Sunday, August 5, 2007
I stayed up late last night reading the seven issue comic book series The Eternals by Neil Gaiman (published between August 2006 and March 2007). I've not followed Gaiman's work for very long, I'd been buying comics in the 80s pretty much stopped in the early 90s when the collecting mentality brought cover prices up while my personal income was at an all time low. However, I was aware of his Sandman series and had glanced at an issue or two but had not been engaged enough to start buying them. However, a couple of years ago, Margaret borrowed the entire Sandman series in graphic novel form from the library and we both devoured them. Since then, we've looked at many of his stories and generally enjoyed them immensely. Earlier this year I listened to Stardust as a book on tape, read by Gaiman himself, again staying up half the night, unable to turn it off. Similar to Sandman, the Stardust story twisted and turned, it excited and amused, it drew from the long history of a particular genre (fairy tales) and took it somewhere fresh. Gaiman is a good writer and would have my vote for the best (English language) comic book writer, that is until last night. The Eternals was a comic book series written and drawn by Jack Kirby in the late 1970s, published by Marvel. It presented a new set of characters, new comic mythologies, and represented an important return of Kirby as a central creator for Marvel. I bought them all and still have them stashed in the attic somewhere. They weren't all that great, I think Kirby wanted to draw lots of "deviants", monstrous people each of whom had entirely different physical characteristics, fighting against the eternals who still dress like the Greek heroes they were many millenia before. In other words, it got stale very quick. Gaiman has proven himself very apt at reworking tired old ideas and bringing depth to minor or forgotten comic book characters. I had high expectations. They were not met. I'm not saying that these were bad comics, I was taken with them, they were page turners and I jumped from one to the next. However, I was never really carried somewhere new. They were a bit more sophisticated than the originals, and certainly more creative in the violence performed, but in the end we are left with the same problems and lack of conclusion Kirby left us with, the domination of the god-like celestials who stand in judgement over the world. Like so many traditional comics before it, character development ends when superherodome begins, the insomniac character struggles with overwork, loss of love, etc until he accepts his super powered existence, then he runs off like a testosterone filled teenager, racing around the world with his buddy. Gaiman does suggest a certain religious standpoint, but his characters spend too many pages discussing and concerning themselves with the trivial that they become trivial, human, and non-heroic themselves. When they transform back into eternals/heroes, I don't buy it.