons replete with overlapping sword segments especially) it’s perhaps not as thoroughly masterful as what we saw with The Dregs, which showcased a level of medium control beyond even Eternal’s best moments. It is a little sparser and plays it just a little too safe than the full-bore mindscape madness that The Dregs did with wonderful reckless abandon. Nonetheless, Zawadzki reaffirms why he’s an artist that truly understands the limitless boundaries of comic book storytelling here and in doing so makes Eternal what it is. Which is, of course, the beautiful balance of humanity’s relationship with time and being straight up metal as fuck.
Eternal largely operates in the wispy wintergreens and serene cyan of ice-adorned landscapes, but Cunniffe deftly employs a palette that dictates atmosphere, specifically the otherworldly. There are the requisite splashes of sanguine gore and blazing oranges of ruthless fires, but Cunniffe really embraces and shines with his embrace of the supernatural horror instilled throughout this ghost story set in a barren and ruthless world. It’s about balance (there’s that word again) and Cunniffe highlights the serenity of it all; the grandeur of the scale and its unnerving ability to make its populace seem so small by comparison, the mystical realm’s intrusions on the earthly planes, the blood and the snow. More than just the palette itself, it’s the application too that plays with balance as flats contrast against textured gradients allowing foreground figures to pop while still being immersed in the grit and wonder. Proving again that Zawadzki and he are a dream pairing, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve wandered into a Mignola/Stewart joint while reading. This book is all about pacing and tone, and Cunniffe is the reason the latter sings as loud as it does.
Eternal is true to its genre and, more importantly, it’s true to itself. It speaks plainly, but with a delicate sense of nuanced ferocity. It delivers a blitzkrieg of stillness as it examines that what we leave behind is what will go forward anew: a series of moments, some loud and some deathly silent. The ghosts of the past linger as long as you allow them to replete with their accompanying pain, and running headfirst to slay them will never result in satisfaction, but if you stay the course you can overcome them. Life, regardless, moves on.
ETERNAL will be released on January 31st from Black Mask Studios