SDCC 2019: What’s the Deal with Marvel’s ‘The Eternals’?
This weekend, box office juggernaut Marvel Studios debuted the logo and officially confirmed casting for their upcoming film, The Eternals.
A few hours later, Discussing Film tweeted out the first look at concept art.
It’s o.k. if your response to all that was “Who?” The Eternals are pretty obscure.
Unlike Jack Kirby’s other mythological creation, the New Gods, who are held in pretty high reverence over at DC Comics and have maintained a fairly constant presence since 1971, The Eternals just kind of happened, and then went away.
The original 1976 Eternals series ran for 19 issues and one Annual. There was a brief revival lasting 12 issues in 1985, that I’m fairly confident no one has ever actually read. With over 25,000 comics available to read on Marvel Unlimited, that series doesn’t even make the cut. Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr. revived the property with 7 issues in 2007, but otherwise it has lain mostly dormant for the last 40 years.
All in all, there are less than 40 Eternals titled comics in existence. Compare that to literally thousands of comics staring Spider-Man, a minimum of 500 issues each for Captain America, Thor, or Iron Man prior to their MCU debuts, and even 200ish appearances by the Guardians of the Galaxy prior to their first movie, there’s simply not a lot of source material to The Eternals.
If Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge creative risk, The Eternals is pretty much Marvel Studios in full blown rockstar mode, standing on a rooftop screaming “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!”
To make things even more obscure, the Eternals weren’t even meant to exist in the Marvel Universe at all. Kirby’s Eternals story was set on a different earth, devoid of Marvel’s other heroes. Even when he bowed to an editorial request to incorporate the publisher’s more popular characters, Kirby crafted a story in which scientists built a robotic Hulk, rather than introduce the real thing. Eventually Marvel folded The Eternals into their main universe, but beyond a few elements such as the god-like Celestials, none of it ever really stuck. That ingrained separation from the Marvel Universe proper will be a big challenge for MCU frontman Kevin Feige, and director Chloé Zhao to overcome.
Part of that challenge is the fact that The Eternals were pretty much a failure from the start. The original Eternals comic feels a lot like Kirby trying, unsuccessfully, to recapture the magic of his cancelled Fourth World saga. Don’t get me wrong, Kirby’s ideas are outstanding and his art on the book is as creative as anything he’s ever done. It just doesn’t resonate the same way. It feels reigned in. In a lot of ways, it was a victim of Kirby’s other amazing creations. There wasn’t a lot in Eternals that Kirby hadn’t already done better elsewhere.
Still, after seeing the Kirby influence onscreen in Thor: Ragnarok, I couldn’t be any more excited to see something that is rooted in his pure creative vision. The Grandmaster’s palace on the planet Sakaar was hopefully just the tip of the iceberg in terms of insane Kirby-designs in the MCU.
The Eternals are in large part a creation myth, with powerful “Space God” Celestials tinkering with evolution, creating three races: Humans, the Eternals, and the Deviants. The Eternals, immortal and near God-like themselves, went on to inspire human myth. The monstrous Deviants attempted to enslave and rule mankind. They challenged their gods, the Celestials, and were struck down. It’s pretty biblical stuff.
In the movie, Richard Madden (GoT’s Robb Stark) will play the Eternal, Ikaris, who is pretty much just blonde Superman. Kirby once said, “If you think a man draws the type of hands that you want to draw, steal ‘em. Take those hands.” I won’t fault him for tapping into such a great character archetype, but it will be interesting seeing the MCU, which really understands Marvel’s underlying philosophy of flawed heroes, incorporate that brand of character. “Superheroes as gods” is also a fairly DC Comics point of view, despite the fact that Marvel has so many heroes who actually are gods.
Also, the Eternals have the power to combine Captain Planet style into a collective conscienceless call the Uni-Mind. The MCU has shown plenty of willingness to get weird, so we’ll see if they’re bold enough to go there.
As for how the Eternals will tie into the existing structure of the MCU, Fiege told Comicbook.com that “It will be a story that will introduce you to this incredibly eclectic group of immortals, they’re the focus of the story,” Feige admits. “It takes place in our universe — it takes place in the MCU, so you’ll hear mentions and stuff about it but yes, the Celestials go back a long way. We know a little bit about them. The Collector told us about Celestials, Knowhere is the severed head of a Celestial. Ego was involved with them, but we learn much more about their agenda and what they’ve been up to.”
Beyond Madden, The Eternals will star Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Salma Hayek as Ajak, Lia McHugh as Sprite, Dong-seok Ma as Gilgamesh, and Angelina Jolie as Thena.
The Eternals will make their Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in theaters on November 6, 2020.