Revisiting the Eternals’ Marvel Debut Decades Before the MCU

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Today, for Fred Van Lente Day, comic book writer (and honoree of Fred Van Lente Day) got together with CBR readers to discuss the first issue of Jack Kirby’s Eternals, who recently made their Marvel Cinematic Universe debut!

Brian Cronin: Happy Fred Van Lente Day, everyone! It’s our 16th annual Fred Van Lente Day!

Chris Coke: Fred Van Lente Day is old enough to drive!

Brian Cronin: We’re going to be discussing Eternals #1, “The Day of the Gods,” by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten, lettered by Gaspar Saladino and colored by Glynis Oliver

Brian Cronin: “The Day of the Gods” is a nice and ominous title

Flavio Sette: The cover alone has like two other options that would’ve worked great as titles

Flavio Sette: “The Tomb of the Space Gods!”

Flavio Sette: “The Gods Are Coming Back!”

Brian Cronin: It’s fascinating to see that the cover suggest it was “long-awaited.” As I would think that this was a relatively new idea for Kirby, although obviously tied into a lot of his work

Fred Van Lente: It was awaited long enough that it had been announced by a completely different title: “RETURN OF THE GODS” or something like that.

Flavio Sette: Had Kirby been back at Marvel for long at this point, Brian?

Brian Cronin: Kirby had been at Marvel since September 1975 and this was April 1976.

Chris Coke: Maybe people had spent years saying, “I really liked New Gods. I’m waiting for Kirby to do something like that again.”

Fred Van Lente: Obviously, this was a riff on the “CHARIOTS OF THE GODS” book popularized by Erich von Däniken. The originator of many “Actually, It Was Aliens” memes since the late 1960s

Flavio Sette: “Were the Gods Astronauts” is still a popular theme today, though some people have pointed out some problematic elements with say, attributing the building of the pyramids to Alien Gods. But it’s easy to see why it’s popular.

Chris Coke: All cool things were either built by white people or aliens; what’s racist about that theory?

Fred Van Lente: I doubt Kirby actually believed in any of this stuff in a literal stuff. It was just a great framework to hang his various ideas off of in a literal sense.

Flavio Sette: Yeah, I imagine Kirby didn’t actually believe in this stuff.

Brian Cronin: It’s fascinating to see just HOW much Kirby leaned into the book. It reminds me of how his later years of Fantastic Four were often like this, him repeating ideas that interested him that he saw on TV

Flavio Sette: So would Marvel fans be used to Kirby being back at this point?

Fred Van Lente: The Marvel Fan was pretty baffled by Kirby on his return. None of his series in his second go-round really caught on. ETERNALS lasted the longest, I think, at 19 issues + an annual. His Captain American + Falcon run may have been longer than Eternals, but I’d have to count.

Brian Cronin: I think his Cap run was his longest, yeah, JUST BARELY. #193-214.

Fred Van Lente: It’s a shame that it only lasted 19 issues, because I actually prefer Eternals to New Gods (heretic!!!)

Brian Cronin: Well, Eternals was basically like New Gods, just diffused into one book

Fred Van Lente: Brian, I could not disagree more.

Fred Van Lente: There are very few similarities between the New Gods and Eternals concepts.

Brian Cronin: I mean the storytelling. That New Gods was a big idea spread over multiple books, while Eternals is a big idea contained in one book, so it could make sense why Eternals might read better collected.

Fred Van Lente: Yes, I would agree with that. I may be a bit biased because as far as I know Jack Kirby and I are the only two people to write an ETERNALS ANNUAL #1

Chris Coke: Surely, one can see a thread of thought from Kirby’s Thor to New Gods to Eternals. Not the same story, but some key themes being played through.

Brian Cronin: And his Inhumans in Amazing Adventures, too, Chris. It’s not quite Jim Shooter returning to “What about the omnipotent being?” over and over again. But yes, I think there were some recurring themes

Fred Van Lente: I call that “Gene Roddenberry’s Disease,” Brian. “Let’s have ’em meet God!”

Chris Coke: Inhumans was before he left Marvel, right?

