There is genius, and then there is genius. With Eternity Girl, it is undoubtedly the latter. Creators Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew have given life to a character so powerfully relevant today, that it is almost frustrating to find out her story will only be told (so far) in a 6-issue miniseries.
Caroline Sharp is facing an existential crisis of the worst kind – she cannot die. But that doesn’t stop her from trying to kill herself, and her mental health is deteriorating rapidly as a result. Early in the first issue, we are quickly introduced to her voice, her cadence, almost as equally wistful and thoughtful as it is undoubtedly fraught with pain and surrender.
But, as with all mental illness, it can sometimes boil over into frustration and anger. And when she loses control, her rage is manifested through her powers. Unfortunately, Caroline’s powers don’t just stop at immortality. She is, in a clear homage to Watchmen‘s iconic Dr Manhattan, an “intrinsic field interacting with other intrinsic fields”. She is not tethered to any human notion of reality, and she’s definitely no longer human. After a particularly destructive episode at her workplace, she is put on administrative leave indefinitely, pending the results of sessions with a corporately-funded therapist.
Caroline’s inner monologue is the driving force of the comic and it is an extremely relatable and well-defined one. There are clear references to superhero fare – while Caroline’s never referred to as “Eternity Girl”, but she does have a superhero alter ego named Chrysalis and a comic book origin story that is almost identical to the obscure DC Comics’ hero Element Girl from the 1960s. Element Girl was later revived as the focus of the story Façade, #20 in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. In fact, from the first issue alone, it’s pretty clear that Caroline is heavily inspired by Element Girl. (Creator Magdalene Visaggio reveals that the genesis of Eternity Girl was from an Element Girl short she wrote in last year’s Shade, the Changing Girl #4)
Unlike the pity and sympathy that Element Girl elicits, especially in Gaiman’s writing, I do feel that through Magdalene Visaggio, Caroline Sharp gets to be a character you can empathise with. Yes, both have suicidal tendencies as a result of being unable to truly come to terms with their current existence. But Visaggio infuses Caroline with a lucid personality that makes you want to get to know her better. Her struggle with mental illness is not all there is to Caroline Sharp.
But that is not to say that mental illness is treated with any less gravity either. Throughout the first issue, thanks to the sharpness (pun intended) of Caroline’s inner monologue, it’s not hard to appreciate the depths of her problems, as they assert themselves in different ways.
It is to Eisner and GLAAD Media award-nominee Magdalene Visaggio’s credit that Caroline is portrayed with such familiarity and empathy. A deceptively simple line like “It’s hard to hold this appearance. Super draining.” should be relatable to so many of us in some way, but may be extremely relevant to someone with body dysmorphia or gender dysphoria (which are two very, very different things, by the way). And that is perhaps Visaggio’s greatest strength. It doesn’t take long for us to quickly become attuned to the workings of Caroline’s inner monologue. Read too casually and you might miss the value of each word. It is when you begin to unpack her thoughts that you begin to appreciate the economy with which it is delivered.
Because of how efficiently the text is presented, the reader becomes reliant on Sonny Liew’s art to augment and not distract. Fortunately, the Eisner winner is no stranger to delivering only the most effective of punches with each panel. Liew’s art is also key as Caroline fades between realities during the narrative, something which would be dangerous for a lesser artist to try to depict. Liew tackles the challenge with aplomb, always managing to keep the reader grounded even as the settings change in quick succession.
Liew also seems significantly more invested in his work on Eternity Girl, compared to his most recent work for DC, the gone-too-soon Doctor Fate. With Eternity Girl, Liew is clearly enjoying himself as he plays around with different styles that both homage and build on the likes of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, all the while staying true to his signature look. He doesn’t quite go full-Steranko yet, but with 4 issues more to go, I’m sure there’s more than enough room for surrealism.
Liew’s art is complemented masterfully by the colours of veteran artist Chris Chuckry. There’s a palpable symbiosis between them, and Liew (who is no slouch with colours himself) can rest easy knowing his work is definitely in good hands. I’ll just stop talking and put out another page to prove my point.
Eternity Girl is the latest in of DC’s Young Animal imprint, which celebrates stories that are meant for a decidedly adult audience, but weird and experimental enough to be enjoyed by a younger crowd. It’s exactly where Eternity Girl belongs.
In fact, the character was first introduced in a series of 2-page stories at the end of each of the 5 issues of Milk Wars, DC’s Young Animal crossover event. It’s definitely worth the read, as it literally adds another dimension to the enjoyment of the character. Not only do you get Caroline’s backstory – one that is only alluded to in spurts in the miniseries, but you also get to enjoy a bit of fourth wall-breaking, which I won’t spoil further.
If you’re picking up Eternity Girl, I highly recommend you also take the time to find and read her backstory. If you can’t find the Milk Wars issues, there are ways to read all 10 pages introducing Eternity Girl online, though of course I won’t share the links.
Eternity Girl #3 comes out today. I cannot wait.