In 1991 DC launched Armageddon 2001, an “epic crossover” that featured the main story in two bookends and the rest of the story running through all the Annuals published that year. It was popular enough that for the next five or so years both Marvel and DC ran events that would span their Annuals.
Eclipso was the next series after Armageddon. Orchestrated by Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming, it attempted to reinvent the rather lame villain into a major threat within the DC Universe. Previous to this, he had appeared in the Will Payton Starman series and the 1980’s Phantom Stranger mini-series, neither very high-profile gigs. I remember liking the first three Annuals crossovers that DC did, having collected every Annual that each of them found their way into. I found that the Annual, which generally operated outside immediate storylines and didn’t disrupt the continuity of the monthly series, thus allowing for better, more focussed storytelling in the crossovers. As well, the annuals could shoehorn back into the monthly’s continuity whenever the creative team felt, if at all and it seemed all right. Annuals are special and have a sense of freedom and liberty to them.
As with Armageddon and Bloodlines, the bookends provide set-up and resolution, but the meat of the “event” happens in each issue, as we see how Eclipso’s “infection” affects each of the superheroes (sometimes many times over). Thus the bookends make for very poor stand-alone reading. At 80 pages each, the first book is exceptionally decompressed, dragging on pathetically as it re-introduces a boringly contemplative Eclipso and an equally dull Bruce Gordon (Eclipso’s alter ego/adversary). There’s an exceptionally dull encounter with a just-introduced Lar Gand (Valor), and an absolutely pathetic appearance of the Phantom Stranger, who has no further involvement, despite his message otherwise. Fleming spends altogether too much time in every character’s head. Thought balloons abound leading to banal exposition and tired cliches of good and evil.
The concluding volume fares somehow marginally worse that the opening chapter, as two assault teams descend upon the moon, only to be almost killed, but saved so that Eclipso could steal their power. There’s a plot of subterfuge, as Eclipso has infected Starman without the other heroes knowing it, and it has no actual payoff in the end. About the only saving grace is the team of super-scientists Bruce Gordon assembles with their sunlight technology to save the day, but even then their appearance is blandly introduced. Starman eventually sacrifices his life (only he didn’t according to James Robinson’s Starman series) to destroy Eclipso (which he didn’t, since Eclipso spun out of this “Annuals” event with his own series a month or two afterwards), and everyone goes home.
The art is provided by Bart Sears, who used to be a hero of mine. He used to draw clean, powerful and dynamic figures in Justice League Europe but for some reason with Eclipso adopted this thick line style with muddy, bloopy musculature, and irksome half-hash lines that mar pretty much everyone’s face and body. I never understood why Sears did that, but he hasn’t really let go of it since.
I’ll take a look at the Eclipso ongoing and perhaps some of the Annuals in the coming weeks to see if they’re as awful as this.