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From A Library: Eternals

Eternals #1–7 by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr

Well, I say that the book is by the two artists, but the hardcover title seems to suggest it was only Neil Gaiman responsible for it. Ah well, marketing types know what they are doing, right?

JRJr is a very important contributor to the book – just look at pages 2 and 3 of the first issue, a double-page spread of the Celestials: a fantastic sense of the cosmic, the size, the dimension. It must be hard to follow Kirby on a Kirby creation, with all the devotion people have to him, but JRJr brings his own sense of the idea of Kirby’s grandiose, larger than life art – it is still Romita’s work but it is bigger in scale and idea, which is the whole point. Be inspired but don’t imitate.

Romita is a strange mix – he is undoubtedly a talented comic book artist: his sense of page composition, panel choice, movement, anatomy and storytelling are all top notch. However, to me, there is a ‘compository’ quality to his figures – you can almost see the circles/cylinders/guidelines that people starting out use to guide their drawings. His faces have a similar shape to them; kids’ eyes and heads are huge; the men have the same tubular shape to their limbs. However, here this fades into the background and the storytelling takes over, which is perfect for this story, alternating between big and small, cosmic and human scale.

Mark Curry is an ER doctor in training; Ike Harris tells him he is an Immortal put there to safeguard the Earth; Sersi is a flaky party planner; Thena works on weapons for Tony Stark. What is it that connects these characters? Ike gets beaten and blown up, and ends up in the hospital where Mark works. He tells Mark a story – about the Celestials, giant cosmic beings who may have seeded the Earth with life, and took proto-humans and used them to create the 100 Eternals and the countless Deviants (who bred into the millions and took over the world). The Eternals had to stop the Deviants – luckily, the Eternals can’t be killed and have superpowers, which is handy. There were too many, however, so they called the Celestials back (the Second Horde), who killed the Deviants except for a few survivors. Eternals then helped humanity to grow but, about 30 years ago, the Third Horde returned to judge humanity – and that’s when things start to get cloudy for Ike …

Mark allows people who he thinks are doctors to take Ike away – they turn out to be Deviants who try lots of different methods of killing Ike. Mark meets Sersi and feels a connection, and starts to feel some sort of connection to Ike, who he hears asking him for help. Sersi invites him to a party for Druig, the Deputy Prime Minister of Vorozheika (fictional former Russian state) where he has secretly organised a hostage situation only for it to go wrong – this causes Mark to move at hyperspeed to save the hostages, triggering a reappraisal of Ike’s story. He goes to see Sprite, a child television and film star who Ike said was also an Eternal. (There is also a nice nod towards the Civil War situation, as Iron Man, who helped deal with the hostage situation, recognises Sersi, a former Avenger, and confronts her on registration, something she knows nothing about.) Meanwhile, Druig discovers he is aware of the vulnerable spot of everyone around him, something he uses to find out why his junior betrayed him and to find the kidnapped scientists from the party.

Sprite has tricked Mark into running into the Dreaming Celestial (there is some nice Kirby crackle on the two-page spread of the Dreaming Celestial) – Sprite is revealed as the villain of the piece: being eleven years old for a million years has messed him up (even inspiring JM Barrie to write Peter Pan wasn’t a positive) and he wants to finally be an adult. His power of illusion, amplified by the unconscious Celestial, caused the Eternals to believe that they were human.

Another Eternal, Ajak, finds Zuras, the leader of the Eternals, who is now a tramp, and explains the situation – under orders of Zuras, he had hired Deviants to kill Ikaris to help him, and to wake the Dreaming Celestial, which will bring the Horde to cleanse life from the galaxy. So Ikaris, Thena and Sersi go to the Dreaming Celestial – who turns golden: Uatu can’t watch and even Galactus feels afraid. They can’t stop it, and the Dreaming Celestial awakes, in yet another phenomenal double-page spread from Romita. Ikaris, Zuras, Ajak and Druig form the Uni-Mind, but the Celestial turns it off; instead, he talks to Makkari (the Celestial states that he created Makkari specifically), telling him to let the humans, Eternals and Deviants know that the Celestial will wait, listen, absorb and judge before the Horde returns, which will be some time yet.

The final issue, which happens after all this, feels tacked on – the Deviants come to Olympia in Antarctica (home of the Eternals) but they don’t fight because they believe that Makkari is a prophet of the Celestials, who they treat as gods; Zuras kills Sprite for his own benefit; the scene is set for a future ongoing series by having Ikkaris and Makkari searching for the remaining 90 Eternals who are still in human form before the Celestial Horde returns. The only problem is that isn’t going to happen – the series only existed, and did well, because Neil Gaiman wrote it. And he certainly isn’t going to do an ongoing series of any sort anymore. So, the reader is left with part of a story and the promise of more, but no author is going to touch it after Gaiman has been there. (Well, except for the new ongoing series they’ve decided upon.)

This is an enjoyable story, especially for an almost superhero story from Gaiman. Admittedly, there is a very mythological feel to the whole concept, which is perfect for Gaiman. He does a great job of integrating the story with the Marvel Universe, both previous and current, and, except for the extra endings, it is a satisfactory narrative. It was so good, it made me forget about Kirby (philistine that I am, I am not a fan) and think that the Eternals are not just an embarrassing Kirby remnant.

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