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‘Eternal #4:’ Comic Book Review

You can’t just come in and read the final issue of a complex science fiction series like Eternal, something that is attempting to say more about humanity and the world around us than your typical popcorn sci-fi serials. It would be like reading the final chapter of a Philip K. Dick novel – good luck! So, I read the first three issues to better understand what was happening, and I’m glad I did. And, I feel like I have a good enough handle to give a brief breakdown. People have found a way of using implanted microchips that keeps your life force in a central computer system, so when you die, you basically get rebooted into a clone. The people that run this, New Life, are seeking out “pures,” people that are not hardwired, so they can use their energy to keep this eternal program up and running. Even though they claim they don’t harm the “pures,” they actually do. There is the backstory as best as I can describe it. The comic never stops to actually explain this to you in advance, and I’m okay with that.

From the first page of the first issue, creator and writer William Harms (inFamous, Impaler) races forward and doesn’t stop. There isn’t a single panel or word wasted. The only exposition given is enough so that we know the characters’ motivations. Gail is a “pure” and part of a rebellion to bring down New Life. Her group of rebels has discovered how to use the same tech New Life owns, and she uses this power to work as a terrorist, blowing herself up and rebooting, so she can blow herself up again. Rathmann is a conflicted cop who realizes that he’s more menace in this new order, as the laws continue to bend in New Life’s favor, so that people can continue living without the fear of dying. He’s been protecting a “pure” who was about to have her life force sucked from her. Then, you have New Life on another side – corporate greed, lust for longevity. It’s like a love triangle, only one in which everyone wants to kill everyone else.

Issue 4 is the climactic issue, in which everyone succeeds and everyone fails. Yes, it’s that complex! The series is never not interesting. It’s like a four-issue chase sequence in which every turn of the page you get a better understanding of the consequences of everyone’s actions and how all of this exactly works. It isn’t until issue four that you have an actual understanding of how New Life is doing what they are doing. But, even though we have a better understanding of the plot, we are left only with the motivations of the characters to shotgun us through the book. We never get to sit for a second and really get to know them. A lot of books these day I complain about there being too much filler. This is a book I think there could have been an extra issue just to let us breathe with the characters a bit more. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, but I think really exploring the idiosyncrasies of these characters would have allowed the themes the land with that much greater a force. There are a lot of thematic implications here, and we’re left really having to ponder them. Why are you making me think, Harms, why?! Why must I decide who is good and bad? Why can’t you have a character stroking his mustache, so I know who to care about? Why must your science fiction feel like it is actually happening? Not in the sense that we are literally immortal, but being online makes each and every one of us feel invincible and smarter than the person next to us. We read this article, so we are more informed than you are. We are plugged in online, so we are more important. I sometimes want to be Thoreau and disappear into the woods for a couple years. I digress . . . (but, really, look what this book brought up in my subconscious! Some good sci-fi right here.)

The art from Stefano Simeone (Butterfly) and colors from Adam Metcalfe (UFOlogy) support the story without distracting, which is great. Everything functions as part of the whole. This isn’t a story that needs to look extravagant. The more grounded it feels, the more unnerving the unnerving moments play out. Every time someone is shot, Simeone’s work feels far more real than hyperreal, making it that much more effective. He has a really intriguing style. I’m interested to see how it develops over the next few years. This final issue allows Metcalfe to have a little more fun as chaos reigns, moving from pale, pastel environments to heightened colors and shadows, dramatically giving us the sense that everything is spiraling out of control for these characters in the worst possible ways.

All in all, though, Eternal makes you feel like humanity is going to finish itself off while riding a roller coaster. And, with this kind of sci-fi story, I have to say: mission accomplished!

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