The Eternals are a fictional race of humanoids appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. They are described as an offshoot of the evolutionary process that created sentient life on Earth. The original instigators of this process, the alien Celestials, intended the Eternals to be the defenders of Earth, which leads to the inevitability of war against their destructive counterparts, the Deviants. The Eternals were created by Jack Kirby, and made their first appearance in The Eternals #1 (July 1976).
Cover of Eternals vol. 4, #1
Art by Daniel Acuña
|Species publication information|
|First appearance||The Eternals #1 (July 1976)|
|Created by||Jack Kirby|
|Notable members||List of Eternals|
|The Eternals or Eternals|
|Cover of The Eternals vol. 1, 1 (Jul 1976) |
Art by Jack Kirby
|Series publication information|
|Format||(vol. 1 & 4)|
(vol. 2 & 3)
|Publication date||(vol. 1)|
July 1976 – January 1978
October 1985 – September 1986
August 2006 – March 2007
August 2008 – March 2009
|Number of issues||(vol. 1)|
19, 1 Annual
9, 1 Annual
|Jack Kirby's Eternals Omnibus||ISBN 0-7851-2205-2|
|Neil Gaiman's Eternals (hardcover)||ISBN 0-7851-2541-8|
|To Slay A God||ISBN 0-7851-2978-2|
In 1970, Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics to work at DC Comics, where he began the saga of the New Gods, an epic story involving mythological and science fiction concepts, and planned to have a definite ending. However, the saga was left incomplete after the cancellation of the titles. Kirby then began working on The Eternals when he returned to Marvel. The Eternals' saga was thematically similar to the New Gods', and the series was also eventually canceled without resolving many of its plots. Writers Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald used the Eternals in a Thor storyline that climaxed in Thor #301, resolving those lingering plotlines. Subsequent to the Thor storyline, the Eternals (and the mythology connected to them) have appeared or been mentioned in numerous Marvel comics. In particular, the Celestials' experiment on humanity has been used to explain how certain humans can develop super-powers. The Titanians (created by Jim Starlin) and Uranians (created by Stan Lee) were later retconned as being Eternals as well.
The Eternals returned for a 12-issue miniseries in 1985 under writer Peter B. Gillis and penciler Sal Buscema. According to comic-book historian Peter Sanderson, "editor in chief Jim Shooter disliked Gillis’s scripts, so Walter Simonson wrote the final four issues."
In 2000, a one-shot comic called New Eternals: Apocalypse Now #1 feature an older conflict between the Eternals and X-Men villain Apocalypse. In 2003, writer Chuck Austen and artist Kev Walker rebooted the franchise for Marvel's mature readers-focused MAX imprint, resulting in The Eternal.
Neil Gaiman, with artist John Romita, Jr., created a 2006 miniseries, which helped bring the Eternals' role in the modern Marvel Universe up-to-date. Originally solicited as a six-issue series, an extra issue was added to the run, because, according to editor Nick Lowe, "There was too much story to fit into the structure we set for ourselves. Neil was starting issue five and told me that he might need a seventh issue. He just had too much story to fit in six issues (even with the first and sixth double-sized)."
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When the Celestials visited Earth five million years ago and performed genetic experiments on early proto-humanity, they created two divergent races: the long-lived Eternals, and the genetically unstable and monstrously grotesque Deviants. These experiments also led to the capacity for super-powered mutations in humans. They also performed this experiment on other planets (such as the Kree and Skrull homeworlds) with similar results.
Despite looking human, Eternals are much longer-lived (but were not originally fully immortal) and that kept them from having much contact with their human cousins. Eternals have a low birth rate; they can interbreed with humans but the result is always a normal human (although Joey Athena, son of Thena and a normal human seems to have become an Eternal with long lived properties and powers). Despite this, the Eternals have in general protected the human race, especially from the Deviants, with whom they've always had an enmity. The Eternals also developed advanced technology.
Long ago, a civil war broke out amongst the Eternals over whether to conquer the other races, with one faction led by Kronos and the other by his warlike brother, Uranos. Kronos's side prevailed, and Uranos and his defeated faction left Earth and journeyed to Uranus where they built a colony. Some of Uranos's group soon tried to return to Earth to re-kindle the war, but they were attacked by a passing Kree ship and forced to land on Saturn's moon Titan. There they built another colony. (Experiments performed by Kree scientists on a captured Eternal led them to go to Earth and perform their own genetic experiments on a group of humans, thus creating the Inhumans.)
