Return of the Space-Gods

A Celestial gives one thumb up…

The Eternals Volume One: written by Jack Kirby; illustrated by Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, and John Verpooten (1975-76; collected 2007): Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel brought this tale of space gods and god-like humans to the company. At first, it may have seemed as if Kirby had simply continued his New Gods storyline in another venue, but The Eternals quickly established itself as a different kind of thing about many of the same things that have always occupied Kirby.

The most interesting of these new things are Kirby’s Celestials, 2000-foot-tall space aliens whose powers are god-like and motives mysterious. While mucking about with human genetics millennia ago, they created two spin-off races of humanity: the noble, man-like Eternals and the protean Deviants, who produced offspring in a wide assortment of shapes and powers.

In this Chariots of the Gods scenario, the Eternals have provided humanity with the model for many of its gods while the Deviants have provided the model for many of its demons. The Deviants even managed to enslave humanity for a time in some antediluvian past, before the Celestials destroyed their empire in a massive flood.

The Eternals begins with the return of the Celestials, who will stand in judgement over humanity and its off-shoots for fifty years prior to deciding their fate. Politicking and warfare between the Eternals and the Deviants soon breaks out, with humanity finally discovering its siblings. And things get weird very fast.

Most of the Eternals have names that echo those of human gods and figures of myth — Ikaris, Thena, Zuras, Makkari, Ajak — though in all cases, they turn out to be models for many different figures from many different cultures. The Eternals get around when they’re not hiding out on mountaintops. And they neither age nor die.

One of the oddities for the time of publication was that The Eternals soon establishes that it’s a wide-ranging group book without a clear, single protagonist. The stolid Eternal Ikaris initially seems to be the hero, but he vanishes for lengthy sections of the narrative. This sort of storytelling would be much more commonplace ten to fifteen years down the road; in 1975, it’s downright peculiar to shift focus from group to group (or sometimes away from all recurring characters entirely) for entire issues at a time.

Art-wise, the Celestials are the stand-out here, one of Kirby’s most bizarre and foreboding bits of design, with elements of Aztec and Mayan art mixed in with Kirby’s expressionistic take on computer circuitry and high technology. Also, they neither speak nor have thought balloons. Later writers, when using the Celestials, would introduce both speech and thought balloons to these cosmic giants, rapidly removing all mystery from them. For now, though, they’re cool and sublime, as is the book itself. Recommended.

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