Kid Eternity Vol. 1 #1-3 (April ‘91-October ‘91)
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Duncan Fegredo
Kid Eternity Vol. 2 #1-16 (May ‘93 -Sept. ‘94)
Written by Ann Nocenti
Art by Sean Phillips (#1-6, 8-16), Sean Scoffield (#7), Paul Peart (#14-15)
Spoilers (from twenty-one to twenty-four years ago)
Kid Eternity was a little-known Golden Age character published by Quality Comics until the early 1950s, and was later bought by DC, and placed on Earth-S, with the Shazam Family, until he was wiped out during the Crisis. His whole deal was that he could summon up dead people from history by saying the word ‘Eternity’, and get them to help him fight crime or go on adventures.
He was not used again until 1991, when DC was publishing a lot of random ‘suggested for mature readers’ comics in the run-up to the debut of the Vertigo line.
The Kid got a three-issue prestige format comic in 1991. I’m not sure if it was always known that he would also get a Vertigo monthly series, but that came along in 1993. I have fond memories of the Vertigo title (with art by Sean Phillips), and wanted to read it again, but decided it made sense to start with the Morrison/Fegredo series.
Let’s look at the events of this series in detail, with some commentary as I go along:
- Morrison begins his mini in typical kaleidoscopic, impressionistic fashion. We are given a series of vignettes that, over the course of an issue begin to gel into a story.
- A comedian, Jerry Sullivan, is playing Scrabble at a party, while we also see him driving drunkenly, and at a hospital, where he is taken after being in an accident.
- A woman is watering her bonsai tree and talking to herself.
- At the party, Jerry plays the word ‘Eternity’, and suddenly a guy dressed all in white, with John Lennon glasses, appears on the table. Weird stuff starts happening all around, as a Picasso picture comes to life and begins to kill people. The partygoers flee, but everyone who takes the elevator is killed by it when it comes to life.
- In Vegas, a man, Bob Goodfellow, keeps winning big.
- Jerry makes it home, but discovers that the man is in his apartment with him.
- Things start coming to life around the city, and are killing people.
- The man in Jerry’s apartment, who was only ever called Kid, explains that he escaped the party in Jerry’s head, and shares private information about Jerry to prove it. He then narrates his own story.
- The Kid says he’s been in Hell for 30 years, and has to return there to rescue someone named Mr. Keeper. He’s also got to stay ahead of the Shichiriron, the creatures that attacked at the party through inanimate objects.
- The Goodfellow guy cashes in his Vegas winnings and goes on a bit of a killing spree.
- We learn that the Kid was killed in a German U-Boat attack in 1942, but wasn’t supposed to die for another seventy years. When he went to Heaven, this mistake was realized, and he was sent back to Earth with some strange abilities, such as being able to call any dead person forward to help him whenever he says the word ‘eternity’. He went around with Mr. Keeper being a bit of a hero for a while, while they were also building Chaospheres around the planet. Now he needs to build another Chaosphere, or the world is in trouble, or something. To do that, he needs Mr. Keeper.
- The Kid wants Jerry to come with him. At this point, we return to the hospital and learn that Jerry has died, although he’s also still standing around with the Kid.
- Dead Jerry meets with some sort of tribunal where things get confusing, although they make it clear that Goodfellow is being drawn to him.
- We see Goodfellow try to exorcise a child by beating him to death.
- A woman who was at the party in issue one, who had been talking about writing a book about urban legends, is at a diner where a number of urban legends seem to be coming to life.
- I remember that the story about the woman with a bouffant hairdo who had spiders laying eggs in her scalp really bothered me when I first read this comic, even though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone with lacquered hair.
- Jerry flashes back to the death of his older brother, which happened when Jerry, his brother, and his brother’s friends were exploring an abandoned house, and the stairway collapsed. Jerry has always felt guilty that his brother died because he was slow to react.
- The Kid arrives as Jerry is dealing with his guilt, and takes him with him. They visit an old man who collects stories, and has a map of Hell in his collection. Kid acquires it.
- Kid and Jerry go to Hell together. We get a lot of pages of them travelling through a very disturbing landscape, intercut with scenes of Goodfellow doing his thing, and the Urban Legends Lady (Val) being pursued by more urban legends.