One day, Kronos's experiments in cosmic energy caused a catastrophic release of energy throughout the Eternals' city, Titanos, destroying it, activating latent genes in the Eternals, and disintegrating the scientist's body. The Eternals now found they could channel large quantities of cosmic energy themselves, granting them near-godlike power. The accident left Kronos in an immaterial state, so a new leader had to be chosen. For the first time, the Eternals merged into a single being, the Uni-Mind, to decide which of Kronos's sons, Zuras or A'lars should be the new leader. Zuras was chosen, and A'lars chose to leave Earth to avoid causing another civil war, and journeyed to Titan.
There he found that a war (allegedly caused by the Dragon of the Moon) had erupted on Titan and wiped out all but one member, a woman named Sui-San. A'lars fell in love with her, and in time they repopulated Titan. Due to the mix of activated genes from A'lars and unactivated ones from Sui-San, these new Titanian Eternals are not as powerful or immortal as Terran Eternals, but are more powerful and longer-lived than the earlier pre-civil war Titanian Eternals.
While Zuras ruled, three new Eternal cities were built. The first was Olympia, located in the mountains of Greece, near the main portal between the Earth dimension and the Olympians' home dimension, which lead many ancient Greeks to confuse some of the godlike Eternals with members of the Olympian pantheon. Eventually, an agreement was reached with the gods where some Eternals, such as Thena, would impersonate the Olympians before their worshipers. The other two Eternal cities were Polaria (located in Siberia) and Oceana (in the Pacific).
18,000 years ago, the Celestials returned to Earth. The Deviants attacked them, but the Celestials counterattacked, resulting in the sinking of Mu and Atlantis, and much worldwide havoc. The Eternals helped rescue many humans. An Eternal named Valkin was entrusted by the Celestials with an artifact of great power for safekeeping.
At some point during the early centuries, Ikaris and the Eternals came into conflict with the immortal mutant, Apocalypse. This conflict ended when Ikaris and the Eternals defeated him. Ikaris believed Apocalypse was dead.
1,000 years ago, the Asgardian god Thor encountered some Eternals, but the encounter was erased from his mind, to prevent him from learning about the Celestials, who were about to return to Earth. An Eternal named Ajak became the Celestials' spokesperson, and put himself to sleep when the Celestials left, to wait for their return 1,000 years later to judge humanity.
During the early 20th century, a human scientist made contact with the Uranian Eternals and was taken to live with them along with his young son, who would later become Marvel Boy. The Uranians were eventually killed by Deathurge. After World War II, some Eternals allied with humans and Deviants to form the Damocles Foundation, which tried to create a new breed of superhuman to rule Earth. Some Eternals, such as Makkari, were also active as superheroes, or living amongst humans, keeping their true nature hidden. The Eternals also helped to move the Inhumans' city to the Himalayas to keep it hidden.
At some point, Thanos of the Eternals of Titan nearly destroyed their colony, but they rebuilt it, and would help Earth's heroes to oppose him on several occasions.
When the Celestials returned to judge the worthiness of their creations a few years ago, the Eternals found themselves clashing with the Deviants again, and decided to publicly reveal their existence to humanity. Zuras feared what would happen if the Celestials judged unfavorably. They encountered Thor again, and were attacked by Thor's father Odin and the Olympian gods, who tried to prevent their interfering with the gods' plans to attack the Celestials. Eventually, the Eternals decided to help the gods and formed a Uni-Mind to assist the Destroyer's assault on the Celestials.
They were forced to dissolve back into Eternals by the Celestials, and the shock of the attack killed Zuras. Before his spirit fully left the material plane, he instructed his daughter Thena to take his people to explore space. Most of the Eternals did so in the form of a Uni-Mind, but a handful – those most heavily involved in Earthly affairs – remained behind on Earth. Since then, the Eternals have helped Earth's heroes, particularly the Avengers, against several menaces. They also discovered the existence of the Titanian Eternals.
