The teaser for Marvel Studios’ Eternals dropped this week, and based on the online buzz, people are starting to get pretty excited about this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. But it’s fair to say that a hefty amount of this excitement has more to do with the Marvel brand than it does the actual film, since plenty of fans (even those who read comics) aren’t that familiar with the Eternals property itself.
After all, these aren’t exactly characters who rank among the Marvel Universe’s A-list. They’re so obscure, in fact, that Eternals arguably represents Marvel Studios’ biggest gamble since Guardians of the Galaxy, an unprecedented success story that they’re clearly hoping to emulate once again.
Fortunately, the odds are very much in Marvel Studios’ favour, as the source material they’re working from here is good – very good. But where should newbies start? With the below Eternals primer of course! Read on for the lowdown on the main Eternals characters – who they are and what their deal is – as well as a round-up of which comics you need to read before the movie hits cinemas in November.
What’s the deal with the Eternals?
The Eternals were created by legendary comic book writer and artist Jack “The King” Kirby way back in 1976. Although Kirby developed the Eternals series for Marvel – and later (grudgingly) integrated it into the publisher’s wider shared continuity – in many ways, the book was a continuation of the Fourth World mythology he created for rival publisher DC Comics.
Not only does The Eternals star a bunch of science fiction deities like The Fourth World’s New Gods, but it also explores similar weighty themes like human nature and universal morality – all brought to life with Kirby’s trademark bombastic scripting and art style. Yet for all its shared DNA with The Fourth World stories, The Eternals was still very much its own thing, which is a testament to the unmatched inventiveness of its creator.
The premise of the series is as epic as you’d expect from Kirby: millions of years ago, the monolithic, omnipotent Celestials came to Earth and performed experiments on the planet’s ape-like inhabitants. This resulted in three new species: the long-lived, superpowered Eternals; the monstrous Deviants; and (bang in the middle) us humans.
Over the millennia that followed, the Eternals largely avoid contact with humanity, opting instead to live in seclusion (although they were occasionally spotted by mortals, who mistook them for gods) where they developed technology highly advanced technology. That said, the Eternals still had our backs whenever the chips were down – especially whenever their sworn enemy, the Deviants, reared their heads.
The covert, unending war between the Eternals and the Deviants finally boils over as the Eternals series kicks off, forcing the Eternals to ultimately reveal themselves to humanity. From here, things only get wilder, as the Eternals have to contend with treachery within their own ranks, and prepare for the coming of the Celestials – who are set to return and pronounce their final judgment on their creations…
Who are the main Eternals characters?
In keeping with its sweeping saga, The Eternals comics boast a sprawling cast of characters. Writer-director Chloé Zhao has wisely whittled this unwieldy roster down to only the most prominent characters from Kirby’s original Eternals run, plus a few extras introduced in the title’s subsequent volumes, for her big screen adaptation. That line-up consists of:
- Sersi: A party girl who lives among humanity, Sersi can transmute matter. What does that mean? Basically, she can turn stuff into other stuff. Sersi is portrayed by Gemma Chan in the Eternals movie.
- Ikaris: One of the most powerful Eternals, Ikaris possesses all the standard powers of his race (including flight, invulnerability and super strength), and can also shoot energy beams from his eyes. He’s also a natural leader and serves as the Eternals’ de facto field commander. The screen version of Ikaris is portrayed by Richard Madden.
- Kingo Sunen: Another Eternal who chooses to live among humanity, Kingo is a master swordsman who hides in plain sight as an action movie star. In the film, Kingo is a of Indian heritage (not Japanese) and made his name in Bollywood films, not samurai epics; he’s portrayed by Kumail Nanjiani.
- Sprite: A powerful illusion caster, Sprite is the youngest looking Eternal – appearing to be a young boy, despite being ancient by human standards – and the most mischievous. In the big screen adaptation, Sprite is a young girl instead, and is portrayed by Lia McHugh.
