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"When the time for reflection comes and they fully realize what has occurred, how will I ever ease their sorrow?"—Juan Salvo, on how bad it was before It Got Worse.
El Eternauta ("The Eternaut") is the most famous Argentinian Comic, (alongside Mafalda, of course). It was first published in a weekly basis from 1957 to 1959 in the Hora Cero magazine, scripted by Héctor Germán Oesterheld and featuring art by Francisco Solano López.
The story is set about a decade into the future where a deadly snowfall suddenly strikes. The protagonist - who along with his family and a few friends was sheltered safely at home - must then try to survive in the new desolate and hostile environment: finding rations to live, avoiding all contact with this fluorescent snow that kills everything it comes in contact with, and, most importantly, battling fear, desperation and the potential threat of fellow human survivors. As the story progresses, the real cause of the snowfall is revealed and the protagonist is quickly drafted into a makeshift resistance army.
Widely considered a masterpiece, it's reading is highly suggested. There is a sequel, made in 1976-77, which is a bit more Darker and Edgier, and mostly regarded quite a good comic but not as brilliant as the original. There was later a third installment, notoriously infamous for lack of endorsement by the original authors, with Oesterheld being already dead and hired writers and artists who remained anonymous at the time. Starting in The Nineties, a lot of other sequels and homages, both official and unofficial, were released, cementing it as an important part of Argentine pop culture. Solano López eventually created the Universo Eternauta brand ("Eternaut Universe") in order to publish both new and old (with bonus material) stories.
There are translations to French and Italian, Italy being a country where El Eternauta hit it bigtime and a major reason for the sequel being made. Besides Argentina, the last original edition is available in Spain too. Word of God says that an English edition was printed somewhen in Britain, probably in the seventies, but if so, it is so rare it has become almost an Urban Legend.
It is considered an all-time classic by several comic historians and scholars, such as Claude Moliterni, Franco Restaino, Thierry Groensteen, Daniele Barbieri and many others. Any serious universal history/dictionary of graphic narrative has it indexed in a noteworthy article.
List of publications:
- El Eternauta, First Part: (1957) By Oesterheld and Solano López. The original that started it all, made purely of awesome. Regularly reprinted, with 2007's 50th Anniversary edition being a standout.
- El Eternauta, Remake: (1969) By Oesterheld and Breccia. A leftist pamphlet with several drastic changes to the storyline, which coupled with Breccia's weird and experimentalist approach arose an uproar from the fans. Consequently, it got rushed up. It's not merely that the alien invaders are depicted as The Empire, a certain somebody even helps them and all!
- El Eternauta, Second Part: (1976) By Oesterheld and Solano López. A direct, Darker and Edgier sequel. Drops most of the six hundred and seventeen different themes present in the first part in favor of a more direct and arguably leftist message. Generally considered at least a worthy sequel. Last work by Oesterheld before his forced disappearance.
- El Eternauta, Third Part: (1983) By Ongaro, Morhain and Oswal. Just your average sci-fi comic, reusing the characters in some uninspired setting and considered by many to have been made mostly to cash in.
- El Eternauta, The Repentant World: (1997) By Maiztegui and Solano López. Featuring talking cows.
- El Eternauta, The Cosmic Hatred: (1998) By Muñoz, Barreiro, Taborda and Rearte.
- El Eternauta, Returns: (2003) By Maiztegui and Solano López.
- El Eternauta, The Calling Dog and Other Stories: (2010) By Kern, Solano López and others.
WARNING: Roaring Rampage of Spoilers ahoy!
This work contains examples of:
- And I Must Scream: After watching it happen to a friend, the protagonist, who's fully paralyzed, gets an antenna shoved into the back of his head, knowing in advance it will make him a slave forced to kill, betray or worse his fellow human survivors. Thought bubbles: No! NOOOO!!!
- Apocalypse How: A green phosphorescent snowfall which, by unknown means, wipes virtually any kind of lifeform it comes into contact with, including bacteria. The few who survive, have less subtle methods awaiting. Class 4, maybe worse.
- Apologetic Attacker: The Manos ("Hands") race are enslaved via a "terror gland" that segregates venom whenever they feel fear. This way they cannot even think of rebellion, since just thinking of it would cause them fear, ending their lives. However, once the gland has been activated, they are finally "freed" (at least for a few minutes until they die) and usually they regret bitterly about their evil doings.
- Applied Phlebotinum: Most of the alien technology is so advanced that even the scientist of the group, Favalli, doesn't have a clue on how it works. Grade 1 in the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.
- Armor Is Useless: static defensive tactics never end well in this universe, and Tank Goodness is a consistently averted trope due to giant indestructible mind-controlled monsters with an appetite for tanks and extremely advanced BFG tech. If you are La Résistance, you better keep it light and swift.
