Marvel Phase 4: Read these 5 'Eternals' Comics to Prepare for the Movie
It’s a brave new era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Next year, Marvel Studios will release The Eternals, an ensemble epic based on Jack Kirby’s heroic aliens assigned to protect Earth. The film will be directed by Chloe Zhao and will star Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Don Lee, Brian Tyree Henrey, Lauren Ridloff, and Lia McHugh.
But even for longtime Marvel fans who grew up reading X-Men, Spider-Man, and The Avengers, the Eternals are a mighty unfamiliar family. Just who are they, and where does one begin reading their stories?
If you were one of the many Marvel faithful asking themselves “Eternals who?” during the Phase Four reveal at San Diego Comic-Con, fret not. Here’s what to know about the Eternals, and where to catch up on all of their adventures. You have a little over a year until November 2020, so you better get started.
First Things First: Who Are the Eternals?
The Eternals are a family of alien superheroes who must uphold the responsibility of protecting Earth by their creators, the Celestials. The Eternals are pitted against their sworn enemies and evolutionary counterparts, the Deviants. They were created by the legendary Jack Kirby, also creator of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, the Hulk, and more, in 1976.
The Eternals are Kirby’s creative successors to his incomplete “Fourth World” saga over at DC Comics. When Kirby left Marvel for its rival publisher in 1970, he imagined a never-ending war between two alien civilizations called the New Gods. But when DC canceled New Gods, Kirby returned to Marvel and basically picked up where he left off.
The Eternals was also eventually canceled, with the story left incomplete until Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald introduced the Eternals into their run on Thor that resolved Kirby’s story. The Eternals would return in a handful of revival stories afterward, most notably a seven-issue story by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr. in 2006.
Where to Read the Eternals
It’s actually rather easy to collect the Eternals in comics. Aside from their appearances in Thor, the Eternals have pretty much exclusively starred in their own books, all of which have relatively lean issue numbers that make the Eternals a fun read to complete over a weekend.
With that said, here’s five issues of The Eternals to give you a sense of what to expect ahead of the Marvel Studios movie.
5. Eternals Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Jack Kirby (1976), Thor: Eternals Saga Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald (1979)
Naturally, the place to start with the Eternals are the comics by Jack Kirby. The original 1976 series is collected across two volumes spanning 19 issues (plus one “Annual”). Here’s Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
However, the story isn’t finished there. As we mentioned before, Eternals was canceled by Marvel, which left the story incomplete until Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald finished the Eternals’ story in their runs on Thor. That particular collection of comics — Thor #283-301 — are available in their own two trade paperback collections, Thor: The Eternals Saga. Here’s Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
4. The Eternals by Peter B. Gillis and Walt Simonson (1985)
In 1985, Peter B. Gillis wrote eight out of 12 issues of an Eternals mini-series — when Marvel editor Jim Shooter ultimately didn’t like Gillis’ scripts, he got Thor legend Walter Simonson to write the last four issues.
Of all the comics on this list, Gillis/Simonson’s Eternals will be the hardest to find. The series has never been collected in trade paperback, which makes tracking down all 12 issues individually a major endeavor. Your best bet is eBay (here’s a mint copy of issue #5 for $125), or your local comic book convention with fingers crossed that a vendor has them all.
3. The Eternal (Marvel MAX) by Chuck Austen (2003)
Like the last entry, Chuck Austen’s The Eternal (singular, not plural) has also never been collected in an easy-to-obtain trade paperback format. But collecting all six issues is remarkably easy on eBay, and for much more reasonable prices than Gillis/Simonson. Here’s a whole set for $12.
Some background for fun: In 2003, Chuck Austen, a former comic book writer and now TV producer (his resume includes the reboots for The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and She-Ra and the Princess of Power) penned a six-issue series of the Eternals for Marvel’s cult popular Marvel MAX, an imprint that allowed creators to tell mature-oriented stories with Marvel characters. Austen’s The Eternal (again, singular) was a prequel of sorts that explored the early histories between the Eternals and the Deviants.
Chuck Austen’s rollercoaster career in comics is so bizarre, The Eternal is a footnote in a resume that includes heavy-hitter titles like Avengers, JLA, and most famously, Uncanny X-Men. In a 2012 column for ComicsAlliance, Chris Sims wrote that Austen’s X-Men as “the book he was on the longest, the book that got the most attention, and it’s also where everything started to go wrong.”
In between everything going “wrong,” there was Austen’s The Eternal, which is worth tracking down if you can get it for less than $20.
2. Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr. (2006)
Arguably the definitive Eternals book to get for new readers, acclaimed author Neil Gaiman (writer of Good Omens and American Gods) introduced the Eternals properly for the 21st century as the Eternals wake up without any memory of their true identities.
The seven-issue saga sets up events for the future, as a small group of Eternals search for their fellow species to “wake” them from their amnesia. Here it is on Amazon.
1. Eternals: To Slay a God and Eternals: Manifest Destiny by Charles and Daniel Knauf (2008)
Picking up where Gaiman left off, writing duo Daniel Knauf and his son Charles penned another nine-issue series (plus one “Annual”) that saw Ikaris’ efforts to find his brethren Eternals and reawaken their memories. Steeped in the mainstream Marvel Universe, the book features cameos and appearances by Marvel staples like Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Man, and the X-Men.
The Eternals will be released in theaters on November 6, 2020.