Seven to Eternity is the Stunningly Gorgeous Fantasy About Our Awful Reality We Need Right Now

Comics Features Rick Remender
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<i>Seven to Eternity</i> is the Stunningly Gorgeous Fantasy About Our Awful Reality We Need Right Now

Note: This piece is the comics Essential in Paste Quarterly #1, which you can purchase here, along with its accompanying vinyl Paste sampler.

Rick Remender  is not a particularly subtle writer, but we’re not living in subtle times. When Patchwork, an insurgent knight, or “Mosak,” with the ability to stitch herself together from spare body parts, explains the rise of Seven to Eternity’s fascist demagogue, the allusion is unmistakable. “Regular men, who’d become suddenly wealthy, began holding public assemblies, selling themselves as the common voice,” she monologues. These men “[blamed] all misfortunes on minorities” and “convinced the native families that their woes came on the backs of spies hidden among the refugees.” As major real-world media outlets publish trend pieces on the sartorial choices of young white supremacists and an avowed anti-Semite holds the president’s ear, Patchwork laments that “prejudice and xenophobia became accepted as normal—
as true.”

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Had Seven to Eternity debuted any time before June 2015, the God of Whispers—or the Mud King, to those less subservient—would clock as a glowing-eyed Hitler analogue. Instead, we’re left to ponder whether Remender is crafting a direct stand-in for Donald Trump or merely a manifestation of the cauldron of anger and fear that led to his troubling ascent. Either way, the series can’t be read without the pall of the previous year and the four (or, god help us, eight) years to come hanging over the high-fantasy narrative.

Seven to Eternity is the latest entry in Remender’s sprawling creator-owned empire at Image Comics, following the dimension-hopping Black Science, ’80s hardcore throwback Deadly Class, underwater post-apocalypse Low and neon dystopia of Tokyo Ghost. Jerome Opeña, the artist behind Remender’s Marvel Comics breakout Uncanny X-Force, as well as a contributor on earlier Remender works Fear Agent and Strange Girl, brings his intricate pencils and epic sense of scale to Seven to Eternity’s fantasy realm of Zhal, and it’s his unbridled sense of imagination that makes the book a must-read, even as the plot continues to firm up and Remender wrestles with some recurring narrative handicaps.

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Seven to Eternity Interior Art by Jerome Opeña & Matt Hollingsworth

Opeña opens the series with a towering, magically diseased boar straight out of Princess Mononoke, and the comic only gets stranger from there. Stoic protagonist Adam Osidis teaches his daughter to hunt with telepathically controlled eel-arrows and uses bullets imbued with the spirits of his ancestors. A squadron of resistance fighters appears at the end of the second chapter via the teleportation portal embedded in a truck-sized sentient lizard’s mouth. The Mud King’s chief enforcer summons clay snake/hound hybrids using flutes extracted from his chest. The off-the-wall creative spark that Remender and Opeña displayed in the opening arc of Uncanny X-Force springs forth uncensored on nearly every page of Seven to Eternity.

The world of Zhal operates wholly by magic—much like the current administration, science has no place here—but despite the immensity of the world-building and the occasional deluge of enchanted jargon, Opeña’s clean, consistent linework and precise, uncluttered layouts help guide the reader confidently onward. Dean White colored Opeña on Uncanny X-Force, lending his distinctive use of whites to that book’s somber atmosphere, but Matt Hollingsworth proves to be perfectly suited to Zhal’s much more vibrant—if downtrodden—world. Fitting for a realm composed of magic, much of Zhal is positively radiant, and the veteran colorist digs deep into his palette to distinguish the Mud King’s dingy, fleshy lair from the rainbow hues of the Mosak rescue party. Letterer Rus Wooton, an Image staple, stretches his wings with font variations between different characters, from Drawbridge’s craggy green to the Piper’s wickedly tilted red, but never sacrifices readability for style.

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Seven to Eternity Interior Art by Jerome Opeña & Matt Hollingsworth

In a back matter essay, Remender describes his approach to the book as “decompressed,” but that’s not quite accurate: Within this first volume (collecting four issues of a proposed 12, with the opportunity for more if reader demand allows), Adam Osidis confronts the Mud King, reckons with painful familial losses and joins up with a ragtag band of fellow insurgents. Each issue opens with a journal entry from Adam, and Remender uses this device to skip weeks of in-story travel time. What would be a simple recap page in most comics becomes a key insight into the protagonist’s state of mind, as Remender otherwise relies on dialogue and Opeña’s masterful storytelling over internal monologue captions.

Still, the journal pages do little to crack Adam’s hardened exterior. In series after series, from Punisher and the cast of X-Force to Deadly Class and Black Science, Remender seems drawn to distant male protagonists—men who face life with a grim resignation that borders on nihilism. In the oversized opening issue, Adam leaves his family behind with little outward display of emotion, even though we soon learn that he never expects to live long enough to see his wife and seven children again. When his meeting with the Mud King is interrupted in spectacularly violent fashion, Adam hesitates to take decisive action until his path has all but been chosen for him. And in this volume’s closing chapter, it’s Adam’s inaction and inattentiveness that costs a fellow rebel her life.

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Seven to Eternity Interior Art by Jerome Opeña & Matt Hollingsworth

Given the protagonist’s uncrackable exterior, it’s Seven to Eternity’s arch-villain who continues to propel interest in the book beyond its stunning visuals. Remender and Opeña smartly bring the Mud King into play from the start, rather than reserving him for a distant final confrontation, and his unpredictable motivation is a welcome dynamic. As we learn early on through flashbacks focused on Zeb, Adam’s stubborn father, the Mud King rose to power not through brute force, but via his ability to “Whisper” and plant the seeds of distrust and betrayal in the hearts of others while promising the listener whatever she or he desires most. To hear the Mud King’s splendid offer is to join his hive mind and become his willing pawn. Sound familiar?

Great fantasy often couples escapism with righteous underpinnings: resist the allure of easy solutions, refuse to compromise your morals, never submit to the iron fist of a corrupt leader. As a country, we failed to internalize these lessons. As a protagonist, Adam Osidis may yet succeed. Draw a straight line from Vietnam through two terms of Dubya to the ascent of Trump, and the power of art to affect social change remains as specious as ever. There are, no doubt, readers of Seven to Eternity who will miss even the most obvious political references the book lobs their way. For them, Remender and Opeña’s grand fantasy world is expertly executed escapism from a pair of creators working in near-perfect sync. For the rest of us, Seven to Eternity offers another nail-biting opportunity to hope that—this time—good might triumph over evil.

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