Eternals volume 3Edit
The Eternals began reappearing on Earth in Neil Gaiman's new take on the immortal beings. Most seem to have no memory of their own history and abilities, except Ikaris, and no records of their previous appearances remain. Apparently the Eternal known as Sprite, angered at having to remain an eleven-year-old and unable to grow any further, managed to induce collective amnesia in the Eternals as well as distort their perceptions of history. This can possibly be seen as Gaiman's attempt to retcon the characters; early stories as well as officially published statistics portrayed most of the current generation of Eternals – such as Ikaris and Thena – as being "only" several tens of thousands of years old but Gaiman's run describes them as being closer to a million years old.
A group of Deviants manage to kidnap Makkari, using him to awaken the Dreaming Celestial. Upon awakening, he decides to judge humanity. The Eternals, realizing that they cannot stop him, leave him be. The Eternals then embark on a quest to go and recruit the other members who have similarly forgotten their true selves due to Sprite's trickery.
The Final HostEdit
When Celestials literally began "raining" down on Earth, the Avengers are forced to reunite again and just in time to see the arrival of the Final Host which is composed of Dark Celestials that are each physically unique and were the ones who easily took down their brethren. In an attempt to learn more about these new breed of Celestials, Iron Man and Doctor Strange travelled to the Mountains of Greece in order to try and get some answers from The Eternals. When Stark and Strange arrived, there were no signs of life to be found as almost all of the Eternals were dead, with Strange deducing that the wounds were self-inflicted. Only Ikaris was left barely alive and reveals that the Eternals were never meant to protect Humanity as they thought. Instead, they were actually created to "cultivate" them, as the Celestials saw the human population as a useful pathogen to act as antibodies against the Horde. This discovery drove all Eternals mad which either made them turn against each other or commit suicide. Ikaris is also able to reveal that the only way to prevent the Final Host from unleashing the Horde is the Uni-mind and sends a message into Stark's mind before the last Eternal died.
Powers and abilitiesEdit
Due to the cosmic energy that suffuses an Eternal's body and the nigh-unbreakable mental hold they have over their physiological processes, the Eternals of Earth are effectively immortal. They live for millennia, do not fatigue from physical exertion, are immune to disease and poison, and are unaffected by environmental extremes of cold and heat. Most cannot be injured by conventional weaponry, and even if they somehow are, an Eternal can rapidly regenerate any damage as long as they are able to retain their mental hold over their bodies; this mental bond can be broken however. In the 2006 series it was also stated that Eternals are able to absorb oxygen directly from water, and therefore cannot drown. In the same series, Ikaris was plunged into molten metal and experienced great pain, but no physical injury, which the Deviants attributed to a forcefield which protects Ikaris even when unconscious. It is unclear if all Eternals share this degree of protection.
At one time, the official limit to the Eternals' durability was such that they could only be permanently destroyed by dispersing their bodies' molecules over a wide area. However, this degree of extreme durability was revealed to have increased to a much greater degree; as demonstrated in the 2006 Eternals limited series, it is shown that even total molecular dispersal is insufficient to destroy an Eternal. As long as "The Machine" (a restoration device of Celestial origin; possibly the Earth itself) keeps running, any destroyed Eternal will eventually return, as was the case with Ikaris after he was completely vaporized by a particle accelerator as part of a series of "experiments" performed upon him by the Deviants.
This same cosmic energy can be channeled for a number of superhuman abilities. All Eternals are potentially capable of:
- Superhuman strength. The limits of their strength can be increased as a result of years of focusing some of their energy towards that purpose.
- Projecting concussive blasts, heat, and/or blinding flashes of energy from their eyes and hands
- Flight (and levitating others)
- Reading/controlling minds
- Generating illusions
- Teleporting vast distances, though most Eternals prefer not to use this ability as many find it uncomfortable (and according to the 2006 series, it also greatly depletes their store of cosmic energy)
- Transmuting objects, altering both their shape and composition. (The extent of this ability can vary from one Eternal to another.)
- Forcefield generation providing invulnerability to harm.
- In addition, groups of Eternals, as few as three at a time, can initiate a transformation into a gestalt being called the Uni-Mind, a vastly powerful psionic entity that contains the totality of the powers and abilities of all the beings that comprise it.
Some Eternals choose to focus on a particular power in order to increase their effectiveness with it. Sersi, for example, has developed the power of transmutation farther than any other Eternal. Additionally, some Eternals choose to focus their cosmic energies into other, non-standard abilities. Ikaris, for example, channels cosmic energy to greatly enhance his senses, while the Interloper uses his to generate fear in others, and Makkari uses his cosmic energies for superspeed.
