ETERNAL by Ryan Lindsay, Eric Zawadzki and Dave Cunniffe
ETERNAL is the perfect example of comic book storytelling: using the visual elements of the medium to tell a powerful tale. This beautiful ghostly tale is advanced with the stunning imagery of Scandinavia.
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A chilly take on vengance
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Sometimes, a project has the ideal merging of creative talents. That perfect storm of creativity that can turn even the simplest of ghost stories into a riveting tale of revenge — as is the case with Black Mask Studios’ ETERNAL by Ryan Lindsay, Eric Zawadzki, and Dave Cunniffe. Without these three creators coming together, this chilling tale of a Viking woman desperately trying to protect those she loves might never have seen the light of day.

That ETERNAL Battle Rages On

The story opens with white ice floating on the sea. Only specs of red blood occasionally break up the blinding landscape. The comic then cuts to images of a woman successfully fighting off men. It’s revealed that in this settlement of Hvallatr, only the women and children remain. The Hvallatr men all disappeared under mysterious circumstances forcing the shieldmaidens’ leader, Vif, to protect their home. For as it turns out, many men wish to take over Havallatr. One such man is a dark sorcerer who Vif seems to defeat. Yet, when magic gets trifled with, no one is ever safe.

Courtesy of Black Mask Studios

The story of ETERNAL plays out like any conventional ghost story. Why the men left never gets revealed — and it’s not needed. The entire piece follows Vif’s emotional journey and her desire to preserve Havallatr. Early in the story, a young boy appears as the one who must lead Havallatr in the future. Yet, despite Vif’s tutelage, the boy still suffers. The action of ETERNAL moves forward due to the emotions of the characters. Everything happens in a fit of rage or shortsightedness. This really helps make the comic feel like a coherent whole despite its shorter than average length. The comic in total clocks in at around 60 pages. While that might seem long for an average issue, self-contained stories like these normally go around 100 pages or so.

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Reaching That Perfect Balance

That being said, the ending still comes a lot faster than one might expect. It might leave some readers feeling unsatisfied, as the story just seems to take off right when the action comes to a halt. Yet, I’d argue, that is exactly what ETERNAL must do. Because this story is one of the supernatural origins, it leaves an air of mystery to the piece. Lindsay knew what the readers needed to know and what could remain unsaid. Learning about the village’s origins or why Vif must lead would not elevate the story any; it’d bog it down.

For, one could argue that the story shows exactly as much as the characters do. Vif, while seen sparingly, appears as a woman desperately trying to save her people. She does not understand the forces that defy her, yet she will stop at nothing to defeat them. This single-minded rage helps the audience sympathize with her desperation. They, too, do not know why an old man appears to use magic. All they know is that he wishes to do harm to Vif’s people, and that’s enough to make him an enemy.

The Look of The North

Eric Zawadzki and Dave Cunniffe’s visual stylings perfectly encapsulate the feel of a ghost-Viking story. There’s this semi-realistic flare to Zawadzki’s art that allows for immense detail to appear on the characters faces. Every pained expression Vif gives, every sorrowful look the boy has: all of it appears in great detail. The formal qualities only get enhanced through the well-done coloring tones.

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The entire book appears in a blinding white snowstorm. It makes the action in the panels confused and fuzzy. This fits perfectly with the confusing situation of the men lost to the ice. In a similar manner, there’s often the parallel action that takes place on the page. Wide scenes of fighting also share space with smaller panels of individual battles. This helps create a mythic quality to the pi. The scenes appear to take place in a timeless space, not the easy linearity of conventional comic books.

Courtesy of Black Mask Studios

Final Thoughts

This story epitomizes the concept of style over substance. Due to the simplicity of a ghost story, the narrative of ETERNAL might appear lackluster to some. But do not let that deter you. There’s a refined beauty to the production as a whole. A beauty that carries the comic from something time would forget to a truly transcendent experience.

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