Monday, July 7, 2014

The Eternals - Return Of The Gods!


When Jack "King" Kirby made his return to Marvel in the mid 70's, his fans (me among them) expected big things. We were alas mostly disappointed as he was put to work on Captain America and Black Panther. These were vivid lively stories with the zany imprint of Kirby's creativity, but lack the epic scope evident in his "Fourth World" material for DC. Despite the weirdness of Devil Dinosaur and Machine Man, nothing had the heft of what he'd attempted at the "Distinguished Competition" earlier in the decade.

Nothing that is save The Eternals.

With the debut of this new comic, Kirby tapped into a similar cosmic scheme he'd found in the realm of the New Gods. The Eternals had much in common with the inhabitants of New Genesis, a majestic heroism joined with an urbane self-awareness. But while the saga of the New Gods was about securing victory in the face of war, the Eternals were about survival in the face of possible genocide.
 

Built upon the singular notion put forth by Erich Von Daniken  in his seminal Chariots of the Gods?, The Eternals puts forth the idea that the whole of human creation is the result of interplanetary experimentation, that millennia before in the distant past mighty being descended from the heavens of deep space and using the genetic stuff found in prehistoric pre-humans fashioned three distinct "human races", only one of which was us.


Alongside us who came to dominate the planet in sheer numbers were hidden Deviants and Eternals. The former were genetically erratic creatures who were also seemingly morally limited and hidden in the depths of the Earth and the Earth's oceans, and who are responsible for many of our legends about demons and devils. They had apparently once upon an age challenged their creators the Celestials and brought about devastation to the globe.


The Eternals on the other hand were nothing less than superbeings, possessed of immensely long lives and seemingly complete control of the environment around them. They appear to be gods. Between these to opposites sat us, the humans living within confines of our limited lives and motivations.


Aided mightily by the inking of Marvel journeyman John Verpoorten with Frank Giacoia onb some of the covers, Kirby tells the story of what will happen when the Celestials, the distant gods who created us return to evaluate their work. The first issue of The Eternals lays out this scenario introducing Ikaris, an Eternal who alongside Dr.Damian and his daughter Margo explore ancient Incan ruins for clues to ancient astronauts. They find the evidence and the Damians learn their colleague is more than he seems. The Deviants, specially the Deviant known as Kro turn up to try and stop the inevitable, the arrival of the Celestials themselves who touch down as the comic closes.


In the second issue of The Eternals we finally get to see the Celestials. Kirby was a proper genius in keeping them off stage for a full month, as it added to impact when he finally get to see them.


But even then it is only the ship itself we see at first in one of the "King's" best double-page spreads for the series. Sometimes a scene given double-page status wasn't really worthy of treatment, but that was not the case in the early issues of The Eternals, only double-pagers could display the awesomeness of the Fourth Host as it descended to Earth.

Later in this second issue we meet Ajak, another Eternal and friend of Ikaris, though Ajak and his Incan squad have been only disassembled atoms for a thousand years waiting for the Celestials to return. And just as quick as that, the opening phase of this story begins to wrap up as the Deviants depart and Arishem makes his presence felt.


It is in the third issue that we for the first time see Ikaris in his true form as he and Margo Damian flee the landing zone as the Celestials begin to seal it off. Ajak and Dr.Damian along with the Incan landing crew stay behind and observe as the Celestials begin their research which will determine the fate of the world.


Drawn in a way which offers only hints of faces, the Celestials as designed by Kirby are utterly inscrutable. As Arishem takes his position to observed and render after fifty years his judgment, we are denied any hint of his disposition or inclination. The Celestials are truly alien, here to decide if mankind lives or dies and seeming not to care really how it turns out.

Meanwhile the Deviants plot to draw the whole of humanity into their misbegotten war with their alien creators. To that end, Kro and an army of Deviants prepare to invade Manhattan and inform the population that scary aliens are among them.


It is in the fourth issue that this plot takes off and Ikaris rises to battle the Deviants after having dropped Margo off with another Eternal, a beauty named Sersi who lives not apart from humanity but deep in the heart of the them, though she has a disdain for the species.

The Deviants attack and defeat Ikaris and he ends up in the depths of the ocean sealed in a great metal tube. Kro and his Deviant army pretending to be devils of ancient myth riot in the streets of New York City bringing fear to men.

Meanwhile far away Arishem still stands, implacable and aloof, observing it all.


More to come as I continue a long close look at Kirby's last great epic for Marvel.

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7 comments:

  1. Kirby seemingly casually created the Eternals in a way that suggests he didn't see them as part of the mainstream Marvel universe. When Marvel later tried to shoehorn them in, it had the effect of demoting Galactus, who up to that time, had been sort of a stand-in for God. Now he was relatively insignificant in the overall scheme of things. Also, Kirby went the lazy way with what was the opposite of how Marvel had previously done things: Kirby's good guys were handsome and noble, his bad guys ugly and evil - their personalities (with one exception) reflected in their appearance. Marvel had previously had ugly looking guys who were good, amd good looking guys who were bad, the moral being that you can't always' judge a book by its cover' (so to speak). Regardless of the underlying concepts, Kirby's comics were really just unsophisticated action/adventure tales, hung on the peg of a premise that was never adequately explored or fully realised. Kirby really was just going through the motions by this time, his art cartoonish and his scripting clunky. My own view of the Eternals is that it was an interesting idea, but a less than underwhelming comicbook. And believe it or not, I'm a huge fan of Kirby, but he had his highs and lows and this was probably one of his 'mediums'.

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    1. I'd agree with that save for the sub-plot of Reject and Karkus which goes against that very grain you mention. I might've agree with you on the depth of the Eternals before this current reading, but I'm changing my mind.

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    2. Yeah, but the two exceptions you mention are just that - exceptions (which is why I only remembered one of them). On the whole, the good guys are good-looking and the bad guys aren't, which is a simplistic approach. I don't think there's any real depth to most of Kirby's later projects, but his particular brand of storytelling probably allows for the reader (if he's so inclined) to read in more than there is. However, you enjoy them and I wouldn't seek to change your mind - I'm merely explaining why I found them a harmless way to kill some time, but not particularly memorable. I do have a fondness for them 'though, simply because they represent a specific part of my youth.

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  2. Nobody could draw sci-fi and alien technology quite like Jack Kirby - he makes it look awesome !!

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    1. It's wild and weird and still almost looks like it could work.

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  3. Great review, looking forward to the rest!

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    1. There's plenty more to come. So hang on to your hat.

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