- Phastos: The genius behind the Eternals’ hardware, Phastos is a brilliant inventor who prefers his lab to the battlefield (although he’s still a force to be reckoned with, thanks to the arsenal at his disposal). He’s one of the few core characters in the Eternals movie not created by Kirby – the credit belongs to Peter Gillis and Sal Buscema – and is portrayed by Brian Tyree Henry.
- Makkari: Speedster Makkari is the Eternals’ scout and emissary, who tends to be dismissed by the others due to his impulsive personality – but really, what do they expect from someone who literally moves at a million miles an hour! Another of the Eternals movie’s gender swapped characters, Makkari’s MCU incarnation is portrayed by Lauren Ridloff.
- Druig: Druig’s speciality is telepathy – or to be more accurate, mind control. That’s right: this guy is a rotten apple, and there’s a decent chance that Druig will end up being one of the antagonists in the Eternals movie, where he’s portrayed by Barry Keoghan.
- Gilgamesh: Also known as The Forgotten One (that’s got to sting!), Gilgamesh can control his body’s molecular density to the point where he’s impervious to harm – making him one of the toughest Eternals. Don Lee portrays Gilgamesh in the Eternals film.
- Thena: Among the greatest warriors in the Eternals fold, Thena can manifest cosmic energy weapons out of thin air. She’s also an accomplished scholar, having studied under the most brilliant Eternal and human minds over the course of her extended lifespan. Angelina Jolie portrays Thena in the movie.
- Ajak: As envisioned by Kirby, Ajak is essentially a secondary character, mostly playing second fiddle to Ikaris and the other core characters. Heck, even his powerset is generic Eternal fare! Fortunately, Ajak is getting an upgrade for the big screen: he’s been promoted to team leader and given special healing powers, as well as (you guessed it) a gender-swap, with Salma Hayak playing the part.
- Dane Whitman: Rounding out the roster is non-Eternal Dane Whitman, another character not created by Kirby (that honour belongs to Roy Thomas and John Buscema). In the comics, Dane fights crime as magic sword-wielding superhero Black Knight – and also finds time to romance Sersi! Kit Harrington portrays Dane in the movie.
Which comics should you read before the Eternals movie comes out?
So now that you’ve got a better idea of what the Eternals’ story is about and who the characters are, which comics should you pick up before the movie arrives? Well, there are three pretty easy jumping on points:
The Eternals by Jack Kirby – The Complete Collection
Go back to where it all began and experience one of comics’ all-time greatest creative forces cutting loose. Admittedly, this collection won’t be for everyone; Kirby is an undisputed master of the craft, but some readers may find his artwork crude, his dialogue hyperbolic, and his storytelling sensibilities unsubtle (characters tend to express exactly what they’re feeling aloud). Still, the sheer imagination and raw power of Kirby’s Eternals is impossible to deny and is well worth checking out.
This mini-series by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr is effectively a soft reboot of Eternals lore designed to make it more accessible to modern audiences.
Obviously, that makes it a great jumping on point for fans daunted by Kirby’s more old school approach, and while the story of everyman-turned-Eternal Mark Curry isn’t quite up to either Gaiman or Romita’s usual standard, it’s still plenty entertaining.
Like the Kirby collection, the 2006 Eternals series is also available in one chunky volume – a big plus for casual readers not keen on hunting down individual issues.
Launched this year, the latest attempt at an Eternals ongoing series is off to a strong start. That’s hardly a surprise: writer Kieron Gillen and artist Esad Ribic are two of the best in the business today, and together they’ve found a fresh take on the neverending war at the property’s heart.
Better still, the corporate synergy between Marvel’s publishing and filmmaking arms promises that this interpretation of the Eternals is as close as you’ll get to what ends up on movie screens in November. Really, the only drawback for newbies with this Eternals series is that it hasn’t been collected yet – although a trade paperback containing the first six issue story arc is scheduled to hit shelves in September.
My recommendation? Read all three – you may not have limitless free time on your hands like an Eternal, but November is still a long way away!