Andy’s Read Pile: Wrath of the Eternal Warrior Vol. 1

GhostAndy 1

cropped-img_4788.jpgAs a teenager in the early 90s, I used to keep a pull pile of comics at my local comic book store, Patty’s Paperbacks & Comics located in beautiful downtown Indiana PA. Of course it being over 35 minutes away, I only got to go once a month when I would hitch a ride with my Dad who was picking up my older sister who was going to college nearby. Thus the pull pile was my life line to ensuring I never missed any of my favorite series as they’d have them all ready for me in my brown paper bag when I ran in with my 5 minutes of comic time while my Dad waited in the car.

And although some kids would have saved the trip and just used the subscription service to get their books in the mail, that only really worked for Marvel and DC, and I had several books that required the type of independent cache’ that only a comic shop could deliver.

And of course at that time, the kingpin of my hip indie collection was the sole title I was getting from Valiant Comics, Eternal Warrior. Yes, unlike my cousin, JA, who gobbled up nearly all of the books Valiant put out at the time, I decided to just stick to one as I was not ready to sacrifice the money I was shelling out to Marvel to pick up other monthly books from this hip and up and coming comic challenger. Plus, it didn’t hurt that my cousin, in an attempt to get me as hooked on Valiant as he was, got me the first issue of Eternal Warrior with that bad ass Frank Miller cover for a Christmas present, so I felt like I was somewhat obligated to follow his adventures since I could complete the collection in that way.

However, I genuinely enjoyed the adventures of Gilad Anni-Padda, who used is gift of immortality and incredible fighting skills to act as the Fist of the Earth, mainly defending the long line of Geomancers who used their unique symbiosis with the planet to help guide human history and combat the forces of unholy darkness.

Sort of a cross between The Highlander, Macgyver, and Indiana Jones, Eternal Warrior kept my attention for about 2 and a half years during my early teenage years, with its mix of modern day action inter-spliced with flashbacks to Gilad’s past and his interaction with famous people and events in Earth’s history. I will also say it did so with somewhat standard artwork and without resorting to cheesecake girly shots, which for book in the early 90s was a pretty rare thing.

Of course, eventually Valiant made a ton of bad decisions and crumbled under it’s own weight and that signaled the end for my time with this immortal bad ass. But I still often looked fondly back on that series, and Gilad remained a comic character I’d be willing to pick up a book or two and read just because he was in it.

Thus, when Valiant made a comeback several years ago and started also bringing back all of their signature in house characters, I was interested to see if they would do a more modern take on the Eternal Warrior as well. Thus, I started reading Valiant’s book Archer & Armstrong by Fred Van Lente, in hopes that Armstrong’s fellow immortal brother, Gilad, would make an appearance (although I will say I was also reading it because it was good Fred Van Lente, and I’ll read any of his stuff).

Anyways, my hunch was right and after a couple issues, there comes Gilad, chewing bubble gum and kicking fannies just like I remember him. I gotta say I was transported back to a simpler time just by seeing him in a comic book, so much so that I immediately needed to run down to the local 7/11 and pick up a Slurpee to enjoy while paging through these issues, just like I did when I was 14.

Of course, Gilad was such a key member of the Valiant universe that once he was reintroduced, it wasn’t long before limited series starring him began to pop up. And as a fan, I started picking them up as well. However, I will say that the first couple were of somewhat middling quality and didn’t really keep my attention the way Fred’s Archer & Armstrong series did. I mainly credit this to the fact that Mr. Van Lente is such a great writer that any of other books are going to pale in comparison. So I eventually dropped back off the Eternal Warrior gravy train for the second time in my life. I thought with my need for nostalgia met, it was time to get back to business as usual.

That is until I heard rumors about the series I’m going to discuss today: Wrath of the Eternal Warrior by Robert Venditti and Raul Allen. Touted in previews as the Eternal Warrior battling  against demons in some unending battle-world of war , it seemed like it could be an awesome utilization of the character in an adventure that was somewhat fitting of the more nihilistic parts of his nature. I mean the Eternal Warrior is defined by death itself, or more appropriately his struggle to overcome death, tapping into a deep subconscious obsession we all have with our own mortality.  So to that end, pitting the man that can’t die against equally immortal and unending adversaries sounded pretty interesting indeed.

