Think of "The Eternal Conflicts of the Cosmic Warrior" as a teaser one-shot, designed to give you a glimpse into a world that creator Paul Grist would like to explore in the future. Thought of along those lines, a new reader might be intrigued by what he or she sees here and wish for more. While it's approximately a done-in-one story, the issue raises far too many questions without providing enough meat to sink your teeth into. Worse, the story opens on a complete non-sequitur gag sequence. It's funny, but it's three pages that drive the story nowhere.
It's possible that, as a non-"Jack Staff" reader, I'm not meant to get it. I don't think that's the case, though, as Grist's text page in the back would indicate that the Cosmic Warrior hasn't had all that much play in the past, and functions as a bit of plot device inside of "Jack Staff" as it is.
The story has a monastery, a cosmic champion, a sword fight, and dismemberment. It has the one sole hope for humanity, and a fallen queen of heaven who appears to be the villain of the piece.
The pieces don't have the chance to add up entirely, and a pair of ill-advised introductions don't help any. In the end, I enjoyed the book for the vague allusions and the admitted pilot nature of the story. At least Grist told a complete story inside of one issue, even if a large portion of the backstory is maddeningly untold.
The star of the book is Grist's art, though. He's the mutant son of Dave Sim, combined with a touch of Mike Mignola's sense of blacks and Jeff Smith's ink work. The visuals are big and bold, simple yet expressive. No single page is boring. Most aren't formally broken down into panels, using some of Eisner's tricks to make the reader's eyes create the panel borders for him. When it does come time for simple panel-to-panel work, Grist works out a way to make it interesting and better designed than just a simple grid. His hand lettering and imperfect word balloons add to the feel of the comic, as well as its uniqueness.
Bill Crabtree's colors are, thankfully, simplified enough that they don't fight for your attention with the ink lines. The color scheme is almost literal, eschewing gradients and color keys for the sake of keeping everything clear and pleasant to look at.
"The Eternal Conflicts of the Cosmic Warrior" might prove to be a great series in the future. For now, this one shot offers too much of a tease without giving the reader enough information to feel anything for these characters. It's all so mechanical. But, then, Paul Grist's mechanics are very sound. Grist is planning a five issue mini-series in 2010 for the character; let's hope that gives him a chance to dig in and explain things better for us all.