The Eternals was a Marvel comic book series originally created by Jack Kirby. Premiering in 1976, it was the story of the Eternals, a race of nigh-immortal humanoids created by the giant Celestials to defend humanity against the monstrous Deviants. The original series ran for 19 issues (and one annual) before being cancelled with several of its plotlines unresolved.
The idea was revisited in a 12-issue miniseries by Paul Gillis in 1985, but it failed to inspire an ongoing series, and then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter was so dissatisfied with Gillis' scripts that he brought in Walt Simonson to write the last four issues.
In 2003, Chuck Austen (yes, that Chuck Austen) and Kev Walker attempted a re-imagining of the concept for Marvel's MAX line called The Eternal. In this version, the Eternals are slaves deployed by the Celestials to forcibly evolve lesser creatures so that they can be exploited for labor... until their leader falls in love and decides to rebel against the Celestials' orders. The less said about that miniseries, the better.
The original idea was then picked up by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr. for a seven-issue miniseries in 2006. In this miniseries, the Eternals have all been tricked into believing that they're just regular humans, but need to start remembering who they were after the Deviants plot to revive a Celestial who has been buried on Earth, and who plots to destroy the planet if awoken. This led to a short-lived ongoing by Charles and Daniel Knauf and Daniel Acuna.
In 2021, a new series began, written by Kieron Gillen, with art by Esad Ribic. It serves as a soft reboot to the characters, reintroducing them and the concepts behind them as the story moves forward.
A film centered around the Eternals will be released as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on November 5, 2021, directed by Chloé Zhao (The Rider). The film boasts an impressive All-Star Cast, which includes Game of Thrones alumni Richard Madden and Kit Harington, Hollywood legends Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek, and rising stars Kumail Nanjiani and Gemma Chan. In addition, the film will mark the debut of the first deaf MCU superhero, played by The Walking Dead's Lauren Ridloff, as well as an LGBTQ character—Phastos, portrayed by Brian Tyree Henry—making him the first explicitly queer lead of an MCU film. note
Aside from the standalone film, the mythology of the franchise was previously alluded to in other MCU movies. Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 introduced the concepts of Celestials in the films, with Eson the Searcher having a cameo, Knowhere being the decomposing head of a long-dead Celestial, and Ego the Living Planet referring to himself as a Celestial. Infinity War itself has a reference to the franchise in that Thanos's father, A'Lars (The Mentor), is mentioned by name, and Thanos's home world of Titan was a home for the species. Thanos himself is a Deviant in the comics, but this has yet to be established for him in the MCU.
This series contains examples of:
- Advanced Ancient Acropolis: Olympia and anything the Celestials left behind.
- Ancient Astronauts: The Celestials are an entire race of ancient astronauts basically going around seeding planets with life to eventually judge their worth. They eventually returned and were worshipped as Gods by the Incas.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Mostly played straight with the Eternals being beautiful and good while the Deviants are mostly ugly and evil. Inverted with the Reject and Karkas; Thena's sympathies are initially with the former because he's a fairly handsome guy, but he's also a violet killer, while the monstrous Karkas is well-spoken and just wants to be loved.
- Been There, Shaped History:
Sersi: The Greek storytellers could never spell my name right.
- Ikaris led Noah and his ark to safety during the biblical Great Flood.
- Ajak was worshipped as Tecumotzin, the Inca God of Light.
- Sersi is the sorceress Circe from Greek Mythology.
- Deviants are implied to be the inspiration for biblical demons and Satan himself.
- The Forgotten One is apparently also the actual Gilgamesh.
- Big Red Devil: Kro uses this form when he wants to terrify humans. He's big and red normally, so his disguise really just involves growing some horns.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Sprite is one highly annoying little bastard.
- Canon Welding: The aliens in the backstory of the Robert Grayson incarnation of Marvel Boy were eventually confirmed to be Eternals who left Earth to explore space.
- Captain Ersatz: The Eternals were originally intended to be CE's of the gods of Greek mythology, with a few gods from other pantheons thrown in for variety.
- Clark Kenting: Ikaris hides his eyes with dark glasses.
- Dating Catwoman: Thena and Kro used to have a bit of a thing going on. They're still on relatively good terms, being some of the few representatives of their races capable of speaking diplomatically to each other.
- Fusion Dance: A group of Eternals can join together into a "Uni-Mind," a gestalt entity that looks like a giant floating brain and has enormous psychic powers.
- Home of the Gods: Most Eternals live in Olympia, a city hidden among the mountains of Greece. A few other cities are mentioned, like Polaria in Russia and Oceana in the Pacific. Saturn's moon of Titan got retconned into a colony set up by some spacefaring Eternals.
- Humongous Mecha: Most humans assume the Celestials to be giant space robots. It's somewhat more complicated than that, however, as their suits of armor are only a single aspect of their cosmically massive being.
- Peter Pan Parody: Sprite is clearly designed to reference Peter Pan, and he is aware of this, but claims it's the other way around - J.M. Barrie based Pan on him after he decided to show off for the mortals one night.
