After Thor: Ragnarok and it’s awesome portrayal of Valkyrie, Eternal is an easy sell. The original graphic novel from Black Mask Studios follows Vif, a viking woman who takes charge of her tribe after the men leave for battle and never return. She and the rest of the shieldmaidens take matters into their own hands to defeat the wizard Bjarte, but at what cost?
What you will immediately notice about Eternal is Eric Zawadzki’s artwork. It is tremendous. Writer Ryan K. Lindsay points out in an afterword that this was a project Zawadzki was passionate about and it shows. The action is second to none as Vif fearlessly charges into the fray. Some pages are framed with interesting designs, that appear almost Celtic or Norse. This helps establish the setting and the tone of the series.
There are several pages that repeat a similar layout with Vif’s fighting. They feature four panels that spread across the entire page, each one showing her advancing in combat against a number of foes. The pages are tinged red, as if you’re seeing through Vif’s barbarian rage. Her teeth are clenched in anger as she swings her blade, slicing through flesh and hacking off limbs. These sequences have a connection that’s revealed later on. Once everything comes together, it gives them some added weight that is incredibly powerful.
The use of repeated imagery is done to great effect in Eternal. It serves to drive home a point, both literally and figuratively as there is a whole lot of swordplay involved. It also emphasizes Vif’s strength and determination. Nothing will stand in her way of her goal. She is an unstoppable force.
Central to the story is the relationship between Vif and her younger brother. She does her best to comfort and reassure the boy, who is worried about what the future may hold now that they’re presumably orphaned. You see a different side of Vif here. She’s loving and caring. He is what she’s doing all of this for. She is fighting so hard so that he doesn’t have to. If she rids their land of evil, then he can grow up as a normal boy and not have to pick up the sword.
Bjarte is an intriguing villain and reminiscent of Rasputin in Hellboy. He is a force of dark mystical energy and although Vif defeats him in battle, he is not through with her. This is shown in an ominous manner as Vif and her troops sail away. Smoke billows up from Bjarte’s base and it forms the image of him laughing in the sky.
Eternal uses these jaw-dropping action sequences to build up Vif as a character before tearing her down in a gut-wrenching moment. I let out an audible gasp while reading it. You will know exactly what I’m talking about when you get to it. This powerful scene is surrounded by small panels highlighting specific details. There are close-ups of faces of pain and anguish and blood falling in the snow. It’s followed by some pages of total darkness, symbolizing the hole that Vif finds herself in emotionally. The next chunk of Eternal is presented entirely without dialogue. The images speak volumes. Zawadzki is an amazing storyteller.
Aiding in this is colorist Dee Cunniffe who presents a fantastic palette for Eternal. Since the comic is set in the snowy wilderness, there’s a lot of white that could drown out the color around it. Instead, it makes the characters stand out, pulsing with life and energy against the harsh world around them. Plus, there are few things that pop on a comic page, like blood splattered against the snow.
Swords and Sorcery is far from my favorite genre, but that might change after reading Eternal. This is a powerful, character-driven story with some of the best artwork on comic stands today. It is a marvel to read and a showcase for what this medium is capable of.