Meet the Eternals: As Marvel lays its bets on next phase of superheroes, here's a look at the Avengers' successors

Vinay Viswanath

Oct 07, 2019 09:10:04 IST

Editor's note: The characters — and story-lines — that inhabit popular comic books can be expansive, multidimensional, and often, just plain bewildering. Firstpost's #HeroesAndVillains is a one-stop definitive guide to understanding (and keeping track of) comic book characters. From the iconic to the little-known, the old and the new, superheroes and their villainous nemeses — this is the deep dive you need, and deserve.

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Meet the Eternals

 Meet the Eternals: As Marvel lays its bets on next phase of superheroes, heres a look at the Avengers successors

Finally an answer to the question, what if Superman was blonde...and had a mullet| Marvel Comics

As Disney gears up for phase four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a question that will be on the minds of moviegoers in 2020 is whether Marvel can provide a worthy successor to the Infinity Saga. For many, Avengers: Endgame felt like a natural endpoint for not only the past decade and more of superhero movies but for the genre as a whole, which even the most die-hard fan probably feels may almost be played out (even if they won’t publicly admit it).

There’re only so many laser beam fights a man can watch in such a small time frame | Marvel Comics

There’re only so many laser beam fights a man can watch in such a small time frame | Marvel Comics

Marvel, of course, has no intention of stopping and will, no doubt, be working very hard indeed to win over audiences and get us invested in the next 10 years and 20+ films. One of the keystones of that plan is the introduction of new heroes in the form of the Eternals. Their timing is of course, absolutely impeccable; since with the Avengers either disbanded or at least now critically understrength, the Earth is very much in need of new heroes to defend it from all the threats that the ever-more-perilous Marvel Universe can throw at it.

The Eternals, like the Guardians of the Galaxy, are linked to Marvel’s ‘Cosmic’ range of comics and appear to be part of an effort to expand the MCU in that direction, as it introduces more alien races and otherworldly heroes and villains into their film roster.

Also in this series: The insanity and pessimism of Batman's nemesis, the Joker — the most enduring villain in comics

In the comics, the Eternals live in highly technologically advanced societies both on Earth as well as on several other planets and moons in the Solar system, where they have lived for several millennia. That said, where they are and how long they have been active could be subject to change as it appears Marvel is keen on heavily retooling the origins of the Eternals for their theatrical debut.

Note: While I’ve alluded to some potential spoilers, I’ve not actually gone ahead and stated what they are outright. Please decide whether or not that’s something you can live with before going any further.

Origin and powers

Like so many of Marvel’s heroes and villains, the Eternals are the result of enigmatic alien shenanigans; specifically, genetic experimentation conducted on primitive humans by the ancient and mysterious Celestials. These wildly powerful beings are believed to have created these ‘superior men’, dubbed Homo-immortalis to serve as the guardians of Earth. Of course, that’s just the official line; the Celestials are famously inscrutable and if they were to have any ulterior motives for their actions, they are likely to remain a mystery. (If you’re interested in knowing what that ulterior motive is — because of course there is one — you can read the series closer, Eternals: The Final Host.)

They’re not exactly known for being forthcoming | Marvel Comics

They’re not exactly known for being forthcoming | Marvel Comics

The Eternals are superhuman in every sense of the word, with immensely superior strength, speed, intelligence and durability compared to their unaltered human compatriots. They can manipulate cosmic energy to sustain themselves and are impervious to most forms of harm and cannot be poisoned or contract any known disease. Like many other advanced races, the Eternals possess the same ability the Asgardians refer to as the ‘All-tongue’, allowing them to converse with any other living being in their native language.

Most Eternals, in addition to their general abilities, possess a more unique power — super-speed, telepathy, matter manipulation and flight, to name just a few. The Eternals are also gifted with incredible longevity and physiology that does not seem to deteriorate significantly over time (which isn’t the case with their more pedestrian compatriots). However, they are not — despite their name — actually immortal, although they do appear to live upwards of 20,000 years and from what I can gather, some of the first Eternals ever created are still alive over 35,000 later. (This extreme longevity appears to have been retconned into actual immortality so they never die of old-age anymore.)

