Superhero Academy 101: Celestials, Eternals, and Deviants
Space Gods Without the Religion
The late great Joseph Campbell once said in the television series The Power of Myth, "I don't need faith; I have experience."
When we think of Celestials, we should start thinking of them as "space gods." They are extremely powerful, and they operate as a primal force within the Marvel Universe. Celestials are the immensely powerful giant beings, and Eternals and Deviants are merely the products of their tinkering.
I could end this article here, you know? But what fun would that be?
The one thing you need to understand is the Eternals saga was created by Jack "The King" Kirby. And whenever you think about anything by Kirby, you need to think epic. I say that because Jack never thought of any new venture on a small scale.
How can I say that? Easy. I've read Kirby stuff.
When Kirby was working for Marvel and started working on his Thor stories, he began to play with the Nordic myths, and when he left Marvel to go to DC in 1971, he literally built his New Gods on the ashes of Asgard moving forward. Any comic book fan worth their salt has read up on Kirby's Fourth World—required reading if you're serious about this kind of thing.
But then, in 1976, Kirby returned to Marvel. When he did, he came up with another epic scheme. This time it was with The Eternals.
While it is really easy to relegate what Kirby did with The Eternals as gods versus monsters, you should realize that it is so much more than that. The backstory about the very origins of the universe, the quandary of dealing with immortality, as well as the general scale of his stories puts this storyline into one of Marvel's hidden treasures.
Let's begin with the giant god-like beings known as...
Here's where we must begin... with the Celestials.
No one really knows the origins of the Celestials other than they were around for a billion, jillion, squillion years back when Galactus was still getting rid of his baby teeth. They are beings of enormous cosmic power and are most likely prone to extreme boredom—much like many of the other long-lived immortal beings like the Elders of the Universe, the Watchers, and Galactus.
No one really knows—as their appearances in the Marvel Universe are few and far between and usually only signal the advent of some significant event.
The latest story origin theory regarding the Celestials goes back to a time when the universe was a sentient organism (known as "The First Firmament"—much like the origin of The Beyonder in the original run of Secret Wars I & II) and it was lonely. It wanted to do something to alleviate its loneliness—so, it created life in two servant groups: The Black Ones and The Multicolored Ones.
The Black Ones were dedicated to the wishes of The First Firmament and followed its dictates, however the Multicolored Ones rebelled against it by attempting to create a dynamic and constantly evolving universe to become more powerful (hence creating evolution).
The Multicolored Ones became the Celestials.
What we DO know is around a million years ago they came to Earth to observe and experiment on a handful of human beings to see their genetic evolutionary flexibility. This is something that few human beings take the time to do. Keeping your genetic code stretched and flexible can keep you from pulling it or getting it strained.
In any event, the Celestials tinkered a bit. I think it was the thing to do. Advanced alien beings visit a planet and run some experiments. The Kree did it with the Inhumans. The Skrull had an off-shoot in their genetics with the Dire Wraiths. The Celestials created the Eternals and the Deviants. This visitation and initial act of tinkering with Earth life was known as "The First Host."
The thing to remember with any of the "projects" the Celestials executed was it was sort of based on the basic scientific method. There was one extreme, the other extreme, and something of a middle ground control group. They'd create a control group of sorts that would remain the same without evolution and remain stable which were the Eternals.
The other extreme were the Deviants where nothing was stable. Offspring would rarely inherit qualities from their parents and their characteristics would vary wildly from them. Then there were the natives of the planet that the Celestials would plant mutant genes to be released over time. A prime example of this was the homo-sapiens to homo-superior schism, i.e., humans to mutants.
I don't know. I'm not a scientist.
However, like any scientist or good chef who just wants to add spice to its primordial stew, The Celestials revisited Earth 21,000 years ago (also known as "The Second Host") to see how their work progressed. They weren't happy with the vast empire the Deviants created as well as the relative enslavement of humanity in Lemuria. The Celestials in a "Well, back to the drawing board" moment destroyed Lemuria and, in the process, sunk the continent of Atlantis into the ocean just for good measure.
