“Read a Damn Book – 131: The Eternals”
Now ‘o days, everyone knows about the “Ancient Aliens” supposition, the idea that aliens have been coming to Earth for centuries or even millennia and may have influenced the development of the human race. This idea has been popularized, in no small part, thanks to the success of the scientifically dubious but long-lasting television show, Ancient Aliens, on the History Channel. However, this idea isn’t new. (For a FANTASTIC discussion of this concept, which goes back over 100 years, I recommend listening to the Archaeological Fantasies podcast episode where the hosts interview researcher, Jason Colavito!) In the 1970s, one of the most popular books on this topic was Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods (published in 1968) in which von Däniken (mistakenly) suggests that a number of ancient monuments conceal evidence that aliens have been on Earth---and interestingly, a few years after this book bloomed in the popular consciousness, our good buddy, Jack “King” Kirby ALSO covered the topic in comic book form. Are you ready for THE ETERNALS???
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Jack Kirby – The Eternals (1976/2016)
I’m assuming that most folks have heard of Jack Kirby at this point, but for the few of you out there who don’t know him, he was one of the most important comic creators of all time. He was a writer and an artist, and he was remarkably successful at creating unforgettable characters: Captain America, The Avengers, The Hulk, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four…I could keep going for weeks! Along with Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and a few other legends, Kirby helped to make Marvel Comics a household name---but the times weren’t always great with Marvel, and for a few years, Kirby left the Mighty Marvel Bullpen and defected to D.C., where he created a handful of brilliant titles (including Mister Miracle, which I reviewed a few months ago.) However, when the grass proved not to be any greener at D.C., Kirby returned to Marvel, and amongst a few other titles (according to an essay by Robert Greenberger at the end of this collection,) Kirby was allowed to create The Eternals.
Kirby wrote and drew the title, which ran for about 20 issues (about a year and a half.) This collection includes the first eleven issues of the book---and the whole collection is WONDERFUL. Again, according to the essay at the end of the book, the title wasn’t that well received upon its initial release---but I’m not that interested in what critics think or what sells well. For me, this title has everything that you’d want in an epic fantasy story, even though it’s set in (what was then) the modern day. Kirby’s art is, as always, very dynamic, even frantic at times, and his characters are quirky and exciting. The dialog is always a bit stiff in a Kirby book, but his enthusiasm for the subject always comes through loud and clear. (He'd been creating comics since the 1930s---four decades by the time he made this book!!! If his approach was a bit “old school,” and he tended to play up the melodrama, it was because he was still emulating that classic style---which he, of course, helped to create!) His character costumes are garish and over-the-top, as we've come to expect from Kirby, and his dialog (as I mentioned) is high melodrama! The facial expressions on his characters are always massively exaggerated, the hairstyles are sometimes very weird, and I wouldn't want the book any other way! These are all elements of that signature Kirby style, which may seem a bit out of date to our modern sensibilities, but if you understand where he was coming from, and if you can get into the MOOD that he’s trying to create, he is easily the undisputed master of that over-the-top, powerful, dynamic, “comic book,” style!
Okay, enough about Kirby' style, lets look at the book itself. The story opens with three archaeologists who are exploring an Incan temple, Dr. Damian, his daughter Margo, and an assistant, Ike Harris. They find some carvings, which Harris says show that the Incans had been in contact with visitors from space who the Incans treated as gods. Dr. Damian and Margo tell him to stop being ridiculous, but then Harris finds a secret room that reveals high tech equipment, forcing the doctor and his daughter to bite their tongues. Ike Harris then reveals himself to be Ikaris, a member of an ancient race, called The Eternals, who were created, along with the Humans and a third race, The Deviants, by super powerful, ancient, cosmic aliens, The Celestials---who are about to return to Earth to see how their experiment (the races that they created and seeded onto the planet) is progressing.
The Eternals, who have existed on Earth for thousands of years and cannot die, have actually interacted with humans on numerous occasions, and were often chronicled in mythology as gods and heroes. The Deviants, a monstrous race that have also existed for as long as man, have inspired the stories of demons and other beasts. In fact, the Deviants, at one time, where the dominant species on the planet, building up a great culture, known as Lemuria, but they became too confident, and when the Celestials returned to check on the planet a hundred generations ago, the Deviants challenged the space gods, and their great civilization was crushed and their wonderous cities sunk beneath the sea. (The story of this occurrence has come down to us as the story of the fall of Atlantis!)