The recent retcon of the Eternals' origins and abilities introduces a significant limitation to their powers, and possibly to their free will, with numerous references to Eternals being "programmed" or "hardwired." They cannot attack their Celestial "masters" for any reason, whether they make a conscious decision to do so, or are tricked into accidentally striking the beings. Any such attempt shuts down the body of the attacking Eternal, and is implied to be an automatic defense mechanism of the Celestials' armor. On one occasion, when the Eternals attempted to form a Uni-Mind with the intent of keeping the Dreaming Celestial asleep, they were immediately shut down and discorporated back into their original, individual forms before they could even form a non-aggressive plan of action. Eternals can seemingly also not leave the solar system.
Furthermore, Eternals are compelled to attack and neutralize any being that attempts to engage any Celestial with hostile intent — this compulsion extends even to the Dreaming Celestial, whom the Eternals were forced to defend even as they feared that the newly awakened Celestial would destroy all life on the planet.
At least as presented in Gaiman's Volume 3, the Eternals are aware of their role on Earth, and the duties and constraints placed on them by the Celestials. Ikaris rather sardonically describes himself as "a humanoid-based repair and maintenance unit left behind by unknowable alien gods to make sure that the earth is still here and in good shape when they get back." Zuras phrased the same concept more philosophically: "We are the Eternals. We are the court of last resort for humanity and for all living things on Earth. [...] We do not choose sides. Countries are lines in the sand, empires rise and fall. We are timeless. We will still be here tomorrow, and a hundred centuries from now."
The Eternals are split between five different generationals groups:
- First Generation Eternal (those born before the fall of Titanos): Arlok, Astron, Daina, Kronos/Chronos/Chronus, Master Elo, Oceanus, Shastra, Thyrio, Uranos.
- Second Generation Eternal (those alive at the time of Chronus's experiment): Mentor (A'lars), Amaa, Cybele, Forgotten One/Gilgamesh, Helios, Perse, Rakar, Tulayn, Valkin, Virako, Zuras.
- Third Generation Eternal (those born after Chronos's experiment but before the Second Host): Aginar, Ajak, Arex, Atlo, Domo, Ikaris, Interloper, Mara, Phastos, Sigmar, Thanos, Thena, Veron, Zarin.
- Fourth Generation Eternal (those born after the coming of the Second Host, 20,000 years ago): Argos, Ceyote, Chi Demon, the Delphan brothers, Druig, Khoryphos, Makkari, Psykos, Sersi, Kingo Sunen, El Vampiro.
- Fifth Generation Eternal (those born after the coming of the Third Host, 3,000 years ago): Aurelle, Sprite, Titanis.
- Arthur C. Clarke's book Childhood's End from 1953 provided large inspiration, including the idea of "Overlords" who control Earth's fate and will reveal themselves further after a 50-year waiting period, the idea of demons being humanity's memory of another species, and the "Overmind" concept which seems to influence the comic's "Uni-mind".
- Erich von Däniken's book Chariots of the Gods, a 1968 non-fiction best-seller, postulated the concept of alien gods as real. Kirby acknowledged in dialogue with fans of the Eternals that he owed some debt to Däniken's book.
- The Hurricane and Mercury, two characters of Timely Comics, the 1940s predecessor of Marvel, were retconned as being guises of the Eternal Makkari.
- Thematically, the Eternals were similar to another Kirby creation, the New Gods — another group of ancient godlike beings in an epic struggle with their opposites, with humanity caught in between.
The Eternal is a series from Marvel's MAX imprint written by Chuck Austen, based on an idea he had been working on for a while: "I pitched this back when I first started working at Marvel, but Joe Quesada was against doing it. He saw no future in this particular old Kirby concept." Austen described the plot as involving "Ikaeden, the leader of the Eternals, who arrives on Earth at the dawn of man, and evolves humankind from homo-erectus so he can use them as slaves to mine raw materials for the Celestials, his bosses, basically," as well as "Kurassus, who is the second-in-command of the mining mission, and who is determined to undermine Ikaeden and kill Ikaeden's precious slave-girl and son." In an interview with Newsarama he gave an outline of his planned plot:
In this version, we take some of the concepts from [the original series] and build around them, throwing away some stuff and keeping others. We're actually going back in time to see Ikaris birth and development on Earth, meet his parents, and then move forward into contemporary time. When we get to contemporary time, the Celestials return to judge Earth, but there's no fifty-year 'study and evaluation period.' We've already been judged and found wanting, too violent to be allowed to flourish and spread, and Ikaris and the others have to stop the Celestials, who consider us their property, from destroying the entire planet as they have done to many others, including another in the Solar System.