- The Kid finds Mr. Keeper, but he’s a huge monstrous thing that doesn’t want the Kid to see him as he is.
- They free Keeper, and end up meeting with the Lords of Chaos. This leads to a fair amount of exposition, where we get a lot of exposition. Chaos is responsible for the development of superhumans, as they are trying to push human evolution, even though that’s going to cause a lot of problems along the way. This is what the Chaospheres are for.
- We learn that the Kid was actually abused, and chosen by Chaos to work for them. His trip to Heaven actually happened in Hell, and Mr. Keeper is a Chaos Lord himself. The dead people that the Kid resurrects are really demons.
- Jerry gets sent back to his body, knowing that Goodfellow, who is actually a demon who thinks he’s Jack the Ripper, and was left on Earth after the Kid got stuck in Hell, is after him.
- Val is being pursued by the Schichiriron, and she runs past the Kid and Keeper, who are building a Chaosphere in a sewer.
- Goodfellow shows up at the hospital where Jerry is recovering from his car wreck, and they fight and somehow switch bodies. The Kid and Keeper show up, and Goodfellow gets recalled to wherever thoughtforms like him go.
- The Kid and Keeper say goodbye and disappear. Jerry, in a new body, gets in a car to drive away, and ends up picking up Val who is hitchhiking. This is the end of the miniseries.
I really didn’t enjoy this series reading it in 2015. Morrison has always been good at generating interesting ideas, but there’s not a lot of that in this comic. He retcons the Kid’s origin nicely, and situates it into the Order/Chaos spectrum that showed up a lot in DC books at that time very nicely, but for the most part, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense.
It seems that Morrison and Fegredo are more interested in creating a sense of mood than telling a straightforward story, and that hurts this book considerably. I would have prefered a more linear approach to the plot, and clearer pacing of the story. It’s never made clear why Val needed to be in the comic, although the urban legend stuff was kind of cool. I also never really understood why Jerry was such a central character.
I think it was clear that the door was being left open to revisit these characters, so it’s not really a surprise that within two years, Kid Eternity was back as part of the initial wave of Vertigo titles. Clearly, someone at DC thought that the secret to Vertigo’s success would lie in revitalizing and rebranding some of DC’s stranger characters. When you consider that the foundations of the line included Shade the Changing Man and Animal Man, to say nothing of the Doom Patrol, it’s not hard to see how that formula could work (and it’s something that DC moved away from just as Vertigo began to decline to where it is today).
But, was the new Kid Eternity, under Ann Nocenti and Sean Phillips, any good? I remember liking it, but at the same time, can’t really remember a single plotline or issue. Let’s find out. Let’s look at the events of this series in detail, with some commentary as I go along:
- The series opens on a trio of homeless men who hang out on an elevated railway, talking and singing into the night. They discuss the oddballs who have moved into an apartment across from their haunt.
- One of those oddballs is Kid Eternity, who has a strange dream that a kid has shot him, and when he wakes up, he is bleeding from his chest.
- We see Val and Jerry climbing the stairs to the Kid’s apartment. Jerry’s body tries to grab Val, and he brushes it off as being the fault of the fact that this body used to belong to a homicidal killer.
- Mr. Keeper is here too, and they discuss how the Kid has figured out that it’s time for the world to produce either a ‘Buddha baby’ or a new angel. He suggests that Val and Jerry try to make said baby, but Val’s not into it. The Kid tries to summon Cupid to do the trick, but it doesn’t work (mostly because no one believes in Greek gods anymore).
- In a church, a drunken priest tries to have his way with a nun. The Kid confesses to a different priest that it is time to start searching for this special baby.
- The Kid summons Madame Blavatsky (the psychic, Theosophist scam artist) to aid him in his search, while we see the priest sending word up the Vatican grapevine about the baby.
- The Greek Pantheon has awakened because of the Kid’s summons of Cupid, but Apollo switches Cupid’s love arrows with Ares’s hate arrows.
- Some demon children get released from a Catholic church in Italy.
- The Kid meets with a woman named Suzie Hemlock, who might be able to birth this special baby. She seems very much modeled on the character Lenny in Shade the Changing Man. She’s a tough talking intellectual of fluid sexuality. The Kid does something weird to her computer.