- Social Darwinist: Rapid reproduction and a high mutation rate means the Deviant population is pretty unstable, and they have a festival for culling the "dead ends" in giant ovens. Thena is appropriately horrified.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Plenty of Eternals note that humans constantly misspell or mispronounce their names throughout history.
- Starfish Aliens: The Celestials are pretty damned far beyond the comprehension of most creatures.
- Token Heroic Orc: Karkas.
- Ultraterrestrials: The Eternals had space travel and colonies on the moons of Saturn about 750 thousand years ago, but they originated and, for the most part, still live on our world.
- Wainscot Society: While most Eternals live in Olympia, their Hidden Elf Village, Sersi and Ikaris choose to live among the humans under assumed identities.
- Downer Ending: In order to prevent humanity from being punished for his actions, Ikaedan uses the Apple to make himself stupid so that the Celestials will decide that he's no longer a threat to them.
- In Name Only: While ostensibly based on Jack Kirby's work, The Eternal had very little in common with the previous series, besides having races called Celestials, Eternals, and Deviants.
- Neural Implanting: The Eternals in this version have a device called the Apple which allows them to give their slaves rudimentary intelligence.
- Abusive Precursors: The Deviants were this, enslaving humanity before first the Eternals, then the Celestials, cut them down to size.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: In order to converse with Makkari, the Dreaming Celestial takes the form of Sersi... except that she has the Celestial's face, which creeps Makkari out.
- Artistic License Biology: Mark Curry calls Ikaris on this before the latter has his full memories back, poking holes in his story about the Eternals and the Celestials, pointing out how the Eternals have basically won the evolutionary lottery and should, if they existed, be Earth's dominant species. The reason they aren't is that's not what they were designed for.
- A God I Am Not: Zuras tells Tony that the Eternals were humanity's gods, but when Tony retorts that he's met gods and the Eternals don't fit the bill, Zuras laughs and basically says, 'yeah, you're right', suggesting that what he originally meant was that humanity worshiped the Eternals as gods, though the Eternals don't consider themselves to be such (though it is suggested that they weren't shy of using it to achieve their own aims).
- Badass Pacifist: Makkari, following his being made the prophet of the Dreaming Celestial.
- Bad Powers, Bad People: Druig fits this like a glove.
- Been There, Shaped History: The Eternals have been around for a long time and have taken on many notable guises and influenced many stories as central figures over the years. Some examples include how Sprite was the inspiration for Peter Pan by showing off in front of J. M. Barrie, Sersi was the Circe from Greek Myth who encountered the Greek hero Odysseus and temporarily turned his crew into pigs, and Gilgamesh was the actual Gilgamesh!
- Blessed with Suck: Sprite got eternal life... trapped in the body of an eleven-year-old boy. It got old really quickly. Approximately the first ten years in fact.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: When Makkari asks the Dreaming Celestial what it did to get buried on Earth, it responds that trying to explain Celestial mores to a mere Eternal would be like trying to explain the Holy Trinity to a blade of grass.
- Complete Immortality: Leaving aside the fact that their Nigh-Invulnerable to begin with, even being blasted to electrons doesn't really faze an Eternal - they'll just be regenerated in their city of Olympia. This is something that Ajak was relying on.
- Creepy Child: Sprite is an ancient sociopath who still has the appearance of a pre-teen boy. It's one of the possible outcomes of being a pre-teen for about a million years.
- Eye Beams: One of Ikaris' party tricks.
- Fantastic Racism: Claimed by the Deviants to have been directed against them by the Eternals, and considering the Eternals somewhat high-handed attitude, they may not be entirely wrong. Druig, for example, comments that he enjoys killing Deviants. The Eternals also tend to be a little aloof towards humans, though Thena does love her son and Zuras' warning seems to be more one against getting too attached since, from their point of view, he'll die very shortly afterwards. More often than not, the Eternals' concern for other creatures comes off as displaying Condescending Compassion and bemused entertainment than genuine concern. Sprite is derisive about humans, comparing them to mayflies and calling them transients, but quite likes the idea of being one since it means he'll actually get to grow up, experience sexual maturity and run the risk of actual death.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: Grace Darling apparently came from the 1820s, but somehow got "time-frozen" at age 17 and ended up in the 21st century.
- Flying Brick: Fairly standard for Eternals, but Ikaris is the one who happens to be best at it, with flight being specifically mentioned as his gift.
- Flying Firepower: Again, standard for Eternals, but, again, Ikaris is best at it.
- God Guise: Many of the Eternals are guilty of this considering they were commonly mistaken for various members of the various pantheons of gods that were worshiped by regular humanity and did nothing to clear up these misconceptions. The actual gods such as the Olympians were not amused, in fact they were quite pissed.
- Healing Factor: Again, standard for Eternals given their ability to control their molecules.
- The Hedonist: Eternals that aren't stationed in Olympia have become this and have spent more than a million years engaging in pleasure of all kinds and types. Sersi is the most unabashed female Eternal who displays such behavior, while Legba is her male equivalent. It really says something when the actual Emperor Commodus of all people labeled him as a "sybarite" during an orgy.
