If you follow Marvel movie news closely, you’ve likely heard reports about Eternals, a new movie coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But you’re likely scratching your head as to who or what the Eternals are exactly.
Eternals was a comic book written and penciled by the legendary Jack Kirby in 1976, in the years when he returned to Marvel following a brief fling at DC. It lasted for 19 issues, plus an annual.
Kirby was fasciated with mythology and his head was always swirling with thoughts about how to merge ancient mythologies with the pulp science fiction he loved in order to create a modern story of the origin of humanity.
Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics to work at DC Comics in 1970 and dabbled with those themes at DC with the New Gods saga. But New Gods was left incomplete after its cancellation. So, when Kirby returned to Marvel, he developed Eternals, a comic that was thematically similar to the New Gods.
Alas, many of the plotlines of Eternals were never finished by Kirby either, although the characters and themes popped up sporadically in the decades that followed. Mark Gruenwald used the Eternals in a Thor storyline that ended at Thor #301 and resolved a few of the lingering plotlines.
Another appearance of the Eternals retconned other storylines in order to explain how certain humans developed super-powers. But most notable was a 2006 miniseries by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr. that helped bring the Eternals’ role in the modern Marvel Universe up-to-date.
And it did need bringing up-to-date, although a strong argument could be made that there is still a lot of work to be done in that regard. Eternals certainly are not, and never have been, front and center at Marvel. But before we discuss that further, let’s outline some of the main characters and themes.
The broad idea of Eternals is mysterious cosmic beings called Celestials visited Earth millennia ago and gave rise to three races: humans, Deviants, and Eternals. Humans we get. Deviants are more monstrous creatures who went into hidden exile deep beneath the sea.
Eternals are the race with superpowers who can not be killed and live on Mt. Olympia. The Eternals also have really on-the-nose analogues to a variety of human mythologies, including Greek and Roman of course. For example, there’s a speedster like Mercury named Thena, who is an obvious analogue to Athena.
Ikaris and Sersi are perhaps the best known Eternals, the latter appearing briefly on the Avengers team in order to flirt with Cap. But none of the characters really made much of an impact. What’s worse, one attempt to modernize the characters–The Eternal, a series from Marvel’s MAX imprint written by Chuck Austen–was so ghastly that it set the characters and franchise back.
So why is Marvel betting that the Eternals will be there next billion dollar movie? Well, some say it is a response to New Gods, the other Jack Kirby creation that is rumored to be in movie development for DC. But I’m not super familiar with New Gods and can’t be bothered to Google it.
Plus, I think that reasoning is an over-active tendency to always position Marvel against DC, when the likelihood is Marvel doesn’t care what movie DC has coming out. It’s much more likely a response to Marvel’s own movies and the fact that Thor: Ragnarok and the two Guardians movies were smashing successes that put Marvel cosmic material on incredible footing.
We know that Star-Lord’s father in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Ego, was a Celestial, so some of Jack Kirby’s creations have already been introduced in the MCU. Marvel is leaning into that success in order to make an even more Jack Kirby-esque cosmic movie. Eternals will be that movie.
Sersi is thought to be the main character in the movie and Angelina Jolie is rumored to be in consideration for the throne. Ikaris will likely be introduced as well. Years down the line, Eternals also provides an opportunity to lean into the Claremont cosmic X-Men with the drama of the Starjammers, another set of Marvel cosmic character who could tie-in nicely with the Eternals.
The Eternals sounds sort of like a substitute for the Inhumans, the Marvel movie from several years ago that was scrapped for Spider-Man: Homecoming, then sent to ABC as a short-lived television show. If you were unfortunate enough to watch that show, then you know that the Inhumans = #TerrigenMissed. It was dreadful. Hopefully The Eternals will prove much, much better. We’ll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, I wish I could point you to the old Jack Kirby Eternals comic, but they don’t hold up. They are clearly a product of the 70s. Not much happens despite page after page of exposition and there isn’t a lick of character work anywhere.
But we’ve seen what Kevin Feige and company has done with the MCU, as the past ten years has seen it become the most successful movie franchise of all time. The Eternals movie could be the moment when Jack Kirby’s dream to create his own mythology finally comes to life.