“It’s like the arguments about intelligent design. I know my designers were intelligent. I just don’t know what they wanted me for.”
—Ike Harris, Eternals #1
In other words, why are they here? That’s the million dollar question that stands at the heart of this double-sized first issue of the six-issue mini-series that relaunches the late comics legend Jack Kirby’s brilliant yet underappreciated cosmic epic. Neil Gaiman, who made his name instilling gods and god-like beings with a healthy dose of humanity and vulnerability in his classic Sandman series, among others, certainly has the resume to handle this kind of material. Any suspicions that he’s treading on familiar territory, however, should be cast aside.
In part one, appropriately titled “Intelligent Design”, we meet Ike Harris, a recently enlightened Eternal who is trying to convince a humble young medical student named Mark Curry that he is one of Harris’ kind. Not so surprisingly, Ike comes across as a total lunatic, and is given the brush off by Curry, even though Curry’s status as an Eternal is pretty much confirmed in the flashback dreams he’s been having. Apparently suffering from a mysterious amnesia, it appears that the Eternals are now walking among us humans with no idea of who or what they are. We’re introduced (or re-introduced for those who know Marvel history) to the core group of Eternals, and they are working in our hospitals and at our corporations, starring in television shows, and planning our company parties, all of them completely unaware of their true nature. Is this amnesia part of some nefarious plot or some higher power’s master plan?
It’s truly excellent that this book allows Gaiman to apply his storytelling talents to an honest-to-goodness Marvel superhero book (his 1602 series for Marvel seemed a bit like an obvious attempt to give a superficial Gaiman treatment to classic Marvel characters). Of course, the original Eternals series was a far cry from a conventional superhero book, closer to science fiction/fantasy than most Marvel books, and this allows Gaiman to play to his strengths. Jack Kirby had a knack for creating heady, mind-bending concepts dressed in superhero clothing, and Gaiman simply refines this already brilliant material with sharp dialogue and characterization, while weaving it into a modern context.
Romita pulls out all the stops with some truly astonishing and highly detailed panoramas, while pacing the story with his usual sense of craft and finesse. Seamlessly blending both Frank Miller’s raw pencil style and cinematic design sense with Kirby’s uninhibited imagination and sense of invention, Romita beautifully re-envisions and redesigns the key figures in Kirby’s pantheon of characters, managing to grant them both an otherworldly aura and an earthly gravitas. Rather than simply imitate Kirby’s inimitable designs, Romita updates them and makes them his own without losing the grandiose and perhaps old-fashioned sense of wonder that Kirby was a master of.
This book also acknowledges other questions that were left unanswered in Kirby’s original series, such as why there is not one shred of evidence that the enormous alien beings known as the Celestials, the creators of the Eternals who appear as miles-high giants in strange, brightly-colored armor, have ever been seen, even though Ike Harris states that they last visited our world 30 years ago (a nod of continuity to the original series). Why haven’t fossils of the Deviants, a companion race to the Eternals and their opposites in every possible way, who numbered in the millions and once ruled the Earth, ever been found? Why haven’t the Eternals, who are essentially immortal and can produce offspring, populated the planet with their kind? Harris doesn’t know the answers to these obvious questions, and the reader is left pondering these apparent holes in the Eternals history as well as the sense of intrigue continues to build.
All of this mystery is enough to whet the appetite for the rest of this series, and Gaiman and Romita do a stellar job of resuscitating and updating this truly fantastic Jack Kirby concept for a modern audience and incorporating it into the current Marvel universe. If they can keep up the pace, I could easily see this spinning off into a regular series, which I’m sure would make Jack Kirby, whose original version of this series was cancelled before its time, very proud. Either way, this first issue provides a terrific entry point into what should certainly be a great book and, as they would have put it back in Kirby’s day, a tale to astonish.