Hey! So The Eternals flick out in theaters. Huzzah! Space gods, fights for the fate of the Earth, and Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, and Angelina Jolie: Oh my! But what’s that? You haven’t had a chance to bone up on those Eternals comics you’ve been meaning to read? Well, we got you. Here are three good jumping-off points that’ll get you anchored in the comics’ basic lore of the Eternals, and give you some more time with Thena, Ikaris, Sersi, Makkari, and Sprite.
Eternals Volume 1: Only Death is Eternal
We think this 2021 comic is your ideal place to start. Written by Kieren Gillen, one of the best comics writers working today, this story draws us right into the action and lore of the Eternals without a whole lotta extra baggage. The always-pithy Gillen sum-up of the basic conceit behind the Eternals is also helpful: “A long, long time ago, alien space gods came to Earth. They made 100 Eternals. They made 100 Deviants. They left.” This story has the Eternals reincarnated (a running thing with them, you’ll see) to begin anew their (ahem) eternal fight with the Deviants (Gillen also has this helpful primer for us on the baddies: “Have you seen Gremlins?…Deviants are basically Mogwais.”) Esad Ribic’s artwork — and the colors by Matthew Wilson — is quite beautiful and cinematic.
The storytelling is sharp and clear: Gillen has a witty, wry way of letting his characters reveal themselves and the wider world. We get a good sense of the characters’ personalities (particularly Ikaris and Sprite) quite quickly… And hell: you get a little bit of Iron Man, so what more do you kids want? Our favorite Iron Man line? “I get it, I get it. Eternals gotta Eternal. Never change, you guys.” (Oh, and maybe you get an appearance by a certain snap-happy villain.)
Obvs, if you want to really get the Eternals, you’ve got to spend some time with Jack Kirby’s wild mind, Kirby-crackle art stylings, and crazy god-machines. This collection takes us back to 1976 to get a sense of where this all started. It kicks off with a group of archeologists—including one fellow named “Ike Harris” (get it?) who is neither “kook nor prankster”—discovering a cave under the Andes filled with alien, godlike machinery. (Ah, you’ll say: so that’s where Ridley Scott got his idea for the space astronaut in Alien.) We get a good solid intro to the bizarre royal cadre of the Deviants–the big green guy with a head like a jackfruit, the pink devil one with the goatee, and bodacious sunglasses.
We even–gasp!–get to glimpse the scientific experiment where the alien space gods take some poor ape, hook him up to some gadgets and wires and electrodes and turn his “cosmic chemistry” into humans, deviants, and eternals. Anyway: it’s all very 70s — very out-there, very charming, and a very good introduction to Jack “King” Kirby, father of so many comic book heroes you know and love. Kirby’s series ran until x — but he series was canceled before he finished it. Alas, Kirby never got to finish this story, but Roy Thomas kindly finished off his ark in his Thor series — which you should totally read, too . It’s the first time the Eternals are folded into the rest of the Marvel universe–which is fun. But mostly you should read it because, um…Thor.
Eternals by Neil Gaiman
Our final (re)starting point is Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr’s 2006 Eternals. The take here is that the Eternals have been reincarnated (yes, again) after a big old battle with their Deviant arch-foes. But this time they think they’re human — or most of them do anyway. Ike Harris / Ikaris has started to get his memory back and he’s trying to convince medical intern Mark Curry that he’s really the speedster Eternal Makkari.
We get nice re-introductions to the crew: Sersei is a party planner and flashmob instigator (bless the aughts), and Thena is a genius physicist working for Tony Stark (Iron Man, dontcha know), and Sprite is a tween television star a la Hannah Montana. The series is a good, grounded way to enter the Eternals-verse: Romita’s art is appropriately bombastic, and we get some good bang-pow comics action—but it’s also pretty talky (because it’s Neil Gaiman). But also because it’s Neil Gaiman we get a nice right hook to the jaw of the problematic inspiration behind Kirby’s original comic. After a beat-up Ikaris finishes explaining The Eternals to a skeptical Mark Curry, Curry replies: “But y’know if Spider-man told me that he got his spider-powers from reading Chariots of the Gods, guess I’d figure he was full of it too.”
Eternals is out in theaters now.