Writer: Bob Haney
Artists: Jack Sparling, Alex Toth, Lee Elias, and Bernard Baily
Rating: Four of Ten Stars
There are some comic book ideas that should never be made into ongoing series. Eclipso is one those. Although the basic premise--brilliant scientist Bruce Gordon transforms into an evil being bent on destruction when there's an eclipse--has plenty of potential, the limitation of it should also have been evident to editors if not to creator Bob Haney.
And that's where the other problems with "Eclipso" some in, problems that amplified when one reads several of the stories back-to-back in this collected volume.
With eclipses being easily predictable, not exactly every day occurrences, writer Bob Haney has to go through some rather goofy gyrations to bring the title character of the strip into many of the stories. The most rediculous of these are the "artificial eclipse" that happens when a boulder rolls by the mouth of a gave Bruce Gordon finds himself in. If this was the only time such silly plot contrivance had to be deployed, it could be forgiven, but it is only one of many.
Another problem with the set-up is the fact that the Eclipso identity is a costumed character that also needs a magical black gem in order to function. Each time Elcipso appears, he needs to retrieve his outfit and his gem, something else that leads to some ridiculous moments in a couple of the early stories. The fix that Haney comes up--splitting Eclipso and Gordon into two separate beings--gets rid of the Jekyll and Hyde aspect of the set-up and allows Gordon to actively take part in attempts to eliminate this evil alter-ego. Initially, it's a good approach, even if it doesn't fix the central problem with the fact that eclipses shouldn't as hard to deal with as they appear to be in the World of Bruce Gordon.
For all my complaints, "Eclipso" is fun in the same sort of way that cheesy sci-fi movies from the 1950s are fun: The level of free-wheeling nonsense present in each tale is an attraction in-and-of-itself and perhaps in the small doses it was originally presented in that might be enough to carry the series. Certainly, the publisher and editors at National Periodicals/DC Comics must have thought so, even if the fact there was enough material published in "House of Secrets" to fill this book makes me wonder "why"?
The first two "Eclipso" stories feel fresh and engaging, with their sci-fi take on the Jekyll and Hyde myth; for the modern reader they even demonstrate how long the pipe-dream of practical solar energy has fired imaginations as the first target of Eclipso's evil is a grand city that runs entirely on solar power. But once those are behind us, the limitations of the concept become evident and Haney's struggles to deal with them fall somewhere between the Labors of Hercules and the Punishment of Sisyphus. While I can easily picture editors being blinded to the flaws in the scripts for the half-dozen stories featuring the exciting line work of Alex Toth, the inconsistent art of Jack Sparling--who drew the bulk of the stories and who often couldn't make a character appear the same from panel to panel, let alone from page to page--should have made even the most content-hungry editor consider better options. (Of course, it's possible that readers loved Eclipso and that's why the series stuck around. There is, after all, no accounting for taste.)