By Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Comics critics are bad at talking about art. I suspect there are a few overlapping causes — some critics are diehard fans of specific characters, so are more invested in what happens to those characters than they are acknowledging that they live in a fictional world created by real human beings; others are (nominally) writers, so are have an affinity towards writing, which doesn’t leave much room (or knowledge) for anything else. And to be clear, I’m not suggesting that I’m any better. As a non-artist, it’s easy for me to get caught up in the most superficial elements of a given artist’s style. Defying that tendency has always been what excites me about artist Sonny Liew. My first exposure to Liew’s work was his original graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which is part biography, part retrospective on a fictional comics artist, requiring that Liew modulate his style between the docudrama and epistolary elements. The effect was downright magical, creating the sense that there truly was a second artist creating all of the diegetic comics. It effectively defies my tendency to pigeonhole an artist based on “their” style. It’s that skill that Liew taps into with Eternity Girl 4, offering us multiple iterations (and styles) of the life and times of Caroline Sharp.
Actually, the styles for each iteration clearly have several inspirations, but the broad, comics-based beats are obvious enough (in order): Metal Men, Tank Girl, The Fantastic Four, Wicked + The Divine, and Peanuts. Those inspirations span decades, genres, publishers, and even format, lending Liew a wide palette to draw from. His linework elsewhere on the series lends itself most obviously to the silver-age stylings of Metal Men and The Fantastic Four, so I’ll focus on the homages that take him further afield, like Tank Girl:
The softened faces and shift towards cartoony gags are obvious enough, but I’m also enamored of the way Liew drops out the gutters for this sequence. It’s a decidedly Tank Girl-esque affect that helps distinguish this sequence from those that come before and after it.
The Wicked + The Divine sequence finds Liew adopting similarly distinctive stylistic quirks, but I’m most impressed at how those manifest in the rest of the creative team:
Not only has Liew picked up Jamie McKelvie’s slick design sense, colorist Chris Chuckry has adopted Matthew Wilson’s palettes and penchant for color holds. Moreover, to my eye, it looks like writer Magdalene Visaggio is channeling writer Kieron Gillen’s acerbic, snappy approach to dialogue. The mimicry here isn’t superficial, but studied and specific.
That goes double for when the team turns its attentions towards Peanuts. Indeed, I’d say it goes even deeper with that final iteration; not only are they nailing every detail of the style, they’re commenting on the very nature of the classic football gag.
While the other homages might have been content to establish a specific mood (thus conveying the diversity of these universes), this one uses the inevitability and redundancy of the football gag to advance the story. Showing Madame Atom convincing Caroline to blow herself up over and over again isn’t nearly as effective as distilling that idea down to a 5- or 6-panel strip we already know the ending to. Suddenly, the idea that Caroline is being duped isn’t a vague suspicion, but an elemental certainty.
The result is an issue that bounds through the mutliverse in a way I’ve never quite seen before. These aren’t just our characters as drawn by a different artist, but as approached in an entirely different way. The tones of their stories change, but so do the rules that govern how they’re told. That’s a flexibility few creative teams can pull off, but Liew, Visaggio, and Chuckry absolutely nail it here.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?