The Marvel Cinematic Universe has definitely changed the way we see superhero movies and the way we consume them due to the fact that we kind of expect these films to now be a part of a shared universe. This has allowed Marvel Studios the possibility of presenting characters to the world that perhaps would have not gotten an opportunity otherwise, much like it was the case with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Another property that is getting their chances at the big screen are the Eternals, a title that has not enjoyed a lot of popularity in the comics and that is somewhat unknown even to the fans of the medium, so this is perhaps Marvel’s biggest bet so far in their cinematic universe.
That being the case, we at Good Comics to Read have decided to show you all you need to know about the Eternals and the best stories that they have in the comics.
Who are the Eternals?
The origin of the Eternals goes all the way back to 1970 when legendary artist Jack Kirby decided to leave Marvel due to the many differences he was having at the time with the company and went to DC, quickly establishing the story of the New Gods, which he was planning to do at Marvel. That is how DC got characters such as Darkseid, Orion, Mister Miracle or Big Barda and the whole conflict of Apokolips against New Genesis.
But eventually, Kirby also fell out with DC and in the late 70s he decided to go back to Marvel, continuing his New Gods storytelling there but obviously with a whole new set of characters, thus creating the Eternals in 1976 and that is why so many of the plotlines of these creations are so similar to what Kirby did at DC–it was supposed to be a whole big storyline.
When it comes to the story itself, we have to go back millions of years ago on Earth when we were visited by powerful beings known as the Celestials that decided to experiment humans and thus we got three different types of results: genetic abominations known as the Deviants, results that were reproduced and started to create the mutants that are most common in the X-Men franchise (with Apocalypse being the first mutant) and powerful beings that could live for centuries, known as the Eternals.
By and large, the vast majority of the Eternals have always fought to protect humanity and their most common and usual enemies are the villainous Deviants, with conflicts that have been endured for centuries. There are also conflicts between certain factions among the Eternals due to the fact they have different views on how to treat mankind and this is one of the moral conundrums that tend to be present in this franchise.
There is a great variety of Eternals in the comics and there are not many that have been fully established in the Marvel Universe, so they are always prone to experimentation from the writers because they rarely have a very defined cast of characters to work with.
The Eternals have not been used a lot when it comes to the comic books, but they have been given a couple of miniseries and storylines that are worth your time.
6. The Eternals miniseries by Peter B. Gillis and Walt Simonson (1985).
I would call this “the forgotten Eternals miniseries” because it hasn’t been reprinted (try to look for it online or go at Amazon for single issues), but it’s still a very important comic to discuss because it was the first time that these characters were going to get a miniseries without the great Jack Kirby at the helm, with writer Peter B. Gillis in charge of delivering another epic.
But according to a lot of reports and sources, Marvel’s editor-in-chief at the time, the legendary Jim Shooter, wasn’t happy with Gillis’ scripts and the direction he was taking with the miniseries, so he handed the book to writer and artist Walt Simonson, who cemented his place as one of the best epic fantasy comic book storytellers with his Thor run and seemed like the right guy to push this story forward.
This story dealt with the aftermath of the Thor storyline dealing with the Eternals (more on that later) and the loss of their leader, Zuras, which resulted in the latter travelling the universe as the Uni-Mind, which was also developed and shown in Avengers #248.
I wouldn’t recommend this miniseries to get into the Eternals because there are so many plot threads and developments that have been done throughout the years that the reader might feel intimidated at first. Having said that, the Marvel comics of the Shooter era are more accessible than you may think because he always made emphasis on each issue being a good entry point for the reader, so it might work for you.
Regardless, this miniseries is mostly remembered for introducing the villain Ghaur, who would go on to give the Eternals and the Marvel Universe in general a lot of travel throughout the years, especially Atlantis Attacks annual of the late 80s.
Not the best miniseries of all time and definitely not the best comics the Eternals have to offer, but an interesting book nonetheless.
5. The Eternals Vol. 4 by Charles and Daniel Knauf and Daniel Acuña (2008).
Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr.’s work in the eternals had been a major success on an artistic level (more on that later) and even though it was a self-contained story that could be enjoyed by any type of reader, the reality is that there were still ways to stretch the story further a bit more and show the Eternals in an even greater scope.
So that is how we got this miniseries written by Charles and Daniel Knauf and drawn by Daniwl Acuña in 2008, titled To Slay a God, which takes the Eternals where Gaiman left them and it’s about Makkari, one of the main Eternals, using his now-established connection with the Eternals in order to find her kin, who have lost their memories and are walking around in human society as normal people.