Brian Cronin: Yeah, Chris, right at the end. They made a big to do over him writing and drawing it. As if that wasn’t what he had already been doing

Fred Van Lente: Inhumans in AMAZING ADVENTURES is, as far as I know, the only Marvel series in his first go-around in which Jack is solely credited as writing and drawing.

Chris Coke: That sounds right, Fred. Credited, a key word.

Fred Van Lente: In speaking of comparisons: I don’t know if anyone has noticed this, but I find that MCU fans, or people who don’t know the comics, see ETERNALS and INHUMANS as interchangeable, which strikes me as odd.

Chris Coke: Fred, funny you should make that point. I had a friend not enthused about the Eternals movie because he hadn’t liked the Inhumans series. Boy did he get a lecture from me.

Fred Van Lente: Right, Chris. I guess they’re both plural nouns? Lesser known characters?

Chris Coke: Probably the plural nouns in this case.

Kevin Garcia: Eternals are conceptually beautiful, though I’m not sure how I feel about Kirby’s regular trope of “pretty people are good, ugly people are evil.”

Brian Cronin: I think they’re both seen as outsider beings

Fred Van Lente: Although it’s interesting, based solely from the description in #1, it’s the DEVIANTS who are the same as INHUMANS, in that they’re all about genetic instability. And, of course, in the movie, the Deviants are boring CGI redshirt monsters.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, that was a…choice.

Kevin Garcia: Yeah, both sides are outsiders. With the Inhumans, the good guys were also the monsters.

Chris Coke: That’s a good point.

Chris Coke: Come to think of it, the Inhumans and the Deviants are a lot alike.

Kevin Garcia: Yeah, the Deviants in the movie was certainly a choice. I really hoped for more from Kro. Or anything from Kro, really.

Chris Coke: I loved the movie, but not their take on Deviants.

Kevin Garcia: Yeah, the movie had a lot of good points, but it also had a lot of problematic things, like the people of the Fertile Crescent 7,000 years ago looking very European, and nothing about Tenochtitlan/the Amazon made any kind of sense.

Fred Van Lente: I forgot until I reread ETERNALS #1, uh, fifteen minutes ago, that Kro is introduced in #1. He’s the only named character from the series introduced in #1 outside of Ikaris.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, it’s shocking how much of a comparative slow burn #1 is

Chris Coke: They continue the slow burn for a while. We meet like one new Eternal an issue.

Brian Cronin: I think Kirby just thought that the Chariot of Gods angle was just REALLY compelling

Chris Coke: Which seems odd for Kirby, who normally just wants to throw his hundred new ideas onto the page.

Brian Cronin: It’s interesting that the opening of the first page is just distilling Chariot of the Gods in text form

Fred Van Lente: To Brian’s earlier point, I think because he got burned on NEW GODS with all 3 series being cancelled before he was really scratched the surface, with ETERNALS he decided not to fuck around and get straight to the point.

Fred Van Lente: Kirby’s art is completely spectacular through the entire Eternals series, this splash is just stunning. The double page spread that follows is even MORE stunning

Brian Cronin: It really is an instant eye-opener

Brian Cronin: However, what strikes me as odd is that the cover is not AS striking as you would think, when the opening page splash really is

Chris Coke: Agreed about the cover, Brian.

Fred Van Lente: Part of the reason I prefer ETERNALS to NG is I love history and Mesoamerican culture and this whole thing is just right in my wheelhouse.

Chris Coke: That 2-page splash reminds me a lot of the Alien film. That alien pilot.

Brian Cronin: Great comparison, Chris. It’s very much like that. Including the sense of foreboding

Fred Van Lente: You go through the Museum of Archeology in Mexico City and you think that the Mexica and Kirby were sharing a brain, a very sense of scale, grandeur and design.

Flavio Sette: Man. A splash page, followed by a two page splash, followed by ANOTHER splash page. Kirby, man.

Fred Van Lente: Although my FAVORITE is page four, those crazy stone giant astronauts.

Fred Van Lente: Just amazing. For some reason I find the, for lack of a better word, “grounding” of Kirby designs in ancient cultures to so much cooler than some of the more abstract New Gods stuff.