Eternals also have enhanced healing capabilities and can withstand a great deal of damage, able to regenerate from even the most grievous wounds with little to no assistance. But if this wasn’t enough by itself, it is said that due to the presence of ‘The Machine’, a hidden celestial device somewhere on Earth, some (but apparently not all) Eternals can even survive being completely atomised (which happens sometimes). While it can take a while, with the aid of this mysterious machine, they are eventually able to reconstitute their bodies and appear to be no worse for wear from what should be a pretty harrowing experience.

But perhaps the greatest gift that the Eternals have had bestowed upon them by their Celestial benefactors is their ability to merge their consciousness and create the Uni-Mind. This hive-mind like entity is an immensely powerful being of pure energy which grows stronger based on the number of Eternals that have linked their minds to it and can warp and reform reality itself if needed.

Yes, it sometimes looks like a brain with eyes…what of it? | Marvel Comics

Yes, it sometimes looks like a brain with eyes…what of it? | Marvel Comics

However, despite the impressive powers granted to the Eternals by their creators, it would appear that the Celestials are a cautious bunch. There are numerous instances in the comics that suggest that the Eternals do not actually enjoy complete free will. A key weakness of the Eternals is that they are unable to act violently towards any Celestial under any circumstances. In fact, even entertaining the idea of attacking a Celestial is enough to completely disable an Eternal, leaving them weakened, powerless or even unconscious for a short amount of time.

So where have they been all this time?

While some of the Eternals chose and even preferred to live low-profile lives among humans, many others were worshipped as Gods and demi-gods by early man… a fact that has got them into a few spats with other races who also enjoy the obedience and adulation of mortal men such as the Olympians (in the Marvel Universe, the Greek pantheon are actually interdimensional aliens) and the occasional Asgardian. Since before the dawn of recorded history, the Eternals have defended humanity, usually against some of the Celestials’ less successful experiments, namely the evil Deviants who are also an off-shoot of humanity and just so happen to also be rather monstrous (conveniently correlating physical unattractiveness with malicious intent). It’s entirely too on the nose, if I’m honest.

Guess which one is evil | Marvel Comics

Guess which one is evil | Marvel Comics

In the MCU, this timeline would certainly make their emergence now a little suspicious especially since, despite being charged with the protection of Earth, the Eternals were apparently content to sit out at least two alien invasions. Although, I suppose it could also make sense if you assume that after being on the job for up to 35,000 years, the Eternals are simply tired of defending humans or maybe they no longer view us with anything but contempt. On a side note, does it count as a superiority complex if you are in fact unequivocally superior in every way?

Then again, they may be going through some major problems of their own. You see, for those of you who don’t know, Thanos (at least in the comics) was actually an Eternal born on Titan, with a mutation that made him look more like a Deviant. And from what we know of Thanos’ back story in the films, his people have not exactly been thriving on their home planet.

The old place has certainly seen better days | Marvel Studios

The old place has certainly seen better days | Marvel Studios

That said, it’s improbable that they are going to stick with this background in the MCU since it’s unlikely that the MCU’s Thanos was actually born on a moon of Saturn but didn’t bring his unique brand of limited genocide to Earth right up until the endgame of his plan, despite the proximity.

The team

Although the Eternals are a race and not exactly a team, both the comics and the upcoming movie will be focused on just a few of the more notable members of their little community. I won’t go into too much detail about each character for the dual reasons that Marvel appears to be heavily overhauling these characters before they make their big-screen debut, and because their relatively short publication history means that the characters have not really received much background development compared to other, longer-running properties.

Still, since you’re here I can tell you a little bit about their society and a few of the key players who will be making an appearance in the movie (and a few others who might).

First up is Ikaris, the current Prime Eternal. While most Eternals these days prefer to spend time away from humanity, Ikaris desires to be more involved with humanity and even formed a superhero team called the New Breed.

Hopefully as a leader, he will have more luck in the role than his predecessors Zuras (who was reduced to something akin to a ghost when he dared challenge his Celestial overlords) and the first Prime Eternal, Kronos (who accidentally atomised himself in a scientific experiment and now exists as a sentient nebula, sometimes imparting advice to other Eternals). But perhaps none of that will matter since, in the film, it appears that Ajak/Ajax, who has traditionally served as an ambassador to the Celestials, could be taking on the title of Prime Eternal as well.

