Remember in 2014 when the weirdest, most out there, most obscure film Marvel had put out was the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy? Everyone was like, “Wait — the tree is sentient and walking and the raccoon can talk? And they are in space — far away from Captain America and Iron Man…?”
Well welcome to 2020 and the property known as The Eternals, my myriad and merry Marvelites!
The Eternals? Are they the Elders of the Universe or are they related to the X-Men or the Guardians of the Galaxy or the Avengers or even the Inhumans?
No. Not really. At least not initially.
Buckle up and allow me to take you a brief, guided tour through yet another creation of Jack Kirby!
Jack “The King” Kirby started in comics when he was very young. His best known creation — at that time — was Captain America, who he co-created with Joe Simon in 1941. However, his true rise to prominence in pop culture came in 1961 when he co-created The Fantastic Four with Stan Lee, and then Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, The Avengers, and The X-Men.
Home run after home run after home run, you’d think Marvel would do everything they could to keep Kirby happy; however, after spending most of the Silver Age of comics at Marvel, Kirby left in 1970, having struck a pretty sweet deal with DC Comics, a deal that would see him as sole creator, writer, penciler and editor of his own properties.
At DC, Kirby created what is known today as The Fourth World Saga, including such titles as New Gods, The Forever People and Mister Miracle. This was the story of the old gods, who all died out during their version of Ragnarok, leaving a godhood power vacuum throughout the universe so that the New Gods of New Genesis and the evil gods of Apokolips, including the evil despot known as Darkseid.
These stories started rolling out around 1970 and Kirby worked on them up until around 1975, when Kirby left his creation to be controlled by other writers, choosing to jump away from DC and head back to Marvel.
And why did he do this?
Because he and DC never really truly saw eye-to-eye, creatively, on what he had created. You see, Kirby wanted to keep all of this away from DC’s main continuity, publishing all of the stories together in larger volumes similar to the way artists like Moebius and Jean-Claude Mezieres were doing it in Europe. But DC didn’t want to do that — DC wanted Superman and Darkseid to get into cosmic fisticuffs, for Batman and Mister Miracle to out-caper each other. So, after spending the first half of the 70’s arguing over this and with Kirby’s name not being enough to generate the sales bonanza they had expected, DC started taking Kirby off of his creation and putting writers like Gerry Conway and Steve Englehart on the title.
And Kirby, middle fingers to the wind, left DC for Marvel where they were offering him a similar deal DC had half a decade earlier.
What did Kirby create at Marvel with his newfound freedom within the House of Ideas that he had helped to build fifteen years earlier?
The Eternals, which were to be published in European-styled volumes and would feature no crossover with any other Marvel characters — it would stand completely on its own, and Kirby would be sole creator, sole writer, sole penciler and have editorial control. Pretty much the same deal he’d fought for at DC.
And with that background, we can now finally talk about The Eternals — a race of god-like humans created ages sometime around the Stone Age by a race of cosmic gods — called Celestials — who came to earth millennia ago to perform their experiments on the cave people running around then. These Celestials created two evolutionary off-shoots of the nascent human race: one came to be known as The Eternals, and the other The Deviants, the villainous antagonists to The Eternals.
It would later be revealed that these Celestials were, essentially, the original generators of life around the cosmos and that it was their evolutionary meddling in early humans that lead to the possibility for superhumans on earth.
In fact, as other comic creators took Kirby’s toys — the Celestials — and started evolving their story, it became clear that the Celestial experiments are what made superpowers possible, at all. In fact, they had visited other planets and performed similar experiments. That’s how the Skrulls got their shapeshifting powers actually, though they are their homeworld’s equivalent to the Deviant species. The Celestials performed similar experiments on the Kree homeworld of Hala, where the Kree then took that knowledge and ran their own experiments on humanity thousands of years after the initial Celestial experiments, but still also thousands of years ago for humans — and that is how The Inhumans were created.
Do you like the X-Men? Spider-Man? The Fantastic Four? The Captains Marvel?
Thank the Celestials.
But what about Thor? Isn’t he a god, along with all of the vaulted heroes of Asgard?
Yes — he is, as are Zeus, Marduk, Ares, Shiva, Gaea, and any number of myriad other deities — but they all came later. And they all came thanks to other writers that were NOT Jack Kirby. Well, except for Thor — but he did that before he invented the Celestials …
And, by the way — we’ve all already met The Celestials — in Guardians of the Galaxy. Remember that weird looking giant that The Collector shows Star-Lord and the rest of the team? That’s a Celestial.
