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Women’s History Month Graphic Novel Spotlight: Eternity Girl by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew

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BY March 7, 2020
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Back in January, we took a look at how superhero comics explore mental health issues. But for this first spotlight, let’s focus on one of the most powerful comics of the new millennium: Eternity Girl by writer Magdalene Visaggio with artist Sonny Liew. While many comics deal with depression as a central theme, Eternity Girl adds further complications. What if you are suicidal, but can’t die? Most of all, how far are you willing to go to escape the suffering depression causes?

Visaggio and Liew Make Eternity Girl the Best Young Animal Title

Magdalene Visaggio, Eternity Girl, Sonny Liew, Young Animal, Gerard Way (Image: Eternity Girl #4 by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew, DC’s Young Animal)

Gerard Way’s DC “pop-up” imprint Young Animal delivered several hits. The main title, Doom Patrol, is a fantastic relaunch of DC’s weirdest team. Alongside Doom Patrol, the launch included Mother Panic, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, and Shade, the Changing Girl. Eternity Girl, along with Bug, didn’t come out until after the Milk Wars event. And similar to how Milk Wars got really meta, exploring the idea of comic books in a comic, Visaggio and Liew did the same. They just cranked it up a notch. Why can’t Caroline Sharp die? Because of endless “continuity resets.” Then comes Caroline’s old nemesis, Madame Atom. And she has a way to help Eternity Girl die permanently—there’s just a slight cost.

Visaggio and Liew Use Eternity Girl to Explore the Horrifying Cost of Depression

Depression, Superhero Comics, Suicide, Young Animal, Eternity Girl, Doom Patrol, DC Comics, Shade the Changing the Girl (Image: Eternity Girl #1 by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew, DC’s Young Animal)

What’s the “slight cost” of ending immortality? Everyone has to die—everyone from every multiverse and every point in time. Madame Atom wants to end the universe and needs Caroline to help her make it possible. This is what Caroline’s faced with. She can finally end her suffering but at the cost of countless other lives. This is what suicide comes down to. It’s not just the end of one person’s life, everyone they loved will be changed forever. They will hurt. But it’s not that suicide is a selfish act either. The real supervillain in Eternity Girl, and a supervillain many (myself included), is depression. The severe depression Caroline faces won’t just end her life, it will end everyone’s. And Madame Atom isn’t really a villain. She’s another victim of the terrible, twisting control of mental illness. Just watch her talk about it in this interview with SYFY Wire:

For People With Depression, Eternity Girl is One of the Most Relatable Characters

When most people think of depression, they think it’s always feeling sad and suicidal. It’s why we always get dumb questions like “what do you have to be depressed about?” What they actually mean is “what do you have to be sad about?” Depression isn’t sadness. Sadness goes away. You can process grief and sad thoughts. And it’s something external that makes you feel sad. Also, to answer their question—exactly, that’s why we go to therapy and take medication! Okay—where were we? Oh, right. Eternity Girl. Here’s what depression generally looks like:

Magdalene Visaggio, Sonny Liew, Eternity Girl, Young Animal, Depression, Mental Health, Superheroes (Image: Eternity Girl #2 by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew, DC’s Young Animal)

Depression is a constant fight with your brain to move. Depression tells you to stay home, lay on the couch, do as little as possible. It tells you that you shouldn’t have friends or interests. It’s an immobilizing disease. And when you force yourself to go out, it really does feel like you have to, as Eternity Girl says here, “hold a human form.” She might mean it literally, but damn if it’s not the best metaphor for what it feels like to socialize when depression is at its worst. Visaggio and Liew represent the entirely of depression in just two panels of Eternity Girl.

Eternity Girl is a Superhero—But so is Magdalene Visaggio

Magdalene Visaggio, LGBTQ, Queer, Superheroes, Kim and Kim (Image: Eternity Girl #2 by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew, DC’s Young Animal)

Though, along with Liew, Visaggio does impressive work on Eternity Girl, she has a lot of other incredible graphic novels too. One that should be on everyone’s reading list is Kim and Kim. As natural as Visaggio weaves depression into a superhero story, she also does this with queer themes. Eternity Girl indeed explores those themes too, but they are more front and center in Kim and Kim—in SPACE! Some stories that focus on queer characters tend to feel as if they are trying to teach a cisgender/heterosexual audience how to identify with those characters.

One problem is that though we have a lot more queer characters than we have had in the past, we still don’t have enough queer writers creating comics for the “Big 2.” And yes, many cisgender/heterosexual writers are great at portraying these characters (I hope my own creative works fall into this category). There’s a beautiful realness to Kim and Kim, even if it is literally out of this world. One of the Kims, Kim Q., is a trans woman who is still not sure about her own sexuality. While writing Kim and Kim, Visaggio was undergoing transition herself.

As Visaggio told Bitch Media:

From a representation perspective, absolutely I wanted to do a comic about queer women—specifically trans women—because we’re not super represented in comics. I can’t think of too many trans women protagonists in comics. I resolved a long time ago to avoid creating more White Guy, Brown Hair characters, and after Leelah Alcorn’s suicide, I resolved to try and focus on developing trans characters, because if I’m not going to do it, I can’t assume anyone else is, either.

Because that has to be a priority. At least for me. I don’t think it’s going to be a priority for the vast majority of cis comic writers out there, so that means I do feel an enormous responsibility to ensure that I’m doing everything I can to increase and improve LGBT (and trans specifically) representation in my own creative field.

Eternity Girl Needs to Fly Out From Under the Radar

Eternity Girl, Magdalene Visaggio, Sonny Liew, Young Animal, DC Comics, Gerard Way, Mental Health, Depression (Image: Eternity Girl #4 by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew, DC’s Young Animal)

The same year Visaggio and Liew created Eternity Girl for DC’s Young Animal, Tom King and Mitch Gerad’s megahit Mister Miracle came out—and it also explored a superhero suffering from depression. Mister Miracle deserves all the praise it received. It’s a fantastic book. It deserved the Eisner. But Eternity Girl, which was also nominated, deserved it too. The only thing that really set the two apart was that Eternity Girl wasn’t as well-known. And not to knock King and Gerads, but Visaggio and Liew achieve in the six issues of Eternity Girl what it took the former to do in twelve.

Works like this need to be celebrated more often. We rarely get something like Eternity Girl, but as long as Visaggio is writing comics, I’m sure it won’t be long before we see another.

(Featured Image: Eternity Girl #2 by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew, DC’s Young Animal)

If you need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

COMICSDC ComicsDC ComicsEternity GirlMagdalene VisaggioSonny LiewYoung Animal

Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.

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