THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ETERNUS #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. The persecution of early Christians within the Roman Empire is a well-travelled narrative Via Appia. But the eventual rise of Christianity as the dominant religion of the late Empire and the subsequent persecution and repression of pagans and their traditions? That’s undergone less examination. Andy Serkis and the creative team on the upcoming Scout Comics/Thunder Comics seven-issue series Eternus wants to change all that.
As co-plotted by Serkis, the versatile actor/director best known for breathing CG life into Gollum (Lord the Rings, The Hobbit), and writer/filmmaker/painter/sculptor/actor Andrew Levitas, the first issue introduces a whodunit of mythic—as well as historic—proportions.
It’s 357 A.D. and Greek temples dedicated to the old gods are burning. The servants of the one God and the Christ all but rule Rome, trampling the pantheons of polytheistic tradition beneath their freshly-washed feet. More, they destroy or repurpose the iconography and shrines once dedicated to Hera, Zeus, and Athena. Stone foundations of razed temples support new churches. Sculptures of mighty demigods are chiseled down into representations of martyred saints.
The survivors of the Greek and Roman pantheons fight for survival as the murderer of their leader, Zeus, collects their relics for a final, cleansing purge. His identity is unknown, but this Centurion’s skill dispatching monsters and monarchs of soon-to-be mythology is unquestioned. Only a blind child-priestess of Hera and a besotted Heracles are capable of finding Zeus’ killer and saving the pantheon’s remaining artifacts.
Writers Anastazja Davis and Don Handfield have collaborated on a fine opening act. A cursory examination of the series’ historical period finds their narrative accurate in reflecting known facts regarding the late-stage Empire and its Emperors. Character introductions are infused with an empathic tone of loss, a tone struck previously by such works as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
Existence, eternal or not, is shabby, shoddy, and low for those fallen deities lacking in followers. Davis and Handfield show that side of the denarius in a thin, frayed, and fraught Dionysus: the god of wine and sensual pleasure, the divine embodiment of all that Christians find sinful, has seen better times, and so have his three Graces. Dionysus is the most defiant if perhaps least powerful of his kind, recalling fondly his revelry with Nero and their mutual delight as the first Christ-followers were executed. His recollections and bitter resentment of Christendom’s rise perhaps best exhibits the impetus for the purge now visited upon his kin.
But Dionysus implements a plan which could reverse Christendom’s hold on imperial power. Meantime, Hera and Athena employ a different strategy. With the steel of Grecian and Roman matriarchs, they set in motion forces which may discover and undo the Centurion and his masters.
With commendable development of characters both divine and mortal, and while their historical perspective is genuine, Davis and Handfield advise early on that, since the letter J did not technically exist until the mid-1500s, they would not be using it. Instead, they substitute the original letter I. This initially seemed an unnecessary, if historically valid, hurdle for smooth dialogue and narrative flow. In actuality, it only resulted in a few re-reading of lines. It still seems a high concept conceit rather than a practical device for good storytelling.
Letterer Dave Lanphear deserves much of the credit for making this work, his standard font one which softens the j/i interchange. He also provides a solid assortment of sound effect fonts and a satisfyingly inhuman medusa-speak dialogue that visually confers serpentine sibilance.
Visually, penciller Karl Moline’s linework is at times exceptional, his illustrations shining brightest in the larger panels and splash pages. From the sweeping details of a street market to the intricate closeup of a demigod’s stunned expression, Moline’s layouts are punctuated by Andy Owens’ inks and polished with a living, vital aura thanks to Yen Nitro’s colors.
This premiere issue succeeds in briefly presenting the major protagonists and the challenges they face. It maintains a balance between grief for art and architecture lost in this theological power shift and the fall of once-haughty, brutal gods who treated mortal existence as an amusing chess game with imminently replaceable pieces. The Christian faithful ascending to zealous predominance seem less forgiving than their founder, driven by their beta-test crusade of reworking, replacing, or removing the old gods’ festivals and shrines.
The struggle between the tattered remains of pantheons and the unrelenting forces of the one God is related well through the lens of their champions; issue #1 of Eternus is told from the polytheistic perspective. In this Greek (and Roman) tragedy, the days of bread and circuses draw to a close, the age of Eucharist and confession dawns, and readers have the best seat in the coliseum as the spectacle unfolds.
Scout Comics/Thunder Comics / $5.99
Written by Anastazja Davis and Don Handfield.
Pencils by Karl Moline.
Inks by Andy Owens.
Colors by Yen Nitro.
Letters by Dave Lanphear.
Eternus #1 hits stores August 3.