Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Blackest Knight

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 28th, 2012

National Comics: Eternity #1
“Kid Eternity”
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artists: Cully Hamner & Derec Donovan
Colors: Val Staples
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artist: Cully Hamner
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Jeff Lemire has done some solid work with DC’s supernatural/weird characters as of late, and Cully Hamner’s artwork is always something to which I look forward. So when DC announced this comic book, the first in a series of one-shots spotlighting some of its more obscure and odd characters, I was eager to get my hands on it. The story here is entertaining, and the art embraces a dark tone that suits the macabre elements of the premise. Ultimately, though, Lemire’s plot and premise felt rather familiar. This feels like by-the-numbers storytelling. While I enjoyed what I was reading, I also knew exactly what to expect, not only from page to page, but from panel to panel. I had an odd feeling when I reached the end of the comic book, realizing a writer so well-known for his unconventional stories and characters had offered up something so conventional.

Christopher Freeman works as a coroner in the city morgue, often preparing autopsy reports for police. He’s viewed by many as something of a screwup, but he manages to stick around thanks to the pull his father, a respected homicide detective, has in law enforcement. Or at least his father had some pull, until his tragic death as a result of a drive-by shooting. Christopher witnessed the incident and was almost killed himself, but he emerged from the experience changed. Now able to pull the spirits of the recently deceased back from the land of dead for a short time, he works with victims to solve their murders

Cully Hamner’s crisp, bold linework always makes for visuals that really grab the eye, and he brings a nice variety of body types to his storytelling, making this seem more like the real world than one populated by an impossibly unending array of figures representing the pinnacle of physical perfection. His style often leans toward a noir tone, and that works well with the subject matter in this comic book. Hamner isn’t responsible for all of the line art in this comic, though; Derec Donovan handles the third act. He’s wisely chosen to emulate Hamner’s style as closely as possible, and while one can differentiate between the two artists’ work, there’s nevertheless a strong sense of consistency throughout the comic.

Colorist Val Staples uses bright tones to break through the otherwise dark and muted tones throughout the story, and it’s often to great effect. Honestly, it made me wish for a more concerted effort to make most of the art look almost black and white in appearance, which would allow the reds of Christopher’s vision (glasses and eyes) and visions (flashback of the victim’s life) to pop and intrude even more violently to achieve an even greater effect.

DC’s decision to name this series of one-shots National Comics is a little perplexing. I get the name has a Golden Age history, both as the publisher’s original name (which was National Periodical Publications) and as the name of a Quality Comics title (a publisher whose characters DC eventually acquired). But those with a connection to that title really aren’t among the audience DC is trying to attract with its new projects. I suppose it’s an effort to renew a copyright and/or trademark, but it seems an odd choice nonetheless, especially given how the world of comics has become a much more international business. Furthermore, the shifting spotlight on characters is really the reason DC included DC Universe Presents among its original New 52 lineup. It would’ve been easy for DC to simply pump out extra issues of that title with the new National Comics features (though it would muck with the synergy in title numbering DC has going with the majority of its ongoing series).

Lemire doesn’t seem to pay much heed to heed to DC continuity here, which allows this new interpretation of the Kid Eternity concept to stand up well on its own. It also means it’s quite accessible. The only real direct reference to super-heroes is one to Deadman (though a regular joe knowing of Deadman’s existence seems like a minor gaffe). The writer doesn’t get into any new connection to the Shazam mythos. The decades-old notion that Christopher Freeman is the brother of Freddy (Captain Marvel Jr.) Freeman seems to have been cast aside. The overall tone of the script, as a result, is thoroughly accessible. I also rather enjoyed the everyman qualities of the protagonist. The dialogue flows naturally. The hero comes off as a bit stupid as he keeps forgetting no one else can see or hear the ghosts, but those bits are in service of the premise, not convincing characterization.

Though still haunted by his father’s death, Christopher doesn’t come off as terribly angst-ridden, and I think it’s a wise choice on Lemire’s part. Despite his unusual job, Christopher comes off as an everyman, awkward and unsure of himself, just trying to do his best. It’s remarkably easy to relate to him, and I think that’s rather the point. Christopher is not only the main character, he’s our gateway into unusual experiences. His personality is rooted in the world of the mundane, while his abilities plant the other in mystery and destiny.

Lemire has clearly endeavored to remove the Kid Eternity concept from the super-hero genre, and he’s fairly successful. Unfortunately, it’s lost a bit of its charm and magic in the process. In the end, I felt like I was reading a pitch for a new TV series. Mind you, it’s a solid pitch, and given audiences’ taste for similar fare in recent years, it would likely be a successful, to a certain degree. But somehow, along the way, Kid Eternity became the lead in Ghost Whisperer, replacing Jennifer Love Hewitt with something akin to the starring actor from The Listener. The result is the story feels quite ordinary, rather than the whimsical qualities of the original take on the concept or the more surreal spin on it from the Vertigo series of the 1990s. 6/10

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One Response to “Blackest Knight”

  1. Chain Reactions | National Comics: Eternity #1 | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    […] Don MacPherson, Eye on Comics: “Cully Hamner’s crisp, bold linework always makes for visuals that really grab the eye, and he brings a nice variety of body types to his storytelling, making this seem more like the real world than one populated by an impossibly unending array of figures representing the pinnacle of physical perfection. His style often leans toward a noir tone, and that works well with the subject matter in this comic book. Hamner isn’t responsible for all of the line art in this comic, though; Derec Donovan handles the third act. He’s wisely chosen to emulate Hamner’s style as closely as possible, and while one can differentiate between the two artists’ work, there’s nevertheless a strong sense of consistency throughout the comic.” (6/10) […]