The Eternals: Cosmic Origins (2021)
Reprints material from Eternals v1 #1-4, Avengers Spotlight #35, Avengers #361, and What If? #25-38
Written by Jack Kirby, Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Danny Fingeroth, and Bob Harras
Art by Jack Kirby, Ron Wilson, Rich Buckler, Jim Valentino, and Steve Epting
This is probably not the best place for a newbie to start with The Eternals. The collection is an odd mishmash of pieces that often end with a directive to go to another collection where the story continues. Here you get a sampling of the ways Jack Kirby’s Eternals have been presented from their debut in the 1970s to the mid-90s when Marvel had sort of gone off the rails. The Neil Gaiman/John Romita Jr. Eternals mini-series was not included here, which would probably be the best place for one unfamiliar with this branch of the Marvel family to go to first. All that said, The Eternals is an interesting property in the Marvel Universe as it is one of the most purely Kirby things ever dreamed up and has a parallel in DC Comics during Kirby’s exile there.
Who or what the hell are the Eternals? Kirby’s opening issues explain that they are one of three humanoids created by the omnipotent Celestials. Eternals, the Deviants, and Humans were the three made in primordial times. The Eternals were sort of proto-superhumans meant to protect the Earth from the villainous Deviants. This idea has been percolating with Jack Kirby for years, and he delivered a version in the early 1970s while working at DC Comics on the Jimmy Olsen book. He introduced the seeds of the Fourth World, which exploded into a series of three books: New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People. They were chock full of a very hippy-ish, cosmic tone that featured humanoid gods and demons as their protagonists.
Kirby returned to Marvel in the mid-1970s, where he unleashed The Eternals, a sometimes incomprehensible mishmash of all the many wild ideas he was running through his head. The torch was carried by devoted fans turned writers like Mark Gruenwald, who figured out ways to incorporate these characters into the larger Marvel mythos. Unfortunately, from the looks of the soon-to-be-released Marvel film, they don’t appear to have held onto too much of the original series beyond the premise of who the Eternals are. The names are the same, but even as someone who had read a lot of comics for decades, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about fucking Kingo or Makkari. Even the more important characters like Ikaris or Sersei are a mystery to me. All I know about Sersei is she was in a relationship with Dane Whitman, the Black Knight.
If you thought you could sit down and get a firm overview of the characters with Cosmic Origins, you would be sorely disappointed. I would describe this collection as a teaser, starting storylines and then telling you what you should buy if you want to know more. The first four issues of Kirby’s inaugural series ends with the note “Continued in Eternals by Jack Kirby The Complete Collection.” At this point, you’ve been introduced to Ikaris, Sersei, and Ajak without really having a solid sense of who they are.
The pieces from What If? are Watcher narrated back history of where the Eternals came from with a cast of very bland, uninteresting people. That tells you to pick up The Eternals Complete Saga Omnibus for more. There’s a weird one-off with Gilgamesh and Sprite that might be setting up something for the movie? Then we have the Avengers issue where some very 90s versions of the Eternals show up to order Sersei to come back with them. Everything is a fragment; thus, you never get enough to actually give a damn about who these people are.
I think making an Eternals movie is a significant risk. With Guardians of the Galaxy, you had some visually interesting characters that would hook the audience, but Eternals looks painfully bland from what I’ve seen of the marketing. In the world of comics, this concept has never been a massive hit. It’s undoubtedly a perennial with Marvel hiring someone to write a story, so they maintain the copyright every few years. They’ve never been all that successfully incorporated into the greater universe, so I don’t expect the movie to suddenly find what they were missing. Thanos is arguably the most exciting thing about the Eternals, and that was a retroactive move to make him one of them. That villain was introduced a full three years before Kirby came back, created by Jim Starlin for the pages of Iron Man. As a result, he doesn’t show up once in this collection. If you are interested in learning more about the characters, I would direct you to the collections that feature all of Kirby’s work on them or that Gaiman mini from about a decade back. Otherwise, I expect they will fade as the next Marvel property rolls out on screens.