Literacy 2021: Book 24: Eternals

Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr’s 2006 update of Jack Kirby’s The Eternals is exactly that.

Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr

7-Issue limited series collected in one edition

Medical student Mike Curry is approached by a strange man named Ike Harris, who claims they’re both immortal, super-powered beings, left on Earth by ancient, colossal space-gods called Celestials. They have to find the other Eternals and make them aware of their true identities before one of the Celestials buried deep within the Earth re-awakens and destroys all life on the planet.

Incorporates almost every aspect of Jack Kirby’s original series — minus the Hulk and a few humans who were mostly there to stand around and watch — and presents it as a contemporary, slowly unfolding mystery. Focuses on a few characters and their own “hero’s journey” stories, instead of slamming them together as fully-formed super-heroes with their memories intact. Feels like Gaiman bringing his personal interests to the story, recasting Zuras to be more like his American Gods version of Odin, giving more depth to Druig as a villain discovering his own abilities to manipulate others somewhat like The Sandman‘s version of Doctor Destiny, adding a light early-2000s commentary on the media and fame, and building up to a cosmic (but non-violent) climax. The ominous build-up to the re-awakening of the sleeping Celestial is really well-done, and it feels like it finally achieves the level of awe and doom that Kirby wanted with his originals.

Inescapably feels like it was written on assignment: we saw what you did with The Sandman and Miracleman, and we want you to do exactly that with these old Jack Kirby characters. The inclusion of Iron Man and frequent mentions of super-hero registration don’t feel organic to the story, but like a mandate from Marvel to tie the story into Civil War. The familiar elements that do make this feel like an original story also make it feel like a retread. Trying to cram all of Kirby’s set-up into characters’ repressed memories, and then piling twists and double-crosses onto that, make for an awful lot of inert exposition. Character arcs and conflicts don’t feel sufficiently worked out; Mikkari and Sersi keep holding onto their skepticism and denial long after it feels justified.

Expertly checks off all the requirements of an early-2000s reinterpretation of Kirby’s original comics, fitting it into the Marvel universe at the time. But it never manages to hide the fact that it’s checking off a list of requirements.