Showcase Presents: Eclipso

Written by Bob Haney
Art by Lee Elias, Jack Sparling, Alex Toth
296 pages, black and white
Published by DC Comics

On a recent trip to run the New York City Marathon, I brought a couple of comics with me to pass the time traveling between NYC and Washington DC. In many ways, the perfect summary of Showcase Presents: Eclipso was how I referred to the book whenever someone would ask what I had in my hands. At first my response was, "It’s a reprint of comics from the 1960s about a Jekyll and Hyde sort of supervillain." By about the halfway point, the phrase, "It’s rather silly," usually got added into the previous statement. And by the end? I’d say in my most deep, dramatic voice, "Eclipsoooooooooo! Hero and Villain In One Man!" Trust me when I say that the more you read of Showcase Presents: Eclipso, the harder it is to take it seriously.

Bob Haney’s initial premise isn’t that bad; Bruce Gordon, scientist and creator of the about-to-be-unveiled Solar City, is attacked by a shaman and scratched with a black diamond in the process. Now, whenever Gordon is in the path of an eclipse, his body transforms into the evil Eclipso, who uses the black diamond to shoot his foes and plan to take over the world. Whenever a sharp burst of light hits Eclipso, though, he retreats and Gordon regains control of his body. It’s the old chestnut of the villain being contained inside the hero, and there’s certainly potential in the core concept. One of the things that struck me about those first few stories is how the Eclipso personality has to hide the black diamond and supervillain outfit somewhere that Gordon will never find them. After he transforms, Eclipso runs off to the hiding place and changes his clothes. (Somehow Eclipso manages to re-hide his accessories just before changing back into Gordon.) It’s an odd little quirk, something that grounds the basic idea in reality even as Eclipso takes the book into the real of the fantastic by using energy blasts, telekinetic powers, and other above-and-beyond abilities.

As the stories go on, though, Haney quickly realizes that as an ongoing series within the pages of House of Secrets, he’s actually written himself into a corner. In theory, Gordon could just avoid eclipses for the rest of his life (although we’ll come back to that idea in a bit) and eventually find the hidden costume and black diamond. Haney ends up making several big changes in mid-stream; his girlfriend Mona (and daughter of Gordon’s fellow scientist and confidant Professor Bennett) learns the truth about Gordon and Eclipso’s connection, any sort of "artificial eclipse" can transform Gordon (any ordinary circular object blocking a light source will do), and Eclipso is able to separate into his own body, running around independently of Gordon. Some of these ideas are smart—Mona begins to look like an idiot for not figuring out what’s going on, and this new status quo also lets Gordon be an active participant to stop Eclipso—but on the whole it actually backfires a bit by extending the life of a story that probably should have stopped sooner.

The problem is that Eclipso is a rather cheesy series; having a loose rock roll past the entrance to a cave result in a transformation is so ludicrous that it’s hard to not laugh at it. And in this series, eclipses seem to happen ever day; how many times can Gordon accidentally stumble into the path of an eclipse? By the end of the series’s run in House of Secrets, Gordon has proven himself to be a fairly brilliant scientist who has no understanding of how a calendar works. Haney’s scripts themselves are slightly clumsy; when Mona suddenly starts talking about Gordon and Eclipso being one and the same, there’s an editorial note saying that we’ll learn how she discovered this in the next issue. It’s hard to not think that this was a last-second scramble to cover up Haney forgetting Mona being in the dark, even though he’d created the series. The stories themselves get more outlandish each month, with sun demons, meteorites, and even appearances by House of Secrets co-star Prince Ra-Man, Mind Master. While Haney tries to dress up his stories with new elements each month, though, it’s ultimately the same story told twenty times. One almost wants Eclipso to finally win for once, just for a change of pace.

On the bright side, five of the twenty stories were illustrated by Alex Toth, and artistically that’s a real treat. I love the strong-jawed, rough-edged style that Toth uses in these comics. It’s a tough, masculine look for the book, one that reminds me of old adventure comic strips in newspapers. Reading Toth-drawn strips made me just hope that at some point in time, Gordon would leap over a railing and punch out Eclipso; it’s a swaggering, raw style. At the same time, though, there’s still an impeccable sense of anatomy and storytelling; there’s no exaggeration going on here. Gordon doesn’t have crazy muscles or the like, but he still looks tough if you know what I mean. The other artists aren’t up to Toth’s lofty standards, but they’re not bad. Original co-creator Lee Elias draws the first two stories, and it’s a clean, crisp style, although one that seems more suited to a romance comic than an adventure or superhero story. Gordon and Mona both have a classical star-crossed lover look, with perfectly coiffed hair and deep, weepy eyes. Jack Sparling (who draws the remaining thirteen stories) is more in line with Toth, but it’s a less cohesive look; some of his figures look more like scrawls, and it lacks a firm consistency from one panel to the next.

Showcase Presents: Eclipso isn’t a bad book, but it’s the sort of collection where a little goes a long way. You’ll need to check your brain out almost instantly when reading it, because it rapidly devolves into over the top desperation from Haney. The Toth artwork alone is worth the price of admission, though, and there are nice moments peppered throughout the series that made me glad I read it. I do think, though, that if you spread reading the book out over a long period of time, it’s a good thing. Too much too soon just hammers home the sameness of the series.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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