Comics

DC Series Uses Superheroics to Explore Depression


Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew make their Young Animal debut with Eternity Girl #1, out this week. The six-issue series from DC’s pop up imprint follows superpowered agent Caroline Sharp as she tries to get back on the roster at Alpha 13, after being benched following an “incident.” Caroline is depressed and traumatized, and Eternity Girl doesn’t hold back with either. It’s a brutal, beautiful comic that uses superheroics and the super-body to explore dissociation, suicidal ideation and dysphoria.

While Caroline Sharp is new to the Young Animal universe, she feels like she’s always been there, and here in the big cultural soup of superheroes and supernatural pop culture IPs. Comics are full of radical, involuntary bodily transformations and superpowers that hurt as much as they help. Caroline feels like a cousin to all these characters whose lives were transformed, both positively and tragically, by gaining powers — but unlike many of them, she’s in a comic that doesn’t need to put hers on hold to get back to the action.

RELATED: DC’s Young Animal Imprint Gets Major Revamp in March

CBR talked to Visaggio, Liew and colorist Chris Chuckry about the development of Caroline Sharp and Eternity Girl.

Eternity Girl #1 cover by Sonny Liew

CBR: The first thing that got me interested in Eternity Girl was that fantastic cover. Then I saw who was on the team! Mags, Sonny, tell me a bit about how the book and this team came together. And how did you find the experience of collaborating on it?

Magdalene Visaggio: The development process for this book has been really lengthy, going back to Thanksgiving 2016. But for all that, the book honestly hasn’t changed that much. Casting the artist on this book was probably the most difficult part of the process — it’s such a weird, specific story, and the tone needed to be perfect.

At some point in the process I remembered how blown away I was by Sonny Liew’s work on Doctor Fate, which was the only place I really knew him from, and I threw his name into the hat. [Young Animal curator] Gerard [Way] and Jamie Rich, who was the editor on Eternity Girl all through the development process, both immediately fell in love with the idea. They knew his work better than me; they understood the immense breadth of his talent, his versatility. He’s been an absolute wonder to work with, and he elevates my writing while at the same time giving me the freedom to ask for things I don’t know I could have with anyone else.

Sonny Liew: I got an email from editor Jamie Rich asking if I’d be interested in working on a new title for DC Young Animal sometime last year — in some ways it felt like a return to the roots of my first DC gig with Vertigo (My Faith in Frankie with Mike Carey and Marc Hempel). Mag’s idea for a superheroine suffering from depression was fascinating, and I could envision introducing some slightly alternative comics art style elements to complement the narrative, so it all seemed like an interesting challenge to take on; sort of mainstream work with a real edge to it. We got to hang out a little bit at San Diego Comic-Con and have been working on getting the series done ever since.

As a result of a government experiment — I think? — Caroline Sharp, aka Chrysalis, has bird-like feet, clawed hands, yellow eyes and some grayscale-looking skin. It also gave her powers, which include shape-shifting, energy blasts and being “a wave function, an intrinsic field interacting with other intrinsic fields.” In short, as of this first issue we don’t know the full scope of her abilities and how the experiment affected her. Mags, what were your inspirations for the character, variously called a “sumerian elemental goddess” and a “foul-smelling homunculus”?

Visaggio: First, it wasn’t a government experiment. It was a mission deep into the Iraqi desert to stop a supervillain from unlocking this exact power.

There are two primary sources pouring into Caroline: one, obviously, is Element Girl, from whom we borrow the broad outlines of her origin (we went Babylonian instead of Egyptian) and the basic idea of her body configuration. The other is Doctor Manhattan, from whom I stole the concept of an intrinsic field and its weird properties over matter. The Manhattan influence is worth mentioning also, because, while it didn’t influence the course of her depression, it has strong resonances: the sense of disconnection and depersonalization I have found so characteristic of in my depression, I find echoes in the blue naked guy.

So, her powers aren’t identical to those of Doctor Manhattan or Element Girl, but borrow from both; she’s a shape-shifter who can transform herself into everything from a human to a big steel monolith to noxious gas, because she has utter control over her atomic structure because she is functionally identical with her own intrinsic field. That also lets her shoot charged electrostatic blasts.

That’s not all she can do, either, but that’s spoilers.

Eternity Girl #1 interior art by Sonny Liew and Chris Chuckry

So for Caroline is that mission a source of trauma, or at least troubling memories, both for transforming her but also because it’s a kind of successful failure? She succeeded at her mission, but not the way she was meant to?

Visaggio: Basically, the mission is something she resents, and it underlines the extent to which she feels used and helpless; everything she did, she did for Alpha 13, and it cost her her humanity, and then they tossed her out. She was always someone driven by duty, someone full of drive and energy who wanted to do great things, and the big disappointment of her life is that Alpha 13 just wrung every ounce of usefulness out of her. That’s part of the trauma: her being abandoned.

There’s definitely a lot going on regarding her complicated feelings about what happened and the relationship it placed her in with regard to her body, which didn’t emerge out of the aether when she lost control of her powers. But I think that created a sense of alienation; that she’s not even really in control of her body. Her relationship to it is severed. So the initial trauma regarding the transformation was something she could easily displace as long as it seemed to have meaning for her. When that meaning fell away, well, it was all downhill.

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