Chris Coke: Yeah, the stone giants are awesome. Quite the sequence of splash pages.

Fred Van Lente: And it bears emphasizing that unlike “Ancient Aliens,” Kirby makes a point that this stuff was NOT built by the “Space Gods,” but by the Incans who worshipped/worked with the Eternals.

Brian Cronin: Good point, Fred.

Flavio Sette: Good point.

Fred Van Lente: He’s trying to interpret ancient cultures (albeit in a very fanciful way), not supplant them with ETs.

Chris Coke: It’s their gods that are actually aliens.

Flavio Sette: Doug Moench and Barry Kitson did a Batman mini along those lines too.

Fred Van Lente: “You’re wrong on both counts, Doctor! This is not drivel. And I AM NOT A YOUNG MAN BY YOUR STANDARDS!” Ike Harris telling the hoo-mans where to stick it. His disguise of a ball cap and sunglasses puts Clark Kent to shame.

Kevin Garcia: Ikarus is so subtle.

Fred Van Lente: It’s interesting that in both Neil Gaiman’s series and the movie, Ikaris is depicted as a nut. The biggest true believer in the Eternals, someone whose fanaticism is kind off-putting to a lot of the other characters. Not getting a lot of that in this #1, of course, where he’s more a square-jawed Steve Rogers type.

Fred Van Lente: KRO IS SO RAD!!! Ugh, there were a dozen characters in that movie and this wasn’t one of them.

Chris Coke: I think the one Deviant was supposed to be Kro?

Chris Coke: The resemblance was nonexistent, of course.

Flavio Sette: I know I shouldn’t find “Don’t leave yet, dog!” so amusing, and yet…

Fred Van Lente: Unnamed, doesn’t count. Also, isn’t in love Thena, wants to stab her in a cave for some reason.

Brian Cronin: Kro’s entrance is excellent. Kirby really ratchets up the ominiousmess in this issue. Both in the opening and initial exploration of the Incan chamber and now Kro’s badassery

Chris Coke: The next issue will play up that Kro looks just like the devil. Which reminds me of Clarke’s Childhood’s End, where the devil myth was based on an alien species.

Fred Van Lente: Another reason I prefer Eternals to NG is that there are good Eternals (Ikaris) and bad Eternals (Druig), and there are evil Deviants, and good Deviants (Karkas), and very morally grey Deviants — Kro is the epitome of the latter. Here he’s just doing a shitty job for his shitty boss, no surprise he bails later in the series.

Brian Cronin: The fascinating thing about Kro’s devil look (that Roger Stern later made canon) is that it really is precisely what Kirby did with Pluto in the 1940s. You get these things where Kirby does a variation on an idea he had 35 years earlier that I’m sure didn’t even occur to HIM in 1976

Fred Van Lente: The Kirby Museum did a very good pop-up exhibit in Manhattan in conjunction with Eternals opening and they had that entire “Mercury” story Brian is referencing up on the wall.

Flavio Sette: Cool.

Chris Coke: We’ve bought up Chariot of the Gods a lot, and it was clearly an influence, but the idea of ancient aliens visiting Earth is an older science fiction trope.

Flavio Sette: Oh, really, Chris?

Brian Cronin: True, Chris, but this is just so specifically Chariot of the Gods that it still stands out.

Fred Van Lente: The pre-Captain America stuff is really interesting because it really showed Kirby aping his main influence, pulp master Frank R Paul, in his rawest, youngest form.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, very much so, Fred. And it also showed the malleability that we would later see from Kirby

Chris Coke: Chariot of the Gods was ’68. 2001 came out that year with the idea. Quatermass and the Pit the year before.

Kevin Garcia: As an aside, I do appreciate the (much later) revelation that Mercury/Hurricane fought evil “Pluto” in the 1940s. It’s a nice bit of backstory for Kro.

Fred Van Lente: In speaking of “aping,” Ike Harris gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of Earth’s history. Which gives me an opportunity to complain about the movie some more (pushes glasses up nose)

Kevin Garcia: Ah yes, the movie…

Chris Coke: I do really love the movie

Kevin Garcia: I like what the movie was TRYING to do…

Fred Van Lente: I was baffled as to why the Eternals were from space, like the Celestials.