- Art Evolution: Favalli starts as a fit - if quite bulky - character, only to become fatter as the story advances. His increased belly even becomes relevant to a minor plot point.
- Badass Normal: Most of the main characters are just common middle-class Buenos Aires citizens. However, when the shit hits the fan they discover they were much more resourceful that they thought, and actually pretty Badass, particularly Franco. It also must be noticed that the militiamen fight without order but, with some exceptions, they are consistently brave and loyal.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: The "cascarudos" (beetles) are almost Exactly What It Says on the Tin, only the size of a adult human, deadlier, and mind controlled.
- Bittersweet Ending
- Body Horror: Having an antenna's dozens of spikes forced into the back of your head... while all you can do is scream inside your mind because you are fully paralyzed. See Ridiculously-Human Robots.
- Cozy Catastrophe: Uh-uh. Forget it.
- Desolation Shot: When your city is a frozen fluorescent graveyard, it goes without saying that every single shot count as one.
- Despair Event Horizon: Salvo and his friends are pushed against it, over and over again. Most of the times, they manage to stay in the good side.
- Eldritch Abominations: The Ellos (literally "Them") are never to be seen, but it is quite probable they qualify for this. The closest description we have of them is being "The Cosmic Hatred".
- We do get to see their SUITS at the end of the part 2 where it looks like a cloud-smoke-thing at best. Their real bodies however are yet to be seen.
- Also, there is a positive example of this trope in part 2 for the "Them-Friend" that transported Salvo, his family and the author to the year 2100 to combat the other Them in their critical moment on After the End Earth.
- We do get to see their SUITS at the end of the part 2 where it looks like a cloud-smoke-thing at best. Their real bodies however are yet to be seen.
- Executive Meddling: The Second Part was published in 1976-77, amidst the most brutal military dictatorship in Argentina, with a policy of censorship that would make look Mr. Mc Carthy as a tree-hugger on a happy acid trip. Oesterheld was part of a underground guerrilla movement and often find himself telling the script of the next episode by phone to the publisher's secretary. These have not been made public, but it seems as the director of the publishing house watered down the scripts a bit, and even the artist, Solano López, refused to draw some parts and changed them. The expected and understandable thing to happen when Culture Police go Axe Crazy. Oesterheld also did some heavy-fire comics for other magazines, more engaged or plainly banned, before being caught and most likely killed without a trial in late 1977 or early 1978.
- Fridge Horror: The whole premise of the travelling through time and space seems really cool from the very beginning... If you don't think too hard on it. Due to messing with Eldritch Technologies, Juan Salvo becomes the Eternaut, the "Traveller of Eternity", travelling through time and space over and over. This mean that he was able to escape the likely complete extinction/enslavement of the human race, but he can't control this power. On the other hand, the same thing happened to Elena and Martita, his beloved wife and daughter, both also drifting through the many continuums of timespace together... hopefully. So Salvo faces the tragic condition of being Last of His Kind, knowing positively that his family is somewhere out there, jumping through time and space, facing the endless dangers and horrors of the universe on their own, with a infinitesimal chance of ever finding them. Needless to say, he holds onto the hope that he will find both, asking for them to every single creature he finds. And he finally does... In a way... or does he?. Don't ask me.
- Giving Radio to the Romans: or, in this case forges, steam machines, primitive pistols, muskets and cannons to the Cave People (which are actually in the future, but have been enslaved and kept in the stone age).
- Hope Spot: The comic throws them frequently - only to crush them sistematically.
- Insectoid Aliens: The Cascarudos, of course.
- It Gets Worse: and then worse. And then worse. Even worse. The end.
- Kill It with Fire: The "Gurbos", giant creatures with hides Made of Indestructium, can be killed with the BFG heatrays the aliens have. In the Second Part, a good ol' flamethrower is not enough to kill them, but you can hope it will keep them at bay.
- La Résistance: Both the first and second parts of El Eternauta develop around this trope.
- Le Bande Dessinée Artistique: The Eternauta Remake of 1969 was lampooned and censored in Argentina because of (among other things) its mind-blowingly dark, gritty, groundbreaking, insane and sometimes abstract or downright incomprehensible art by Alberto Breccia, possibly the most talented comic artist ever born in Argentina. The French BD avant-garde artists just loved his style, and its success allowed a French edition of both the remake and the original version. Several has been done since.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: When the lethal snow starts to fall, the characters are playing cards in the attic of Salvo's cozy home. Everything is sealed, so the snow doesn't get in. However, they manage to make a suit to protect Salvo from going through the snow for supplies, using only the things available at the house. It works.
