National Comics: Eternity
In direct contrast my dauntingly dramatic praise of his creator-owned pieces (See: The Underwater Welder) my reaction to most of Jeff Lemire’s caped work has been rather critical (Animal Man as a very Vertigo-esque book gets lumped with the former in my mind); when I can tell that the script of a page is scribbled by his hand and stained by his sweat I’m generally satisfied, but when he adopts a more easy going, crowd-pleasing voice it tends to come at a cost. So when I heard that the first issue of National Comics, the first in a series of one-shots designed to introduce minor heroes to the DCnU, was to be written by Lemire I knew instantly that I was going to buy it and that I was going to be disappointed. Both events came to pass, but neither as I predicted.
Firstly I had somehow missed that the book was beginning this week, so strong was my hesitance towards it, and so I almost walked out of the store without a copy, luckily though the guy before me in the line had a copy sitting on top of his stack and so i swiftly ran over and stole one for myself before they sold down. So i bought it, but not how I had imagined I would. Similarly my disappointment was for an entirely differ reason than I would have assumed: it wasn’t because the book lacked voice, was a mess or made less of itself than it should, rather I was sad because the book was so good and so short, over already while others still crawl on.
Kid Eternity is not a character that i was at all familiar with but like he did in Justice League Dark #9 Lemire layers out his origin lithely; we get a full, unabridged re-telling of the story for the newcomers that is still told in a stylish enough manner to not feel labored for the veterans. In summary he is a ghost-detective, after a near-death experience the Kid gains the ability to temporarily pluck souls out of purgatory and he uses this power to help him solve cases and further his career as a coroner. This issue tells the tale of one such case; a flabby man in his late forties is found dead in his house, shot at point blank, and so the Kid pairs up with him and sets out to prosecute the guilty party.
The art by Cully Hamner and Derek Donovan is straightforward but strong; there are a couple of inventive lay-outs and daring splashes, all of which work wonderfully, but the interiors are mostly quite clinical. This of course is both befitting of a comic about a coroner and also a boon to coherent storytelling; every panel instantly conveys exactly what it needs to. The story that they are used to tell is admittedly a rather simple one, especially since there is currently a glut of crime stories being shown on television, but the way that Lemire tells it is both smart and strange enough to keep you intrigued and entertained throughout its brisk length. It’s also a one-shot, so you get to the end of the issue and the story is told: the culprit is caught, the specter sent back below, the Kid ready to move on to his next adventure, to get more answers and we’re right there with him. Though that right there is the problem, there isn’t one to come.
If this were the first issue of a Kid Eternity series then I would have been much more satisfied than I am by it as a stand-alone. In television there is this idea that if you end your season on a tense enough cliff-hanger you can somehow trick the network executives into renewing you; factually speaking it’s utterly incorrect and I can’t help but feel that Lemire was attempting something in the same spiritual vein here. He weaves a number of nice mythology hints throughout the issue, drawing us deeper into the world, then hits us with a shocking single-splash twist on the final page that is teasingly captioned “The End?” Both of which would normally be to the benefit of an ongoing book, but in this context they soil the experience somewhat, rendering it less satisfying than it otherwise would have been.
Though despite my misgivings with the tactic I do hope that it pays off, if Lemire is going to be writing main-steam titles then this is the sort of story that he should be telling and Hamner is who he should be telling it with. Sure you can’t quite hear the Lemire that you love in its pages but the replacement voice is still pretty good. Think of it like the work of a different writer with a similar name and see if you don’t leave impressed by the upstart. Whether or not this issue does spawn a spin-off, making it the comic equivalent of a back-door pilot, will be entirely determined by sales. So if this sounds like a series you would want to read then give it a buy. Hell, the irony of a Kid Eternity book being resurrected is juicy enough to warrant the purchase if you ask me.