- The Demon girl from Italy starts killing the people that Madame Blavatsky has identified as potential parents for the special baby, while Suzie starts hanging out with the crew, and as Jerry and Val get hit with the hate arrows.
- The Kid has a bit of a fight with the demon girl, and there is a lot of arguing.
- In Limbo, someone who seems like a bad person, potentially a major demon, talks to Judas about returning to Earth.
- We meet Charlie Flood, a guy who has been tracking the Malocchio, the demon children. He argues with Suzie, who discovers the image of a fetus on her computer.
- Some people visit a sperm bank and Cupid hangs out with the hoboes.
- The Kid finds a baby in a trash can, holds it, and then gets yelled at by the baby’s mother. When she takes the kid back, the Kid’s wound is healed.
- That was all one issue. Nocenti can really pack in some story, although it all felt very disjointed and hard to follow. The Order and Chaos stuff seems to be gone, and it’s never explained how Val and Jerry ended up back with the Kid. The people the Kid resurrects don’t appear to be demons anymore.
- The Kid has a dream about being a freak in a circus sideshow and wakes up to discover that the Malocchio have tied him down in his bed. He summons Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to psychoanalyse him, and spends the issue going over past trauma with them.
- Suzie and Dog (which is, apparently, what Charlie Flood likes to be called) play around with her computer, and create some kind of virtual reality program thing (it is the 90s, remember) that simulates the future of mankind or something, but really just makes the telephone pour coffee. I actually don’t understand any of the scenes with these two in them.
- Madame Blavatsky wanders the city, avoiding being sent back to her own time, which causes time to start running backwards. Val and Jerry hang out in bed, but don’t have sex. Val kills Jerry, and he immediately comes back to life. The hoboes talk about love with Cupid.
- Judas and the guy he’s with go to a bar in Limbo, while Sara, the leader of the Malocchio has a laugh with Mr. Keeper, and we discover that Dog did something weird to Suzie’s computer.
- Two issues in, I have no real idea what this comic is going to be about. The Freud and Jung stuff is amusing and kind of cool, but all of the secondary characters are completely unmoored from the story. I don’t remember this book being this pretentious and convoluted.
- Sara is in bed with another Malocchio, Fetish, who has wings, and who decides that she is going to break Kid Eternity’s heart so Sara will enjoy him more.
- The Kid decides to stop talking to Freud and Jung, and notices how strange things are outside his apartment, when he sees a jackknife flying around.
- Over the course of the third issue, we see how many different parties are sitting around keeping an eye on the Kid. These include three old women who stitch together fate, the female Greek gods, and Beelzebub (that’s the guy we’ve been watching for the first two issues) and another old man from Heaven (St. Peter? I don’t know; probably not God).
- The Kid meets Fetish, who he first thinks might be trans, and then immediately falls for her, and tries to have sex with her on the front step of a building.
- A woman named Christabel, who is in a mental hospital, draws pictures of the Kid and Fetish. She sees that her doctor has horns on his head.
- Fetish leaves the Kid, and he is upset. This has various and confusing ramifications for all the other characters in this issue, especially Beelzebub, who is upset about this.
- With the fourth issue, this series finally begins to become the book I remember, as Nocenti both starts to tone down the number of things she’s trying to cram into each issue, while still getting a little weirder in the choice of story that she wants to tell.
- Blind Willie, one of the homeless guys, scrounges some food and returns to his derelict car, where he lives, only to find that the Kid has rebuilt its engine, and wants to take it on a trip.
- Throughout this issue, we see that a pair of hacker friends of Suzie’s are trying to fix whatever virtual reality thing is going on in her apartment, by writing new code or something. In the 90s, computer stuff got shown very strangely, and never had to make a bit of sense.
- A family of cockroaches that live in Blind Willie’s pants show up throughout the issue, making weird side comments.
- The Kid has a mushroom in his pocket, and it gets to narrate some, before it gets tossed in with Willie’s dinner, and the two men eat it.
- The Kid and Willie leave the city in the car, driving through open countryside and talking all sorts of nonsense, while heading to Krumville, where Willie wants to get a slice of pie made by a woman he’s loved for years.
- They stop at a roadside strip club, and the Kid brings out Billie Holiday to sing for Willie.