While all of this is happening, two of the most known Eternals in the franchise such as the likes of Ikaris and Thena, are the doing this and this ends up with the two of them involving themselves in a conflict with an Eastern-European dictatorship led by a guy named Druig. But here is the kicker about Druig: he is planning in using the Eternals’ powers to take over the power and kick start a new reign of terror on humanity.
I have to say this upfront: it was very complicated to take over from Gaiman and especially with such a niche title like the Eternals, so Charles and Daniel Knauf were in front of a great challenge. Do they succeed in making To Slay a God a great story? Well, partially, at least from my perspective: I think they show the Eternals in a more conventional manner compared to what Gaiman did before and I also think that it is a refreshing take on these characters, aiming more for a classic hero story or at least that is how I view it.
But I also think that the biggest flaw that this miniseries has is the fact that it tries to be its own thing without having the same tone and structure compared to what came before with the Eternals. Not the end of the world, of course; one could argue that the Eternals, as niche as I have said before, could benefit from these different takes and you will be right in that regard, but I just think it doesn’t work as much as it could.
Regardless of my opinion in that particular matter, I have to say that Daniel Acuña does a phenomenal job as far as the art goes and I think that is a very strong point to take into consideration because the Eternals are very grand in scale and they need a very good artist that really shows the grandiose elements that have defined this franchise throughout the years.
4. Avengers: Fear The Reaper (1992).
While it’s very true that the Eternals are a very wide and varied cast that has never enjoyed a lot of exposure in the Marvel Universe, you can’t blame the company, especially in previous decades, for trying to integrate them in different areas of the comics. The biggest example of that is when Sersi, one of the highest profile Eternals in Marvel, became part of the Avengers team in the early 90s and that whole era is covered in this Epic Collection trade paperback, titled Avengers: Fear the Reaper, written by the likes of Bob Harras, Len Kaminski, Mark Gruenwald and Roy Thomas.
Contrary to what a lot of people may think these days, the Avengers were not always that popular and the early 90s were an era where they downright struggled for notoriety (that doesn’t mean there are no great Avengers comics; we even made a whole list for you!). So that is why we don’t see a lot of the classic members that we are bound to expect from the Avengers; in this iteration we have Captain America, sure, but the rest are the likes of Hercules, Black Knight (who is also bound to appear in the Eternals film, played Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington), the Inhuman Crystal, plus a couple more and the aforementioned Sersi.
Here we have a series of stories rather than an overarching plot, which I personally think it’s great because it allows for a lot more enjoyment for the reader. In this story the Avengers have to face a long forgotten nemesis, such as the Grim Reaper, who proves to be much more cunning and deadlier than what Earth’s mightiest heroes originally fought. We also get to see gods from mythology such as Hera and Ares pulling the strings to make both Hercules and Thor fight one another in an epic confrontation!
The Black Knight also takes center stage here due to a confrontation with the Star Jammers and an appearance from the X-Men at the height of their popularity, with this situation resulting in him having to confront his feelings towards both Crystal and Sersi (our boy Black Knight sure knows how to pick them, huh?). And we get to read the Citizen Kang saga, which involves Captain America, Thor and the Fantastic Four.
I could argue that Sersi’s time in the Avengers wasn’t as successful as Marvel’s chain of command wanted to at the time (no offense to the Avengers, but they weren’t the hottest team in the market during those years), but I personally like her inclusion because it adds a degree of variety and it connects the Eternals to the rest of the Marvel Universe in a very interesting manner. After all, the Eternals have been living for centuries, so some of them would have been at least a bit interested in becoming part of human society and that is what Sersi did here, even going as a far as developing feelings for a mortal man like Black Knight (that would actually be an interesting theme in the film if they go for it).
Overall, I think it’s a nice set of stories, a glimpse of what the Avengers were doing in an era where they weren’t as popular as they are now and a sample of what a member of the Eternals race could do when connected with the rest of the Marvel Universe. I personally think it’s worth your time.
3. Thor: The Eternals Saga (1979).
If you were Marvel and you were planning in adding Jack Kirby’s latest cosmic epic to the rest of your shared comic book universe, is there any character better than Thor to do that? I personally don’t think so, and the higher ups at Marvel seemed to agree with me.
Regardless, back in the late 70s, Jack Kirby left Marvel yet again after another disagreement with the people in charge and many of the plot threads that he had developed with the Eternals were put on hold because nobody knew what to do with them and, quite frankly, they weren’t forced to do anything either–The Eternals at the time were outside of the Marvel Universe and they were a standalone kind of story. But then the current Thor writer at the time, the legendary Roy Thomas, decided to introduce these characters in his book and did so with arguably with one of the strongest storylines that the God of Thunder enjoyed since Kirby and Stan Lee’s run in the 60s.
