By Eric Zawadzki, Ryan K. Lindsay and Dee Cunniffe.
Published by Black Mask Studios LLC.
Reviewed by Shauna O’Meara
Eternal is a story set in the age of Vikings.
Tagged as a shieldmaiden ghost story, it is a tale of female warriors protecting their village after the men journey away to conflict and are never heard from again. Far from waiting at home for events to befall them, however, these fierce women take matters into their own hands to bring about a whole new world of peace and sanctuary different from the one that existed before. As such, rather than a story that could easily have been about obsession and revenge in the aftermath of loss, this is a story about protecting what remains and leaving behind the legacy of a better future and, despite the bleakness and violence of the world depicted, it is ultimately a tale of hope that left this reader satisfied.
The action is driven by an excellent main character. Vif is a warrior who leads from the front. A capable strategist and proficient swordsperson, she is a brave and savage fighter. She is also a widow, the mother of a boy who would prefer a land of peace to picking up the sword that is his father’s legacy, and sister-leader to her fellow shieldmaidens.
What I appreciate about this story is that she is allowed to be both feminine and warrior without there being any sense of contradiction or anomaly in that.
Vif is leadership, action and violence and also love, protection and sacrifice in one package. She is allowed moments of tenderness and grief without these being depicted as weak and because of these added elements her journey through this story is genuinely moving.
One comment I would make regarding characterisation is that, while not necessarily a detraction from the work, in focussing completely on Vif, the story does not provide much exploration of other characters. The main villain of the piece is relatively one-dimensional in service of Vif’s journey and aside from Vif’s son, you know little of the other characters occupying Vif’s village. As such, readers after plenty of dialogue and fully-fleshed minor characters might not find this aspect as satisfying.
The artwork is wonderful, with an inking style that at times reminded me of Mike Mignola. Every design aspect, from the hair, armour and swords of the characters to their ships and huts and the pastoral land and wilderness around them is rich with detail. The scenes are full of movement and the colours are precisely applied as setting and mood dictates, going a long way toward making the icy wastes, mighty seas and looming, mist-shrouded mountains characters in their own right.
Where Eternal really excels for me, is in the exacting and imaginative application of the panels to achieve movement and mood and precise pacing. Eternal goes beyond the confines of identical box panels to do something extra. Here, a battered sword spans three panels indicating the passage of seasons; the spirit of an evil mage cackles amidst billowing smoke; a collection of small boxes depicts in brutal flashes of blood, limbs and faces the excruciating detail of a character’s tumble into death; and a series of battle scenes, depicted in striking red, gives the impression of suspended animation, of time standing still, and fills an important role in Vif’s story that I won’t spoil for you here.
Particular mention should be given to the Viking knot-work that is used to wonderful effect to create panels depicting scenes between Vif and her son. This exquisite detail hints at the rich and ancient cultural legacy that has been entrusted to these characters and imbues these scenes with both nostalgia and tenderness, as if these moments are treasures of the main character’s heart to be carefully bound and locked away.
Readers should also take note of the amazing use of silence in this piece: the absence of dialogue and sound that comes after a shocking and terrible act helps to create a powerful representation of trauma and grief. This silence frees the reader to concentrate on the action that delivers in spades. Rich with movement and emotion, the panels flow beautifully toward a scene finale that is not only shocking in its execution, but due to an absence of words to break the pace, is imbued with an added sense of the inevitable and tragic.
In summary, it is difficult to do the plot of this story complete justice without major spoilers, since the writing and pacing is so tight. What I will say is that this is a gorgeous and moving piece of work that is well worth checking out. I’m not sure if the trade edition will have this, but the review PDF I received also included a neat insight as to how the writers and artists pulled this project together. It includes loads of concept art and is well worth a read for readers with an interest in the graphic novel process.