The real trouble came with the Third and Fourth Hosts where the Celestials came in direct conflict with the collective group of gods known as "The Skyfathers" (Zeus, Odin, Dyaus Pita, and other patriarchal god heads from various cultures). The Skyfathers took the wrong kind of stance with the Celestials. The best way I can describe it was the Skyfathers were like the drunk idiots at a bar who scream at everyone that they can beat the hell out of anyone in the room. The Celestials were the quiet kung-fu monks who eventually say, "CHALLENGE ACCEPTED."
After The Skyfathers got their collective asses kicked, the Celestials threatened to come back in a millennium to judge Earth on whether or not it should continue. When they came back, the Skyfathers lost in a big way but were bailed out of their testosterone fueled failure by the Earth-mothers (all of the matriarchal goddesses of all Earth cultures—Frigga, Hera, The Morrigan, etc.) by offering a peaceful solution instead. The Earth-mothers offered twenty perfect humans for the space-gods to play with and then they went away to create a perfect little Eden for them.
Don't screw with Celestials. They'll get you every time.
There are a few Celestials you should know by name. They are:
- Arishem the Judge
- Devron the Experimenter
- The Dreaming Celestial
- Exitar the Exterminator
- Jemiah the Analyzer
- Ziran the Tester
- Star Child
The only things you really need to know about The Celestials are:
- They're really big.
- They're really powerful.
- They're really old.
- When they show up on Earth, it's a really big thing.
Now that we understand the Celestials are a bunch of giant cosmic beings who like to tinker in the evolution of alien races, we can move onto one of their more notable experiements: The Eternals.
I'm unsure if you can call the Eternals the control group in this Celestial experiment done over a million years ago or whether they were just the most successful of the three experiment groups between humans, Eternals, and Deviants. In any case, the Eternals started on Earth before they began their space-ward migration to other worlds.
There are three known types of Eternals: Earth Eternals, Titanian Eternals, and the Uranians. As mentioned before, the Celestials experimented on a group of primitives (it is important to remain politically correct when speaking about neanderthals). The experiments done in making the Eternals granted them long lives and slow aging.
The real problem with having long lives is knowing you'll have really large axes to grind.
A schism erupted in a civil war between two Eternal brothers: Uranos, who was war-like, and Kronos, who believed in a more peaceful existence. After their civil war ended with Uranos's defeat, he and his followers (the Uranians) were exiled to the planet that bears his name. Uranos discovered a Kree outpost there and used that science to make a spaceship to launch an attack on Earth, leaving a Uranian, Astron, behind to continue their civilization.
Fortunately for Earth, Uranos faced a Kree armada and his ship was destroyed leaving only a few survivors among which was Sui-san. She eventually settled on Titan.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
The Uranian Eternal colony managed to develop into a civilization that became scientifically advanced and was well ahead of Earth science by the time Doctor Horace Grayson and his son, Robert, migrated from Earth in the middle of the 20th century.
The two Earthlings were welcomed by the Uranian Eternals and lived among them for some time. Robert had acquired a set of quantum bands that gave him light-based powers. Robert, later returned to Earth and began a superhero career as Marvel Boy.
Tragedy struck when the Uranian colony of Eternals were wiped out by natural disasters.
The Eternals of Earth
One of the more persistent themes running through the Eternal stories is the parallels between the Eternals of Earth and actual Greek and Roman mythical gods. It really can't be helped—even the writers get it wrong every now and then. The archetypes are practically identical. There's a small group of super-powered long-lived near-immortal beings running around the Earth around the same time as a group of super-powered long-lived gods and demi-gods. One group lives in Olympus and the other lives in Olympia.
Well, that's not entirely accurate. The Eternals have other cities like Polaria (near Siberia, Russia) and Oceana (in the Pacific). All these cities came after the destruction of the original Eternal city of Titanos. I guess when you find out you're going to live forever, you should build someplace large and palatial to hang your hat... or helmet... or whatever headgear you're used to wearing.
Olympia was the Eternal city that was in power when the Celestial third host arrived.
But I digress, let's go back to when the Celestials made the Earth Eternals.
The Celestials tinkered with Earthling DNA, making three groups from one group of humans. As you would expect from the scientific method, the Celestials made the Eternals the control group—but only in the sense that the beings would remain sort of stagnant. They would not change. Why? What's the use of performing an experiment if you can't compare the "before and after"? The Celestials took some humans and gave them latent mutant genes that would develop in time and were inherited by their progeny.
The third group was the Deviants, which we'll talk about later.
The Earth Eternals look like humans in practically every way. Initially, the Eternals were just long-lived humans and in that respect, the Eternals kept to themselves - despite their self-assigned role of being humanity's protectors.
The trouble started after the civil war between the brothers, Uranos and Kronos.
With his brother gone, Kronos created a utopia where he had two sons. His eldest son, Zuras (strong and warrior-like) had many of his uncle's traits and his younger son, Alars (fair and intelligent) wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and practice peace and pursue knowledge.
Well, a little knowledge can really go a long way. When Kronos began to experiment with cosmic energy an explosion exposed his entire city's population with cosmic energy. For those of you who follow The Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer, lots of funky things can happen with that. In the Eternals case, not only did it transform long-lived lives to practically immortal lives, but the cosmic energy granted every Eternal some kind of power which would manifest depending upon the specific disciplines the recipient took.
The other thing that happened was that Kronos's body disintegrated. Did he die? Nope. Kronos merged with the universe and watches over his children in an ethereal cosmic ghost god-like way.
Zuras, being the eldest, was now the ruler. Alars, deciding that another civil war was not in his or his people's best interest, left and settled on Saturn's moon of Titan.
Much like the Greek/Roman god Jupiter/Zeus, Zuras and his children settled in Olympia and led secretive lives.
One thing to note is the cosmic energy within each Eternal takes centuries to master and requires loads of discipline, but it's well worth the effort. Some of the Eternals are really good at what they do.
Here is a list of the more well-known Eternals of Earth and what they're all about.
- Zuras, who is often mistaken for Zeus, was the leader of the Earth Eternals and was easily the most powerful of all of them, achieving many varied talents including superhuman strength, speed, projection powers, manipulation of cosmic energies, and a variety of extrasensory powers. His status of whether he's alive or dead remains unclear.
- Ikaris, pronounced "Ike Harris," has focused his cosmic energy into flying (much like his mythic namesake "Icarus"). He can also regenerate damaged tissues and fire energy beams from his eyes.
- Makkari is one of the fastest (if not THE fastest) speedster in the universe, he has channeled all of his cosmic energy in the pursuit of running fast. He is one of the younger Eternals.
- Sersi like her mythic namesake can manipulate matter and transmogrify anything into practically anything else. In "mythic times", she was the one who turned all of Ulysses's crew into pigs as chronicled in Homer's Odyssey. She once regressed Captain America into his seventeen-year-old self (before the super-solder formula treatment).
- The Forgotten One or Gilgamesh has channeled his powers into strength. His strength level is on par with that of Hercules. In actuality, many of the feats that Hercules takes credit for the Forgotten One has done. This includes his cleaning of the Augean stables in a single day (which I'm sure Hercules did not want to do).
- Thena, also known as Azura, is the current leader of the Eternals of Earth. She is often mistaken for the goddess Athena. She has had a secret romantic relationship with Kro of the Deviants which has been active for the last 2,500 years. She has mastered many of the cosmic powers that come with being an Eternal and is one of the few that can summon the Uni-mind.
- Ajak, who is among the Polar Eternals near Siberia, he has the typical attributes of an Eternal and has the role of liaison between the Eternals and the Celestials.
- Sprite is an age-old Eternal trapped in the body of a pre-pubescent child. He is a trickster and has often been confused with the character of Puck (from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream). He went mad.
The Ritual of the Unimind and Eternal Madness
Eternals have one other thing outside of their cosmic powers and long lives. It is their ability to physically and psychically merge together in what is known as "The Uni-mind".
Much like a "meeting of the minds" but a lot more literal, the Uni-mind is the cumulative intelligence of all of the Eternals lumped together to become one actual organism.
This is awesome in a therapeutic sort of way but yucky for Eternals that may accidentally share a toothbrush.
The other thing is the madness affliction that takes centuries to incubate in the more likable of Eternals. As it takes so long to manifest, it's hard to pinpoint the contagion as it happens.
The Eternals of Titan
Few people talk about the Titanian Eternals anymore.
There's a problem with that.
Anyone who wants the real scoop on Thanos should be well up on the story of his Eternal family and how he came to be such a problem child.
The story begins with the self-exile of Alars from Earth. Alars, who thought everything Kronos taught about a peace-loving society was a really great idea, took himself out of the equation when it came to leading the Earth Eternals after Kronos blew himself up and became one with the universe.
Who wants another civil war, especially when your brother would be the antagonist? So Alars left Earth and found a ruined civilization on Saturn's moon, he decided to build a new one INSIDE the moon itself. It was good that he also had the one survivor, Sui-San, of a Uranian Eternal colony to mate with because if he didn't he'd have to build a computer the size of a planet to pass the time.
So, Alars built a computer the size of the inside of a moon—ISAAC (Integral Synaptic Anti-Anionic Computer). A supercomputer for all of the populace. (Okay, so it went mad once or twice, but it can make a hell of a PivotTable)
When you start building a new society and make a gigantic computer to help run it all, you're off to a pretty good start. And because the name "Alars" was just such an Earth Eternal fad name, he changed it to "Mentor."
After a bit of genetic engineering and cloning was done to repopulate the moon, lo and behold, Titan became a utopia. And everything was running just great... until...
Sui-San had two children. The elder child, Eros (aka Starfox), was fair and had powers that inadvertently made most people like him. The second child, Thanos... well, he was a bit of a problem.
The first real problem Thanos had was he somehow inherited Deviant genes, which made him terrifyingly ugly. Upon the sight of first seeing Thanos, Sui-San wanted to do a very, very, very late-term abortion.
To everyone's regret, Mentor stopped her.
Shortly afterward, Sui-san went mad and named the child "Thanos". She went catatonic. It was after that she was institutionalized (Mentor created an entire civilization and an insane asylum just for the sake of thoroughness).
Thanos grew up morose and lonely. Eventually, his mind went toward nihilism and he became obsessed with Death (with a capital "D"). That's the anthropomorphic physical manifestation of death. He pledged an offering to her—all life in the solar system.
The mad Titan then went and committed the ultimate crime to a peaceful utopia. He created a weapon. This earned him an exile from Mentor himself.
Thanos scoured the galaxies and created a massive army in a cult-like following. He returned to Titan and attacked it. First among the casualties was his mother.
While Mentor and Titan have survived Thanos's schemes, we should always remember that Thanos is an Eternal and his legacy of death and annihilation has been and continues to be a threat to all that lives.
For those of you who want to know more about Thanos, you can read up on him in The Life of Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock's fight against Thanos, and his scheme as chronicled in both The Thanos Quest and The Infinity Gauntlet.
Titan still exists as a utopian society and is a haven to all who can live peacefully within it.
I was sorely tempted to name this section "Deviants: Nigh Immortal Freaks of Nature".
Accurate but tasteless.
In most science experiments, there is the control group, the experimental group, and the extreme radical group. The Deviants are the radical group. Where Eternals rarely change, Deviants rarely stay stable.
When the Celestials did their little experiment with the Skrulls, it was the Deviant group that survived through their instability and shape-changing powers. Hence they were constantly evolving to fit whatever the situation was in their environment.
Well, the Earth has Deviants... and, boy, are they screwed up.
First of all, there is no heredity factor present through parent and offspring other than they inherit nothing from their parent and will pass nothing stable to their children outside of the quality of instability.
Do you get that? That essentially means that if your parents were hideous monsters, it was highly probable that you'd also be a hideous monster except you'd just be a different type of hideous monster. Dad had green tentacles and a duck bill. You have red chicken legs and the head of a mongoose.
Something like that.
The Deviants have been around just as long as the Eternals and have stayed out of the public eyes for millennia. While it was popularly believed that the Deviants were the counterparts to the Eternals, the one theory was that they simply were placed on Earth as a delicacy for Celestials to snack on... like sushi.
And me imagining a Celestial with chopsticks and wasabi.
The thing about the Deviants is that their genetic instability sometimes makes normal-looking offspring. The character and Deviant gladiator, Ransak (aka "The Reject"), is not accepted by his brethren due to his lack of hideousness.
A more typical subject in Deviant society is Karkas, a deviant mutate with red elephant-like hide, sharp teeth, and metallic-like claws. Ironically, Karkas is a gentle soul and highly intelligent with an eidetic memory and would be more at home in a library than an arena.
Do you know what makes something odder than a regular Deviant?
A Deviant Mutate.