- In Krumville, we learn that Mabel, the woman Willie loves, married a white man (Mabel is black), and they have a mixed child. Local racists keep coming to cause trouble over this (it feels very regressive, and like Nocenti was not in touch with the times). A large crowd of white guys, many shirtless, want to burn down Mabel’s diner. Willie is prepared to fight them, but then the Kid channels the mushroom and clears the hatred out of their leader’s mind. Or something like that.
- Suzie’s hacker friends need to use a car to drive into the virtual world, and somehow remotely access Willie’s, driving it into a VR green swirly vortex thing. This makes no sense, but the Kid jumps in the car, and brings Neal Cassady with him to drive.
- With the fifth issue, we get a recap page, which suggests that Vertigo realized the need to explain just what’s going on in this comic, although the page doesn’t really do that.
- The Kid and Neal Cassady are driving through cyberspace (remember that?), and Nocenti does a good job approximating Cassady’s non-stop verbal bullshit, at least as it’s been described by Kerouac and Tom Wolfe.
- They stop their car, and a bomb explodes close to them. Some random guy is building coffins, and there’s a kid running around with a ticking timebomb on his face. Keeper, Madame Blavatsky, Suzie, and Dog appear out of nowhere, as does a serial killer. The Kid decides he has to get into the killer’s head, to try to change him like he did the racist in the issue before.
- While the killer and the Kid discuss the killer’s predilections, Dog and Suzie both talk to Cassady – Dog worships him as a hero, while Suzie blames him for a generation of misogyny. There is an explosion, and only Kid and Cassady survive, but then they drive really fast, just as the hackers in the real world somehow pull them out of cyberspace, and then everyone is back together and alright.
- The serial killer sneaks off, Blind Willie shows up, and Cassady cooks everyone some hobo chicken.
- Nocenti spends issue 6 thinking about TV and brushing up against early 90s interest in memetics (without ever using that word).
- We see the serial killer, now called Mr. Stalker, get hooked on reality and confessional TV, and reply to an ad looking for people who want to watch TV.
- At Suzie’s apartment, the Kid hangs out with her and a kid named Gunther who likes to watch TV at Suzie’s place. They debate the value of television, and the Kid decides that he can better serve his mission of raising human consciousness by going on TV, and resurrecting someone famous live.
- We see that Doctor Pathos is running a lab where people get infected by ideas from the television. He has Cristabel (whose name is now spelled differently) with him, and also has Mr. Stalker there.
- Suzie has arranged for the Kid to be on the TV show Believe It!, which has been advertising his live resurrection all day. He hasn’t decided who to bring back yet, though, and he, Suzie, and Dog argue about this.
- Two of Doctor Pathos’s patients, Jingleman and Mr. Stalker, leave the lab.
- The Kid brings Marilyn Monroe back to life on TV, and Sean Phillips does some really cool Andy Warhol homages. The Jingleman shoots her, and the Kid feels very upset that mankind couldn’t let her live, even for five seconds.
- We learn that Gunther’s mother is Infinity (although just what that means exactly is not made clear), and she is invited to a party by Fetish, with the notion that she meet Kid Eternity.
- The Kid is also invited to this party, and Suzie decides to come with him.
- The party is filled with some strange characters, including the rest of the Malocchio and Dr. Pathos.
- The Kid is upset to learn that Fetish is the host, and is about to leave when he meets Infinity, gets disoriented, and tries to resurrect various gods or religious figures. These all become intertwined within the same odd creature.
- Still disoriented, the Kid wanders the streets, gets beaten up a bit, and ends up in a straightjacket in Dr. Pathos’s care.
- The Kid gets hooked up to some machine in Pathos’s asylum, and forced to relive some painful memories.
- Cristabel is getting ready to leave the asylum, and gives us a bit of a tour of the place, as she distributes goodbye gifts to other inmates and staff. She is turning 18 the next day and will be able to discharge herself, although Pathos doesn’t seem to be convinced of that happening.
- Willie has been missing the Kid, and goes to find Suzie Hemlock. They decide to go looking for the Kid.
- We keep seeing the Kid in a womb-like confinement. Infinity starts to experience cramping, and feels like she is about to give birth. This is matched with images of the Kid that suggest that Infinity is about to give birth to him (despite his still being in the asylum).
