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4 Eternals Stories to Read Before You See Their Marvel Cinematic Universe Debut

Nathan Kiehn is a blogger at Keenlinks, a contributor at Geeks Under Grace, and the author of "The Gray Guard" ebook trilogy on Amazon.

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The long-awaited Eternals film, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4, is finally releasing on November 5th, 2021. The movie will introduce viewers to Marvel’s latest superteam, a long-living race of empowered metahumans that have been secretly guarding humanity for centuries. A product of the cosmic Celestials, the Eternals defend Earth’s inhabitants against the Deviants, brutish monsters that at one point enslaved humanity.

Before the likes of Ikaris, Thena, Sprite, Gilgamesh, Deviant warlord Kro, and the Celestials hit the big screen, however, you’d be wise to familiarize yourself with their comic counterparts. Fortunately, in anticipation of the upcoming film, Marvel has released several volumes collecting the Eternals’ appearances during their long history. The Eternals may not have as storied a treasure trove of narratives as Spider-Man or Iron Man, but four titanic tales stick out as well-rounded stories that may influence the team’s first cinematic appearance.

The Eternals by Jack Kirby

Writer: Jack Kirby

Penciler: Jack Kirby

Issues: Eternals #1–19

Issues Publication Dates: July 1976–January 1978

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What Is It?

After working a stint at DC Comics (which followed his first stint at Marvel), Jack “King” Kirby returned to the House of Ideas, scripting and illustrating a run on Captain America and creating new titles such as Devil Dinosaur and Machine Man. Among his more pertinent creations, Eternals was a high-concept blend of science-fiction and fantasy.

Kirby’s series sought the origins of the universe, placing mankind’s creation squarely on the shoulders of the mighty Celestials. Cancelled before it could be completed, Kirby’s original series nevertheless combines his beautiful imagery with a stunning plot. Uniquely, the series is Kirby’s window into our own world; removed from the main Marvel Universe, Eternals intended to explain our place in the universe. How did we get here? And what does that say about our purpose?

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Why Is It Important?

Kirby’s series introduces many of the characters who will be featured in the upcoming film. Ikaris, Thena, Sprite, Ajak, Makkari, Sersi, Gilgamesh, Kro and Druig all first appeared during Kirby’s run, along with other characters such as Zuras, the Reject, and Daniel and Margo Damien.

The series also laid the foundations for the mounting Eternal/Deviant conflict, a forbidden, Romeo and Juliet-esque romance between Thena and Kro, and the Eternal/Deviant/Celestial relationship with humanity. As mentioned before, Eternals also attempted to answer important cosmic questions of humanity’s identity and creation.

How Can I Read It?

Kirby’s series was collected into two paperback volumes, both of which are a few years old and out-of-print. More recently, in anticipation of the film, Marvel released a “Complete Collection” that gathered all 19 issues and an annual. It’s still in-print and relatively inexpensive. A recently-released omnibus also collects the series and some other stories.

The Mighty Thor and the Eternals: The Celestial Saga

Writers: Roy Thomas, Ralph Macchio, Mark Gruenwald

Pencilers: Keith Pollard, John Buscema, Arvell Jones

Issues: The Mighty Thor #283–301

Issues Publication Dates: May 1979–November 1978

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What Is It?

A few years after Kirby’s Eternals series was cancelled, Roy Thomas picked up the thread and ran with it in perhaps Marvel’s most fitting title: The Mighty Thor. The Eternals were no longer just superhuman analogues in a world meant to stand in for our own; Thomas plucked the characters out from our world and inserted them neatly into the Marvel Universe.

Thomas’ story sees Thor become embroiled with the Eternals and the Celestial’s plan to judge the Earth, diverging in the middle to unearth a Norse epic once Thor realizes his father Odin is somehow involved in the space giants' potentially wrathful plan.

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Why Is It Important?

Thomas’ “sequel” to Kirby’s series officially marks the Eternals triumphant entrance into the Marvel Universe. Thomas slots them in quietly, offering little explanation as to how they came to be and asking that readers just assume the Eternals have always been present. This opens the doors for Thomas to introduce a variety of other pantheons to the Marvel Universe, extending their mythological borders to include Hindu, Egyptian, Celtic, and other deities.

Thor’s 300th issue, penned by Mark Gruenwald, is a marvelous feat of exposition and action, culminating in a final battle that wraps up Kirby’s loose strands while promising the Eternals’ further pertinence to Marvel.

