By Neil Gaiman & John Romita Jr. (Marvel/Panini UK)
(Also available in hardcover format in the US)
Despite the somewhat cheeky title – they’ll always be Jack Kirby’s Eternals to me – this Marvel revival is a strikingly enjoyable graphic experience very true to the power and enthusiasm of ‘The King’.
When the comic series debuted in 1976 we met an anthropologist and his daughter who had discovered that giant aliens had visited Earth in ages past, and sculpted proto-hominids into three distinct species: Human Beings; the monstrous, genetically unstable Deviants and god-like super-beings who called themselves Eternals. Moreover those humungous Space Gods had returned once again to check up on their experiment.
Never a comfortable fit with the rest of the Marvel Universe, the comic explored Kirby’s fascinations with Deities, Space and Supernature through the lens of very human observers. Once the series ended and Kirby left, other creators greedily co-opted the concept – with mixed success – into the company’s mainstream continuity.
Now, back to the present tome. When Mark Curry, a struggling hospital intern, meets Ike Harris his mental state seems to fragment. His dreams of monsters and gods return and even though super-powered people are commonplace in a society that mandates that all super-humans register with the government, Harris seems somehow… different. And there are others. Such as Sersi, a cute chick he met at the coffee-shop or Thena or the ever-so-creepy Druig…
Harris believes they are all Eternals, made by the space-spanning Celestials as caretakers for the planet, but something has deactivated them. He cannot find any others. A crisis is brewing. Without Eternals in the picture the malignant deviants are on the rise again. There may be another hidden foe. Harris wants his help to find those missing guardians… And now Curry discovers that he has superpowers of his own…
Another strand in play is the secret foe’s plan. Someone removed all the Eternals but although the reason is unclear some things are beginning to gel. Long ago the Space-Gods punished one of their own for an unknowable sin by burying him/it deep in the Earth. Now that sleeping God is being roused, and that will mean the destruction of all life on Earth…
Kirby and Gaiman are different writers, and frankly their work is generally addressing different readerships. Kirby has heroes who are simplistic, stripped down archetypes. Whether fighting for us or searching for great things to which an uncomprehending humanity can only guess, they are generally beyond our clay-footed ken. For Kirby there would always be an Unknown. That’s why there was always a Rick Jones or Margo Damien or Dr. Watson. Such everyman characters are there to counterpoint and highlight the wonder. The readers tuned in to have their minds blown.
Gaiman’s forte is personalising the unknowables. Whether Gods, sentient Concepts, fallen Angels or super-humans, he takes us inside their lives and their heads, and shows us creatures not dissimilar to ourselves. Our modern world is not happy with mystery and ‘getting to know the real you’ has become a media obsession – and industry. And that’s the crucial difference in this book. Pedestrianising the metaphysical isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.
All of which is, I suspect, irrelevant to most readers. Here is a good comic book read that will happily pass most personal taste tests. And I must – saving the best ‘til last – utterly rave over the artwork of John Romita Jr. The power and grandeur of his drawing is absolutely breathtaking! Whether a close, veiled look or a panorama of galactic proportions, he can produce that mind-grabbing visual that elicits a whispered “Gosh, Wow!” from even the most jaded viewer. Jack would be proud.
© 2006, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved