Ikaris versus Thanos! Eternal versus Titan! Thrill as the most formidable fists in the galaxy punch through time and space, bruising reality itself!
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer and designer), Kieron Gillen (writer), Esad Ribić (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist)
February 10, 2021
Eternals #2 begins with the kind of colossal brawl that would be the climax of another book. “It’s all been leading up to this!” the solicitation might say, and it would be a good ending, but a predictable one. Ikaris battles Thanos in the abandoned, temporally-unstable city of Titanos; they fall through slices of time, landing blows alongside dinosaurs, Vikings, and semi-trucks.
It’s big and brutal and epic. But because this isn’t a climax, there’s no clear victory or catharsis. Why should there be? Nothing ever truly ends for an Eternal. Ikaris and Thanos end up back in Titanos, right where they started. There’s an illusion of change, of something new (Ikaris has never tumbled with Thanos before, and he’s thrilled), but the Eternals’ existence is an ouroboros. If they never change and never die, can they ever learn? Are they doomed to repeat the same mistakes for eternity?
Come for the superhero smash-ups, stay for the philosophical underpinnings. Following their stellar first issue, Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribić expand their all-encompassing vision of the Eternals, which happens to span all of human history. Our narrator, the Machine, recalls another battle on Titanos during the Bronze Age when Ikaris caught a time-distorted glimpse of a Deviant attacking a young boy on Earth. He found the boy from his vision but not the Deviant; he asked the boy to light a fire when it appeared, promising to return at the signal. Years later, when the fire was lit, Ikaris saw that it was the funeral pyre for the boy who, impressed by the golden, godlike being who spoke to him, waited and waited until he died of old age. When the Deviant finally appeared, Ikaris realized his mistake–it wasn’t the boy he met who saw the monster, it was the boy’s grandson.
This flashback, which mainly consists of conversations on a beach, is the key to understanding Gillen and Ribić’s Ikaris, more so than the fight with Thanos. Traditionally, Ikaris has been depicted as sturdy, blonde, implacable—frankly, the least interesting of the Eternals. Gillen’s characterization is as instructive as it is incisive. Powerful as he is, Ikaris doesn’t mean to be careless; he came to the beach to solve a problem and protect the boy. When the grandson accuses Ikaris of wasting the old man’s life, he says, “I spend my life watching for monsters too.” He is seemingly oblivious to how their situations cannot be compared. But for an Eternal, human life is so brief he can’t possibly keep track of it. There is a sad inevitability to this cautionary tale. The Great Machine refers to Ikaris as a “living arrow,” and once arrows are in flight, they cut down anything in their path.
As Eternals #2 reintroduces more characters, it becomes apparent that how the Eternals relate to us mere mortals will be a significant theme going forward. The beautiful, beguiling Sersi “collects” humans, and Kingo (moonlighting as a famous actor) is adored by them. This dynamic helpfully sets the Eternals apart from the now similarly death-conquering X-Men, who are hated and feared by humans while the Eternals are worshipped.
But get ready to say, “Eternals! They’re just like us!” in your favorite tabloid voice, because death—real, permanent, eternal death—is now a possible fate for our heroes. Following the murder of Zuras in the first issue, more Eternals are slain, suggesting there is a traitor in Olympus. Worse yet, the Machines of Resurrection have been destroyed, meaning that the dead will stay dead. Amidst this crisis, Ikaris vows to protect another human boy who’s in danger—will things be different this time? If Ikaris now has only one life to live, he has to make it count.
Eternals #2 reminds me again of why Gillen and Ribić were an inspired choice to tackle Jack Kirby’s creations. Ribić’s art throbs with muscular vitality. The battle with Thanos is a stunning showcase of his talent; his characters are always striking on the page, whether they’re shooting eye beams at the Mad Titan or secretly partaking in courtly intrigue. Gillen’s scripting strikes the right balance between ominous and wry, uplifted by a mythical lyricism—this is a comic that has Thanos describe Ikaris as “a fellow poet of annihilation” on one page and namechecks the Gerard Butler mega-turkey Geostorm on another. The Great Machine’s narration is sometimes overbearing. For example, the Machine noting that “Ikaris realizes Druig is correct. It is among his least favorite feelings” is redundant next to Ribić’s amusing depiction of shock and frustration on the Eternal’s face. A minor flaw, however, next to the book’s many strengths.
Featuring a pulverizing opening, a portentous interlude, and a promising mystery, Eternals #2 cements this book’s place as one of the most thrilling superhero comics of 2021.