Who Are The Eternals, The Cosmic Superheroes Who Could Be The Future Of The MCU?

Who Are The Eternals, The Cosmic Superheroes Who Could Be The Future Of The MCU?

We still don’t know a lot about Marvel’s movie plans after Avengers 4, but one teased project in particular got a huge boost last week: The Eternals, a quirky ‘70s group of characters created by the legendary Jack Kirby, are getting a movie from director Chloé Zhao.

Unfamiliar with what could be the new faces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? We’re here to help.

Understanding The Eternals requires a bit of a leap back to before their creation — and even to another comics publisher.

At the start of the 1970s, Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics. This departure came after a creative run which had seen him help bring to life some of the publisher’s most iconic superheroes — but he was steadily worn down by growing discontent with the way he was credited and treated for his work at the company.

Finally deciding enough was enough, Kirby jumped ship to Marvel’s biggest rival, DC Comics, and immediately started work on his next great epic: The Fourth World, a cosmic realm of gods and otherworldly beings that gave birth to the New Gods pantheon of characters and one of DC’s most infamous villains, Darkseid.

But while Kirby launched an array of books that kicked off this brave new frontier, his time at DC didn’t last. Just five years later, Kirby found himself unsatisfied with being forced to work on projects he didn’t want to, and decided to return once more to Marvel.

And that’s where The Eternals, the first series Kirby created after his return to the company, finally comes in.

So why did you need to know about DC’s New Gods before that? Because basically, The Eternals is kinda Kirby’s Marvel riff on his own work.

The Celestials (for non-comic readers, beings such as Star-Lord’s dad Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) created two separate races out of their experiments: The Eternals, human-looking, quasi-immortal beings with superpowers; and the Deviants, a grotesque, monstrous byproduct of the experiments that created a race of vengeful beings who would be forever envious of the Eternals.

The Celestials tasked the Eternals with using their superpowers to protect the Earth from the threat of the Deviants, and then went on about their merry cosmic way. Interestingly, it was retconned that a faction of Eternals left Earth and headed first to Uranus and then to Titan, making the cosmic beings that hailed from those planets (the Uranians and Titanians) Eternals rather than separate races.

So technically, we’ve already met an Eternal in the MCU: Thanos! (Even if the film didn’t actually acknowledge that comic book factoid about the Mad Titan.) Thanos isn’t a full Deviant in the comics though, but rather an Eternal born with the “Deviant syndrome”, a mutant in Eternal biology that gives him some of the defects of the Deviant subrace.

While each Eternal has different individual powers and abilities, they have a few shared traits.

Aside from long-lasting life and regenerative properties, Eternals could also manipulate cosmic energy in a similar manner to the Celestials, and any gathered group of three could merge their forms into a psionic entity known as a Unimind, which amplified the powers of the three Eternals it was made up of. You know, kind of like the gems from Steven Universe.

The experiments that made them are sometimes seen as the foundation of the existence of superpowers on Earth full stop, and Kirby envisioned the long-lived beings as the Marvel universe’s equivalent stand-in for the ancient gods of Greek, Egyptian and Roman theologies, as the Norse pantheon was to the Asgardians.

While the characters would exist in their own miniseries again in 1985 and 2006 (which led to another quickly-cancelled ongoing series launched in 2007), the Eternals have mostly stayed far in the background in the comics.

But, if the rumours that preceded Feige’s confirmation of potential plans for an Eternals movie are to be believed, one major character from the second of those miniseries, by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr, could be a significant player in the movie: Sersi.

ImageIkaris passes on the power of the Unimind — the legacy of the Eternals — to Tony Stark before dying. (Image: Paco Medina, Ed McGuinness, Juan Vlasco, Mark Morales, David Curiel and Cory Petit, Marvel Comics)

Pretty much every notable Eternal (including the original team) is dead, but not before Ikaris granted Iron Man the ability to use the Unimind during the Avengers’ cataclysmic battle with the Dark Celestials.

Obscure as they are, the Eternals have a long and confusing history interwoven through decades of Marvel comics. The basic beats of their gimmick have even been introduced into Marvel’s live-action universe, through the similar “hidden superpowered subrace of mankind” tropes found in the Inhumans (which could also crop up again with the X-Men, now that we live in a post-Disney/Fox deal world).

Suffice to say, they’re a perplexing choice as a potential force in Marvel’s grand “Phase 4” plans and beyond.

But obscurity and comic book weirdness have not stopped Marvel Studios before — after all, look at Guardians of the Galaxy.

Not only do the Guardians films provide evidence that the Marvel Movieverse can turn barely-remembered comics characters into box office stars, they sow enough seeds between the Celestials and the cosmic diaspora of Marvel’s spacebound characters that there’s already a path for the Eternals to carve into the box office.

Who knows, maybe Zhao’s film will herald another wave of unlikely movie heroes?