Brian Cronin: I liked the movie, as well, it just was a very different thing than this

Fred Van Lente: Also, one of the more glaring boo-boos was the decision to allow the Celestials to talk. Never shut up, for that matter.

Chris Coke: They only talked to Ajak. Just like they do in the comic.

Kevin Garcia: Maybe the Eternals themselves were meant to be the space gods? And only one of them talked to Ajak, as opposed to whichever Celestial was relevant.

Flavio Sette: The real space gods were all the friends they made along the way.

Fred Van Lente: Ajak says they talk to him, but they do not actually talk to anybody throughout the entire comics series. They are inscrutable and their true purpose are left unexplained, just like, you know. Gods.

Kevin Garcia: I always thought Brother Tode was such a weird character. In theory, he should be the Darkseid to Zuras’s Highfather, but he really isn’t anything to write home about.

Brian Cronin: Excellent point, Kevin, Tode never really connected

Fred Van Lente: In the movie everything was laid out in Transformers-level clear-cut conflict.

Chris Coke: Maybe they don’t say much. But we heard them talk to Ajak in issue 2.

Brian Cronin: I do agree with the inscrutable thing in general

Chris Coke: The biggest flaw in the movie was the info-dumps.

Fred Van Lente: George Lucas saw Tode and was like, hm, you know who would make a good galactic crime lord…

Chris Coke: Both the opening and especially the middle one where Arishem lays out his evil plan.

Kevin Garcia: Or a Gungun king.

Fred Van Lente: …I mean, I’ve got my Dr. Doom character already…

Chris Coke: Ha, Kevin!

Brian Cronin: Kirby, meanwhile, is the KING of info dumps in this issue

Chris Coke: I appreciate that the info-dumps have periods.

Brian Cronin: I pointed out in a recent article how Kirby’s info-dumps were so sharp that later creators just outright copied his info-dumps

Kevin Garcia: This is true.

Chris Coke: I know I’ve mentioned this before to you Brian, but it fascinates me that I’ve read 6 years of 60s Marvel comics and seen zero periods. Yet Kirby is happy to use them in ’76

Fred Van Lente: Oh, I dunno, Brian, I am only counting 3 genuine pages of info-dumps…granted, comics were only 17 pages back then, so space was scarce…

Flavio Sette: Ike told them a bunch of cryptic stuff about how he’s “not a young man in the way humans think of time” and yet Margo just now realizes there’s something weird about that guy.

Fred Van Lente: Then Kro and Ike throw down, and then, next issue: Meet Ajak! Who also has an amazingly rad intro splash

Kevin Garcia: Okay, for as bad as the infodumps in the film were, I do appreciate that the story was told in a non-linear manner. More Marvel movies should try that.

Chris Coke: What is the plot of this issue? Ikaris and Kro fight in the last 4 pages. I might argue the rest of the story is a big info-dump with pretty pictures.

Kevin Garcia: You mention the infodumps having periods, and yeah, that’s good for the time, but there’s also a lot of double exclamation points in this book.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, I think the info-dumps really were the point of the issue

Brian Cronin: They’re REALLY good info-dumps, though

Chris Coke: Yes, they are.

Brian Cronin: Like, you rarely get info-dumps that are THIS compelling

Chris Coke: Outside of the Celestial Madonna Saga or Avengers Forever, at least.

Fred Van Lente: I would describe an “info dump” as pure exposition–characters explaining stuff with illustrations. There’s not a whole lot of that here. The plot is very straightforward–Ike and his human friends find the Celestial probe, Kro and his goons try to stop them from activating, they fail, see you next issue. Frankly, by Kirby standards, it’s practically a haiku.

Chris Coke: But Fred, you just described the first and final 4 pages. There are 13 other pages.

