Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Writer: Ryan K Lindsay
Artist: Eric Zawadzki
Colours: Dee Cunniffe
Release Date: 31st January 2018
Ryan K Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki each had one hell of a 2017, with critically acclaimed offerings like The Dregs (which I believe I may have mentioned once or twice) and Beautiful Canvas (which I shamefully didn’t push anywhere near as heavily as it clearly deserved) under their belts. As a result, the prospect of seeing the pair teaming up alongside colourist Dee Cunniffe for Eternal, a brand new 64-page fantasy one-shot filled me with a sense of giddy excitement, to the point where I simply couldn’t wait until the release date at the end of the month to begin singing its praises.
Eternal tells the story of Vif, the leader of a band of fearless shieldmaidens who defend their homeland of Hvallatr from any and all invaders. Chief among these threats is the nefarious wizard Bjarte, but when Vif leads her maidens in an all-out assault on their nemesis, she inadvertently unleashes a darkness far more powerful than any they have faced to date, sparking off a chain reaction that will ultimately lead to tragedy for all.
What’s perhaps most interesting about Eternal is the way it came about, with Zawadski apparently suggesting additions and improvements to Lindsay’s original, regular-sized script and the whole thing gradually mutating and evolving into the 64-page graphic novel which hits comic shops on the 31st of January. The feeling of collaboration between the pair is almost tangible here, with a seamless narrative flow that skilfully marries Lindsay’s eloquent narration and dialogue with Zawadski’s legitimately world-class artwork.
Speaking of the artwork, Zawadski’s pages are filled with fluidity and expression, with a faintly stylised, almost Mignola-esque approach that always manages to utilise the full potential of the comic book medium. Panel borders are used to enhance rather than constrain the story, and the boundless creativity of the Canadian-based artist is present on every single page.
The violence here is beautiful, mesmerising, and almost poetic at times, and Zawadzki’s gift for conveying motion and impact in stationary images is pretty much second-to-none. Subtle shifts in framing speak to emotion and the passage of time, and there’s one particular ongoing scene which permeates the issue that feels almost like a beautifully modernised version of the Bayeux Tapestry. It’s stunning stuff.
Cunniffe also deserves just as much credit as Zawadski at points during the story, proving that in the right hands, colours can be just as potent and just as valuable as the lines they’re working around. Shifts in scene are conveyed clearly, with the aforementioned ‘Tapestry’ cutaways being bathed in a somewhat fitting pale red, and Cunniffe manages to infuse everything with an extra layer of depth and emotion, once again cementing his place at the very top of his field.
As strong as the visual side of the book undoubtedly is, Lindsay’s dialogue and narration holds the whole thing together, with a wonderfully poignant turn of phrase throughout. Much like Zawadzki, Lindsay takes liberties with narrative conventions throughout, shifting between different styles and settings and utilising striking storyline flourishes – such as the insertion of three consecutive blank pages – to underscore the emotion and gravitas of his story.
Eternal is a book that can be consumed again and again, with each new read-through opening up more and more layers of the story. Hell, I’ve already read it four times prior to putting together this review, and each time I managed to unearth more and more subtext. It can be read as an in-your-face fantasy action piece, a feminist statement of strength and independence, a contemplation on the inevitability of violence, or a visual and visceral manifestation of the phrase “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Honestly, there are so many ways that Eternal can be interpreted and enjoyed that I defy anyone to pick this book up and not be utterly blown away by its contents. Proving without a shadow of a doubt that fantasy books don’t have to just be lumbering, unsophisticated bouts of violent swordplay, Eternal provides nuance, depth and emotion to what is a fairly played-out genre, resulting in what is about as flawless a comic as you could ever hope to read.
A breathtaking example of three creators working together in perfect synergy, and – even though it’s only January – an early front-runner for my book of the year.