By Magdalene Visaggio, Sonny Liew and Chris Chuckry
Young Animal/ Paperback/ 168 pages/ $22.85/ Books Kinokuniya
An attempt to save the world turned Caroline Sharp into one of the most powerful beings in the universe. It also made her severely depressed.
American writer Magdalene Visaggio teams up with Singaporean cartoonist Sonny Liew, fresh from his Eisner Awards hat trick for The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (2015), for this existentialist mini-series.
Eternity Girl made her debut in Milk Wars, a crossover between DC Comics and its imprint Young Animal, and her six-part mini-series has been collected this month in a trade volume.
It is a sensitive take on mental health issues on a superpowered scale.
Once an over-achieving operative for secret agency Alpha 13, Caroline gained superpowers when she threw herself into a magic ziggurat to thwart her arch-nemesis Madame Atom.
As a result, she possesses total control over her atomic structure, which can manifest as power so destructive that she is, in the words of a colleague, "a walking nuclear bomb".
She is now stuck on administrative leave after she lost her temper at work and destroyed her office, along with a co-worker's arm.
"All they want is for me to be a totally functional human being capable of reliably operating at superhuman capacity indefinitely," she says, deadpan. "What's so hard about that?"
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is in emotional distress, please call the following helplines:
Mental Health Helpline
tel: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
tel: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours)
Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline
tel: 6493-6500 or 6493-6501
Unemployed and struggling to retain human form, she has tried repeatedly to commit suicide, but her powers make it impossible.
With her sense of reality and unreality on the fritz, she starts to get visits from the long-dead Madame Atom, who offers her a way to stop existing - only it involves taking the rest of the universe with her.
Eternity Girl is a trippy, prismatic work of art that zips through the multiverse. German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz gets a look in, as does Irish poet W. B. Yeats. It also has its share of fun characters, from Lord Crash, a cosmic DJ, to the Never Man, whose power is making things never happen.
Visaggio cleverly subverts a number of superhero tropes, with a metafictional side-eye at the industry's penchant for retconning or rebooting characters to keep franchises lucrative.
Although Caroline is barely human, her struggles with mental health are incredibly relatable and show how someone with so much - whether unthinkable power or a dedicated support network - can still be susceptible to depression.
"It's like you get off on being miserable," snaps her best friend Dani at one point. Dani, who has an understated but poignant back-story of her own, is the person who has done the most to help Caroline, yet in this moment, her frustration at her friend is palpable, as is Caroline's hurt at her outburst.
Liew's art, with colours by Chuckry, is spectacular and the story's multiversal nature brings his chameleonic skills to the fore. Some pages are so rich in detail that it would be a disservice to devour them at normal speed.
This, coupled with Visaggio's sharp writing, is a force to be reckoned with. It shows how a story with cosmic ambitions can still be finely attuned to how a single person can be broken - and possibly put back together.
If you liked this, read: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (Top Shelf Productions, 2009 - 2012, $30.67, Books Kinokuniya), which follows a group of immortal characters - including Mina Harker from Bram Stoker's Dracula and Virginia Woolf's gender-bending Orlando - through the 20th century as they try to stop the creation of a "Moonchild" who will cause Armageddon.