Marvel Has Been Trying (And Failing) To Make 'The Eternals' A Thing For Decades
When Marvel announced that one of the key movies in the MCU's Phase Four would be based on The Eternals, comic book fans rejoiced, then quickly opened a new tab and typed "what the hell is The Eternals." Marvel has been trying to get people to care about (or even just remember) these characters for almost 50 years, and they've failed hilariously so far. In fact, even if you read their entire Wikipedia page when the movie was announced, we're betting you remember exactly 0% of it by now, so here's a refresher on this franchise and why it's kind of funny that the MCU is betting big on these sad randos ...
They're Thanos' Distant Cousins (And A Ripoff Of A Ripoff)
The Eternals were born from the mind of legendary Marvel Comics architect Jack Kirby and his endless imagination -- or maybe not to so endless in this case, since these characters are the result of Kirby recycling old ideas that he'd already recycled in the first place. See, Eternals can be tracked down to the time Kirby wanted to kill off the old Asgardian gods appearing in Thor and introduce some new ones, but Stan Lee said "nah." A while after Marvel rejected his "new gods" idea, Kirby moved to DC and started a completely unrelated series called ... New Gods.
New Gods was a clear continuation of Kirby's Tales of Asgard stories at Marvel, even if he never flat out said so (because he'd be sued). Later, after DC had cancelled New Gods, Kirby moved back to Marvel and pitched another completely unrelated series called Return of the Gods. Marvel apparently thought that name was a little too on the nose and told Kirby to think of something else, and that's how The Eternals came about.
The point is, we're two steps removed from Kirby's original burst of inspiration, and it kinda shows in the stories, which were duller and more by-the-numbers than Kirby's usual stuff. The Eternals' origin story is that a million years ago, a race of giant aliens called the Celestials visited Earth and experimented on a bunch of cave people, turning some into super-powered immortals (the Eternals) and others into unsightly mutant creatures (known as the Deviants). You'll be shocked to learn that the good-looking ones happen to be heroic and righteous while the ugly ones are evil and depraved.
Most of the Eternals stuck around on Earth and were mistaken for gods by the dumb humans, who couldn't even pronounce their names correctly -- "Thena" was known as "Athena" and "Makkari" became "Mercury," for instance. Other Eternals settled elsewhere in the universe and got freaky with the local aliens, resulting in powerful beings like a certain Thanos (who looks like an eggplant to recessive Deviant genes).
Of course, Thanos being part of the Eternal's extended family is a retcon introduced years after Kirby's original series, so it's kinda sad that he's by far the most famous Eternal ever. The good guys just aren't terribly memorable. Which probably explains why ...
Their Comics Are The Opposite Of Eternal (Read: They Keep Getting Cancelled)
Many have compared The Eternals to Guardians of the Galaxy, another Marvel franchise no one gave much of a crap about until Hollywood came knocking. But here's the thing: even those guys had over 120 issues under their belt before the first movie. Eternals has like half that, despite starting around the same time. You could probably read every Eternals comic in one sitting during one bad post-Arby's bathroom trip.
Kirby's original run was cancelled on issue 19, and that's the longest Eternals series to date. After that, Marvel has tried everything to get readers interested in the concept and nothing seems to stick. In 2003 they even put out a gritty reboot with HBO levels of nudity and gore, but not even the promise of boobies on a Marvel comic could push the series past six issues.
In 2006, Marvel hired author Neil Gaiman (who knows a little bit about comics starring inmortal deities) to re-reboot the franchise with a much-hyped miniseries. The resulting ongoing series was cancelled on issue 9 despite a desperate attempt to save it by prominently featuring the one thing Marvel fans find sexier than naked breasts: Canadians with knife hands.
By 2018, the Eternals were so irrelevant to the Marvel Universe that all but one of them were killed off between the panels of an Avengers comic (the last one died one page later). Meaning that, when the movie was announced, most of the Eternals had last appeared as corpses laying in the background. Presumably they'll be doing more than that in the film, though we have to admit that "corpses laying in the background for two hours" would be a pretty original twist for a $200 million dollar production.
Marvel's current Eternals comic seems to be doing well, but it's too early to tell if it'll end up succumbing to this franchise's overall stink. The core problem is that, again, Kirby wasn't particularly inspired when he came up with these guys. Unlike the New Gods, who are distinct both in looks and personality, the Eternals sorta blend together -- except maybe for the one who joined the Avengers because she was horny for Captain America. Now, that's not to say that there are no redeeming qualities whatsoever in this series ...
At Least The Giants Are Cool As Hell
The one concept introduced in Kirby's Eternals that was embraced by other writers is the idea of giant cosmic Dr. Mengeles stopping by the planet a million years ago. It's been established that, by fiddling with those cave people, the Celestials are responsible not just for the Eternals and Thanos but for mutants and arguably superheroes in general. They are all over the Marvel Universe -- including the movies. The first Guardians of the Galaxy featured Celestials as an ominous flashback and a cool location, while the second one revealed that Kurt Russell is one.
Celestials love to stand still for thousands of years and quietly judge whether a civilization deserves to live or die, then either go apeshit on the planet or quietly go home, which is a genuinely disquieting sci-fi concept. That said, they are kind of derivative of another Kirby-created cosmic giant of Earth-destroying capabilities: Galactus, a vastly superior character simply by virtue of having a better hat and a surfer sidekick.
There's something funny about the fact that one of Marvel's big tentpoles for the post-pandemic world is about a group of superheroes who have been nothing but cancelled, and whose deal no one remembers or cares much about. Of course, there's a big chance that our concerns are unfounded and the movie will rule, because when has the MCU ever gone wrong? We're rooting for you, Inhumans! Uh, sorry, Eternals. Totally different thing.
Top Image: Marvel Studios