It's not enough to be strange and unusual, but to be a Deviant Mutate, you have to be the product of Deviant experimentation to turn the weirdness dial upto fifteen. Our friend Karkas, mentioned previously, was the product of this kind of experimentation.
Deviant Mutates are much like human mutates like The Fantastic Four or Spider-man. Through science or some kind of genetic manipulation to bring superhuman (or in this case super-deviant) kind of abilities to the subject.
They are just really weird.
As I mentioned before, the Celestials did a lot of work around the universe.
For those of you who really enjoy obscure failed Marvel titles, feel free to go to your back issues from the nineties and collect some Blackwulf issues. The story of Blackwulf or the son born to Lord Tantalus and Queen Nirvana on Armechadon is full of alien Deviant adventure.
Much like Thanos of Titan.
Blackwulf, a Deviant of that planet, has inherited and is afflicted by the Black Legacy, which makes his every touch (whenever it flares) deadly.
A Word About Hyperion
There is one last thing I wanted to talk about. I mention this only for the sake of completeness and it is rumored it will be a factor within the upcoming Eternals movie.
Hyperion is Marvel's answer to Superman. Let me strike that. Hyperion is one of Marvel's answers to Superman. Gladiator from the Shiar Royal Guard, which is a blatant knock off of the Legion of Super-Heroes, is a version of Superboy. Another answer to Superman was The Sentry, a hero with the power of a thousand exploding suns—whatever that means.
This red and gold figure has a history much like Superman's. He was a baby sent to Earth from his homeworld of Zhib-Ran (from the Microverse) and once here gained fantastic phenomenal superpowers that made him practically indestructible. By day he is mild-mannered cartoonist Mark Milton and has a weakness toward keeping a name free from alliteration.
The first version of Hyperion we encountered wasn't actually Hyperion, but a pseudo-life construct made by the Grandmaster to fight the Avengers and, eventually, the Defenders from The Squadron Sinister (a perverted version of The Squadron Supreme from another dimension—which was a perverted version of The Justice League of America).
Yes, I know.
The Squadron Sinister version of Hyperion went toe to toe with the Hulk. Sometime later the Sinister Hyperion went dimension-hopping and got his ass permanently kicked by his Squadron Supreme counter-part, who wasn't pseudo anything.
In that battle, the "good" Hyperion went blind using his "atomic" vision. When he came to our universe Makkari saw that he was, in actuality, an Eternal. That said, he was trained how to heal his eyes and shown how to use his potential.
In short, you should know that Hyperion is an Eternal.
I really thought this article would be simple. It wasn't.
Silly me. When a premise is started with a bunch of highly advanced all-powerful alien beings starting the concept of evolution with primitive Earthlings as a Petri-dish amongst thousands of millions of worlds, I thought it would be very cut and dry.
But Eternals are a riddle wrapped in an enigma and baked within a burrito and sent to an executive lunch for digestion.
We have Eternals that rooted out to other extraterrestrial adventures and we also have Deviants that I'm certain have remained within Marvel's continuity since the time of the Hyborean Age of Conan the Barbarian. There's a lot of the characters that hail from Atlantis and Lemuria which would imply there's some of the Submariner's continuity in there somewhere.
But, let's remember, this is the world of Jack Kirby. When Jack writes, he thinks in epically huge terms. When you think of Forever People and New Gods and Asgardians, they're going to be here for the duration.
Then when you wrap Jack's flair for originality—especially in terms of the Uni-mind—there's a new wrinkle in it. Kirby's ideas infect others. Heck, Jim Starlin took Kirby's DC legacy of Metron and bulked him up and bent him to be an amalgamation of Darkseid and Metron to be Thanos.
Kirby was a man with a plan. While some would say that his characters were somewhat two dimensional and black and white, his story plotting and science fiction were second to none.
The Eternals were such a construct.
In any event, The Eternals is one of his lesser-known works.
Unless the Disney/Marvel PR people start working overtime prior to the movie, Makkari, Zuras, and Ikaris won't be household names and their action figures won't be flying off of the shelf. Well, not like Captain America and The Fantastic Four (also Kirby creations).
When we think of these characters, we need to remember there's a story behind the super-powers. We need to remember that these characters, while recently revealed to the general public, aren't just a flash in the pan.
© 2019 Christopher Peruzzi