Eternity Girl, a six-issue series published under DC’s Young Animal imprint written by Magdalene Visaggio with art by Sonny Liew, colors by Chris Chuckry and lettering by Todd Klein, is not always a fun read. It is an important one.
What’s it about? The preview reads:
Caroline Sharp gave up her humanity to gain incredible shape-shifting abilities–powers she used to save the world time and time again as the superhero Chrysalis. But as the years wore on, she began to lose control of the elemental forces coursing through her body, making her dangerously unstable and forcing her removal from ALPHA 13, the covert government agency that created her. Now, although she can barely hold herself together, Caroline’s unique condition also means that nothing can kill her. Isolated, alienated and profoundly alone, she’s determined to break the curse of her immortality–by any means necessary.
If you think this sounds great and are hooked on the premise alone, I would beseech you to stop reading the review here and go pick up the trade wherever available. However, it also betrays part of what I think is so vitally interesting, and again, important about this narrative: the immensely personal nature of the story within. By creating the wholly unique, but referential, character that Caroline (and by extension, Chrysalis) is — a kind of modern take on outdated ’70s and ’80s heroes similar to the approach Black Hammer employs, but also very much a living, breathing, and mourning person — Visaggio is empowered to tell a story that serves two purposes.
One is in offering a commentary on the never-ending nature of the comics medium, if not all media, itself. This takes place largely through Caroline’s conversations with the maybe-villain of the story: Madame Atom, who herself is a stereotypically overblown looking and sounding villain, set on massive ultimatums and pontifications taking place in a cosmic setting that fit the best stories of the genre clothing it’s wrapped in. These conversations are grandiose and direct — centered around an endless cycle of death and rebirth that Caroline (Chrysalis as Atom calls her — a good indication that at times we must remember this is a superhero story) finds herself trapped in as a quasi-immortal, a superhero problem to be sure. They set out across a cosmic backdrop, kill Celestial stand-ins — the things they are ostensibly good at doing — all to end those very things from ever happening to them again. The importance of choice, recognizing tropes, trappings, and routine all important here in a very genre-direct way. It’s maybe not the most original of stories, sure, wrapped in a whole layer of tropes and even verbiage and set pieces and more that is seemingly pulled from a myriad of other existing places, but this is intentional. If you’ve enjoyed Black Hammer, it would be hard to say this wouldn’t work for you.
The other purpose in a much more personal story, however. Woven in-between those cosmic scenes, and even bleeding into the dialogue and narration within is a story about Caroline as a person, largely outside of, and in absence of, her Chrysalis persona. We see her in therapy sessions. We see her trying to commit suicide. We see her struggling in small interactions with friends, former colleagues, more. We’re introduced to the idea that maybe all of this stuff with Madame Atom isn’t happening at all — everyone else is convinced that Atom is dead, after all. It’s impacting, sorrowful, profound. Your mileage may vary with how slow and prolonged these segments are, but I very much enjoyed them — a protracted look at the healing and reconciliation process of trauma, it’s up and down, it’s obvious and not-so-obvious tells to others and the choices we make around all those things — between wanting to keep living or die. It’s sad, sad, stuff but also important for Caroline, and the reader by extension, that it feels deserved. A greatly balanced story to employ against a grandiose superhero story, at the very least.
Of course, marrying these two arcs is an imperfect science and there are some slip-ups. Large swaths of text here, dialogue that is verbose and challenging, philosophically dense, that don’t make sense until the final line where one sentence, a kind of clarifying statement will make you say “oh, okay that’s what that’s all about.” And, unfortunately, for at least one main character who isn’t really understood until the very end of the series, the plot itself falls prey to this too. That last issue of the series makes everything clear, and I very much appreciated it, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for losing some interest or being frustrated by the time they got there — things are intentionally obfuscated in a way that makes motivations and major beats difficult to understand. This would be a larger problem if Eternity Girl had run 10, 12 issues, but it’s manageable here.
Sonny Liew and Chris Chuckry’s artistic efforts offer the perfect counterpart to that demanding, if flawed, narrative. Dancing between more modern stylings and a pastiche of older tropes in balance with the story’s beats, each and every issue is detailed, beautiful, and demanding. Liew works in a lot of symmetry, mandala-esque designs, flipped facial expressions and the like that feel immaculately designed even if the panel layouts themselves are rather rote and Chuckry’s colors bring a needed touch of either period-correct energy or tonal setting to balance it all out. Yellows, blues, and reds — the central motifs of Caroline’s character — are employed throughout in a smart way, not to mention how fantastic her design and powers themselves are rendered. Very little is lacking, and what is becomes so easily dismissed by something on the next page that you’ll never feel wanting.
All in all, Eternity Girl walks a thin line between reverence for stories like Morrison’s Flex Mentallo or Gaiman’s Sandman, and a reinvention of them through a metanarrative that explores the circuitous nature of superhero stories, character’s lives, genres, and artistic pastiches well. It is a deeply sad, profound, powerful book that I think will read, and mean, differently to everyone that picks it up. I personally enjoyed it very much, and there’s no denying that all these creators are at the tip-top of their game, but it has faults, too. Just like Caroline, it’s your choice whether you want to live in the good, or wallow in the bad. I recommend the former.