Starting on January 3, the new year brings a return of the long-dormant cult-classic Marvel Comics title Eternals, created in the '70s by Jack Kirby - and with the return of the eclectic characters of the Eternals also returns writer Kieron Gillen to Marvel.
With a big screen MCU debut in the works for November 5, 2021 (further COVID complications notwithstanding), Gillen and series artist Edad Ribic aim to reinvigorate and redefine the concept of what Eternals are, and how they fit into the cosmology of the Marvel Universe.(opens in new tab)
Newsarama spoke with Gillen ahead of Eternals #1, digging into how he'll adapt Jack Kirby's vision to a modern context, his influences in revamping the Eternals, and the place of Thanos in the title.
Newsarama: Kieron, though they're rising in prominence now, the Eternals are some of Jack Kirby's lesser-known Marvel creations. What's your concept of who the Eternals are, and their place in the Marvel Universe?
Kieron Gillen: The trick with the Eternals is their core idea, as stated by their creator Jack Kirby, is that it's Chariot of the Gods – they're alien creations who are mistaken for gods. When they were transplanted into the Marvel Universe, that doesn't quite land as well, due to the actual gods traipsing around.
So I've dug into the subtext of what Kirby was doing – if the Celestials are gods, and the Eternals are made by them to protect the Earth from Deviants (who are very much painted devils) that makes them… angels.(opens in new tab)
And Angels – unchanging beings of order - are interesting. There's nothing quite like them at Marvel, or anywhere.
Nrama: There are plenty of Eternals to choose from, including the usual core characters such as Ikaris, Thena, and Makkari. Who are you focusing on in this series?
Gillen: Eternals is very much that Game of Thrones big scale book – I'm very much interested in the groupings of the Eternals, and how they see each other, and how they've disagreed over the last million years. But I also know that having 100 lead characters is impossible, and we need a way into their world.(opens in new tab)
Our initial leads are Ikaris and Sprite. As said earlier, Ikaris was last to die. The last time we saw Sprite, he almost destroyed all the Eternals and was murdered for Zuras as punishment. As such, when she reformed – as a she, as Eternals occasionally change their forms – she's been excluded from Eternal society and has only just been readmitted.
So it's with these two, we discover the Eternal society, and have the rest introduced. We're in no rush. Eternals is a society, not a team.
I fully admit to highly enjoying writing Sersi. She's very much my sort of character.
Nrama: On that note, how close will this iteration of the Eternals look to previous volumes? How much do those stories inform the tale you're telling here?(opens in new tab)
Gillen: I've looked at as much of the Eternals history as I can. My main influences on the run are the original Kirby and the more recent Gaiman/Romita Jr, though I've drawn upon all the Eternals major impacts on the Marvel Universe, as well as the approaching movie (primarily in accessibility – the aim with a book tying into the movie isn't to recapitulate the movie, but to project forward towards what the third movie could be).
My aim was to aggressively synthesize everything into a huge mythology. There are some tweaks, and some things which are much more ways of looking at things that have been established, but it's very much a big, coherent thing.
Nrama: The solicitation for Eternals #1 mentions a new discovery for the Eternals. What can you tell us about that?
Gillen: Hmm. What can I say about that? Well, solicitations are a form of advertisement to those inside the comic book Direct Market, providing information that allows individuals to decide whether they want to pre-order a product or a retailer to ascertain the amount of interest there is in a product.
The inclusion of the information that…
i) there is a discovery by the Eternals.
ii) it a new one.
…would imply that this is information of interest about the product (Eternals #1 from Marvel Comics) and give a direction of the plot. That it was mentioned implies that Marvel's mighty copywriters consider this a key element – I suspect it's to tell the reader/retailer that this new information will be a driver of the plot, and so setting a new direction for the Eternals, likely one which will impact across the arc and future comics.
I hope this is helpful.
Meanwhile, I'm wondering why we specified it was a new discovery? Surely if it's a discovery, by definition it's new? We could have saved a bit of ink. Mother nature weeps for our folly.
Nrama: The Celestials have often been crucial characters in Eternals comics, and you've used them in other Marvel titles you've written. How do they factor into this new Eternals volume?
Gillen: Little, in the present day. They loom enormously over the past, clearly, and especially their recent past – as revealed over in Jason's Avengers, the Eternals realized their lives were basically just a cultivator for the humans, which lead to mass suicide.
The question of 'What are we for now?' is one of the big things running in the comic. What do we do now? It's not as if the Celestials have ever been particularly good at communicating, right?
I'll say the Celestials and the priesthood and the emerging religious schism inside the Eternals is very much stuff that comes more into play in the second arc.