Kirby, using his considerable skills as a narrator, gives us a quick look at this fallen culture as a few of the characters travel in a submarine towards what remains of the sunken glory that was Lemuria. He offers this description from issue #8:
“Then, a great capital city glides into view. It is as it was in its final moments. Mammoth structures, broad avenues, idols of stone which once touched the sky---all lie humbled on the broken back of a continent which sank with its teeming masses from a cosmic blow!!”
Say what you want about the campy tone of the book overall---Kirby could definitely string some words together! It's purple prose, for sure---but some of the BEST purple prose that I've encountered since the last Victorian gothic novel I read!
Anyway, this first collection deals with the events that happen as the giant Celestials (and by giant, we’re talking 2,000 feet tall) return to Earth, and the human populations are forced to deal with the revelation that aliens exist, but also that they have shared the planet with two other races, the Eternals and the Deviants. Kirby introduces a number of interesting characters in these early issues, many based on figures from classical mythology: Zuras, (aka Zeus) the leader of the Eternals; Sersi (aka Circe, who changes Odysseus’s sailors into pigs in The Odyssey); Makkari (aka Mercury); Thena (aka Athena, the daughter of Zeus); and so on… Kirby loves to change the names of the famous figures, just a little bit---assuming, of course, that NO Eternals are going to have been recorded under their proper names.
The Deviants, meanwhile, are lead by a Jabba the Hut looking figure, called The Great Tode (a full SEVEN YEARS before Return of the Jedi---and considering the outtakes from Star Wars – A New Hope show a fat human character as Jabba in one of the scenes that was eventually cut from the film, I can’t help but wonder if George Lucas read this comic and STOLE The Great Tode’s look for the Hutt!) The Tode’s most distinguished general is Kro, who disguises himself as The Devil (by manipulating his own body and growing horns,) and then Kro attacks New York with a number of demonic looking Deviants, trying to trick the humans into thinking that they are in league with the Celestials in an attempt to manipulate the humans into retaliating against the giant space gods, so that, perhaps, those two forces will destroy each other---leaving the Deviants to live in peace. (There’s still some soreness evident in the Deviants from when the Celestials sank their society beneath the ocean thousands of years before…)
Overall, the story in this book is fun and relatively complex. The characters are wild and entertaining, and the treatment of the gigantic Celestials is suitably reverential, and the straight and serious tone that Kirby takes gives the entire project an epic, exciting feel. And, naturally, Kirby's art is absolutely perfect for depicting the action sequences AND the magnificent and detailed techno-designs of ancient space gods. The project may come across as a bit goofy by today’s standards, (especially some of the dialog and costumes) but I love the tone, overall. This collection covers the first half of the story, and the brilliance of the tale is easily enough for me to want to buy the next collection and see how the story wraps up. Interestingly, I don’t think this book (at least the first half that I’ve read) overlaps much with the regular Marvel superhero universe, although there are several S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents who end up in the story. However, when the Deviants are attacking New York (pretty early in the series---the attack begins in issue #2,) none of the regular New York heroes show up to help battle against the monsters. No Spider-Man, no Fantastic Four, no Daredevil, no Dr. Strange---just a few Eternals and some local policemen. (Seems like an invasion of demonic creatures would have brought more heroes to the scene, but no…) But even without the normal Marvel heroes showing up, (maybe BECAUSE they don't,) the story still feels EPIC. Kirby’s writing and artwork really appeal to me, and I’ve read and reviewed a ton of his work, already, but I particularly enjoyed this book. As soon as I can afford it, I’m definitely going to buy the second volume of the series so I can see how it all turns out! I’ve also seen that Neil Gaiman has recently written a reboot of The Eternals, (2006-2007,) which I’m also interested in reading, but I’m definitely going to read Kirby’s ending before I look at anyone else’s take on the story!
So, if you’re a fan of Kirby’s other titles, or if you just enjoy a good super-heroic, science-fiction tinged, epic, ensemble-cast story, you will be hard pressed to find something more sincere or more entertaining than this, although, you do have to remember that Kirby’s style is a bit “old school.” But it’s definitely old school in the best sense of the phrase: a classic, slam bang, space fantasy, with cosmic characters, a bit of humor, and more adventure than you can shake a stick at. If you see it for a decent price, grab this collection (in digital or paper form) and enjoy!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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