Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Eternals Question!


I've been slipping around from tome to tome trying to find something which gives me the same wonderful excitement, both visceral and intellectual, which I derived from my recent re-reading of Jack "King" Kirby's epic "Fourth World" books for DC. The closest work he did was upon his return to Marvel a few years later after the DC experiment soured. That project was dubbed "The Eternals" and had the mighty Kirby delve into theories popularized by Erich Von Daniken and others which suggested that ancient astronauts came to Earth and are responsible for much of both human history and myth.

It's a fantastic notion, largely poppycock, but nonetheless a properly grand and sprawling canvas to put some of those epic characters Kirby was so famous for. To be honest, though I was a true-blue fan and devoted buyer of all the comics at the time, I've always held The Eternals in some disdain, as I always felt they fell short of the majesty of the New Gods. They do, but the truth is Kirby was not given the space to develop them like he was the Fourth World books. The Eternals saga ran in one title for nineteen issues and one annual from 1976 to 1978.


In that rather limited time, Kirby introduced Celestials, Eternals, Deviants, and even some intriguing Humans, races who have a conjoined destiny of which the Human side was unaware. "The Eternals" saga lays out the parameters of man's place in the larger world and offers up an intriguing insight to our natures, both the better and lesser aspects. I began reading the story using the trade reprints from some years ago with little memory aside from a few key scenes and quickly I found that I had underestimated this last great Kirby epic.

I hope to uncover the saga over the next few weeks in a series of posts which not only reprise the series, but also focus on those aspects of the tale which fascinate me in particular. If you're not a fan of Kirby, or of  his later work, I apologize for the focus, but hopefully you'll give it a chance. I'm not going to worry especially about spoilers, so if you've never read this story, I recommend you do not read my posts as I will reveal many of the better secrets. For those who have, I invite you to take the tour with me. I don't know where it will end up (neither I suspect did Kirby himself) but I am very much looking forward to it.

What was Kirby up to with this series? I think he was doing what he always did, asking the essential question about humanity. Did he believe in ancient astronauts? I prefer to think he was more sophisticated than that, but neither do I think he necessarily disbelieved it. It was an intriguing way to get at those core queries about humanity. That's the Eternals questions I hope to fathom a bit over the next several days. "Who are they? What are they? Why are they?"  Which is really in the final analysis: Who are we? What are we? Why are we?


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5 comments:

  1. When one looks at all the themes Kirby included in his comics, it makes one realise that he got the ideas for most of them from books and magazines he'd read. Eternals - Erich Von Daniken, Jimmy Olsen - various science mags, Tales of Asgard - a book on Norse legends (according to Mark Evanier). His work is permeated by ideas and concepts he borrowed from elsewhere. Sure, he wove them into adventures of typical superhero fare, but it makes me wonder what he'd have written about if he hadn't been such a voracious reader. I re-read the Eternals Annual not long ago and it was a bit of a dry read. I think he was mainly interested in turning out his page quotas at the time, and 'though not completely without merit, I think that a lot of his stuff in the '70s (and I'd include New Gods) was far from his best work.

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    1. We'd have to disagree on that, particularly about the New Gods. I think Kirby was interested in ideas and wanted to say something important. Now that said, he didn't want to spend all his time dithering and those deadlines were always imminent.

      I just read that annual again and I was intrigued by the title "Time Killers" and wonder if it's a story outside the larger Eternals saga (it concerns Karkus and Reject) and was delivered to fulfill the need for an annual. If killing time was the point, they did it with some gusto.

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    2. I think it's great that Kirby did all that reading, bringing ideas into comics from various sources, rather than recycling the same old comics-based-on-comics themes. Also when he borrowed an idea, like Kamandi from Planet of the Apes, he expanded on it greatly and easily repaid his debt to the original source. I get the feeling that if he hadn't done all that reading he probably would've told gangster stories.

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  2. Even after the hard-to-follow glories of the New Gods, Kirby came up with some even larger scale dieties, which nobody but him would've even attempted. There's just no denying the impact of those images of the silent and terrifying Celestials, towering over the ruins, preparing to pass judgement.

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    1. I concur. The sheer awesome nature of the Celestials has really sunk in with me on this reading. Kirby managed to create space beings even more remote than Galactus, and who seem totally unconcerned with the things which consume our daily lives.

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