Marvel’s Eternals is out now and I can’t say that I’m that bothered. It doesn’t help that the critical reaction hasn’t been ideal. It says a lot about a film when they are pushing the reviews of normal people on social media or random people with film blogs. I guess it doesn’t help that I don’t know much about the characters. I’ve never read any of The Eternals comics so I’m utterly clueless about where they fit into the world. I’m also suffering from Marvel fatigue and can’t really face the new directions they’re going in. The total expansion of the MCU and the nonstop Marvel franchises. It’s all so much. The fact that everything has to link also irritates me. When you are manufacturing scenes just to tie films together then something is wrong. Write to add to the story not or don’t write it at all. Anyway, to try and increase my excitement, I decided to delve into a few graphic novels. The first 3 that I got free on my Kindle in fact.
The Eternals Omnibus by Jack Kirby
I was interested in reading Jack Kirby’s storylines so I could get a grip of where the characters started. There are some definite strengths here. The artwork, in particular, is classic. I also think the basic concept of the characters is interesting. The way that he links their history to mythology through the centuries. The repeated trope of humans getting their names wrong was fun. However, I think there are also plenty of weaknesses. Mostly the lack of focus and the overly complex story. I ended up getting quite bored as the bok kept going. There were just too many plot strands added to proceedings.
I can get behind the basic idea of immortal beings who were created by Gods to protect humanity. I can also get behind the idea of a second race of beastly and violent creatures who want to destroy humanity. What I didn’t appreciate was the introduction of so many unnecessary plot points. Like the Sheild agents who briefly turn up and add very little. Or the appearance of the Hulk in later issues. It just leaves so many ideas unresolved or, at least, unsatisfactorily resolved.
It’s not that Jack Kirby isn’t a visionary or a highly creative person. It’s just that pacing isn’t necessarily his primary concern. There is so much explanation to get through and it just slows everything down. Then the numerous subplots just make things go slower. It was hard for me to fully engage for the whole book. I get that this was a different age for comics but the focus here is definitely on the action and not characters. The characters seem thinly drawn and the relationships are ill-defined. It’s all just conflict. Not that it’s a problem but I’m used to a bit more depth.
You can’t fault Kirby for his imagination or his desire to open up the Marvel Universe. He really did introduce some interesting ideas and some interesting characters. The problem is with the execution of those ideas. It’s good to see where they came from but I won’t remember much about these stories in a few weeks time. In fact, I’m struggling to remember them as I write this.
Eternals by Neil Gaiman, John Romita Jr. (Illustrator)
I love Neil Gaiman, so I had to pick up his run of comics as well. I was excited to see what he did with these characters and to see him bring that traditional Gaiman wit to the story. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go as I expected. Don’t get me wrong, this is a much better story for having Gaiman’s hands over it but I think it was always a flawed concept. Mostly because it is so bogged down with exposition. Now, I get that these are characters that need a lot of explanation. There is a lot of lore and history to them, which needs to be explained. The problem is, it gets tiresome quite quickly.
The story starts with The Eternals having no idea who they are. They are all living human lives with no memory of their powers or their pasts. Except for Ikaris who is madly travelling around trying to convince one of them that he’s not mad. He manages to connect with Mark Curry but doesn’t manage to get his point across. Through a series of coincidences, Mark finds himself in a situation that needs him to unleash his powers. What will happen when he is confronted with the fact that Ikaris was telling the truth? And what happens when one of their group tries to make a grasp for power in the human world?
It’s not that this is badly written but it just gets so tied up with the background. I think the Eternals are an interesting concept but the background is just so dense. It requires so much exposition. Then there’s the fact that Tony Stark keeps popping up demanding that everyone register as a superhero. It’s a really distracting way to shoehorn in the rest of the Marvel Universe that didn’t really seem necessary. I get that this is a reboot but did we really need to include familiar characters from the Avengers?
The artwork is beautiful though and I really do think it’s a fun story. I just think that more time should have been spent on certain aspects of the narrative instead of trying to fit this into the wider Marvel world. There are strands of the plot that seem way too rushed and that needed more explanation. It meant that the ending didn’t quite work for me.
Eternals, Vol. 1: Only Death is Eternal by Kieron Gillen, Esad Ribić (Art)
This is my clear favourite by far. I’m a fan of everything I’ve read by Kieron Gillen so far and I think the story here is definitely the most engaging. There will be plenty of people who don’t appreciate the narration by the Machine/Earth but I really enjoyed this additional layer to the plot. I also think the characterisation here is strongest. Dealing with immortal beings of unknown powers is always going to be interesting but I think they seemed slightly more relatable here. Or, at least, less annoyingly removed from humanity. The humour was more obvious and engaging.
It starts with Ikaris waking and being told to release Sprite from his punishment. When they return to the Eternal’s home, they discover that the Prime Eternal has been murdered. Normally this wouldn’t be much of a problem because Eternals cannot be killed. He’d usually just be revived by The Machine. However, The Machine has been sabotaged and nobody is getting revived. Who could have tampered with The Machine and why? And what help did they have from inside the Eternals? The gang must track down the traitor and stop them before it’s too late.
I think it helps that this book isn’t too bogged down with backstory, exposition and context. It gets going straightaway and introduces the characters as it needs to. It sort of assumes some previous knowledge and references old comic book storylines. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t give any information for a first time/new reader. It might not be the best way to get stuck into these characters but it’s certainly a strong storyline.
I also think this is the best looking of the 3, which could just have everything to do with the fact that is the most recently published. Obviously, the trends for comic book artwork change and styles differ through the years. This graphic novel is just exquisite, which made it so much easier to read. Everything about it was great. Out of the three titles that I read, this got me the most interested in the Eternals and most excited to see the film.