by Mark Mitchell and Spencer Irwin
Mark: People who suffer from chronic depression are often very good at putting up facades of happiness; it’s part of why suicide can be surprising to the friends and family of the person who took their life. These facades are a coping mechanism for a depression sufferer in a number of ways, including stopping people from inquiring about their happiness. If you look happy — if you act “normal” — then people are more apt to leave you alone. But keeping up appearances for the benefit of others is exhausting, and sometimes the facade breaks down at inopportune moments — at a friend’s wedding, the night before a big paper is due, in front of your co-workers at the office.
The performative aspect of keeping up appearances is made literal in Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew’s Eternity Girl 1, a new title in DC’s Young Animal line.
Caroline Sharp (aka Chrysalis, aka Eternity Girl) has the ability to shapeshift, and she used to be able to easily transform herself (and anything within 35 feet of her). Now, she struggles to use her powers to hold up a literal facade of normalcy and hide her true appearance from the world — her ghostly white skin, neon blue hair, scarred and scaly blue skin marking one side of her body, a blood-red right hand. Trying to keep up the illusion that she’s just like everyone else is becoming harder and harder for her to maintain.
It’s a relief, then, that there are a few people with whom Caroline is comfortable letting her guard down. Her friend Dani doesn’t expect Caroline to put on her human face when she’s around. She knows who Caroline really is and wants to be supportive and helpful to that person, not the facade. The relationship between Dani and Caroline feels like it’s going to be the lynchpin to Eternity Girl, especially as Caroline is tempted by Madame Atom’s promise to release her from her life.
Because Caroline desperately wants to die, but her body won’t let her. The superpowers she received in a confrontation with Madame Atom leave her incapable of death — she has no blood so slicing her wrists is futile, she throws herself off of a bridge at least once a month but the fall doesn’t break her body. Caroline is so exhausted and in so much pain that when Madame Atom begins appearing to Caroline in visions (dreams? a drunken stupor?), and presents her with a way out, she can’t resist: Caroline can finally die, all she has to do is end the world.
There’s a lot of thoughtful detail in Eternity Girl 1. As Caroline spirals into a suicidal state alone in her apartment, the TV behind her features images of the Joker — DC’s ode to cartoonish mania. The contrast between comics’ most famous “crazy” person, and Eternity Girl’s more grounded, more truthful portrayal of mental illness is notable. This is a book that takes its subject seriously.
What’d you think, Spencer?
Spencer: Eternity Girl 1 is indeed a thoughtful issue, Mark, and one which does an excellent job putting the readers into Caroline’s shoes. We don’t just understand that Caroline’s depressed, but we can truly understand why, truly feel the weight crushing Caroline. Her being unable to hold form anymore, unable to maintain her facade, is a metaphor that works on multiple levels. In its most basic state it’s Caroline losing her ability to hide her depression, an outward sign that she’s losing her internal struggle. But it’s also a hint as to why she’s so depressed: because she isn’t “normal,” and the more she tries to hide it, the more of a toll it takes on her.
That’s an idea most of us can probably relate to. Honestly, I had some extremely minor legal trouble recently and just trying to act like everything was fine at work and in public while I dealt with that was absolutely exhausting. The feeling is no doubt a million times worse for anyone hiding anything on a long-term basis. The first thought that comes to mind is anyone closeted in the LGBT+ community, anyone who, for whatever reason, can’t show their true face (or form) and has to hide and pretend to be “normal.” Love, Simon compares coming out to exhaling, letting go of a long held breath, and it’s apt, especially since holding your breath becomes harder and harder as time goes on. Caroline has just about reached her breaking point.
In that sense, Caroline’s anger is an interesting aspect of her character.
She’s understandably angry at ALPHA 13 for transforming her, then seemingly turning their back on her. It’s easy enough to track that anger to any LGBT+ person who would be angry at the world, at society in general, for making being cis and heterosexual the “norm” and then punishing anyone who strays from those designations. In both their case and Caroline’s the problem isn’t necessarily what they are, but how difficult outside forces have made it to be that way. That’s what’s so unjust. That’s what makes Caroline’s situation so especially frustrating.
Admittedly, that reading only goes so far for me, because unlike the anger the LGBT+ community must feel, Caroline’s has some serious, obvious flaws that she’s completely blind to.
Caroline feels like suicide is a victimless crime. It isn’t, of course, because of all the hurt it leaves behind for the victim’s loved ones, but in Caroline’s case the damage is even more widespread and tangible. She’s so caught up in her own hurt that she can’t see the way her actions have hurt others — it goes right over her head. While I don’t want to lay this metaphor on oppressed populations, it does track with those dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts, and mental health issues; through no fault of their own, so many are so overwhelmed by their own problems and pain that they can’t see the bigger picture. That’s what leads to suicide in the first place, only Caroline’s suicide would have even more catastrophic consequences for the entire world.
It’s interesting to see how satisfied Caroline is as the issue closes. It isn’t just her physical form that’s been bothering her, but feeling useless, so having a mission again, even one so destructive, has put the spring back in her step. But her shift in mood is also quite common to those struggling with suicidal thoughts; quite often those who have made the decision to kill themselves suddenly comes across to friends and family as happier and freer, because to them the end to their pain is finally in sight. It’s heartbreaking, but also horrifying in Caroline’s case, since, again, her death would also mean the death of everything else, quite literally.
Visaggio and Liew walk a tightrope here. In a way Caroline is essentially the villain of Eternity Girl, the character whose plans threaten all of existence and who must be stopped at all costs. Yet they also do an astounding job of making Caroline sympathetic, her motives understandable and even relatable even as she pursues such a dark course. As Caroline comes apart at the seams, so does her world around her, and we as an audience see exactly what that looks and feels like for Caroline.
This sequence has some of Young Animal’s trademark vague incomprehensibleness — what in the world is happening? Is Caroline imagining the truck accident, or seeing the future? Is Madame Atom actually appealing to her, or is it all some sort of trick of her damaged mind? It’s impossible to know right now, but it also doesn’t matter yet, because what’s important is that we know how Caroline feels here. We see how frantic and confused she is, but also the peace her decision has brought her, we know what she’s gone through to get her to this place, a point where she’d be happy to bring an end to all of creation just to get some peace.
So I’ll repeat: Visaggio and Liew do a wonderful balancing act here, making Caroline a compelling, relatable character the audience can understand and empathize with even as they refuse to let her of the hook for how dangerous her potential path is. For all its grand, cosmic ideas, Eternity Girl is a personal, character-centric title, and is all the better for it.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?