By Steve Baxi — “This was it, the moment I’d waited my whole life for, the man I needed, the arms I needed, the lips I needed, the life I needed…and it was all a #%@%ing lie.”
Joan Peterson is crying in bed in 1958.
Joan Peterson is crying in bed in 1972.
Joan Peterson is crying in bed in 1881.
This cycle, as laid out in writer Tom King’s original pitch, is the endless heartache and heartbreak at the center of Love Everlasting, an ongoing series by King, artist Elsa Charretier, colorist Matt Hollingsworth, and letterer Clayton Cowles. Joan finds herself in repetitive, doomed romances as she Quantum Leap-style hops from era to era falling in love with men we’ve only just met. Unlike the presumed happy endings of classic romance comics, each jump comes with the growing realization that Joan is trapped, that everything she feels and everything she sees is a lie.
Love always assumes a greater whole. To paraphrase Terry Eagleton, to be a person in love is ultimately to recognize you are more than an individual, that you are part of something larger than yourself. But what happens when that promise of love consumes you? What happens when you are unable to see yourself as part of something and are instead warped by it? Consumed by it? What is love when you’re not the one making the promise? This first issue carries us through that slow emotional realization of finding ourselves after we’ve been enthralled by love. As Joan wakes from her fever dreams, we are forced to ask ourselves the same questions: what happened to the last person we loved? Where are we now? Who is the next person we’ll love?
The Sisyphusian horror of this story is in the slow realization that the cycle never ends, but unlike Sisyphus, it lacks the cathartic moment where we accept our fate. The nature of love is to fight, to be messy, to be complicated. Thus as Joan comes to realize what’s happened to her, we’re left asking ourselves the question of what is the value of love, what does it make of us as a person and how does that confrontational, messy, complicated feeling ever lead us to something cathartic?
If Tom King is known for anything specific, it is perhaps his ability to cut through the action and capes in order to get to the melodramatic romances that drive us all. King on Batman was a Knight of the Heart, King on Mr. Miracle was about the promise of love bringing us back from the abyss. Thus, of course his first creator owned book is a series that details the emotional and existential questions of love itself. Even the title — Love Everlasting — carries an ominous quality, is this a threat? Is this a question? Is this a promise?
As King asks these questions, his script focuses on the rhythm of the page and places a heavy emphasis on the art’s ability to carry the emotional realizations that are not verbally expressed. This allows Charretier and Hollingsworth to be in near complete control, interpreting Joan’s life in a myriad of interesting and subtle ways.
Elsa Charretier’s style is not reflective here of classic romance comics. While there are flourishes, large title pages and a number of warm flower petals throughout, her art still carries a loose, and expressive style that feels freeing in a comic that’s otherwise very rigidly formatted. Pages are still laid out in 9 panel grids, as is often the case for King. But text, almost like a silent movie subtitle, replaces images and creates a unique flow that allows the letters and the images to dance around each other.
Charretier’s work here demonstrates her mastery of pace. Allowing a whole panel to be text is one thing, but then spending so much time creating expressive body language that says as much, if not more, creates an emotional engagement that doesn’t have to slow the reading experience down. Her style allows our eyes to flow effortlessly from page to page, but we never feel like we’re glossing over how Joan is feeling. Everything from the angles of the image to the way she tilts her head carry with them a powerful and concise emotion. Charretier is taking advantage of how a string of panels can juxtapose emotions in a way unique to comics.
In the same spirit, Hollingsworth’s colors code each era we enter with an inviting warmth. In particular, the nightly 70s scene does not feel like it’s out of a 70s comic but captures the essence of contemporary nostalgia for the 70s. The shades of purple and yellow prominently style a whole page, but work particularly well in highlighting the facial expressions of each character. Hollingsworth’s color balances out Charretier’s work by trying to capture what exactly the emotional tension here is. When Joan is uncomfortable and the whole world has a slightly sickly shade of yellow, the whole package comes together to make you truly feel that moment.
When you see a comic with this team attached, you shouldn’t be surprised at the level of quality they undoubtedly bring. Love Everlasting has the makings of a modern classic, not simply for its rich and memorable concept, but as a showcase for every creator involved.
Review: Love Everlasting #1
Love Everlasting #1
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Elsa Charretier
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
From superstar award-winning creators TOM KING and ELSA CHARRETIER, comes a new ONGOING SERIES in the tradition of SANDMAN and SAGA. Joan Peterson discovers that she is trapped in an endless, terrifying cycle of “romance”—a problem to be solved, a man to marry—and every time she falls in love she’s torn from her world and thrust into another teary saga. Her bloody journey to freedom and revelation starts in this breathtaking, groundbreaking FIRST ISSUE.
Publication Date: August 10, 2022
Steve Baxi has a Masters in Ethics and Applied Philosophy, with focuses in 20th Century Aesthetics and Politics. Steve creates video essays and operates a subscription based blog where he writes on pop culture through a philosophy lens. He tweets through @SteveSBaxi.