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Neil Gaiman’s Eternals Review

Eternals Feature

So here we are, surging into the future of the MCU. Having lost (spoilers – but come on, it was years ago) such notaries as Tony Stark and Steve Rodgers. What does the future hold? So far, something old (Black Widow); something new (Wandavision/Falcon & Winter Soldier); something borrowed (What if…?) and something of a greenish hue (Loki). But now there is something big on the horizon… something large and… odd-shaped.

Eternals boasts a cast list that includes Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayak, Richard Madden, Kit Harrington, and Harish Patel. But as a property, Eternals is a bit odd.

Created in 1976 by Jack Kirby, The Eternals were heavily inspired by Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods and were kinda way, way out there – The Celestials came and tampered with proto-humans and made the super-human Eternals (very long-lived, not eternal) and the genetically unstable Deviants (not so long-lived, pretty freaky)… then they vooshed off to do some similar tampering on Uranos and Titan (and we all know how that turned out, right kids?). Meanwhile, The Eternals fought wars with the Deviants, nurtured civilisation, and did their best to remain totally outside the rest of the Marvel universe. All led by Zuras (who looks a bit like an orangutan crossed with a matryoshka doll).

Another volume of Eternals stories appeared between 1985 and 1986, but things were pretty quiet (apart from a couple of one shots in the early noughties). That is until Neil Gaiman, two years after the success of 1602, picked up the property to write a 7-issue mini-series. Alongside him was artist John Romita Jr, who had been doing rather well with Wolverine, Black Panther, and the ‘Ultimate Vision’.

So, when it comes to reading up about The Eternals, I’d say that the combined vision of the creator of Sandman and illustrator of Kick-Ass is a pretty good place to start.

Once Upon A Time…

Background wise, Eternals could not be better suited to Gaiman. Ancient beings with god-like powers created by colossal space gods with even more god-like powers and a casual detachment to… everything. Gaiman takes this foundation and does what Gaiman does best – mythologises! Not to give too much away, Eternals is set on modern-day Earth. It begins when trainee doctor Mark Curry (NOT the Blue Peter presenter, retro fans) starts having curious dreams about flying men, hideous monsters, and giant robot things. Of course, this modern Earth also has the likes of Hulk, Iron Man, and Spiderman, so not a huge stretch of reality. He is then bothered by a man who comes on like a space-religion cultist. He tells Mark he is actually a super-being… Which of course he thinks is as likely as Mrs Brown’s Boys becoming funny.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Sersi begins her career as a party planner. Hosting an event for the deputy prime minister of an obscure former Soviet Bloc country…

It’s a pretty pacey piece of work for Gaiman, with some familiar themes coming up. Misplaced memories, intertwined fates, morally flawed super-beings (in fact, at least one is positively villainous), and lots of dark humour - especially at the expense of the wider Marvel universe. He also does a good job of resetting the whole Eternals thing for a new generation, whilst not being afraid to take certain liberties. But always respectfully. I do hope that some of the essences of his writing make it to the big screen.

That said, there are some fairly standard tropes here and maybe the big reveal isn’t so big. It also feels a bit like a safer take on American Gods, which is not necessarily a bad thing. American Gods could get a bit… icky.

A Picture Tells A Thousand Years…

You can’t review a graphic novel without talking about the graphics though. John Romita Jr does an excellent job of bringing Neil Gaiman’s vision to life. You can definitely see the influence of Jack Kirby in his characters, though they don’t possess as much of that ‘uncanny valley’ feel that Jack’s artwork has. There’s also some Kev O’Neill and Frank Miller in there, adding just a hint of the visceral. Not too much, mind you – this isn’t Marshall Law. What is particularly impressive is the scale of his big pieces. Full-page or two-page spreads, usually featuring one or several celestials. You really do get a sense of enormity from these beings. His artwork has a sketchy feel to it on places, which can look a bit scrappy next to the luscious cover art of Rick Berry. But it packs a punch to match the pace of the story.

Extras, Extras, Read All About Them…

Getting a graphic novel is not just about the story though. What else do you get in Neil Gaiman's Eternals? Quite a bit. A foreword by Mark Evanier, who worked with Jack Kirby. An interview with Neil Gaiman. And an overview of Jack Kirby and The Eternals by Robert Greenberger. Often you just get a foreword. There are also variant covers, character sketches (with Jack Kirby comparisons), and preliminary sketches for some of John’s larger pieces. These are really interesting to look at, as you can see just how much work has gone into the realisation of these spectacular panoramas. Altogether, a nice set of bonuses.

Eternals are definitely a curiosity in the Marvel Universe, but then again so were Guardians of the Galaxy. Seeing Neil Gaiman’s take on them only makes me more curious about their place in the Marvel Universe. But curiosity hasn’t killed this cat yet. So, for those who want to be a bit more in the know about Eternals, let Gaiman take you by the hand and freak you out, man…