- Humanity Is Infectious: The Dreaming Celestial, like the Watcher before him, eventually begins to notice emotions he isnt supposed to have, like anger and compassion.
- Identity Amnesia: When the series opens, all the Eternals on Earth, with the exception of Ikaris, have been placed under a powerful illusion that causes them to forget that they are Eternals, and even he's a bit fuzzy on the subject. Ajak however, retains all of his memories. Puzzling enough, Sersi seems to retain her amnesia for quite some time afterwards.
- Immortality Immorality: Druig. Sprite.
- Lawful Stupid: Throughout the miniseries, Tony Stark tries to force the Eternals to register under the SHRA, though he eventually drops this idea and comes to an accord with Zuras. Hank Pym, however, plays this to the hilt. Also, Grace Darling nearly loses her chance at a superhero license because she decides to intervene when the Vorozheikan embassy is under attack, despite signing a contract saying that she would not engage in superheroics.
- Zuras himself has elements of this, refusing to go back on his word to Druig even though he knows perfectly well that Druig is setting himself up as a dictator in Vorozheikia. In a later series this eventually leads to Ikaris disavowing his allegiance to Zuras specifically to go after Druig.
- Nigh-Invulnerable: It's nearly impossible to permanently kill an Eternal. It's also very difficult to hurt them in the first place.
- Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: After Druig rediscovers his ability to cause fear in mortals (by reading and inspiring their worst nightmares), he wastes no time in abusing it to the point he uses it to conquer a country.
- Physical God: All of the Eternals, to the point where they are frequently compared to gods in both this series and later series' - in both cases, it's made very clear that they're not gods but that it's kind of understandable why people would think that they were.
- Primary-Color Champion: Ikaris.
- Reality Ensues: Mark enters Super Speed and attempts to catch bullets. However, since they were just fired, they are too hot to touch and he grabs a metallic vase to catch them. He then sticks the vase in a safe, figuring that the bullets still have a lot of kinetic energy to work off.
- Really Gets Around: Sersi. According to Sprite, she slept with every adult male Eternal, all sixty of them.
- Really 700 Years Old: The Eternals all predate anatomically modern humans (who first appeared 250,000 years ago) by 750,000 years at the very least.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Zuras and, surprisingly, Civil War era Tony Stark after he realizes that it's pointless to try and convince the Eternals to register.
- Red and Black and Evil All Over: Druig again.
- Ruritania: Vorozheika, a supposed former Soviet Republic. It's also where Druig has been living and working ever since having his mind wiped. He then takes it over.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: When the Vorozheikan embassy comes under attack, Grace Darling, one of the stars of America's Next Super Hero, chooses to jump into the fray to try and help protect the civilians, even though the producers have forbidden them from using their powers outside the show. She's kicked off the show as a result, but then brought back because she "did the right thing."
- Super Speed: Makkari's particular talent, running at speeds fast enough to induce doppler shift, which would require relativistic speeds, i.e. close to the speed of light. As it turns out, that's exactly what the Dreaming Celestial created him for.
- Take That!: The miniseries delivers a pretty pointed middle finger to Civil War, with Tony Stark being portrayed as a Lawful Stupid boob more interested in convincing the Eternals to register than helping them deal with the Deviants' plot to revive the Celestial (though he does pretty quickly realize that trying to make the Eternals register is pointless) and Zuras, when asked to take sides, asking Tony if he saw two children fighting over who could play in some waste ground, would he pick sides?
- Really, the whole series is a Take That against mundane humanity in general, portraying them as slow-witted apes scrabbling in the dirt in front of beings they are virtually incapable of understanding.
- Time Abyss: Older Eternals, like Zuras, are about a million years old.
- Those Two Guys: Morjak and Gelt, the two Deviants sent to resurrect the Dreaming Celestial.
- Token Evil Team Mate: Druig.
- Trauma Button: One of Druig's powers is the ability to find people's deepest, darkest fears and exploit them to control their minds.
- Un-person: After stopping a fight at one of Sersi's parties, Iron Man talks to Sersi, saying that she may want to stay out of the conflict but as a former Avenger, she needs to figure out whether or not to register. A baffled Sersi says she has no powers and has never been an Avenger. Iron Man figures she's playing her usual games and leaves. But when he goes to Avengers Mansion to get information, Iron Man is struck to discover that all data regarding Sersi from her files to her image in Avengers group photos, has been completely erased.
- We Are as Mayflies: Sprite specifically compares humans to mayflies. Apparently all the Eternals called humans "transients."
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Sprite was responsible for robbing the Eternals of their powers, as he grew tired of being stuck as an eleven-year-old for millennia. The other Eternals suffered from occasional ennui but nothing like what Sprite dealt with.
- Druig fits this trope as well, not due to immortality itself, but having to spend it as nursemaid for humanity, which he considers less preferable than permanent death.
- Would Hurt a Child: Zuras kills Sprite at the conclusion of the first series as retribution for stealing the Eternals memories and powers.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: SHIELD covers up the true purpose of the Dreaming Celestial, but can't hide the Celestial itself, which ends up turning the "golden space robot" into a San Francisco tourist attraction. A kid thinks his toy is better because it turns into a truck.