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The ’90s Revisited – Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1

90s_revisited

eclipso_the_darkness_within_0001All Men Make Faults
Co-Plotters: Keith Giffin, Robert Loren Fleming
Breakdown Artist: Keith Giffen
Scripter: Robert Loren Fleming
Penciller: Bart Sears
Inkers: Randy Elliott, Mark Pennington
Letterer: Gaspar
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Editor: Michael Eury
Cover Date: July 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

Now this cover is iconic…at least for me. Full-cover close-up of Eclipso’s face, a sinister sneer as he declares "Let the revels begin…" while holding a black diamond to his eye, its purple/dark energy shining forth. The tagline at the top–"The Many Faces of Evil!" adding to the actual title Eclipso: The Darkness Within. We have the full DC bullet; the "corner box" that was typical of the time, and that this issue is a "Special" (as opposed to the Annuals that make up the bulk of the event). There IS a variant for this cover…or rather, an "enhanced edition" or "collector’s edition"…with an actual purple/black diamond-shaped hunk of plastic glued over the 2-D illustrated one. Otherwise, same paper, same cover image, same interior…same price. No action-figure cardstock trading-card Young connecting cover variants and such. The cover IS the cover, a single image that in and of itself essentially declares that it IS this very particular issue.

We open in a flashback to the 1800s as a couple of archeologists manage to find the fabled "Heart of Darkness." However, they turn on each other, the survivor eventually commissioning a jeweler to cut the large diamond into 1000 identical pieces. 100 years later–the present-day–we find Lar Gand coming across a citadel in the deepest crater on the dark side of the moon. As he explores the structure–swearing it wasn’t there before, he finds himself in a state of rising anger, and discovers the occupant of the structure: Eclipso! Eclipso manages to take control of the hero, and in doing realizes he must acquire MORE heroes and finally make his move on the Earth.

Shifting scenes TO Earth, we find Dr. Bruce Gordon frustrated in attempts to unlock secrets of a black diamond he has, while he reminisces on what brought him to the present, the diamond, and his past involvement with/as Eclipso. Finally he notices the diamond reacting as it would if Eclipso was nearby, and thus Gordon sets out to investigate…and comes across a grisly murder scene with the murderer still present…an "eclipsed" human Gordon immediately recognizes as Eclipso…manifested separately from himself. After a brief struggle he discovers the woman in possession of ANOTHER black diamond. Later he shares with research partner/girlfriend Mona and realizes Eclipso’s played him for a fool for years. Meanwhile, the Phantom Stranger manifests a psychic projection to tell Eclipso that he has pressing matters elsewhere, but that he knows the villain’s up to something and to behave. Eclipso’s having none of it and confidently obliterates the projection.

A week later we find an eclipsed survivalist shooting up a mall before The Creeper intervenes and has a lengthy fight scene with the villain’s puppet. Eclipso ultimately gets control of Creeper and disposes of the Survivalist while reveling in his ability to acquire heroes. Elsewhere, Gordon, Mona, and her father argue about how to proceed, deciding going to the authorities would be a waste of time…they must deal with Eclipso themselves. Gordon and Mona soon find their next black diamond in posession of a boy at a mall…where rather than the villain taking over the boy, an energy being–"an Eclipso"–is manifested, taking a form from the boy’s mind and sets out in focus on the boy’s anger. The scene brings Superman, though it’s ultimately Gordon’s solar beam device that takes out the creature. At his citadel, Eclipso realizes that he must take Superman next, or kill the hero.

As single issues go, this may be one of the longest that I’ve covered for this blog…usually sticking to standard-sized single-issues. This one was at least double-sized, closer to triple-sized! But it was interesting, engaging, and after looking forward so much to getting to it (and after my disappointment that the Starman story was NOT a direct lead-in), I definitely enjoyed the thing!

I’d forgotten about the Bart Sears art…which was definitely a treat, at least for this issue. It worked very well for the most part, though I’m not overly keen on the artist’s take on Superman. For everything else it was great and conveyed a realistic yet comic-booky gritty tone without being terribly dark…despite the nature of the story and the villain’s focus on "darkness." I also liked the random "doodles" on some of the pages that weren’t parts of the narrative but added something to the pages…maybe setting a bit of tone.

Story-wise I really liked how Eclipso comes across here. He’s definitely far more menacing than in the Star Shadows story in Starman 42-45. What’s especially disappointing is that that story was dating January through April 1992…this issue has a July 1992 date, meaning there was only a 3-4 month separation of the stories. Yet nothing in this references that. We come to Bruce Gordon cold with no reference to his having JUST dealt with Eclipso so very recently. Where my experience with the Starman story was influenced by partial memories of the segments of Eclipso: The Darkness Within that I’d read years ago, I realize that I’d mixed up Valor/Lar Gand and Starman as Eclipso’s first major conquest. I also realized that this issue likely was my original introduction to The Creeper.

As noted for the cover, the sole difference between "variants" is whether your copy is a flat squarebound comic…or if it’s a flat squarebound comic with a hunk of plastic glued onto it. I do like the squarebound format for thicker comics. It sets them apart somehow from "regular" comics, and even back in 1992 I noticed this. While those were the days before most TPBs and "graphic novels," it seemed to indicate something a bit more special than "just" a regular standard-sized/monthly chapter of an ongoing series, being more book-like.

This issue is part of a "bookend" mini-series like 1991 (the previous year)’s Armageddon 2001…that is, this first issue begins the event, which then takes place across a number of other titles’ 1992 Annuals…before returning to the 2nd issue as the other bookend to close out the event. Alternatively, one could read this issue, then read the 2nd issue, and presumably just "trust" that a lot went down between; but they are not directly connected sequential chapters despite the numbers on the covers. I really liked this issue…definitely a solid start to the event!

I also had a fair bit of nostalgia going through the issue and defffffinitely wish modern events were like this: infrequent/annual, contained to Annuals. That lets them touch a bunch of titles and characters, withOUT interfering with ongoing stories! They were also thus "contained" rather than fully infesting the publisher’s entire line of books for more months than not. 1991’s Armageddon 2001, 1992’s Eclipso, and 1993’s Bloodlines–none of these had "spine" mini-series with tie-in arcs AND tie-in mini-series and such. 1994’s Zero Hour had a "spine" weekly mini-series and maybe one issue of any given ongoing series tying in (a second issue in the case of the #0 Zero Month that immediately followed). (This format was repeated for the likes of The Final Night and Genesis.) You had the stand-alone-from-the-ongoing-series Annuals…or a single issue of a regular title, and that was that.

I do vaguely recall NOT being so impressed with all of the "Eclipso Annuals" that I’d read back in the day…but fondly recall the Superman: The Man of Steel Annual and the Adventures of Superman ones, as well as a Batman or Detective Annual with the Joker. We’ll see how my 2022-reading affects or holds up to memories, and what other gems or stinkers I find as I–30 years after the event–read the event in its entirety for the first time ever.

For sheer length of story and setup, I’d definitely recommend this issue if you find it in a bargain bin–particularly a 25-cent bargain-bin. As it was originally $2.50, even cover price would not be bad…and for time to read, this would still be quite the bargain at $3.99-$4.99 as a modern comic of this size and density would easily be a $7.99-$9.99+ affair.

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