Remember the giant severed head floating in space where The Collector lived? That was the severed head of a Celestial.
Whether Marvel decides to take it this way or not, we’ve all already met an Eternal too — Thanos — though, admittedly, like so much with comics, it’s a bit murky and complicated. It seems as if they may be taking it in this direction, however, because in Avengers: Infinity War, we hear The Red Skull, as guardian of the Soul Stone, refer to Thanos as “Son of A’lars” and A’lars is an Eternal.
But, for now — ONWARDS TO THE ETERNALS!
The Eternals are a race of super-powered human-like beings that have lived in secret, apart from humanity, since before the dawn of civilization. They are nigh-immortal; hence their name. They are all super-intelligent, all exhibit their own specialized superpowers as well as a host of shared powers, such as super strength and energy projection.
It’s their specialized powers, however, that set them apart and is how early humanity knew them. See — The Eternals are responsible for giving us some of our original mythological gods. For instance, the Eternal known as Maccari has the specialized power of superspeed and the ancient Greeks interpreted his name to be Mercury and they bestowed upon him the legend of being the super speedy messenger of their divine pantheon. And Ikaris, who’s specialized power is how high and fast he can fly, became the hero known as Icarus.
As for their antagonistic cousins, the Deviants — they became the devils and demons that plague humanity.
The Deviants see themselves as the superior beings on the planet and, henceforth, want to conquer humanity to enslave them; the Eternals want all beings to live in peace with each other and, therefore, fight to keep humanity safe from their immortal enemies. This back and forth relationship has existed since before humans knew how to tie their proverbial shoes and it has lasted up until the modern day, unintentionally — and in our case, unknowingly — informing a majority of our mythologies across all cultures that have existed.
And all of this happened after the Celestials, the original seeders of life in our universe, came to the planet and meddled in our evolution and then just, like, left to go get cigarettes or whatever.
So — with that in mind, Eternals #1 from 1976 introduces us to our narrative window character of Ike Harris, an adventurer who has teamed up with an archaeologist named Dr. Damian and Damian’s daughter, Margo Damian, to dive deep into some ancient Incan ruins in Peru. However, when the Deviants appear to stop Ikaris from accomplishing his mission, Dr. Damian and Margo quickly learn that Ike Harris is not necessarily a human being — he is in fact the Eternal known as Ikaris.
I don’t mean to sound glib — I just — the stories that comics are able to tell are just so amazing.
It turns out that the Eternals were aware of the imminent return of The Celestials and Ikaris was in these ruins to locate the Eternal known as Ajak, whose special power is that he is the only one able to communicate with the Celestials — they speak to him and he can speak to them. See, the Celestials return to earth every few thousand years to check on their experiment and, more or less, judge the sentient life of our planet as worthy of continuing or not — i.e. Judgment Day.
Each time they return, it is referred to as “Host.” Their first time here, known as the First Host, was when they turned some of the cave dwelling humans around at the time into the Eternals, turned others into the Deviants, and then left the rest to evolve as normal, humdrum, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, boring ol’ humans.
The Second Host was during the time of the ancient Greeks and they decimated the Deviant city of Lemuria, who was at war with Atlantis. Subsequently, they also destroyed Atlantis.
And finally, for their last visit — i.e. The Third Host — they visited the Incas in Peru; hence why all of those Incan lines at Nazca exist. All of the Incan art archaeologists have discovered was all based on what the Celestials looked like to them.
This is their fourth return and Ikaris and his fellow Eternals are hopeful that they can prevent this judgement from happening or, at the very least, plead their case to forestall it for the time being.
Also we learn here that Ikaris is, more or less, the dove that brought Noah’s Ark to the summit of Mt. Arat.
Ikaris is able to awaken the long-slumbering Ajak, make him aware of what is going, but the Celestials show up right as a team of Deviants shows up, led by a militant named Kro, who wants to stop whatever plan the Eternals have hatched. Having lost this fight, Kro transforms his hideous appearance to be more akin to that of the Devil and sets out to convince humanity that demons are real and to turn them all against each other.
And that’s where the first couple issues end, but that’s far from the end of our story here.
So let’s skip ahead a couple years.
