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The History of The Eternals

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BY April 28, 2020
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With their Marvel film soon to go into production, you might be curious about The Eternals. If you’re only a casual comics fan, then you might not know much about them. They’re not household names like the Hulk or Spider-Man. However, throughout the history of The Eternals, they’ve played a part in the adventures of characters you do know. So it’s time for an introduction.

The History of The Eternals Starts with Jack Kirby

If there’s a figure who stands as tall as Stan Lee in his influence on comic books, it’s Jack Kirby. With original partner Joe Simon and later, with other partners that included Lee, Kirby created some of the most iconic comic book characters of all time. Some of the characters he had a hand in creating include Captain America, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, Black Panther…you get the picture.

After years of working for Marvel, though, Kirby left around 1970 to work at DC Comics. Although his position at DC took 2 years of negotiations before he signed on the dotted line, it was apparently not as fruitful as Kirby would have liked. Although he had a certain amount of creative freedom, he also had to spend time working on projects he did not choose.

However, he did have the opportunity to create some of his own characters, including the New Gods. Debuting in February 1971, the characters were inspired in part by Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?, a book that suggests alien influence on human development. Kirby’s story then was an ambitious mix of science fiction and classic mythology, not unlike Thor’s. Kirby intended for the New Gods story to have a definite end, but when the books sold well, DC wanted the story extended. To his dismay, Kirby found himself having to drag out the story and insert other popular DC characters. The series, which was intended to be limited was eventually canceled before it could finish.

Kirby Returns to Marvel and The Eternals Are Born

History of the Eternals
T-Shirts for Boys AND Men, image via Marvel

By the time Marvel held its 1975 convention, Stan Lee was able to announce to the crowd attending a Fantastic Four panel that Kirby had returned. And he hit the ground running. Eternals #1 was released in July 1976.

Like the New Gods and Thor before them, the Eternals series blends new and old, sci-fi and myth. As the first issue explains, the titular characters are the creation of Celestials, a mysterious race of divine beings. If you’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, then you’ve already met a Celestial–Ego, the Living Planet.

The Celestials decided to fast-track human evolution by performing experiments on early humanoids. In turn, these experiments produced two varieties, Eternals and Deviants. The Eternals, a race of beautiful superheroes were tasked with protecting the earth from the dastardly ambitions of the Deviants, a race of unfortunate-looking…I want to say “goblins.” And this island earth wasn’t the only planet to get the Celestial treatment. The old gods (new gods?) also experimented on the Skrulls and the Kree, both of which you should remember from Captain Marvel.

The Care and Feeding of Eternals

As with any comic book characters, the traits of the Eternals have been created and retconned a few times. But there is a consistent baseline. Like the aforementioned Captain Marvel, the Eternals draw their powers from cosmic energy. They each–and there’s like, 30 on earth alone–have unique powers. These include your traditional superhero skills like flight, super-speed, super-strength, etc. They also share some characteristics.

For one thing, they live an incredibly long time. For another, they have a limited control of cosmic energy itself, although perhaps not as much as their progenitors. They can, however, control every single one of their own molecules. They also have the ability to use other super-skills, but many of them choose to focus on a select number of them. And when they’re really in a jam, they can form the Uni-Mind (sometimes stylized as Unimind), a psychic mind-meld with other Eternals.

The History of the Eternals in Comics

As with New Gods, the original Eternals comic series was canceled before Kirby could bring it to his planned end. But that was, of course, not the end of the Eternals. Although Kirby had had a hand in creating the Marvel Universe, he bristled at the idea of connecting every story. He wanted the Eternals and their eventual final storyline–returning to earth to pass judgment–to remain discrete from Marvel’s other characters.

The cancellation of the series after 19 issues, though, made that a moot point. The Eternals were first resurrected in 1980’s Thor #301. Their role in the MU would only grow after that. They would eventually return on their own for a 1985 miniseries. They joined the modern Marvel Universe in 2006, after Neil Gaiman authored a new miniseries. A subsequent miniseries followed in 2008.

The Eternals Join the Marvel Cinematic Universe

As Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to a close with the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, it’s time for Phase 4 to begin. This phase will include sequel films for fan favorites like Black Panther and Thor, but it’ll also include The Eternals. Marvel hired Matthew and Ryan Firpo to write the script, while Chloé Zhao, known best for the modern western The Rider, will direct.

A number of big-name actors have already signed on, including Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden. Jolie will be playing Thena, one of the Eternals of Olympia, while Madden will play Ikaris, the Prime Eternal who was born 20,000 years ago in proto-Siberia. (Yes, King in the North.) Salma Hayek is also reportedly in talks to join the cast, making this perhaps the most attractive line-up in the MCU. Production is scheduled to begin in London this fall, so not much more is known about the movie at this point. However, with San Diego Comic-Con currently in full force, there are hints that we’ll receive some news very soon.

While the history of the Eternals holds no clues about how well the film itself will do, the MCU certainly does. Yes, the TV series Inhumans, based on a fictional race with a similar Kirby-created origin story, didn’t do so well. But Marvel has always had better luck with films, anyway. In addition, being relative unknowns didn’t stop the Guardians of the Galaxy from “I am Groot”-ing their way into our hearts. Who knows? The Eternals film could very well share the same fate.

 

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at salome@comicyears.com.

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