Of course it took me several years after buying the book to eventually read it, but as I said this read pile of mine is enormous, so it’s not cut on the book. It’s just I’ve got my own unending ceaseless war going on against more and more comics that are demanding my time….but I digress. On with the show!


Synopsis:

After being killed in a battle with Valiant’s Necromancer Supreme, Master Darque, Gilad Anni-Padda, finds himself in the place beyond time, space, and life itself. Whether this is the afterlife, heaven/hell, that’s left up to the reader to decide. However, part of this place includes a small farmhouse and some surrounding land populated with Gilad’s favorite wife from his long life on Earth and many of the children he’s sired over the years.

However, beyond this farm and the idyllic life that it represents is a wooden area that leads directly a desolate craggy wasteland in which dwells countless numbers of grotesque demons, all ruled by a king demon named Humungous.

Through the course of the story it’s revealed that Gilad knows he is dead and despite his family’s pleas for him to stay with them on the farm, his restless spirit drives him to try to cross the wasteland to reach the Iron Door, which will lead him back to the world of the living.

Of course, as we also discover Gilad has made an unknown number of attempts to cross the plain, fighting these merciless demons, being captured by them, and tortured to death, before reawakening back at the farmhouse and having to start the painful battle all over again. So many attempts have been made that the Humungous actively taunts Gilad and takes pleasure in making every failure more painful and humiliating from the last.

But this time, Gilad seems overwhelmingly determined to make it through, and because of the centuries of training and cunning he has amassed, he finally does succeed in defeating the demon hordes, reaching the Iron Door, and must have one last battle with Humungous for his chance to walk among the living once more.


Things I Liked:

There was so much, that I don’t know where to begin. So I think I’ll just stick to the overall metaphorical reason I loved this book.

This is a tale at its heart about one man’s life. Sure, it’s an extraordinary long life for one extraordinarily incredible man, but it’s still just a story about his life. The things he loved, the people he lost, an opportunity to take stock of those things in the face of death and reflect on what it meant to live.

And despite being given back all the things he lost in that life, through tragedy and heartbreak most severe, this man knows in his heart that his work is not done and he can not fully accept these things yet. So he must give them up, and again sacrifice his mind and body to the nameless unforgiving monsters that would tear him asunder, just to earn the right to finish the good things he knows he can still give to his fellow man.

It’s truly a powerful tale and one that I think we can all relate to. It’s those days in which we just want to give up, those moments where things are just too overwhelming, and it would be simpler to live with the memories of those past glories and accomplishments. Yet something drives us on. That yearning to again jump back into fray and struggle once again for something better than what we have. That’s true human nature, folks. It’s that spirit that guides us to keep moving forward even in the hardest of moments.

Whether you are a religious person and view this book as a pretty accurate depiction of the afterlife, what with your peaceful pastoral life surrounded by those you loved in life, or godless demons torturing your immortal soul for all. Or if you want to just view this as Gilad being in a coma and working through whatever mental dreamworld that was holding him in that vegetative state while keeping him rejoining the waking world.

Either way you slice it, The Eternal Warrior’s decisions to give up the perfect life with his wonderful wife and children and do battle with these horrible creatures just for the chance to rejoin a world of suffering and uncertainty are ones we all think about from time to time. Would we have the will to fight the battles against Humungous? To do what was necessary whatever the cost to rejoin the rest of our fellow man and complete whatever great purpose we have in life? These are big questions folks, and this 4 issue story does an incredible job of letting us live vicariously through one man who is willing to get back up time and time again just for the sake of doing just that.


Things I Didn’t Like:

I did at times think the torture scenes were somewhat a bit too gruesome for my tastes. I know they are supposed to invoke some sort of visceral response like this is what hell would look like, as horned monsters pull out your intestines with creepy sickle like knives or your face is rubbed up and down a medieval cheese grater. I also realize that it’s supposed to serve as a counterpoint to the peaceful tranquility of the life on the farm. However, I thought it was all a bit too icky for me to say it bluntly. Luckily though the story doesn’t spend a ton of time dwelling on these sections, so at least I didn’t have to bury my delicate head in the sand for too long.