How Can I Read It?

A few months after the “Complete Collection” gathering Kirby’s series was released, Marvel released a volume collecting this story arc. Included in this volume are Thor 283–301 and Thor Annual 7. Digital and physical copies seem to be the only way, currently, to collect this arc.

The Eternals by Peter B. Gillis

Writer: Peter B. Gilis

Pencilers: Sal Buscema, Keith Pollard, Paul Ryan

Issues: The Eternals (vol. 2) #1–12

Issues Publication Dates: October 1985–September 1986

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What Is It?

In 1985, writer Peter B. Gillis brought the Eternals back. The demi-gods had played minor roles in other stories, but this twelve-issue series was the first official comic with “Eternals” in the title since Kirby’s original series.

Gillis brings the group back to their roots by reintroducing their eternal (pun fully intended) war against the Deviants, introducing technological warfare on par with Kirby’s imaginative designs, thanks to illustrator Sal Buscema. Gillis’ series, unlike Kirby’s, is a complete story, effectively told in twelve installments that further encapsulates the Eternals’ role in the Marvel Universe.

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Why Is It Important?

Whereas Thomas’ Thor arc introduced the Eternals to the Marvel Universe proper, Gillis further entrenches them in the world while also maintaining their original clash with the Deviants. Thena becomes the much-disputed ruler of the Eternals, coming to philosophical blows with Ikaris. New Eternals Phastos and Kingo are introduced, as well as the villainous Ghaur, a Deviant warlord who serves as the series’ main antagonist.

Old faces reappear for the benefit of readers familiar with Kirby’s work, but Gillis creates several of his own original characters and concepts. Deviant society is further defined and explored, as well as the Eternals' own family and political structures.

How Can I Read It?

The series has been included in the omnibus mentioned above. However, for the financially-minded, the series was recently included in a volume titled Eternals: The Dreaming Celestial Saga. This volume is a crash course on Eternals’ history following Thomas’ Thor arc. Readers are treated to backup strips featured in What If-?, which more organically introduces the Eternals into Marvel history, logically tethering them to the world and characters in ways Thomas did not.

A few issues of Roger Stern’s Avengers and an Iron Man annual serve to remind you that, for a while, Sersi was an Avenger. The volume, as a whole, is an integral stepping stone from both Kirby’s and Thomas’ narratives, the logical continuation of their contributions.

The Eternals by Neil Gaiman

Writers: Neil Gaiman

Penciler: John Romita Jr.

Issues: The Eternals (vol. 3) #1–7

Issues Publication Dates: August 2006–March 2007

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What Is It?

In 2006, around the same time Civil War tore the Marvel Universe asunder, Neil Gaiman and artist John Romita Jr. reintroduced the Eternals to Marvel fans, bringing the team into the 21st Century. The series sees a new take on the team after a mysterious power makes them forget their former deific identities. The team must remember who they used to be and unite once more to defend the world from a new Celestial threat.

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Why Is It Important?

The upcoming Eternals movie seems to hinge upon a “putting the band back together” plot, somewhat similar to Gaiman’s narrative. Gaiman’s series is also the first since Kirby’s series to tackle religious themes and how they apply to the Eternals. His characters really embody the godlike characteristics they were given and redefines their conflict with the Deviants in more “warring religions” terms.

Gaiman’s series feel pertinent to modern sensibilities, and though it’s hard to tell how the film will tackle the ideas of godhood and religion, Gaiman has no problem working through such difficult concepts.

How Can I Read It?

Gaiman and John Romita Jr.’s seven-issue series has been collected in a few different paperback and hardback editions over the last few years, the most recent printing published in 2018. Being a smaller volume, the series is fairly inexpensive and easy to collect, both physically and digitally.

Comic Arcs and the Film

The Eternals currently have a new series running, their first in years, certainly used to build up anticipation for the movie. The film seems to blend some different ideas from a few different series—a modern take on the team, the Thena/Kro relationship, the Eternal/Deviant/Celestial dichotomy—and will make for an interesting look at the group.

Not every idea from every story will be utilized (I’m not expecting a surprise Chris Hemsworth-as-Thor cameo, though I wouldn’t complain . . .), but these four arcs seem to have shaped at least part of the film—or, if anything else, these intermittent tales have kept the Eternals long enough in comic readers’ conscience to warrant interest in the film, which may, in turn, warrant interest in fascinating stories such as these.

© 2021 Nathan Kiehn

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