Reception of the series was mixed. Peter Sanderson calls it "a ghastly mini-series ... which utilized the names like 'Eternal' and 'Celestial' from Kirby’s series but otherwise had nothing to do with it." Les Bowman on ICv2, replying to specific concerns about the sexual content, said that "[m]uch like the Rawhide Kid, Marvel's editorial staff has decided to completely wreck the heritage of a well liked character, or in the case of the Eternals, a group, by perverting it for the reason of free press coverage." Reviews at Comics Bulletin were much more positive, with the one for the final issue saying that the cancellation of the title was "a damn shame because it was the only MAX series to live up to the billing of the imprint" and that "[i]If you want to read a 1980s EPIC style comic buy this issue and all the others that came before, I doubt there will ever be a trade."
The main Eternals titles include:
- Eternals (vol. 1) #1–19 (written and penciled by Jack Kirby, July 1976 - Jan. 1978)
- Eternals Annual #1 (written and penciled by Jack Kirby, 1977)
- Iron Man Annual #6 (November 1983)
- Eternals (vol. 2) #1–12 (limited series, Oct. 1985 - Sept. 1986)
- Eternals: The Herod Factor (March 1991)
- The New Eternals: Apocalypse Now (also known as Eternals: The New Breed) #1 (Feb. 2000)
- Eternals (vol. 3) #1–7 (written by Neil Gaiman, limited series, Jun. 2006 - Feb. 2007)
- Eternals (vol 4.) #1–9, Annual #1 (August 2008 - March 2009)
A number of the series featuring the Eternals have been collected into trade paperbacks:
- The Eternals (collects Eternals (vol. 1) #1-19 and Eternals Annual #1, 1976–1978, Marvel Omnibus hardback, 392 pages, July 2006, ISBN 0-7851-2205-2) collected as a softcovers:
- Thor: The Eternals Saga:
- Eternals (collects Eternals (vol. 3) #1-7, 2006, softcover, 256 pages, Marvel Comics, July 2008, ISBN 0-7851-2177-3, March 2007, Panini Comics, ISBN 1-905239-57-2, hardcover, 256 pages, May 2007, ISBN 0-7851-2176-5, April 2007, ISBN 0-7851-2541-8)
In other mediaEdit
In April 2018, Kevin Feige announced that a film based on the Eternals was being developed for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a focus on Ikaris and Sersi as its central characters. In May 2018, Matthew and Ryan Firpo were hired to write the script for the project. By late-September, Marvel hired Chloé Zhao to direct the film. On April 6, 2019, Angelina Jolie was confirmed for the film and as of April 8, 2019, Kumail Nanjiani was in talks to join the cast. On April 17, it was also reported that Korean actor Don Lee is also set to join the cast. On May 7, it was reported that Richard Madden was in talks to play Ikaris in the film. On June 1, June 26, and July 10, it was reported that Keanu Reeves, Salma Hayek, and Millie Bobby Brown were in talks to join the film in undisclosed roles. However, Brown later denied the report that she will be involved. Filming was originally set to begin in August 2019 in Atlanta, but was later pushed to September 9, 2019 and will last until January 2020; filming will now occur in London. The film is slated for release on November 6, 2020, with the cast announced at 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, including Jolie as Thena, Madden as Ikaris, Nanjiani as Kingo, Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Hayek as Ajak, Lia McHugh as Sprite, and Lee as Gilgamesh. Additional casting was revealed at the 2019 D23 Expo, including Gemma Chan as Sersi, Barry Keoghan as Druig, and Kit Harington as Dane Whitman.
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- Know Your Eternals I: The Eternals, Newsarama, April 21, 2006
- Know Your Eternals II: Celestials & Deviants, Newsarama, April 25, 2006
- Know Your Eternals III: Kirby & The Eternals (I), Newsarama, April 28, 2006
- Know Your Eternals IV: The Marvel Universe and The Eternals, Newsarama, May 4, 2006