Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 118

The Eternaut

by Héctor Germán Oesterheld (writer), Francisco Solano Lopez (artist), Erica Mena (translator)
368 pages
Genre notes: science fiction, subversive trolling of a nation
ISBN: 1606998501 (Amazon)

The Eternaut surprised me. I know it probably shouldn't have. Everyone was telling me to read it. But still…

There's this thing about a lot of older works that are well-venerated. Despite all their dignity associated with the place they hold in comics history, despite all the ways they influenced what we see in the field today, and despite all the ways they were actually really really good for their time—despite all these very important and legitimate things, many of the great works of the canon feel hackneyed and primitive when stood next to our contemporary greats. And no shade there, really. We should expect this. We should expect that when giants stand on the shoulders of giants they should loom much larger.

So when another wonder from a half century ago gets repackaged handsomely for a contemporary audience, I'm reluctant. I've been burned too many times, thinking I might find jewels relevant to my reading interests today. I imagine that somehow some long dead author might have anticipated the cultural condition I find myself in and have written to my particular milieu. And while that's at least plausible when we're talking about novels (after all thousands and thousands have been published every year for centuries), far fewer comics have been published and so the chance of genius spilling across time becomes slim.

The Eternaut, though. Man this feels fresh. Apart from some idiosyncracies native to the format limitations (one page per week in a newspaper), the book reads well. It's a longform, succinct story of the Twilight Zone variety that stands well apart from its contemporaries that I've encountered. This is sustained narrative while simultaneously having an end point, unlike the unending adventure-story engines of its North American contemporaries. Additionally, it offers some similar kind of political/historical commentary in the manner that Sonny Liew offers in The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. I rarely feel I'm beholding something special when I read vintage comics, but I felt that with The Eternaut.

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