The Eternals film premieres next week, and early reactions have praised it for smashing through the usual template that Marvel Studios has constructed for its sprawling superhero narrative. Yet casual moviegoers, along with longtime comic book fans, are unaware of the titular characters’ origins. Here is an overview of the Eternals’ origins, their surprisingly deep connections to certain corners of the Marvel Universe, and what stories fans old and new will want to check out before or after the film.
The Eternals were created by Jack Kirby in 1976. Having previously served as co-creator for most of Marvel’s central characters, including the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Captain America, Kirby aimed to bring the same sense of cosmic sensibilities to Marvel that he had done while creating the Fourth World mythology at DC. The Eternals result from genetic experiments conducted by the godlike beings known as the Celestials, transforming them from proto-humanoids to superpowered beings. They often found themselves in conflict with the monstrous race called the Deviants, another result of the Celestials’ experiments.
In keeping with Kirby’s tradition of merging old myths with comic book storytelling, many Eternals serve as the basis for various legends and myths in the Marvel Universe. Ikaris gave birth to the myth of Icarus, Sersi to Circe, and so on. The Eternals even built cities that inspired myths, including their home city of Olympia. They have also protected the human race and helped its advancements in technology and have recently been charged with three principles: protect the Celestials, protect the “Machine,” or in other words, protect Earth and correct excess Deviation.
The Celestials were born at the very beginning of the universe and made frequent visits to Earth to conduct their experiments and monitor the progress of life. Their experiments span beyond the Eternals and Deviants; they also gave the early remnants of humanity a particular gene that allows certain humans to develop superpowers with the right catalyst or develop mutations. This would lead to characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four receiving their powers instead of dying in freak accidents and led to the rise of the X-Men and various mutants.
The Celestials were also responsible for sinking Atlantis in a battle with the Deviants and have also conducted experiments that led to the rise of the shape-shifting Skrulls. The Eternal, known as A’Lars, and his wife Sui-San would also give birth to the Mad Titan Thanos — who would plague the universe on multiple occasions. Recently, the Avengers confronted the Final Host— a group of Dark Celestials who sought to raze the Earth— and learned that a dying Celestial is responsible for the birth of superpowered beings.
Members and Abilities
Most of the tales concerning the Eternals revolve around a group of Eternals that have lived on Earth and their various adventures. Their membership usually consists of the mighty Ikaris, the alluring Sersi, the childlike Sprite, inventor Phastos, swordmaster Kingo, warrior Thena, Makkari, and Gilgamesh the Forgotten One.
All of the Eternals possess the ability to control cosmic energy, which makes them virtually immortal, as well as able to teleport anywhere and regenerate from fatal wounds. Each Eternal also possesses a unique ability they have honed over the centuries. Sersi can transmute matter, Ikaris has enhanced senses and can fire energy beams from his eyes, Makkari is a super-speedster, Gilgamesh has immense strength, Sprite is an illusionist, and Phastos can manipulate machinery.
What To Read
In addition to Kirby’s original run on The Eternals, there are other major storylines featuring the godlike heroes. Neil Gaiman (American Gods, The Sandman) would write an Eternals miniseries in 2006 with John Romita Jr. (Amazing Spider-Man) providing art; this series found Ikaris trying to reunite the Eternals, who had lost their memories. Recently, Marvel has launched a new Eternals series with Kieron Gillen (Once & Future) on writing duties and Esad Ribic (Secret Wars) illustrating; the series deals with the fallout from the Final Host and recontextualizes the Eternals in time for their feature film debut.
With the Eternals now slated to become household names, fans can potentially expect to see them in more storylines along with the Celestials. And with their ties to multiple Marvel characters, it can also serve as a springboard for Marvel Studios to introduce the X-Men or even Namor into a future film.
Eternals premieres nationwide in theaters on November 5, 2021.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.