A promotion and a chance to be played by Salma Hayek? You’re going places Ajak! | Marvel Comics

A promotion and a chance to be played by Salma Hayek? You’re going places Ajak! | Marvel Comics

Like Ikaris, some other Eternals such as Sersi, Black Knight, Kingo and The Forgotten One (who is apparently many ancient folk heroes such as Beowulf, Sampson and Gilgamesh) also tend to spend a great deal of time among humans with some even preferring to spend time amongst their less evolved cousins. Some have enlisted in the ranks of human superhero teams like the Avengers either by pretending to be humans or once their existence was made public, as Eternals.

Some Eternals have been able to set aside their age-long enmity with the Deviants and find common ground on occasion. Most notable is the case of Thena, daughter of Zuras and once Prime Eternal herself, who gave birth to twins following a brief but spicy affair with the leader of the Deviants, Kro.

He did wind up getting friend-zoned later but that’s besides the point. | Marvel Comics

He did wind up getting friend-zoned later but that’s besides the point. | Marvel Comics

If that last part sounded a little too soap opera-ish for you, don’t worry. Like I said before, Marvel Studios is reworking a lot of the Eternals’ origin story and anything this convoluted is almost certainly not going to make the cut, though I hope they do make an effort to humanise their enemies. If Thanos taught us anything, it’s that you can have pathos and be sympathetic even while being a genocidal fascist.

Rest In Power you lavender lunatic | Marvel Studios

Rest In Power you lavender lunatic | Marvel Studios

The rivals

In the comics, the Eternals, despite being tasked with the guardianship of Earth, have generally focused their efforts on countering the machinations of the ‘Evil’ Deviants, who seek to destroy the Eternals, conquer humanity and install themselves as overlords of the Earth.

From what we know, the main focus of the 2020 film will also feature this seemingly unending conflict although if it does take place over several time periods including the present-day (as most people expect it to), it will be interesting to see how they explain away the non-involvement of the Eternals when the Earth has been in mortal danger three times (that we currently know of) in just eight years (more if you include almost being bombed into oblivion by the Kree back in the ‘90s).

Speaking of which, it has been stated in the comics that the Skrulls are actually the Deviants of their world who managed to successfully take over their planet by defeating their Eternal counterparts. (Although I don’t think the MCU is going to comply with that plot point after going out of their way to make the Skrulls so uncharacteristically sympathetic.)

It does however explain that chin I suppose | Marvel Comics

It does however explain that chin I suppose | Marvel Comics

More interesting is the fact that the experiments of the Celestials appear to have the same successes and failures among other species, which throws a reasonable amount of doubt onto the idea that the Deviants are created by ‘accident’ instead of intent. Although as I said earlier, whatever their reasons may be, the Celestials are playing their cards close to the chest as usual. It’s probably a good time to bring up that at one point, the Deviants believed they had all been created to serve as a food source for their illustrious former benefactors.

Of course, there’s also the chance that we could possibly see the Eternals standing up to the Celestials in a classic case of the Created rebelling against their Creators. How they’ll overcome the safeguards that stop them from attacking Celestials would be a question, but perhaps the MCU won’t even bother with introducing those limitations. That said, it’s probably too early to directly fight against the Celestials themselves anyway given just how powerful they are. We do know, however, that they will be featured in this film, and any major confrontation against them sounds like something worthy of a major team-up film further down the line.

Could you trust someone who never removed their menacing helmet? | Marvel Studios

Could you trust someone who never removed their menacing helmet? | Marvel Studios

Marvel has already managed to turn a few fairly obscure properties (like the Guardians of the Galaxy) into major successes in their film universe. And let’s not forget that Tony Stark and Iron Man were not anywhere near as popular before the films, as they became after Robert Downey Jr. so perfectly embodied the narcissist, genius arms dealer-turned-superhero. But it’s certainly fair to say that the Eternals probably represent the biggest challenge that the MCU has faced yet, when it comes to endearing a group of minor and vastly unknown characters to an audience that, at this point, absolutely must be experiencing at least some superhero movie fatigue.

Like many Marvel releases in a post-Infinity War/Endgame world, it will be important to have realistic expectations for what the next phase of films can deliver. That said, Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have not really given fans any reason to doubt they can deliver a film that, even if it were not to blow our minds, will be able to expand their cinematic universe in interesting new directions and maybe plant the seeds of a fresh new saga that will drive future phases of the MCU to the next epic conclusion many years from now.

At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

See you at the movies!

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Updated Date: Oct 11, 2019 10:07:18 IST