- The Kid is reborn in the asylum, having confused his straightjacket for a womb. He confronts Dr. Pathos on the psychic level.
- Hemlock and Blind Willie arrive at the asylum looking to rescue the Kid. Suzie gets into an argument with the nurse at the front desk over whether or not she has to identify herself, while Cristabel lets herself out through a secret tunnel.
- The Kid and Pathos discuss Pathos’s jealousy of the Kid, as he had wanted to be given a mission as important as the Kid’s. They decide to do one last psychological test – the Rorschach together, and the Doctor is disappointed in how juvenile the Kid is, seeing everything as a vagina.
- Cristabel meets Blind Willie, who is waiting outside the asylum, and they go together to buy the Kid new sunglasses. They talk about private institutions, and the ability of parents to lock their kids up for being rebellious.
- In the end, Cristabel heads home with the Kid, Blind Willie, and Suzie Hemlock. This series has become a lot easier to follow, as Nocenti is beginning to focus her stories more on one or two topics at a time.
- Issue ten sees the Kid inadvertently involving himself in the life of Chi Chi. He is sitting on a stoop watching two of Chi Chi’s children draw on the sidewalk and get admonished by her, when he saves her from a falling votive candle. She can’t find her plastic dashboard Jesus statue, and so adopts the Kid as her new good luck charm. She takes him into her apartment, where he gets to know her son Ratamas, who is a pretty sensitive yet tough kid.
- Later, they all walk over to Times Square, where the Kid wins a bunch of games of Three Card Monty against a hustler.
- Chi Chi leaves the Kid and Ratamas while she goes to meet a client (she’s a prostitute, because of course she is), who might be Mr. Stalker. He beats her badly.
- Ratamas buys his mother a painting of Jesus with Elvis, and he and the Kid discuss the lifeforms that will come after mankind and smoke weed.
- Chi Chi goes home to find the Three Card Monty guy in her place. He starts cutting on her. The Kid and Ratamas arrive and beat up the Monty guy and his friend, but it looks to be too late for Chi Chi, who we learn isn’t Ratamas’s real mother. The book ends without telling us Chi Chi’s fate.
- I enjoyed this issue a lot – it directly addresses the Kid’s mission, has some real heart to it, and reminds me of what is now a distant era in New York’s history.
- Cristabel takes the Kid to meet her friend Chelsea, who has taken a new street drug called Slap, and retreated into her own mind, becoming blind in the process.
- A group of ex-military men who have a strange fixation on homosexuality convene, and argue over which of them is going to try Slap. An old man tries it, and drives into New York, where he follows a young man home and starts torturing him.
- The Kid decides to take the drug to try to help Chelsea, but first, for reasons I really don’t get, he decides to resurrect Nikola Tesla to help him help Chelsea. This book is getting a little weird again, but it’s all good.
- Still tripping, the Kid gets hooked up to a machine that Tesla managed to build off panel, so he can resonate on Chelsea’s frequency and guide her back to the light, while she has long conversations with her memories of her father about black holes.
- While this is going on, the old army dude continues to torture a young man who he has decided is gay. While torturing him, the old dude begins to leak a black ink cloud all over the neighbourhood.
- The Kid and Chelsea become friends in their shared mindscape, debate the nature of eternity as a concept, and discuss its connection to the concept of the black hole. They figure out that the old army guy is becoming a black hole, and return to reality to stop him.
- Before they can get to the apartment, they young man turns the tables on the old guy. He is shot off-panel, and it’s unclear if it was the young man who shot him, or if he shot himself, but either way we are safe from the black hole.
- The Kid asks Chelsea out on a date, and Beelzebub, who we haven’t seen for a long time, decides to commit suicide while also committing genocide.
- The Kid heads out on his date with Chelsea, while Nocenti gets to work trying to wrap up just about every plot thread she started in this series. Blind Willie wants to go looking for Mr. Stalker.
- Suzie breaks into the apartment of a fellow hacker who has been investigating the weirdness that surrounds the Kid, and when the guy discovers her, they become friendly quickly.
- The Kid and Chelsea run into Ratamas, who gives the Kid a hard time for having never visited Chi Chi, who is still bleeding (a man carved a cross into her chest). They visit her, and she’s grumpy.