- Mind Screw: The circular ending. Jorge Luis Borges is probably the one to blame. Also counts as a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Moral Event Horizon: Despite fighting a extermination war, the protagonists never torture or execute any enemy. As a matter of fact, being common and decent people, they always are plenty of moral concerns regarding their doings, and never think selfishly, even in the most dire situations.
- However, in the Darker and Edgier sequel, Salvo makes a Face Heel Turn, making his disregard to human life somewhat of a shock for the fans of the first part (and even for his comrades in-story).
- No Export for You: It is a sad thing that to the present day there is not an English edition available, particularly after it proved to be successfully exportable in France and Italy.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: An improvised army mostly made of unprepared civilians fights against an invasion armada of Big Creepy-Crawlies, robot men and monsters 30mts. tall with skins made of indestructium directed by Higher-Tech Species. Of course, as it turn out they are all but controlled pawns of Eldritch Abominations. Averted partially, since they die in great numbers, are treated with disdain by the professional officers and they all suffer a Fate Worse Than Death except for Salvo and his family. It is also a Justified Trope, since in both parts there is no professional army to rely on.
- Ridiculously-Human Robots: TERRIFYINGLY Human Robots, since the Manos use a device that, inserted in the spine of a human, transforms his nervous system into a living puppet used to kill or capture more humans. You know... for kids!
- Rubber Forehead Aliens: The Manos, being completely humanoid except that they have enormous hands with dozens of fingers... and large foreheads.
- Screw the Rules, I Have a Nuke: Nuclear strategic missiles from some superpower from the North fall over Buenos Aires. They are defused in mid-air by the aliens, but when the protagonists blow the artificial habitat of "Them" with a bazooka, it is bad news that one last missile was still on the way, nuking Buenos Aires. For good. It Gets Worse.
- Scenery Gorn: Many places and landmarks of late 1950s Buenos Aires are carefully reproduced, and destroyed. And then the entire city is nuked.
- Shown Their Work: a great deal of the success of El Eternauta was due to the lavishing depictions of Buenos Aires Solano made, with landmarks as Plaza Itala, Estadio Monumental, Zoológico Municipal or the Congress Building being invaded and devastated by aliens. The different ethnic and social types of Argentina, the decoration, cars, guns, just everything is extremely accurate, in order to make the invasion trope very real, and the perspective of this Twenty Minutes Into the Future scenario more dreadful for the 1950's reader.
- Slave Mooks: Every single enemy we see turns out to be naught but a fear- or mind-controlled slave to the REAL invaders.
- Steampunk: A very curious and early approach. In the Second Part, the Cave People are subjected by Higher-Tech Species that have been stranded for centuries because of a malfunctioning spaceship and are quite bitter about it. Limited in their high tech supplies and armory, they keep the Cave People enslaved and unable to advance technologically, using an army of ferocious artficial humans and Humongous Wooden Steam-Propelled Tanks with one-shot cannons and flamethrowers. It sounds ridiculous, and one of the characters even points it out, but the "mano" quite calmly explains him that as crude as it looks, it works just swell against unarmed cavemen. In this grim universe, rocks don't beat flamethrowers.
- Talking the Monster to Death: The information obtained by Juan Salvo from the first Hand and how they are actually being controlled by a fear gland probes to be massively useful later on trough the series.
- Professor Favalli manages to be the first to weaponize this knowledge and its as awesome as it sounds.
- The Capital of Brazil Is Buenos Aires: Heavily averted, since both writer and artist are Porteños (i.e. from Buenos Aires). See Shown Their Work.
- The Day of the Triffids: A probable source of inspiration. Oesterheld never stated so, but there is an Argentinean translation of the novel published in 1956, and he was a Sci-Fi fan (he even directed a Sci-Fi and science magazine, Más Allá ("Beyond")), so it's not farfetched.
- The End of the World as We Know It: if not the end of the world, period.
- The Watcher: In the second part, a good invader kindof has this role.
- What Could Have Been: The 1969 remake was absolutely incredible; lightyears beyond its time, with out of this world graphics and a dark, adult-oriented script... Guess what, the Moral Guardians and Executive Meddling wasted it. The few pages fully accomplished are still breathtaking.
- Vichy Earth: Implied by some "Mano" that this is what will become of the planet if The Resistance loses (humans made slave labor and resources plundered). Then, at the end, its implied by another "Mano" that this actually came to pass after Earth fell.
- Zeerust: Alien technology seems quite outdated and camp-material, but, well, the same thing happens with just any Sci-Fi comic of that decade. Actually, put in context, some thingamajigs still look pretty cool and/or deadly. The trope runs very straight for the futuristic Buenos Aires of the mediocre and apocryphal Third Part made the 80s.