At San Diego Comic-Con, when Marvel Studios confirmed it was making a movie based on Jack Kirby’s The Eternals, most people said the same thing: “Who?” Three years later, after the conclusion of the Infinity Saga, and with phase 4 well and truly underway, we have been given our first proper look at those little known heroes first announced back in 2019. Yesterday’s teaser trailer showed us new characters, brought to life by Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao but revealed very little about them or their story, leaving many fans with more questions than answers.
So, for those unfamiliar with The Eternals, we’ve put together a brief explanation of who they are and why you should care about them.
The Eternals have a history that goes back millions of years, and thankfully we only need to go back to 1976 to find their first appearance in Marvel comics. Created by the legendary Jack Kirby, The Eternals was arguably the best “cosmic” stuff Kirby worked on at Marvel. Essentially The Eternals is built on a mythology that goes back to the dawn of humanity, changing its familiar narrative. Issue #1 of Kirby’s Eternals reveals that an ancient race of supreme beings, known as Celestials or sometimes “Space Gods”, came to Earth and created three races all with a common ancestor. These races were; Humans, Eternals and Deviants.
I’m going to assume you’re familiar with Humans, so I won’t patronise you with an explanation. Eternals are pretty much just extremely powerful humans who live forever and possess various superpowers. The Deviants are like Eternals that went wrong; they don’t live forever and are born with mutations and an inconsistent pattern of superpowers. Each generation of Deviants is different, which means that they don’t have a consistent identity or culture other than the Eternals’ enemy.
Both Eternals and Deviants have lived quietly among humans whilst hiding their special abilities, and both species have influenced Human existence in different ways. This link is what makes Kirby’s Eternals so appealing; he managed to ground his fiction own by intertwining it with the historical fiction we have been learning about our whole lives.
When ancient humans were introduced to beautiful people with special abilities in Kirby’s books, they didn’t see superheroes; they saw gods. Humans saw demons and monsters when mutated creatures with red or green skin crawled out of caves and pits to fight their gods. Kirby didn’t just make these characters like mythological figures from history; he wrote them as if they were the mythological figures from history. These were the basis of the stories humans have always been told, and The Eternals were the figures that statues were built for. Throughout the Eternals comics, there’s a running gag that humans have always have a bad tendency to misspell or mispronounce Eternal names, which is why we refer to the Eternal names Zuras as Zeus or Makarri as Mercury.
So, what connection do the Eternals have to the wider Marvel Universe and the MCU? Well, not much, to be honest, as, on the whole, the Eternals kept themselves to themselves, dealing with their own drama, never really managing to break into the mainstream Marvel universe. Some characters showed up occasionally, though, like Sersi, who worked with the Avengers in the 1980s. There have also been appearances more recently when once again the Avengers called upon the Eternals to help them defeat some celestials, but mostly they keep themselves hidden.
With all that aside, it’s probably worth mentioning one small and possibly significant connection that may or may not be important in the Eternals’ story going forward.
Earth isn’t the only planet to have Eternals living amongst its people. Thousands of years ago, Zuras had a brother named A’lars. Annoyed that he was passed over as leader, A’lars took a group of his loyal followers to Saturn’s moon Titan to start a new civilisation. You probably recognise the name Titan, and if so, you can probably guess where this is going.
A’lars, who later became known as Mentor, had two sons with another Eternal named Sui-San. The first was named Eros, who later grew up to be the cosmic hero Starfox. Unfortunately, the other son was born with the Deviant gene, causing him to have purple skin and a pronounced, bumpy chin. Sui-San resented her Deviant son, even trying to murder him while he was a baby, he survived, though, and at the age of 12, he returned the favour by killing his mother. Things went downhill from there, and he eventually grew up to be a genocidal manic that wiped out half of all life in the universe. His name, of course, was… Thanos.
There’s nothing to suggest Thanos will return to our screens in the Eternals, although there is a rumour that Starfox will play a small but significant role – I’ll stress, though, that is just a rumour. It does seem likely that Thanos will be mentioned at some point, not least because of his family connections to The Eternals, but more likely because of what he did to the population of the earth, and as many people are asking – “where were the Eternals when Thanos snapped his fingers?”
“Throughout the years, we have never interfered, until now.” “Eternals” arrives in theaters November 2021.