[5 February 2007]
Many creators have attempted to bridge the gap between the genres of science fiction and fantasy. While the two are thematically linked in their ability to tell stories that are not limited by the rules or technology of our world, they are consistently separated by the borders of time and space. While fantasy is often a world guided by magic and dominated by the aesthetics of the past, science fiction looks to the future where technology is king. So when the two are combined it requires a clever creator who can properly reconcile two genres into one concise functioning narrative. Writer Scott Lobdell successfully completes this challenge is his masterful and fascinating series Manifest Eternity. The six part miniseries released under DC’s Wildstorm imprint maintains all the credibility of smart comic book, while still leaving room for the comic geek desire to watch science fiction and fantasy battle it out in a no-holds-barred fight to the death.
The series is nonlinear in structure and jumps forward and back in time throughout. The basic premise is that the humans have conquered the universe and created a united galaxy where all races are assimilated into an Earth-dominated empire called the Pan Galactic Union. The first issue focuses on the retiring of the starship Dreadnought; once the symbol of Earth’s imperialism it is now decommissioned with thousands of races cheering it with enthusiasm. It is a symbol that the wars are over and the united galaxy can now look forward to prosperous peace. However in another universe, a group called the Magewhole watches the celebrations with concern. This union of fantastic creatures, fairies, goblins, dwarves, wizards, and such, is led by the evil Mog the Mighty. Mog, disguising his own desire for conquest under the pretext of self defense, argues that now that the humans have conquered their universe they will turn their attention to the Magewhole as soon as they learn of its existence. He cajoles the leaders into launching a preemptive strike against the Pan Galactic Union, thus launching what will be called All War: 1.
The war between the two universes is the context in which each issue tells its own unique story. While each issue has its own focal point they serve the purpose of fleshing out the people and history of both sides. This allows the reader to explore and learn about the two worlds without the creators dedicating too much time the lengthy exposition. The non-linear structure is thoroughly enjoyable rather than distracting because it allows new and interesting characters to be introduced seamlessly and swiftly. There is Tarkington, a high-ranking officer who must hide his knowledge of the Magewhole and prepare for their invasion in secrecy; Splotch, the ace fighter pilot; Skul, the last survivor of her race who most work with the humans she despises; and Rave, the eight-year-old prodigy turned fleet captain who comes up with innovative ways in which to fight the enemy.
In addition to its character strength, Lobdell uses a series of clever plot devices throughout his stories to reconcile the two genres and show how the science-based humans must adapt to survive. One instance shows a priest blessing a former prisoner of war to make sure no ghosts have entered his body during captivity. Another sequence shows a spirit attacking the Pangal President, only to be saved by a secret service agent whose Native American heritage has given him the knowledge to detect magical forces. Science is also a crucial (and sometimes humorous) factor in fighting the Magewhole forces. In order to defeat an armada of dragons, Rave launches a sortie of honey roasted turkeys. The dragons are unable to resist the food, which then acts like antimatter since it is not from their native universe, and destroys them. Issue 6 has a ship haunted by dream ghosts which make the crew go crazy when they sleep. In order to fight this threat Rave orders the entire crew into suspended animation so that they may “starve” the ghosts. The series is filled with interesting devices that illustrate how the two genres are forced to interact with an enemy whose universe is built on entirely different principles.
Dustin Nguyen’s art is the perfect compliment to Lobdell’s writing. Just as the writer must reconcile the two genres in his narrative, so too must the Nguyen flawlessly unite the worlds in his art, which he does successfully. His style is not so defined that the fantastic elements seem oddly out of place with the science elements or vice versa. He consistently uses darkened backgrounds which gives the impression of two universes shrouded in darkness. This serves the tone of the story, which often has Pan Galactic forces desperately fighting against overwhelming odds.
Manifest Eternity ends with no clear resolution to the war between the two universes. Originally intended as a miniseries, the Wildstorm message boards seem confident that it will be back. I hope sales were sufficient to justify another run because this is a great book and it is always sad to see great books discontinued. Lobdell and Nguyen undertake the monumental task of successfully merging two completely different genres and are able to craft a story that is entertaining and interesting. I have many read and seen many attempts to do what this series pulls off, and none have impressed me as much. Merging two completely different universes and genres… they make it look easy.