Nrama: We know Thanos will return as part of Eternals. What is his role in this story?
Giffen: Spoilers: he's the villain.
Thanos is the monstrous child of the Eternals. He emerged from a splinter colony and ground the universe between two fingers. He's their awful sin. Clearly, Thanos being so important to the Marvel Universe means that the link is a useful way to show exactly how key the Eternals are too.
Plus it's a great way into the whole historic narrative I've sewn together for the Eternals – a million years of heresies and schisms, one of which giving birth to Thanos.
Thanos has been through hell recently, and that impacts him, and everyone around him. I've always thought of him as Marvel's most Byronic villain, but Thanos here is absolutely a horror character, Geiger's Alien aboard the ship that is Earth, coming out of the darkness to take what is owed him.
More spoilers: he's the villain. But it doesn't mean that he's the only one.
Nrama: Speaking of Thanos, how will the Deviants factor in here?
Gillen: The Deviants is the other part of the core Eternals myth. 100 Eternals and 100 Deviants are dropped on Earth. While my Eternals are unchanging, with those 100 living to this day, the Deviants breed, and change, each essentially a species as one.(opens in new tab)
Equally, the Eternals' core job is to keep control of the Deviants ('Correct Excess Deviation') so that's very much there. You'll get a taste in issue #1, and the full course in issue #3, where we arrive in their capital of Lemuria, which is basically a cross between Hell and Fraggle Rock.
Nrama: You're working with Esad Ribic on Eternals. What's it like developing that partnership? What makes him the perfect collaborator for this kind of story?
Gillen: There are not enough words. His talents are prodigious. He's a titan of modern fantasy art, and I don't think there's a comic artist working today who manages scale at him. This means when we introduce the key cities of the Eternals, they are instantly resonant, like a first glimpse of Minas Tirith or Barad Dur. It's a series of worlds, hidden in ours…
Yet at the same, this is a book set on Earth and about Earth. When we skip to New York, and Esad captures it in all its febrile energy, it grounds it. This is both these cosmic impossibilities and the wonder of NY street meat. Both convince. Both are real.
Hell, this isn't even going into the other stuff – how he approaches the monstrous forms of the Deviants, or how (as it's a story which takes place across millions of years on Earth) it also grounds the past as real as the present and so on.(opens in new tab)
And the designs! The inspiration that hits me from them. He did a design of Domo, who's a relatively minor character, and I just went "Well, I guess Domo is going to get a lot more panel time than I was thinking, as this is just great."
Nrama: It's been a little while since you've been writing mainstream superhero comics. What got you back in for Eternals?
Gillen: It was something I hadn't done before. It's taking a classic car that's been in a garage for a few years, replacing its engine, adding a lot of chrome, and putting it on the road, seeing how fast it could go.
Having a lot of space to really go for it and create this core book with a million threads expanding out from it. It's bringing to bear many of my skills from my creator-owned booked which I haven't had a chance to deploy on another property. I don't like repeating myself. Change is important.
So, yes, being an unchanging eternal being like an Eternal would scare the hell out of me.
Nrama: Jonathan Hickman mentioned the idea of bringing you in to write a title in the 'Dawn of X' X-Men line. You've written the X-Men before – is another stint in the X-Men's corner of the Marvel Universe in your future?
Gillen: I am planning my King In Black sequel in the X-universe, starring Mister Sinister, called the King In Hot Pink, whose end of issue one reveal is him stepping out of the jumpsuit to reveal an amazing new hot pink ensemble. You heard it here first, X-fans.(opens in new tab)
Nrama: Speaking of which, S.W.O.R.D. is returning in 'Dawn of X.' As one of the creators who helped define S.W.O.R.D.'s place in the Marvel Universe, what's your opinion on the return of the title as part of the X-Men line?
Gillen: I couldn't be more excited. Al Ewing is a writer who I just adore, who manages to work with such a careful hand and respect, while also being so bold and audacious. Valerio Schiti is an artist who does this amazing high-sheen pop-thrill book.
I think it's going to take the top of people's heads off, scoop out their brains, fill the cavity with sherbert, then put the brain back in, and then try and get the top of the skull back on, and then back away from the results in exactly the same way I'm backing away from this metaphor that's got out of hand.
Nrama: Bottom line, what do you want readers to know going into Eternals
Gillen: Nothing. If a first issue doesn't welcome you in, it's failed.
As much as I enjoy chatting, in an ideal world I wouldn't even be doing these interviews, and folks would be picking up an issue, gazing in joy at the cover, opening the book and just falling into the world we've made for them.
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