- Beelzebub has some very tiresome pages wherein he continues to plan to wipe the Earth clean as an act of suicide.
- The Kid and Chelsea go to buy ice cream, and Sara, the Malocchio is working the ice cream stand. They make out on a pier, and get dragged down to Hell by Beelzebub.
- The Kid convinces him to spare mankind, so long as he can find five truly evil men.
- While the Kid sets out to find Mr. Stalker, Chelsea checks into a fleabag hotel to wait for him, and Hemlock and her friend Luce go visit Val and Jerry, who are still lying motionless and catatonic in bed.
- The Kid catches Stalker in his act, and gets upset with himself for not being able to kill him, while Chelsea goes out for drinks with Chi Chi.
- Later, the Kid meets up with Chelsea, they make out, and talk about the Kid’s past. He has a lot of guilt.
- Still on his mission to find evil men, the Kid and some friends infiltrate a corporation that performs horrible experiments on animals. The Kid gets a little hysterical, and passes out.
- He and Chelsea decide to go looking for Ricketts, the man who helped raise the Kid. He turns out to be very angry, spending his time shooting his TV and building mechanical warrior statues (with tiny genitalia). He is very angry with the Kid for not coming to see him sooner.
- They all travel to Hell, where Beelzebub and Ricketts basically kill each other in a short fight. The Kid decides to go looking for his parents.
- Val and Jerry die in bed.
- Beelzebub is still holding on to life, and Chelsea decides to stay with him while the Kid goes on his journey.
- Cristabel starts volunteering at a suicide hotline in a church, but quits after getting harassed by perverts on the phone.
- The Kid visits Chi Chi to see if she wants to go on the road with him, but she and Ratamas have decided to start a radical animal rights group.
- Hemlock also doesn’t want to travel with the Kid, because she’s doing some Cyberspace thing that sounds very early 90s.
- The Kid gets Blind Willie and Cristabel to accompany him. As they start driving, various characters from the length of this series start to follow him. While they detour briefly through Hell, he picks up Chelsea, who feels bad for having left him for Beelzebub, who is now dead.
- The series ends with this strange caravan driving off into the desert, looking for the Kid’s parents.
This comic was an absolute mess. I remember Nocenti’s Daredevil run being too ambitious at times, but I always liked it. I thought she’d weave social issues into this comic in a similar way, but in the final analysis, she more crammed things into this comic than wove them.
Reading the letters pages in the early issues, I kept seeing people talk about how much they were enjoying Vertigo’s “comics for adults”, and it made me realize just how low the bar was in the early 90s to have mature reader comics find an audience (even if it wasn’t large enough to maintain this series for more than sixteen issues). I think that the range of possibilities were just too large for Nocenti to manage effectively, and like a kid in a candy store, she wanted to do it all at once.
As the series continued, it calmed down a lot, picking one or two things for each issue to explore. The supporting cast started to solidify a little – Val and Jerry got the boot in a hurry, as did Dog, whoever the hell he was supposed to be. Mister Keeper, who was the only character to carry over from the Golden Age days, just disappeared completely. Characters like the Malocchio and Infinity just fell away as well, as the series began to finally focus on Kid Eternity himself.
It’s obvious though, that Nocenti was given just enough notice that the series would be ending to wrap it all up in the final four issues, because she started to cram too much into each issue again, making those issues almost as messy as the first few (although, there weren’t any more talking cockroaches at least).
Looking back, I’m not sure why I was fond of this series. I mean, obviously, I enjoyed Sean Phillips’s art, although it’s pretty amazing to see how far he’s come these days, just as it’s weird to see him working with a writer other than Ed Brubaker. Beyond the art, though, I’m not sure what endeared me to this comic at all.
Perhaps its pastiche of 90s issues coincided with my own growing awareness of issues around social justice and equality (when the ‘hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold’ cliché still seemed new to me). I don’t know. Memory is weird like that.
I can understand why, compared to other new Vertigo titles of the same era – The Invisibles, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Books of Magic, this book is pretty much forgotten today. It was amusing to revisit this time, but I’m glad there weren’t more of these comics to read.
What’s next? I’m not actually sure. The plan is to go down to my storage locker and see what calls out to me for my next run of columns. One thing I’m not lacking is old comics to read…
Tags: Kid Eternity, Retro Reviews