A title like The Eighth Seal has at least a few definite implications based upon what we know of other pop culture references to the Biblical Seven Seals: death, the Apocalypse, and the existence of a new harbinger of said apocalypse. With these ideas in mind—and fresh from reading James Tynion IV’s chilling techno-psychological thriller Memetic—I was pretty excited to check out the author’s latest, despite knowing absolutely nothing else in advance about the story. But I was curious, too: what’s this eighth seal? Turns out, I didn’t have to mull it over too long; it becomes apparent rather quickly in Tynion’s story that we’re talking about the Seal of the President of the United States. BOOM.
Fictional FLOTUS Amelia Greene is having some issues. Insomnia, fainting spells, and visions of herself as a seven-eyed monster ripping children’s heads off, to name a few. After having these episodes during her last few public appearances, media speculation is perpetuating rumors as to the cause, creating a stir in the White House amongst the Chiefs of Staff. The President himself expresses great concern for his wife’s well being; Amelia does her best to keep her composure and assures everyone she is fine, but uncharacteristic outbursts and a few menacing exchanges with her increasingly monstrous (and implicitly autonomous) reflection would suggest otherwise. Is Amelia changing in reality, or just in her mind? And is it somehow part of a yet unidentified conspiracy? Just what in the hell is going on with this poor woman?
Tynion’s storytelling here is absolutely superb, and Amelia’s mounting neurosis palpable, slightly reminiscent of a Roman Polanski heroine (think Repulsion, and Rosemary’s Baby, of course). The plot unfolds deliberately, taking its time but never lagging; only the necessary information is divulged for now, with a clear purpose yet to be named. The political aspect of the story raises some pretty hefty implications as to the proportions of the impending disaster, fueling the reader’s sense of anticipation.
Jeremy Rock’s immaculate depictions of Tynion’s characters enhance the shock value of seeing Amelia’s perceived alter ego, and further bolster the undercurrent of paranoia throughout the story through strategic framing and facial expressions: a side-eye here, a pointedly-cast shadow there. For a comic with a surrealistic edge it’s very subtle overall, even down to its roundabout indictment of Western news media’s intense scrutiny of public figures (she’s fainting, she’s female…of COURSE it’s reported as an eating disorder, what else?).
Well done, Tynion & Co. The Eighth Seal’s premiere issue engulfs its audience in a shroud of mystery and intrigue without mucking up the works with extraneous nonsense, and raises question upon question without leaving the reader confused or overwhelmed. Its neat little package of politically-infused horror is merely the tip of the huge, catastrophic fucking iceberg to come. BRING IT ON.