When the New 52 originally launched, I was somewhat taken with the idea of DC Universe Presents, a title created with the purpose of spotlighting some of DC's lesser-known characters who might not have the legs to support their own ongoing series. However, my initial interest soon waned when I found myself not really feeling the adventures of Deadman, which took up the first six or so issues. Once half a year had passed and they'd selected another focus, the title had kind of fallen off my radar (as I feel it has for many).
However, I was intrigued when I heard of National Comics, DC's latest attempt at an anthology ongoing series. The difference here is that each issue is a self-contained one-shot story, meaning that you can more or less get an entire story within the confines of a single comic book. I recognize that the ultimate goal of finding a series that resonates with readers so that DC can greenlight a successful ongoing or limited series is rather mercenary. That's fine. After all, it is the nature of comic books as they exist nowadays. The exciting part (in my estimation) is that it can give talented creative teams the opportunity to really let loose and put together some exciting concepts to explore and play with. While I don't know what will come, I can happily say that that's exactly what Jeff Lemire and Cully Hamner do.
National Comics: Eternity opens with a full page splash of our leading man, Chris Freeman, sleeping. It doesn't sound terribly exciting, but Hamner manages to make unconsciousness pretty darned exciting, drawing a close-up of Freeman's face upside down, with a panel placed on his cranium that provides a literal inside look at his brain. It's a simple image that visually grabs the reader from the get go. More impressively, it links really well with Lemire's captions of Chris introducing himself to the reader, speaking about his near-death experience the year before and how it changed something inside of him. This first page demonstrates the excellent connection our writer and artist seem to have. The two work brilliantly together, with the images and words really supporting each other throughout the book, reinforcing the same messages in natural and effective ways.
That kind of relationship between writer and artist is not an easy thing to achieve, but I think it doesn't receive nearly enough recognition for how much better it can make an issue. Hamner's work in Eternity isn't necessarily super flashy, but it doesn't have to be. He seems to always provide exactly what Lemire's script calls for, often in subtle ways that may not be immediately evident during the first read through. But even if you don't consciously notice every single thing, it adds a heck of a lot to the story.
And what a story it is. Told over the course of 32 pages (amazing, right?), discovering what Chris' mysterious new talent is actually takes up nearly half of the page count. However, it's not because Lemire and Hamner suffer from decompressed, stretched out storytelling, but because they have a wonderful habit of getting sidetracked in this book. What I mean is that Chris will be explaining something to the reader or interacting with another character, and while there will be a degree of closure on that topic, the comic will actually introduce another aspect of the narrative or elaborate on a previously mentioned thing. It might sound a little odd, but it's a really effective device that enables them provide a full background for Chris in a natural way that still manages to move the story along. And it also prolongs the question of just what it is that Chris can do that happens to be so helpful to his job in the coroner's office.
Once that part of the story is let out of the bag, we move onto the murder mystery that was teased in the solicitation to this issue, and I, for one, really enjoyed that little investigation. It struck me as the kind of mystery that a reader could conceivably solve based on the initial clues offered them, which was kind of nice, and it was also interesting to see Chris, the character that Lemire and Hamner spent half the story building up, actually show some of his skills in action. In my opinion, the time we get with Chris before the investigation starts actually makes the rest of the book more interesting, as we have some emotional investment in him and it's interesting to see what we've learned about him play out in the "real world", as it were.
I also particularly liked Darby Quinn, the antique shop owner who ends up looking into the murder with Chris. Darby was an interesting addition to the cast who provided some much needed comic relief, ribbing Chris about his difficulties interacting with other people. His inclusion also gave Chris someone to talk to, providing us another side of the character that we hadn't encountered before. But most importantly, Darby gives Chris the opportunity to prove himself in some clutch situations, showing off a surprising proficiency in detecting as well as some nice character moments. I also quite enjoyed how Darby developed over the course of the story, as Lemire and Hamner subtly demonstrate that he might not be quite as nice of a guy as he initially appears.
There's a lot to this issue as it throws out a lot of ideas, such as Mr. Keeper and Chris relationship with Captain Philips, that add a lot to the overall story, even if I don't focus on them here. Lemire and Hamner really take advantage of the 32 pages afforded them, taking the time to develop these characters and concepts to create a really interesting story by issue's end. It shows a lot of restraint on their part to do so considering that this may very well be the only time they get to work on Chris Freeman and the world he inhabits. For my part, I hope it isn't.
Verdict - Buy It. Jeff Lemire and Cully Hamner combine for a really enjoyable read that is a nice change of pace from the regular DC-fare: a deliberately paced, slightly supernatural mystery starring a pretty regular joe lead. The ending is the only part I would call a little rushed, unnecessarily eliminating what could have been an interesting plot point, but considering this might be the only story Kid Eternity gets, I can't really hold it against them.
Having sampled plenty of his other work, including the excellent Criminal and Incognito series, I was interested in seeing some of his work on mainstream heroes again (having also thoroughly dug Gotham Central and other books). I figured that all the continuity I would have missed before this series started might impede my ability to enjoy the book, but it's actually been pretty easy to follow. No, I've found the main issue for me is that Ed Brubaker is writing the comic.
And that's that. Did you get your hands on National Comics: Eternity #1? If so, what were your thoughts? What about Winter Soldier #8? Am I being too harsh here? And were there other titles you read this week that really turned your crank? Hit up the comments to let me know!