How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with the plastic diamond cover of Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1…
Eclipso The Darkness Within #1 (published July 1992) – co-plot and breakdowns by Keith Giffen; co-plot and script by Robert Loren Fleming; pencils by Bart Sears; inks by Randy Elliott and Mark Pennington
More than 20 years before DC launched “Forever Evil,” there was the company-wide crossover “Eclipso The Darkness Within,” which followed the demonic villain Eclipso in his quest to possess the superheroes of the DC universe using the evil power of an ancient black diamond. The storyline spanned more than 20 issues of various DC titles – mostly annual issues – and kicked off in Eclipso’s very own two-part miniseries, which sported a plastic diamond on the cover as a gimmick.
But what about inside the comic?
Actually, I need to talk about this plastic diamond for a second. As someone who is neck-deep in 90s gimmick comic books, you might be surprised to read that I think Eclipso’s plastic diamond ranks as the most insipid of the lot. Not because it’s an unattractive cover (though it doesn’t look great), but because the plastic diamond is a very poorly conceived way to market a potentially “collectible” comic. As is the norm, I usually bag and board the comics I plan on keeping and collecting. I then store these comics in a long or short box. The problem with the Eclipso book is that any other comic you store in front of it in your box gets a small diamond-shaped indentation on its backside from that stupid “diamond.” So unless you plan on keeping Eclipso #1 at the very front of your box, it ends up damaging all of its neighboring comics. Why couldn’t DC just give me a hologram diamond like a normal 90s comic book?
Despite my diamond-angst (and yes, the irony is not lost on me that, in this story, Eclipso’s black diamond takes hold of his victims by making them irrationally angry), I actually found this comic to be a fun, harmless read, and an overall solid setup for the company-wide storyline. Granted, the tone of this book is all over the place, as we jump from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness-era Africa to the Moon, to the modern-day DC Universe, but the issue manages to briskly work in a lot of plot without ever grinding to a halt and feeling too bogged down with exposition.
I’ll readily admit that my familiarity with Eclipso and his origin is minimal outside of reading this issue, but Keith Giffen and Robert Fleming’s plot keeps me in the loop, especially as it relates to Eclipso and his original host, solar physicist Bruce Gordon (supposedly named after Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon as an inside-joke by Eclipso’s original creators Bob Haney and Lee Elias).
As is standard practice for a large, far-reaching crossover that incorporates nearly every iconic superhero in DC’s repertoire, the creators are clearly trying to elevate Eclipso from career B-lister into a major threat. In this issue alone, Eclipso goes after Creeper, Lar Grand and the biggest fish of them all, Superman. And he’s pretty successful in his attempts, using his diamonds to posses first two and standing his ground against Superman before Gordon is able to expose the demon’s weakness to direct sunlight.
I’m sure ardent fans of the DC Universe were probably flabbergasted in 1992 when they witnessed a guy as low on the totem pole as Eclipso suddenly being presented as a major threat to the likes of Superman (and later Batman), but to Giffen/Fleming’s credit, they were at least consistent in their characterization of the villain within this one issue. Plus, if DC was going to stretch this storyline into 20-parts, they needed to do everything they could to sell Eclipso as a major bad-ass. So in this instance, having Eclipso basically say that he’s been holding back all these years, but now he’s ready to show the world the full range of his powers, is good enough for me.
There are your standard (irritating) 90s moments that find their way into this issue. Such as an appearance from a random muscle-bound, machine-gun toting sociopath (possessed by Eclipso of course), who shoots up a public venue while searching for Creeper. Honestly, nearly a year after first launching “Gimmick or Good?” these scenes have become the comic book equivalent of white noise to me. We get it. Readers in the 90s had a propensity to buy comics with big guns and bloodshed.
Regarding the comic’s layout, I appreciated how, in a few instances, the creative team inserted small illustrations of Eclipso at the end of a sequence of panels to function as a visual transition from one scene to the next. Considering how Eclipso’s powers are centered on his ability to possess another person, having these little illustrations serve as a reminder that the character is always looming and omnipresent throughout this story.
“Darkness Within” is definitely not a memorable or influential storyline by any stretch, but I also can’t say I found anything abjectly wrong with it. In fact, as someone who came into this issue totally blind, the creative team did enough to get me interested in picking up the rest of the tie-ins if I ever happen to stumble across them in a dollar box somewhere. Just as long as they aren’t damaged by any diamond indentations.
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