William Harms and Giovanni Valleta’s “Eternal” #1 is a book that jumps immediately into the deep end of its premise with no hand holding. The idea that human cloning eliminates the fear of death in people is fascinating — a side effect of the classic trope that isn’t often explored. How does a human psyche change when the one thing thing that bonds us all — an actual endpoint to our journey — is taken away? What happens to reproduction and the fear of overpopulation? There are finite amounts of space and resources on the planet and when those are used up what happens? All of these are questions that spilled out while digesting the opening pages of this story. Unfortunately, after the introduction, writer William Harms delivers a muddied action story that relies on pathos created between character and reader that don’t yet exist.
Harms tries to do a lot with this first chapter. He attempts to introduce readers to several cast members who, beyond a few character traits, aren’t really defined enough to create a connection. The base emotion of everyone here is angst which means that everyone begins to sound the same at a certain point, on both sides of the argument. There is a conflict that exists between a group of “Pures,” people who have never been cloned, and New Life Biological Enforcement, the law controlling arm of the company that perfected cloning and consciousness transfer. Pures have DNA that is quite valuable to the corporation, allowing them to maintain this research through undefined methods. There’s lots of yelling about this but the majority of the tale is characters yelling that a company is evil instead of showing that evil at work, lots more tell than show. It’s certain this will prove itself true over the course of the next several issues but in this opening chapter, it doesn’t really make that clear. Many characters are introduced, but at the end of the story, it isn’t easily apparent who the protagonist of this tale is. Is it Debbie, the woman who escaped Fresno? Or Gail, the pure that is now on her first clone life, determined to take down New Life? Or is it Rathburn, the New Life officer who is being drummed out of service after a crisis of conscious? The storytelling suffers from “Game of Throne”-ism, throwing many balls up in the air and attempting to juggle them all. However, where the “GoT” novels can reach over 1000 pages, Harms only has 22 to deliver an opening salvo.
The art in the issue doesn’t help the concept a lot. Giovanni Valetta’s style fluctuates from scene to scene, at times scratchy and angular, and others soft and rounded. Line weights change from panel to panel, detracting from the storytelling rather than enhancing. Many characters require dialogue cues to find out who they are in new scenes as they look inconsistent from what they did only a few pages previous. The cliffhanger doesn’t make it clear if the character committing a very heinous act is the same one from the beginning of the issue, or another character entirely.
“Eternals” #1 is a high concept that suffers from trying to do too many things at once. It can hopefully balance out in the coming issues but for now it is quite possible it could collapse under the weight of the very concept that gives the story life.