ABC’s Inhumans was originally planned to be a full-length movie – until it got stuck in development hell and was repurposed into a less-than-stellar television show, becoming the kind of monumental disappointment that Marvel executives probably have nightmares about. But the studio has a great opportunity to cash in on another classic Marvel Comics group for a film project that could hit a lot of similar notes. We’re talking about the Eternals.
The cover of Eternals #1. Illustration: Daniel Acuña (Marvel)
Everything about Inhumans – from its production values to the quality of its writing and costumes – screamed “underfunded rush-job”, and as inadvertently funny as that might have been to audiences, it’s unlikely that Marvel was too keen on effectively wasting one of its lesser-known franchises.
But while the ship on the Terrigen-huffing heroes may have sailed, Marvel has another opportunity to incorporate a group of secretive Non-Mutants™ into its Cinematic Universe in a way that could shift the trajectory of the studio’s future films in a major way.
At this point, no one should be shocked to hear that Marvel intends to keep cranking out big-budget MCU movies as long as audiences are willing to keep seeing them. It was genuinely surprising, though, when Disney’s Bob Iger recently stated that the studio is seriously considering an adaptation of Jack Kirby’s Eternals, an obscure comic series about a race of superhumans gifted with abilities as a result of genetic experimentation by the Celestials.
Despite all of the differences between the Inhumans and Eternals, on paper, the narrative details of both groups’ most classic stories are similar enough that you can reasonably think of them as being interchangeable. That might present a problem in an alternate universe where Inhumans had been a smash success, but in this instance it works in Marvel’s favour, because as lacklustre as Inhumans was, there was promise to the show. It was just buried under a few layers of questionable decision-making.
With the Eternals, Marvel has another chance to tell a Game of Thrones-like epic tale about a generations-old alien family drama that taps into cosmic elements of the MCU.
A fleet of Eternals taking to the sky. Illustration: Jack Kirby (Marvel)
Much of the Eternals' adventures in the comics focus on the group's need to keep their existence a secret, but what's really interesting about the characters is how much of their important history has been traditionally set in the distant, distant past, before the other major events in Marvel's history.
In Marvel's comics, the Eternals are a race of long-lived metahumans with a variety of superpowers which are all manifestations of the different ways one can manipulate cosmic energy. Long before the rise of modern humans, the technologically-advanced Celestials journeyed to Earth, where their experiments on early humanoids resulted in the creation of both the Eternals and the Deviants - a group of monstrous beings who, while weaker than the Eternals, are able to reproduce at a significantly higher rate.
Though they're outnumbered and usually hidden away from society, the Eternals vow to defend the planet from the Deviants who desperately wish to destroy it.
A civil war between Kronos and Uranos, two brothers and important leaders to the Eternal population, ends with Uranos' being exiled from Earth and forced to settle on Saturn's moon Titan after being attacked by a Kree warship in space. It's explained that, unbeknownst to humans, the world was shaped by generations of internal conflict among Earth's Eternals and their frequent clashes with their Titanian cousins and the Deviants.
Introducing a new race of technologically-advanced super people who've been manipulating the world from the shadows would be something of a tall order given where the MCU is at this point. But there's no reason an Eternals movie couldn't be a kind of cosmic, historical piece set thousands of years or more before the events of the MCU that we've seen thus far.
As expansive as the first phase of the MCU has been, it's important to keep in mind that in the grand scheme of things, the current slate of films really only chronicles the things set in motion after Hydra got its hands on the Tesseract. Things were happening in the universe before that which are certainly worthy of exploring.
The Eternals' fight to protect the Earth is an encapsulation of the very reason the Celestials exist, and it's impossible to really tell the former's story without exploring the details of the latter. Like the Eternals, the Celestials were one of two races created by a higher power experimenting with different ways of creating and maintaining life in the universe.
While the Celestials chose to believe that life should be advanced through evolutionary trial and era over the course of millions of years, their counterpart race, the Aspirants, believed in regimented order and control.
The resulting conflict between the Celestials and the Aspirants leads to a reality-altering schism that tears the original universe apart and allows for the creation of a second, new universe (the universe most of Marvel's comics take place in), as well as abstract beings such as Eternity and items like the Infinity Stones (which of course have played a huge role in the MCU to date).
The Guardians of the Galaxy films have introduced not one, but three Celestials into the MCU, though their appearances amounted to little more than a knowing wink to fans familiar with obscure Marvel lore. The planet Knowhere introduced in the first Guardians movie is actually the severed head of a dead Celestial whose brain matter is considered to be a highly-valuable substance, and later in the film there's a brief glimpse of Eson the Searcher, a Celestial who once wielded the Power Stone.
And of course, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reimagined Peter Quill's father Ego, the Living Planet, as a one of the universe's last living Celestials.
An Eternals movie would be the ideal place to explore the Celestials' history in a way that would recontextualise the entirety of the MCU, given just how influential they have secretly been on the course of literally everything since the dawn of time.
Humanoid aliens making contact with a Celestial. Illustration: Jack Kirby (Marvel)
In the same way that the Celestials were given near limitless power by their creator, the Celestials imbued their "children" - including normal humans and the Kree, who created the Inhumans - with the potential to become so much more than their mere mortal forms. The Eternals are clearly farther along in their path towards evolutionary greatness, but they're very much a reminder that there's a reason why so many of the universe's mightiest heroes hail from Earth.
But really, that would all just be icing on the cake.
An Eternals franchise could do a substantial amount of world building for the MCU writ large, but for the very first film, the greatest promise is much simpler. We've yet to see a self-contained story about a group of people that truly feel otherworldly and part of something important on a cosmic level.
The Eternals' story comes ready-made with the same sort of unimaginable regality and intrigue that made the idea of a live-action Inhumans interesting the first place - and all it really needs in order to fulfil the role that those characters would have played in the MCU is a proper budget, solid scripts and an imaginative vision.
The MCU's only getting bigger going forward, and if Marvel really wants to keep audiences coming back to its cinematic sandbox with the expectation of being blown away, the studio would be smart to see the Eternals as one of the next major projects it throws its weight behind.