Through Thor’s eyes and story we are introduced to the history of the Eternals, the Deviants and the conflict they have been waging for centuries, with our protagonist falling right in between that war. It sets everything off from the get-go: we get to see Thor struggling and fighting against some of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe (until that point, at least) and finding a way to cope with this new threat.
Roy Thomas, complemented with great by legends of the business like John Buscema or Walt Simonson (before he took over the Thor title), shows a lot of the points that Kirby presented in his original The Eternals miniseries and that might be a trouble for some readers that are already familiar with the characters, but regardless of that, I think this story is very good: Thor works at his best in an epic scope and the Eternals and Deviants prove to be a great opposition for the God of Thunder, thus generating a lot of drama and keeps the reader interested.
Plus, it’s worth pointing out that this is Roy Thomas arguably during his peak years and it shows; the pages flow with ease and the writing feels natural and coherent, with a clear understanding of how proper comic book storytelling works. I often feel that this is a lost art and reading this saga after all these years, with more experience in the medium, I appreciate his work here a lot more.
2. The Eternals by Neil Gaiman (2006).
Neil Gaiman is one of the comic book greater writers, and I don’t think we can negate that, like him or not. His work on The Sandman is the stuff of legends and he has a built an equally impressive career as a writer in Literature, so there was a lot of interested readers when he took The Eternals to do a miniseries.
He paired up with another legend of the medium, artist John Romita Jr., so success was almost warrantied.
What we got from this collaboration was the 2006 miniseries, which has a very clear mission: revamp the Eternals for this modern age and to give Gaiman, such a high profile writer, the opportunity to add his own influences in the title. If you are the type of reader that doesn’t like big revamps of comic book characters, then this book might not be the best choice for you.
In this story, the Eternals have lost their memories and go back to the human world, living normal lives in the process. Eventually, a lot of the Eternals start remembering who they were and try to make sense of what is going on with them, resulting in them discovering a greater threat that might put Earth in danger.
This is the thing when it comes to Neil Gaiman as a comic book writer: despite all his high concept stuff and the fact that he likes to push conventional storytelling techniques with his work, he understands how comics works and that is why his books work so well–in order to bend the rules you must understand them first.
Neil Gaiman understands how comics work and understands the fantasy elements that have defined the Eternals throughout the years, which is why this book has become somewhat of a cult favorite among comic book readers–it’s kind of the entry point for a lot of readers. And it has to be said, for a good reason: the writing is of high quality, the pacing is good and I think the third act (I won’t give away spoilers) is truly remarkable.
Add to that John Romita Jr.’s art. I have always maintained that he is much more suited to draw Marvel characters than DC’s, his current company, and it shows here: there is a kind of energy and appeal to his work that not many artists possess, so that in itself is a big selling point.
1. The Eternals by Jack Kirby (1976).
This is it, folks. The one and best choice to get into the Eternals and fully understand what they are all about. The original series about the Eternals was written and drawn by Jack Kirby with total creative control and it shows a man that, even despite his age, was still very creative and constantly churning out quality stories and memorable concepts.
In this series we get the origin of the Eternals, their involvement with human society, their conflict with the Deviants and of course the influence of the Celestials, looming throughout every issue. Kirby wastes no time and every issue has more and more lore added to it, which just makes the story all the more ambitious and all the more captivating for the reader.
While Jack Kirby is mostly known for drawing and creating with Stan Lee the most popular Marvel characters in the 60s, his 70s work with DC (the New Gods) and Marvel (the Eternals) shows how creative he could be and the heights he could reach. To be honest with you, I think Jack Kirby created some of the most original characters in the 70s and some of them had very unique looks, with the Celestials being a very peculiar type of deities–I don’t think we have seen something like that in fiction before or after.
We also have his quality art, of course, which has always been his strong suit, and here he is totally unleashed, doing some pages that are incredibly detailed and when you hear stories about how disciplined he was, you are honestly not surprised–the man was a workhorse even in his later years.
If you can only get one book about the Eternals or you are not sure of which Eternals comic book is the best to get to understand these characters, go for Kirby’s version because it has the clearer vision and the biggest sense of ambition and scope, which I personally think fits with these characters very well.
You have now a guide to understand who are the Eternals and where to look for the Eternals best comics. Enjoy them, and as we always say… keep reading good comics!