In the beginning, he is born inside a coffin. Golden and godlike, Ikaris rises to do what must be done. He is both new and very, very old. He is an Eternal. The Eternals were all dead. Long live the Eternals.
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letter and designer), Kieron Gillen (writer), Esad Ribić (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist)
January 6, 2021
Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribić’s Eternals #1 is a towering debut and a perfect introduction to Marvel’s monumental superheroes. Gillen and Ribić are standing on the shoulders of a giant—Jack Kirby, who created the Eternals in 1976. A reimagining of Chariot of the Gods, The Eternals envisioned a world where the alien Celestials experimented on early man, creating two new races: the devilish-looking, genetically-unstable Deviants, and the immortal, superpowered Eternals. For over a million years, the Eternals watched over humanity and protected them from the Deviants, all the while anticipating final judgment from the Celestials.
The Eternals was immense in its scope and ambition but was canceled after only 19 issues. Other creators knit new stories from dangling plot threads, including Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr. in 2007, but who could match Kirby’s vision? Originally existing in a closed system (where the Thing and the Hulk were only comic book characters) the Eternals were later transplanted into the Marvel Universe, with the unfortunate side effect that they now felt about as essential as an appendix. The Eternals are an evolved, superior branch of humanity—but they aren’t mutants. They’re an ancient, genetically-altered society living in a city apart from mankind—but they aren’t Inhumans. They’re a part of the Marvel Universe and yet exist apart from it. Thus, the eternal question: what, exactly, is the purpose of the Eternals?
If anyone can tell us, it’s Esad Ribić and Kieron Gillen. Ribić’s uniquely powerful and virile art is perfect for a book like Eternals, as is Gillen’s well-established ability to imbue godlike characters with Shakespearean pathos and hypermodern wit. When this book was announced, I felt like a hacker in a 90s cyberthriller, staring at my laptop screen with the secrets of the universe reflected in my Ray-Bans. My god, they’ve finally cracked the code!
Once again, we return to the first pages of Eternals #1. Ikaris is the last Eternal to be resurrected by the Machine after committing mass suicide in Jason Aaron’s Avengers upon learning a shocking truth about their existence. These pages are a quick, striking introduction to Ikaris (“A living arrow,” according to the Machine’s narration) and the mysterious, even contradictory nature of the Eternals. They live forever—except when they die. They’re unchanging—except that they can change their physical form when they desire it. Our first full glimpse of the Exclusion, the resurrection site beneath the South Pole, reveals massive structures, remnants of a civilization that could either exist a million years in the past or a million years in the future. (And with Matthew Wilson’s coloring, we can feel the blue space’s icy, even alien coldness.) Ribić makes the unreal look real and Eternals #1 matches the sheer enormity of Jack Kirby’s original vision.
Gillen, expert of the form, knows how to write first issues. The essential elements are here: the character introductions, the big monster fight, the Iron Man cameo (“Eternals gotta Eternal”), the cliffhanger ending. Eternals #1 begins with a panorama of its universe, complete with data pages by VC’s Clayton Cowles listing all 100 Eternals and a map of their sub-dimensional strongholds. It then narrows its gaze with laser-like precision on two characters: Ikaris the living arrow, and Sprite the eternal eleven-year-old. Newly resurrected after being “excluded” for her crimes in Gaiman and Romita’s Eternals, Sprite is like a kid sister bouncing off her reluctant big brother as she explores New York City for the “first” time. It’s a fun dynamic, but as with everything in Eternals, there’s a haunting undercurrent, because Sprite doesn’t remember the damage she left in her wake, but Ikaris does.
Fittingly for a comic about larger-than-life beings who can disassemble matter on a molecular level, Gillen and Ribić chisel away at the marble of these familiar archetypes—the brusque, blonde hero, the authoritative leader, the wily little trickster—to reveal the flesh and blood underneath. Zuras, the bearded, heavy-browed Eternal Prime, is powerful but ultimately vulnerable. Ikaris is severe and prone to scowling, but he’s unwittingly very funny, like when he tells Sprite, “You are nearly indestructible. You can take a little force beam in the face.”
For decades, the Eternals have been distant satellites in the Marvel Universe, flickering brightly but briefly. Ribić and Gillen have crafted a strong entry point for these elusive heroes, combining monster-punching action with rich psychological complexity. Eternals #1 is existentialist pulp mythmaking at its finest.