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Comics reviews: 'The Eternals,' 'Judenhass'

Our critic’s take on a Jack Kirby-inspired comic. Plus: reviews of Dave Sim’s controversial ”Judenhass,” and the Spanglish-infused ”Dead in Desemboque”

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The Eternals (#1)

THE ETERNALS
Charles and Daniel Knauf & Daniel Acuna
(Monthly; issue No. 1 is on sale now)
Inspired by characters created in the 1970s by the fabled Jack Kirby — and building upon ideas established in Neil Gaiman’s recent franchise reboot — The Eternals follows an ancient race of alien-engineered, super-powered beings as they attempt to revive their memory-wiped comrades and tussle over the fate of Earth itself. Usually, these colorfully clad Eternal dudes battle demonic baddies known as the Deviants. But as the series begins, they’re warring among themselves over how to deal with the Horde: a swarm of ravenous mechanical/extraterrestrial insect thingies summoned by the Dreaming Celestial, a godlike alien who just stands there in San Francisco, watching the world. Creepy. A megalomaniacal, not-so-vaguely Russianish Eternal named Druig wants to awaken old Eternals, brainwash them, and take control of the world; the more heroic, libertarian Ikaris and Thena want their kind to make up their own minds as to what to do. FOR FANS OF… Cosmic comic sagas like The New Gods; Captain Marvel; and the much superior Kirby-homage series Gødland. DOES IT DELIVER? The book is certainly a throwback, all right — back to oldy-moldy clichés that should’ve been retired decades ago (Eastern European-ish bad guys, fire and brimstone preachers with carnal appetites). Still, what’s really missing in this pretty generic gloss on Kirby’s material is that sense of heady, boundary-pushing strangeness that suffused all of the late master’s trippy ’70s work. The Eternals may be beyond rehabbing — too idiosyncratic, too reminiscent of other like-minded sci-fi — but playing it safe and sane definitely isn’t the way to go. C+ — Jeff Jensen

NEXT PAGE: Judenhass and Dead in Desemboque

JUDENHASS
Dave Sim
(Paperback; on sale now)
Dave Sim is no stranger to controversy. And, on face-value, his latest work, Judenhass — a chronology of anti-Semitism — has certainly stoked skepticism. But first, some background: Sim is almost universally hailed for Cerebus, a 30-or-so-year epic that started as a snarky Conan the Barbarian pastiche and evolved into a fully realized socio-cultural drama. But his rants in that comic, referring to women as ”voids” who absorb the ”light” that men produce, have repelled potential readers who may have been curious as to the exact nature of his genius. (Most notoriously, after promoting his new fashion-inspired comic series glamourpuss, he recently demanded that anyone who communicates with him state, on the record, “I don’t believe that Dave is a misogynist.”) So, when word trickled out that his next project would be provocatively titled Judenhass (or ”Jew Hate” in German) and would revolve around the Holocaust, comics cognoscenti began to wonder what kind of story the unpredictable master would deliver. More an illustrated essay about the history of hatred than a plot-driven story, Judenhass treats the tragedy of the Shoah as an inevitability. Sim builds to that premise by cataloguing quotes from Voltaire, Twain, Martin Luther, and others, along with historical facts that evince an anti-Hebrew bias on the part of secular leaders, religious potentates, and the governments of the world. Throughout, Sim (who, it should be noted, is not Jewish) juxtaposes stoic headshots of these personae with a gruesome backdrop of emaciated concentration-camp victims and crucified bodies. Once this timeline reaches its crescendo with Hitler’s ascendance to power, it’s hard not to see the power of Sim’s logic. FOR FANS OF… Schindler’s List; the less controversial content of Cerebus. DOES IT DELIVER? Even when depicting page after page of Holocaust victims stacked like cordwood, Sim’s sober, understated draftsmanship remains amongst the best in the comics field. Though Judenhass has trouble creating a border between public fact and Sim’s personal belief of how this history unfolded, the text makes you respect the breadth and depth of research he must have done. As the prime architect of the thousands of pages of plot, dialogue, and art that comprise the 300-some-odd issues of Cerebus, Sim’s ferociously singular focus is the stuff of legend — a legend that he himself has curdled. Judenhass, however, stands as testimony that he can understand and communicate the larger triumphs and failures of humanity as a whole. B+ — Evan Narcisse

DEAD IN DESEMBOQUE
Eddy Robert Arellano & Will Schaff, Richard Schuler, and Alec Thibodeau
(Paperback; on sale now)
Mexico boasts a comic-book fan base larger than any here in the U.S., and Arellano brings a little piece of that country to the States with this take on a classic historieta (a pocket-sized comic book). Through three episodes, the real-life indie musician spins the short-and-sweet lyrical tale of a lonesome gambler named Eddy, whose troubles ”pursue him though he spurns fortune or glory.” Excitement strikes when a ”red delicious” named Juanita calls for Eddy down in Sonora — and despite being told he’ll die on the way, he proceeds on this rocky pilgrimage to find his mystery dama. FOR FANS OF… Historietas; Day of the Dead-inspired art; director Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi Trilogy. DOES IT DELIVER? The illustrators deserve much of the credit for advancing Desemboque‘s plot with unique artistry amid a meandering story that can be hard to follow — and is no doubt easier to parse if you speak a little Spanglish. Schaff, in particular, brings the exhaustive detail and quirkiness of his album-art work (Okkervil River, Songs: Ohia) to the first story, creating cross-and-bones-filled images you’d expect to see inked up on a hipster’s arm. C+ — Loren Lankford