Fred Van Lente: To say some positive stuff about the movie, I do think it has two of the best fight scenes in the MCU: The fight with the Deviants in the Amazon, and the last battle against Ikaris at the end. Zhao can direct interesting superhero action in a way a lot of the MCU folks don’t seem to have any interest in. And the overall look of the movie is terrific. Very Esad Ribic. But Celestials, like children, should be seen and not heard

Brian Cronin: So what, exactly, was Ikaris’ plan here? Did the professor latch on to something he could use? Or was it pure happenstance that he came with them? And he could have discovered it all by himself?

Chris Coke: They make no attempt to explain his connection to the Professor.

Brian Cronin: Ikaris mentions a thousand-year training program

Fred Van Lente: I think the implication seems to be that the location of the Celestial beacon was lost and the professor found it. Ikaris figured this out and invited himself along disguised as a cameraman.

Chris Coke: He found it convenient to pose as a photographer and follow a scientist.

Flavio Sette: I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that this Ike Harris guy is an Eternal. You’re telling me this very normal human guy who doesn’t speak in riddles is NOT human?

Brian Cronin: Which suggests that he has been training for this and thus this is just him doing what he planned to do, right?

Kevin Garcia: I’d like to think Ike knew the professor when the professor was young. I feel like that kind of connection with immortal characters doesn’t get addressed often enough.

Brian Cronin: So I’m trying to think of how the professor plays into this

Chris Coke: What’s on the page suggest Ikaris did most of the leading.

Brian Cronin: Like, if the professor discovered something that Ikaris couldn’t find, that’d be perfect

Chris Coke: They mention his instincts have served them well before.

Brian Cronin: But yes, as Chris notes, that doesn’t seem to be the case

Chris Coke: Maybe Ikaris wanted humans here.

Kevin Garcia: Maybe he just wanted humans along so they could be present to witness it? That was how I read it.

Fred Van Lente: As Kro and the Deviants are also looking for the beacon, it does makes sense that Ike would do this on the down-low.

Chris Coke: The last panel says it’s fitting that all three races are present.

Fred Van Lente: And, of course, for storytelling convenience, Kro & Co just happen to discover the location of the beacon and go there just as Ikaris does.

Brian Cronin: They say Ike joined their search for the chamber

Brian Cronin: So they didn’t know where it was before he joined them, right?

Kevin Garcia: I mean, they’ve both been at this for hundreds or thousands of years, so it makes sense that they both arrived at the same time and day.

Chris Coke: The opening page seems to say Ikaris found it.

Brian Cronin: So I guess I’m leaning towards the idea that he wanted humans to be there when it was found

Chris Coke: Well, the timing isn’t coincidental, Fred. They both seemed to know the time was now for the gods.

Fred Van Lente: Right, Ikaris found the Chamber of the Gods. They were wandering around this Incan complex before then.

Fred Van Lente: My interpretation was that the professor found the ruin, Ikaris found the room.

Brian Cronin: Then Kro just found both by happenstance?

Kevin Garcia: Maybe Thena told him on the down low.

Fred Van Lente: Chris, I hear you. But the Deviants want to destroy the beacon. They don’t want the Celestials to come. So they should have done that as soon as they learned where it was.

Flavio Sette: This story feels somewhat decompressed compared to comics of the time.

Chris Coke: Well, say the Professor discovered the ruins independently. You’re right it seems clear Ikaris could have found them on the own.

Kevin Garcia: I agree, Flavio.

Kevin Garcia: Even with the info-dumps.

Chris Coke: Kro is clearly a procrastinator. I can relate.

Fred Van Lente: Ha!

Chris Coke: I don’t do anything until right before the deadline either.

Flavio Sette: We meet Ikaris, but he’s not wearing his costume, and we don’t meet any of the other Eternals, it feels like issue one of six of an opening arc.

Brian Cronin: I think that’s fair, Flavio. It definitely feels that way compared to other comics of the era.

Fred Van Lente: Brian, Kro just tells Tode he knows where the beacon is. He doesn’t say how he found out or when (or why).

Chris Coke: The title is the Eternals, plural. You’d think we’d meet more than one.

Kevin Garcia: Well, we do… in flashback. That’s gotta count, right?

Chris Coke: We meet two by the second issue, but then one decides to seal himself in a..

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