If there was a comic book encyclopedia that had an entry titled, “Characters No One Knows What To Do With,” you’d find an image of Kid Eternity right below the heading. Jeff Lemire, Cully Hamner and Derec Donovan take their own stab at this character from the 1940s in “National Comics: Eternity” #1 and the end result is good enough that I want to read more.
The character’s had multiple revamps since the 1940s; added to the Captain Marvel family, two slightly differing Vertigo incarnations, a cameo death in “JSA” #1 and coming back to life and joining the Teen Titans before finally dying off-panel. Clearly, no one has been aching for a return to Kid Eternity, the guy who summons up dead historical figures to help fight evil.
Most of that’s out the window now and here we meet Christopher Freeman, who performs autopsies at the police morgue. He briefly died in a shooting, but unlike his father who also died in the experience, he came back. Now he has the ability to summon up the spirits of the freshly-dead for 24 hours, but only he can see and hear them and the deceased can’t remember their own lives from the past 24 hours.
There’s a tiny bit of “iZombie” in this “righting the wrongs of those who just died” (although “iZombie” itself quickly shed that conceit), but with the 24 hour rule and the twists near the end of the book, “National Comics: Eternity” and Lemire quickly stake out their own territory. Lemire has come up with a versatile plot structure, one that lends itself just as easily to the one-off story as it does the ongoing saga. A mixture of the mystery, crime and horror genres is something that I’m surprised we don’t see more often in comics, because all three work so well together. Strictly from a plotting standpoint, this (for now) one-shot is structured excellently; we get a look at how things are supposed to go, how things are able to deviate off of the normal path, and then get several hints about what could still come down the line if this character came back for more stories.
It doesn’t hurt that Christopher Freeman is the most likable I’ve seen out of any of his modern incarnations. He’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s not a bad kid and his attempts to wrestle through his recent death and rebirth (and the death without rebirth of his father) come across as reasonable and human. Between his confrontation with the unknown rules of his ability near the end of the issue, and the last page reveal (which is a little predictable but also feels perfect), we also get to see him handle some genuine adversity in a way that makes you want to see more of him.
Hamner and Donovan each pencil part of “National Comics: Eternity” #1, and I suspect that at a glance some readers might not even catch that it’s not all by the same artist. Hamner has a distinctive style; clean figures with some sharp edges and a strong sense of storytelling. Looking at page 4, you see that in action: the circular, curved panels feel almost like a swirling whirlpool, accentuating Lemire’s script and giving us some great sense of movement. Add in those dynamic looking characters within the pages, and it’s noticeably good. Colorist Val Staples works well here too, with deep and vivid reds that mirror the blood and Freeman’s glasses in a way that jumps out at the reader.
I was pleased to see that Donovan (who tackles the last third of the book) was able to pick up and carry on so seamlessly. While Donovan has a softer, gentler line on the edges of his characters, his overall aesthetic is one that’s shared by Hamner. Clean figures, open faces, easy to follow panel layouts. The slightly more rounded edges are especially good for the final reveal on the last page, too; that gentleness serves as a good contrast to what Freeman and the reader see in that last moment.
Would I buy an “Eternity” ongoing series by Lemire and Hamner and/or Donovan? Absolutely. There’s a lot of story potential here, and this initial taste has me wanting more. The title of “National Comics: Eternity” is a bit cumbersome (the “National Comics” banner being a new heading for one-shots like this), but everything else is great. Buy a copy, please. I want DC to green light more “Eternity” and soon.