But, honestly, the thing I liked the least about this series was that it was too short. Basically the creative team gives us this extremely interesting world both visually and narratively, steeped in an internal mythology that we seem to all be able to connect to on a spiritual level only to spend 4 short issues there, mostly tied up in fight sequences. There’s no exploration, no deepening of the mysteries of where they were or why things were they way they were.

I mean at one point Humungous says the Iron Door doesn’t belong in his realm. If it doesn’t belong there, why was it put there? There must have been a reason. It’s like this story was crying out for just a couple more issues spent of Gilad traversing this eerie ethereal world of the dead before he ultimately ended up at the Door itself. It would have heightened the drama and scope of the journey, and made it more quest like.

I mean maybe the point of the story was to make it short because the mysteries of what lay beyond this mortal coil are things not to be elaborated on, but sincerely if you’ve already taken the time to craft someplace cool like this backdrop for this world, why not tool around there for just a couple more issues? It seems like a waste.


Fun Facts:

Although it was somewhat of short, but important piece of exposition, I do love the fact that Gilad was ultimately killed and sent to this afterlife by Master Darque, who was one of the greatest arch enemies of the entire Valiant universe back in the day and a persistent thorn in Gilad’s side throughout many of his comics. This was mainly due to the fact that as a Necromancer, Darque, was the antithesis of what the Geomancers stood for, and since the Eternal Warrior was the protector of the Geomancers, he often found himself directly fighting against Darque and his forces as they attempted to the destroy the Geomancers on their way to plunging the world into darkness.

Although I’m sure the exact battle between Gilad and Darque that’s outlined in the book was told in a lot greater detail in some newer Valiant crossover title or something, for those of us that didn’t read that, but instead just picked up this book due to liking old school Eternal Warrior, this was a welcome little Easter Egg of sorts. It’s nice to see the fact these two mortal enemies are still going at it in the new continuity too.

In fact, I might just have to look around and see if I can find the series that deals with their battle that results in Gilad’s death just to see if it’s any good. It’s probably that Book of Death series, because there are covers with the two of them mixing it up, like the below one with Darque giving Gilad some crazy evil shiatsu. I mean talk about hitting all the pressure points, nobody is supposed to bend like that unless they are named Gumby.

But I’m not sure. Although it’s one by the same creative team, this could be a series well after Wrath or way before. That’s the issue in picking up a story somewhere in the middle.  If there are any big Valiant fans reading this blog, that can let me know if Book of Death is the lead up story to Wrath of the Eternal Warrior, please leave me some comments and let me know! Gracias in Advance!


Final Thoughts:

I’ll be honest. This was probably one of the finest books I ever read from Valiant Comics. And that includes the original Unity Saga of which I’m a huge huge fan. This is the type of Eternal Warrior story I’ve been waiting for like 20 years to read. Gripping, emotional, stark yet filled with a richness of purpose. It’s simply a perfect story about one man’s trek back from the gates of death, about what we sacrifice just for the will to live one more day, and about what really defines a good life and the things worth living for.

However unfortunately for Valiant, although this story is really really good, it doesn’t mean that it’s got me reengaged with sticking with the Eternal Warrior for the long haul. Despite this 4 issue story arc ending in a cliff hanger as Gilad awakes to the land of the living in some futuristic lab having no memory of how he got there, it’s not really enough to sell me that the rest of the series is going to be as good.

This tale was so epic, so pitch perfect for the character, and so self contained as a story arc, that it really can be enjoyed as what it is: a powerfully moving limited series tale about this comic book character that doesn’t require any understanding of what happens before or after it, to appreciate it on its own merits.

And although I mentioned that it was indeed short and that I would have liked this particular world explored more as I found it fascinating, the moment Gilad achieves his goal and leaves it, any interest in exploring also goes along with him. They made the decision to cap this particular portion of the story at 4 issues and there’s no going back after that point. Yes, as I mentioned I thought that was a big mistake and this world could have been milked for several more issues, that wasn’t the same thought process the creators had. The aftermath of that decision is a getting a long time fan of the character to check back in for a few moments, but check back out once it was over.

But boy o boy was it a great reunion for as long as it lasted. I sincerely did miss this character and Wrath of the Eternal Warrior showed that so long as you give him the right story, Gilad can still be a tremendous character which old and new readers alike can still end up rooting for in his never-ending battle to conquer death itself.

 

Andy’s Read Pile Grade: A-


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