Eternals #1 review: Marvel resurrects a new batch of improbable movie stars

Legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby created or co-created an unfathomable number of characters, but they didn’t all become household names like the Fantastic Four or Darkseid. In fact, many of Kirby’s imagination babies remain relative unknowns.

The Eternals, who first appeared in 1976, were that before Marvel Studios anointed them a future blockbuster franchise. And now Marvel is reviving them in a new series, with this week’s Eternals #1.

The ensemble has been traditionally made up of a species of ageless humanoid entities with individually-distinct powers and personalities, plus a splashy fashion sensibility. They share more than a few attributes with denizens of Kirby’s Fourth World stories in the DC universe, who have a lot in common with Marvel’s version of the Asgardians, who an uninformed onlooker might mix up with the Inhumans.

But The Eternals are significant in the Marvel Universe, and they’re back with ample time before a big blockbuster moment.

Who is behind Eternals #1?

A major presence at Marvel during the first half of the 2010s, Kieron Gillen focused his last few years on creator-owned projects, including The Wicked + The Divine and Die with Image and Once & Future at Boom! Studios. His well-documented penchant for dense, arcane, modern mythologies makes him an obvious choice to write an Eternals comic in 2021.

Illustrator Esad Ribić started contributing to Marvel in the late ‘90s. Having drawn basically the whole roster of major characters, Ribić really shines with subjects like Thor and Silver Surfer, who resonate as larger than and detached from recognizable human experiences. It follows that his style feels uniquely suited for the hidden, massive world of the Eternals. Matthew Wilson does colors, and lettering duties fall to VC’s Clayton Cowles.

What is Eternals #1 about?

Ikaris flies around a cave of underground crystals

Image: Kieron Gillen, Esad Ribić/Marvel Comics

Ikaris — a laser-eyed, flying, blonde muscle dude with no sense of humor — pulls himself out of his resurrection pod at a secret facility underneath Antarctica called The Exclusion. A voice, The Machine, informs our protagonist that following their embarrassing demise at each others’ hands in the pages of Jason Aaron’s 2018 Avengers run, the other Eternals have all resumed being alive.

Zuras, the Eternals’ President Dad-type figure, contacts Ikaris telepathically, and orders him to let the morally unstable Eternal Sprite out of her prison cell. Having been locked up for we-don’t-even-want-to-think-about-how-long, Sprite immediately teleports to New York City. Assuming trouble on the horizon, Ikaris follows, and adventure ensues.

Why is Eternals happening now?

Let’s take an educated guess and say corporate brand synergy that made sense before COVID-19 upended the film industry.

Back in the pre-pandemic era of 2018, Disney planned to release Eternals, a new chapter in the MCU, in November of 2020. Eternals now comes out on Nov. 5, 2021, but Marvel kept this comic close to its original schedule, despite the absence of once-expected movie hype upon which to capitalize.

Is there any required reading?

Zuras bouncing around Ikaris in Eternals #1

Image Kieron Gillen, Esad Ribić/Marvel Comics

A general sense of how the Eternals, Deviants, and Celestials interface with each other and the rest of Marvel might grease the wheel of comprehension. Basically, in the time long before superheroes or contemporary humans or domesticated cats, space gods known as the Celestials visited planet Earth. Besides taking various liberties with the genetic foundations of native lifeforms, the Celestials created two new races: Deviants and Eternals. Some Deviants are fine, but sometimes Deviants go off the rails. When that happens, the Eternals swoop in and knock them off. Why would the Celestials bother doing stuff like this? Because the Celestials are jerks.

But for the most part, Eternals #1 assumes you don’t know a ton about its characters’ comic legacies, might not even particularly care about their prior exploits, and just want to get on with mayhem, mystery, and daring do.

At one point, Ikaris describes what’s happening to him and his people as a “full reboot of the Eternals.” While the Superman archetype does not wink at the reader as he says this, nothing about this book prevents us from taking him literally.

Is Eternals #1 good?

In terms of execution, Eternals #1 is extremely good. Gillen introduces and entices the uninitiated without bogging itself down with exposition or patronizing anybody who brings some prior knowledge to the table. As far as fulfilling its primary functions, Eternals #1 checks all the necessary boxes.

Ribić takes an unorthodox, sometimes inconsistent approach to facial expressions, which might throw some readers off, but if feels purposeful. Ikaris only has recognizable human features when the panel frames him in a closeup, for example. Meanwhile, Sprite’s eyes pop out in a way that conveys youthful exuberance without quite crossing over into a cuteness that wouldn’t suit the character or the story. She never looks like an actual person, but since she’s a permanent child, she probably shouldn’t.

Eternals #1: Olympia in wide, looking like a sunbaked Greece

Image Kieron Gillen, Esad Ribić/Marvel Comics

The art team carries the plot across a few different landscapes, each requiring different visual textures. The desolate quasi-futurism of The Exclusion sits in contrast to a bright, crowded Times Square, neither of which resemble sunny and spacious Northern Greece. All that globetrotting within the story requires visual versatility, which the art delivers. Readers’ eyeballs are in for an adventure.

Not incidentally, Ikaris and Sprite don’t come across as homebodies. One of the funniest lines compares The Machine that manages the Eternals’ apparently constant teleportation needs to an urban mass transit system.

In this instance, “funniest line” is a pretty competitive category. Sprite’s wide-eyed, gleeful confusion crashes into Ikaris’s tunnel-visioned stoicism; The Machine indicates enough confusion to cast doubt on its reliability as a narrator. The banter in Eternals #1 sounds like it could come from magical nerds occupying Gillen’s non-Big Two endeavors, as opposed to a superhero book that’s consciously aiming for laughs.

But there are reasons to gripe. Regardless of which species made death a provisional condition first or how long ago, nowadays, if a Marvel comics reader observes a casual reference to resurrection protocols, their mind may well slide directly over to the mutants populating Jonathan Hickman’s Dawn of X. A reliance on infographics, while light compared to recent X-Books, enhances this problem.

Tactics to make the comic accessible and entertaining have their own flaws. At one point, Ikaris and Sprite fight a Deviant whose appearance feels too coincidental for plausibility. Two surprise guest stars anchor the story to a sense of familiarity it doesn’t need. The second, a final page reveal, sets up the conflict for Eternals #2, and probably isn’t actually a surprise if you’ve seen the cover for Eternals #2. Perhaps not coincidentally, both are prominent MCU figures.

One panel that popped

Eternals #1 (2020): The Cthulhu-like Deviant

Image: Kieron Gillen, Esad Ribić/Marvel Comics

Despite inhabiting different fictional universes and, likely, hindered by anatomic incompatibility, Cthulhu and Fard did slimy hentai sex and the result is their awful son.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long added to this report.