The is Comic Creators Speak, where I feature guest essays by or interviews with comic creators that I admire – BC
Here’s Nick Perks, the longest-running artist at our The Line it is Drawn feature, and a big Jack Kirby fan. – BC
I was excited when I heard that the MCU was going to introduce The Eternals. The reason for this is simple: Jack Kirby. While there may be irresolvable debate about how much Stan Lee owes to Jack Kirby and vice versa in the creation of the Fantastic Four, Thor, The X-Men, The Hulk, etc. there is no question that The Eternals are 100% Kirby. And while some of the writing is uneven it’s a wild, imaginative read on a cosmic scale.
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Hence I really want Marvel to do justice to the ideas behind the Eternals. My concern, as with many other comicbook adaptations, is that the studio will miss all that makes the series so interesting, different and thrilling, instead introducing some standard Hollywood tropes and a more predictable narrative.
Here are 8 ways I fear the MCU will get it wrong.
Fear 1. The Celestials won’t be silent
Kirby makes the “Space Gods” silent, their thoughts unknowable. Their silence is what makes them seem god-like; They are as still and ineffable as any divine being should be. Later writers (Charles and Daniel Knauf) have not understood this, and have even had a Celestial talking to an Eternal, chatting to Uatu, arguing with The Horde. What’s more, their conversation has been disappointingly prosaic. Rather than the Celestial’s mental processing being something “beyond our simple mortal minds”, the dialogue makes them seem all too human.
Fear 2. Thena and Kro won’t have a ‘thing’
Hints aplenty are made that the wondrous Thena has some kind of ‘history’ with the Deviant general Kro. Not only is this left unclear, but Kro too is a mystery – while he is not an Eternal he yet appears to have resisted the effects of time in some way. What is going on here? Thankfully we never know. Another writer would feel obliged to unpick every element of their history, demystifying the relationship, presenting some unlikely or mundane explanation. But Kirby, wisely leaves the whole matter to our imaginations. All we know is that the Deviants are not necessarily the one-note antagonists we might assume, and at at least one point in the past the Eternals and Deviants – both of which are “other” to humanity – recognized some kinship. And maybe…
Fear 3. Reject and Karkas won’t feature
I love these guys! Karkas, the hideous giant who is yet eloquent and by choice peaceful. “Reject” – a much more vicious Deviant who is physically indistinguishable from a handsome human. But apart from being great characters, they also tell us something about the Deviants. There is a suggestion that Reject represents a change in Deviant reproduction as they begin to revert to the original humanoid form from which they were genetically created. Interestingly, rather than being relieved by this as you might expect, Kirby presents the idea that this disturbs the Deviants who fear they risk losing their uniqueness, their identity. This is illustrated by the fact that they give him the derogatory name “Reject”.
Fear 4. Sersi and the Eternals will be ‘aloof’
Much more interesting than Thena is Sersi. She is mercurial, playful, impatient, given to odd fancies. And yet she does retain a sense of an Eternal’s duty. When we first encounter her she is practicing her dancing, and is much more interested in herself than anything else. Her attitude to humans is very much as though they are interesting pets, a curiosity. The reason for her interest in the stuffy middle-aged Professor Holden, whom she describes as “fascinating”, is uncertain. Perhaps it is his bookish reserve she finds so appealing, contrasting with her own flamboyant character. Whatever the case, the effect is that I am made curious as to what makes Sersi tick… and I’d really like to know what’s going on with Professor Holden. According to Kirby, extraordinarily long lives have not rendered the Eternals aloof aesthetes. Not only is Sersi a vibrant and fun character but when the female Eternals of Olympia first see the handsome Reject (see above) their reaction can best be summarized as “hubba-hubba!”.
Fear 5. Response to The Celestials will be down-played
In Kirby’s Eternals the appearance of the Celestials has much of the effect that should have been seen in the first Avengers movie when extra-terrestrials are no longer a theoretical possibility but proven fact. The effect on culture, religious beliefs, politics, science and so forth would be astonishing. And sure enough a wide range of factions have their own response to the Celestials.
First, you have to hand it to the Deviants – they aren’t quitters. Having tried and failed to repel the Celestials once before, they launch another futile attack now. What else can they do? It’s their mind set at work. Then humanity – in this case the USSR – also makes an attempt to attack the Celestials with similar lack of success. And finally the enemy within – Druig of the Eternals – makes his own attack. In all cases the assault on the Celestials is quashed so easily it mostly serves to illustrate their boundless power.
Fear 6. Druig won’t be Druig
Druig is The Eternals’ version of Richard III – an unrepentant villain, a devious, power-mad maniac. The character is just calling out for a great carpet-chewing performance.
It might be claimed that Druig is too similar to Loki in appearance, behavior, and his relationship to the other Eternals (he is in fact the blond-haired Ikaris’s cousin rather than his adopted brother but the internecine conflict is there). It’s pretty obvious that Kirby was re-working his version of Loki in creating the devious power-mad Druig. However since Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki has little resemblance to the craggy beak-nosed egomaniac of the comics this wouldn’t be a problem in The Eternals film. And while Druig may be a rather two-dimensional villain, Kirby still makes him interesting through his relationship with the semi-reluctant underling Sigmar. It’s never clear how Druig intimidates the powerful Sigmar except through sheer force of will. Again and again Sigmar just folds under Druig’s overbearing presence.
Fear 7. The film will have a resolution
It may be argued that The Eternals as presented by Kirby has no ending. This is true – but is that a bad thing? As all attempts to repel the Celestials fail, we are left with Celestials positioned around the globe conducting a 50 year ‘assessment’ of the Earth, 50 years being a blink of an eye to the immortal Space Gods. They stand silent, immovable, inscrutable as humanity shuffles nervously around them.
Fear 8. Not Kirby enough
Simply put, my biggest fear is that Marvel will ignore Kirby’s vision altogether and go with a more conventional narrative. Top of the list would be Neil Gaiman’s standard ‘people discovering they have mysterious powers’ story line. There’s no question Gaiman can be a great storyteller but his contribution to The Eternals was quite… ordinary. Similarly the work of Charles and Daniel Knauf was certainly violent, but disappointing in the way it ‘humanized’ the Celestials. Kirby wrote truly cosmic beings, existing on a level way above the world as we know it. That’s what I want to see.
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