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Kid Eternity
Grant Morrison and Duncan Fregredo
Vertigo / Titan graphic novel £9.99

review by Patrick Hudson

The late 1980s was a boom time for 'edgy' revisions of crusty, campy old characters. By the end of the decade DC must have been scraping the barrel-bottom of their back catalogue for obscure properties with oddball backgrounds to give up to their recent eccentric UK acquisitions. With Grant Morrison now in the driving seat behind many of the recent continuity changes at DC, this is a timely reprint of one of his earliest DC assignments, the revival of the minor golden age character 'Kid Eternity'.

Kid Eternity's original adventures were published between 1942 and 1949 by Quality Comics - whose roster was taken over by DC in the 1950s, and included Uncle Sam, Blackhawk, The Human Bomb, and an obscure favourite of mine the Red Bee (I've always liked his campy costume with poofy sleeves). The Kid was a child on a merchant marine ship that was torpedoed by a U-boat in 1941. When he arrived at the Pearly Gates it was discovered that he had arrive 75 years too soon due to a clerical error. By way of compensation he was returned to Earth as a spirit to do good, aided by Mr Keeper, the angel who mistakenly killed the Kid off, and the ability to call up assistance from the many dead heroes of history by pronouncing the word "Eternity!"

Kid Eternity's goofy premise seems to have been invented by some well-meaning golden age blue-stocking to sneak uplifting educational or moral messages in amongst the thrills: here's George Washington who never told a lie to root out the Nazi traitor, there's Pericles who beat the Persians at the Peloponnese come to biff the bank robbers on the snoot. It's so bizarre, I wouldn't be surprised if Morrison took it on as a bet, just to show that there was no concept so absurd that it couldn't be given a new lease of life by the addition of zeitgeisty 1980s' postmodern flourishes.

Morrison turns the well-meaning story on its head: the kindly sea captain who adopted the orphaned Kid was a child molester; the place the Kid thought was Heaven turns out to be Hell; Mr Keeper is a leering demon not an angel. It's set entirely at night, and Duncan Fregredo provides a surreal atmosphere of a life broken into shards with his messy, Sienkiewicz-inspired artwork. If you ever wanted evidence of the dark turn taken by the mainstream publishers of 1980s' supers, it's here. The morbid obsessions of this book and their frenzied depiction would have been enough to make old Wertham spontaneously combust.

And I don't mean any of that in a bad way. In fact, it works deliriously well. Morrison juggles the bizarre elements of the story with great skill and flair. The cut-up time frame, where the main narrative is interrupted with flashbacks and flash-forwards, gives the impression that the story is unfolding in a single frenzied, timeless moment.

In a recent interview Morrison said:
I was lucky enough to get my first big mainstream exposure and success - with Animal Man, Doom Patrol and Arkham Asylum - at a time during the 1980s when experimental superhero books, inspired by Nicolas Roeg movies, Dennis Potter plays, Brecht, Joyce, Warhol, Beuys, Burroughs, sex, drugs, transcendental philosophies, and the Theatre of Cruelty were actually fashionable and lucrative. It was possible to make money with ambitious work, which thumbed its nose at the rigidly enforced styles of Hollywood writing and honoured comics as a medium of expression in and of itself.

This story shows him working clearly within those influences. The Clive Barker-style horrifics are very much of their time, but the wild, helter-skelter experience of lives suddenly disrupted by eruptions of surreal action is ably communicated by Morrison's deft script and Fregredo's powerful expressionist art. That it's as wound up in the genre conventions of its day as the 1940s' original is totally fitting - Kid Eternity comes across as one of those annoying Vertigo characters who would claim that he's reinvented for every new era anyway. Regardless of the limitations of the concept and the fads of the times, the talent of Morrison and Fregredo shines through to provide a compelling, absurdist thriller.
Kid Eternity

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