After just 19 issues, Marvel cancels The Eternals. Why did this happen? Same song, different verse — Marvel continued to pressure Kirby to include larger aspects of the Marvel universe and he continued to refuse. The most he allowed was for a few SHIELD agents to infiltrate the Incan ruins where Ajak was attempting to communicate with the Celestials and preclude their judgment of Earth. However, just like at DC, relatively abysmal sales caused Marvel to step in and the story was stopped before Kirby could ever actually finish it.
That is until comic creators Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald decided to finish the story in their run of Thor, starting in Thor #283 and running until about issue #300. If you are looking for an insane story to jump into, jump into this one because it’s a doozy of a yarn that we don’t have the space to unwind. We’ll just … here … look at this picture of Odin’s disembodied floating eye to see just how wonderfully weird it gets.
It is — insane.
Main cast for The Eternals film
Now, who exactly are the main cast of Eternals we can most likely expect to see in the upcoming film, out on November of 2020? Let’s get into that.
Ikaris, who is the first Eternal we meet — the one that’s in the Incan caves at the beginning, his special power is that he can fly. He is sort of one of the primary leaders of the Eternals in their capital city of Olympia. According to IMDB, he’ll be played by Game of Thrones alum, Richard Madden.
Ajak, the dude for whom Ikaris is searching, can speak to the Celestials and, in turn, can understand their language. Ajak, in a great, very progressive turn, will be played by actress Salma Hayek.
Makkari has superspeed and is super impulsive and, in another progressive turn, will be played by actress Lauren Ridloff.
Thena is the daughter of Zuras, leader of the Eternals, and she can shoot energy bolts from her hands in the form of an energy bow that she can manifest — similar to the Greek goddess of Athena. She’s being played by actress Angelina Jolie.
Sprite, one of the younger Eternals, specializes in illusions and pranks and has a tendency to show up in myths and stories as a faun of some sort. In fact, Shakespeare based his character of Puck on Sprite. She’s being played by actress Lia McHugh.
Kingo Sunen is basically just a badass samurai fighter who prefers to fight as a human, not relying on his Eternal powers. Remember when the internet caught on fire because of those super duper hot pictures of Kumail Nanjiani surfaced? He’s playing Kingo Sunen.
Sersi is one of the first Eternals we meet, but the last one listed here for a specific reason — she’s the only Eternal who goes on to fight alongside the Avengers in later comics. It takes some time for her to join the team and her romantic story with the Black Knight is tremendously confusing and involves an alternate reality version of Dane Whitman invading her consciousness, but it appears that some of this story may feature in the film as Sersi, as played by actress Gemma Chan, will star opposite of Kit Harington as Dane Whitman, a.k.a. The Black Knight.
Sersi’s super power is that she can transmute matter into whatever she wants. Remember the story of Odysseus’s men being turned into pigs by a witch named Circe — this is her. Presumably.
Finally — let’s revisit that whole “Thanos is an Eternal” thing.
Though the Eternals were created on earth, there are other Eternals living in our solar system on Saturn’s moon, Titan. The current leader of The Eternals on earth, Zuras, is brother to Mentor, the leader of the Titan Eternals. However — Mentor is his “Titan” name; h’s birth name is actually A’lars, which is the name uttered by the Red Skull to Thanos before he gets the Soul Stone. Thanos was actually born to the Eternal race as a Deviant, something that had never happened before, and it what explains his malevolent character and behavior as a cosmic despot who knows better.
Millennia ago, following the death of Zuras’s and A’lars’s father, Kronos, there was a civil war among the Eternals. To keep the peace, it was decided that the losing faction — they that followed A’lars, would move to Titan.
Because there was already an Eternal city there, founded by Kronos’s brother, Uranos, who also left earth due to a huge fight with Zuras.
See? Comics are filled with absolutely bonkers crazy stories and, in that, The Eternals has one of the windiest, weirdest, most confusing stories to make sense of.
Like, we didn’t even cover the Thor stuff or how Uranos was killed by the Dragon of the Moon —
Also, of note, in the mid-80’s Peter Gillis did a twelve issue run on The Eternals. Then, in 2006, Neil Gaiman wrote a seven issue run that then spun into an ongoing series that was short-lived.
If you’d like us to unpack those stories for you in a future article, let us know in the comments and we’ll get our elves to work!
This article was originally published February 7, 2020.