Ryan K Lindsay (Writer), Eric Zawadzki (Artist), Dee Cunniffe (Colours)
Black Mask Studios
29 January, 2018
The Viking village of Hvallatr no longer has any men. Shieldmaiden Vif has gathered a group of strong female warriors, and together, they protect their village against hordes of invaders. Their greatest enemy, however, is Bjarte, a magician who has sent scores of his men to battle Vif’s people, never entering the fray himself. If Bjarte can be cut down, Hvallatr can finally enjoy some peace. Or so Vif thinks.
In this world, magic is a dangerous thing to mess with. Vif’s peace is short-lived when her people are tormented by the ghost of a fallen enemy, one who speaks of death and doom. Vif is faced with a quandary: how do you kill that which is already dead?
The story of Eternal is fairly straightforward, but what elevates it are a couple of twists thrown into the narrative. This is not a book you can just read curled up in bed; rather, I found myself burrowing into the pages, completely engrossed. Just when I thought the story could not possibly give me anything more, it brought out an ending that was powerful, stunning and left me reeling.
The go-to move for writers creating fantasy stories set in the past is to either sideline female characters or relegate them to love interests and damsels in distress. How refreshing it is then to come across a story that does neither, but instead puts women in the spotlight, giving them agency and making them the heroes of their own story. So it is with Ryan K. Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki’s Eternal.
What makes this comic so impactful is that it is not restricted to the standard 30-page format of a comic issue. The book is instead a graphic novella, with the story stretched over 64 pages. This allowed artist Eric Zawadzki enough room to expand the scenery and the battle scenes.
Interestingly, writer Lindsay’s script was actually only 24 pages long. Zawadzki saw opportunities to expand on the story and was given leeway to do so; the book greatly benefits from this flexibility. I wish more publishers allowed their writers and artists this freedom. There have been so many occasions when readers wished a particular plot point was elucidated further or that the pages dwelt more on the quieter moments of a protagonist’s life, but the strict page limit of mainstream comics does not allow for it. Having read Eternal, I can see what a difference flexibility makes.
The art really adds a great deal to the story. There are pages with no text at all; there the story progresses solely through Vif’s actions and silent commands to her army. This is the kind of scene one would see in a film; for it to be replicated in the two-dimensional page of a comic book is an amazing feat. This kind of technique also makes readers pay more attention to the panels themselves, not just the text. The seamless way words and imagery work together in this book is testament to how well Zawadzki and Lindsay’s vision was executed. The pair had earlier worked on Black Mask Studios’ popular The Dregs; this is clearly a strong partnership.
Dee Cunniffe’s colours add a level of detail that could be too easy to overlook, but absolutely must not be. The colours pop right out of every page. There are several battle scenes in this comic, and plenty of blood, which Cunniffe highlights with a particularly vibrant red. Throughout the book, Cunniffe manages the colours on the page well, using a diverse palette to distinguish friend from foe and to create atmosphere. There is one page that Cunniffe mentions in an interview at the end of the book, where he depicts the passage of time using an array of pastel shades. Cunniffe’s deft use of colours sets the mood and foreshadows a change of pace for the story.
Generally, I tend to like some kind of symmetry to comics pages but the Eternal team throw symmetry out of the window, tailoring panels according to the need of the narrative. It works surprisingly well. The prologue gives the reader a sense of optimism and hope by enclosing the page with ornate and archaic borders. But later on, when a significant death takes place, the panels are reduced to small square close-ups of the character’s reactions, to reflect the look of slow-motion.
My personal favourite, however, is the funeral scene. The play on light and shadow here is stunning and I am glad that an entire page was dedicated to it. Honestly, there are several pages from this comic book that could be hung up on a wall.
I am also grateful that a story featuring warrior women did not include any mention of sexual assault and that none of the female characters were needlessly sexualised. And, this comic was created by three men. It can be done!
The only issue I had with this comic is the glimpses given throughout the book of an important battle that takes place later in the story. From the outset, pages depicting this battle scene intertwine the main narrative and it is quite distracting initially. The context of the battle becomes clear as the story progresses, but its significance is slightly lost by including it so early on. I would have preferred if this scene had been introduced halfway through the story so as to avoid confusing readers. However, this is but a minor negative, easily glossed over by the rest of the strong narrative.
I had no idea what to expect with Eternal, but I am thrilled with what this story has to offer readers. I love the simple story, the bold colours, and the stunning execution of the art. I like that this book refused to be boxed in by boundaries; it gave so much life to the story. I really hope this is the first book of a series. There is so much more of this colourful, fantastical, and completely immersive world that I want to see.