Read 'Eternal', a staggering shieldmaiden's tale told with the utmost craft and care

Read ‘Eternal’, a staggering shieldmaiden’s tale told with the utmost craft and care

Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Eternal’, from Black Mask Studios.

Cover to 'Eternal'. Art by Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe/Black Mask Studios

Cover to ‘Eternal’. Art by Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe/Black Mask Studios

By Jarrod Jones. Raging across the page washed in blood against endless cold is Eternal, an all-new original graphic novel from Black Mask Studios. It’s a book that reunites Headspace‘s Ryan K. Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki and brings in Dee Cunniffe to create a trifecta of Black Mask luminaries. It’s a super-team fighting under the banner of one of the most exciting comics publishers operating today. And it’s a book that deserves to be in your hands.

Eternal is primal. It comes at you head-on, swings hard, and lays you flat. It’s a story about violence, or rather, the inevitability of violence. Eternal is a book about evil, both abstract and very real, out there in the world holding people down in the mud. But it’s also about the moment when people have had their fill, of subjugation, of fear, of waiting for the inevitable. It’s a book about taking control, and what happens after.

It follows the story of Vif, a shieldmaiden who defends Hvallatr against the nefarious sorcerer Bjarte and his armies of men. Victorious after a bloody siege on Bjarte’s keep, Vif and her maidens return home to make a life of their own. Hvallatr, Vif hopes, will become a haven, a place that might offer safety to “maidens out there too scared to run and too smart to stay.” But there’s a ghost haunting the lands of Hvallatr. And his laughter cuts Vif to the bone.

While the primary theme of Eternal is ultimately legacy, retribution is right there, nipping at its heels.

Lindsay, who wrote Beautiful Canvas for Black Mask last year, knows his way around drama. He imbues Eternal with a sense of inevitability, constructs the narrative with foreboding, and puts a feeling of dread square in our hearts. It’s a revenge story, and a brisk one at that; Lindsay’s the kind of writer who can strip away the periphery to guide us through a story’s center with laser focus. The arc Lindsay puts Vif through is a harrowing one, made even more so by Zawadzki (who also had a tip-top Black Mask contribution this past year with The Dregs). If Lindsay put the sword and shield in Vif’s hands, Zawadzki is the storyteller who lets her swing.

There are pages of outright havoc in Eternal, and there are also moments of genuine heartache. Zawadzki’s an expert at both. Lindsay’s script gives Zawadzki space enough to allow this book to breathe. The focus of the writer lends Eternal its drive, and the creativity of the artist provides it nuance. In fact, for a book with so much havoc, its greatest strength lies in those little things, the aching details.

In the book’s quieter moments, Zawadzki lets expression reflect the weight of the story, from a furrowed brow to the anguished dimples of a quivering chin. The weight is heavy, made plain as day by the artist’s ability to convey such things through body language and looks of sorrow. Sometimes it appears as though a character just might fall to their knees from all that weight. Sometimes Zawadzki lets them do precisely that. In Eternal, people are strong, but they can break. And there’s no shame to be found in that.

He takes his time showing us Hvallatr, the lands for which Vif fights so ferociously. Here the land is prosperous, full of life, bereft of men. (The men, we find out, left the maidens to their fates long ago.) Hvallatr, Vif thinks to herself, could be “Valhalla made flesh,” and in Zawadzki’s panels, with its glorious mountain slopes and lush fields, you honestly believe that it already is.

The balance between peace and carnage in Eternal tips in unexpected and tragic ways. Violence is ever-present in this book; blood gushes so often that colorist Dee Cunniffe makes sure its deep, crimson swathes show up even when the fighting’s done. In Cunniffe’s hands, red is either employed in service to bloodshed, or a harbinger for it. When ships come to shore filled with shieldmaidens ready for battle, their sails are streaked in red. In a nightmare sequence, pit fires surround Vif in an ominous crimson glow.

That’s what makes Eternal work so well. It’s pure artistic collaboration, a showcase for three creators operating at the height of their powers. When I pored through the pages of Eternal, with its breathtaking vistas, its moments of blissful yet tenuous peace, and its moments of heart-charging savagery, I couldn’t help but marvel at how in sync everyone was. Lindsay sets up the scenario. Zawadski makes the fur fly. Cunniffe lets the blood scream across the page. And I was transported by it.

Black Mask Studios/$7.99

Story by Eric Zawadzki and Ryan K. Lindsay.

Art and letters by Eric Zawadzki.

Colors by Dee Cunniffe.

10 out of 10

‘Eternal’ hits stores January 31.

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