Previously, in Eternals
The Eternals, created by Jack Kirby, are a species of superhumans created by the cosmic beings called the Celestials. They are humanity’s secret protectors. Since time immemorial, they have watched over humanity, guarded our species against the twisted Deviants. The Eternals are constant. The Eternals are immutable. They may not be capital-G gods, but their mirth and might and melancholy could give even Odin a run for his money.
And the last time anyone saw them, they had all died. Badly.
Here’s the thing. For humanity, death is part of the great cycle of life. We are born. We live. We die. And in doing so, we make way for the next generation. But for the Eternals, death is part of the infinite loop that is their existence. They change by not changing at all. They live. They die. And now, with Esad Ribić and Kieron Gillen’s Eternals # 1, once again they return.
The Impossible Cityscapes and the Hidden Lines in a Face
Esad Ribić has a knack for the mighty. His work with Jason Aaron on Thor contains some of the grandest spectacle seen in the past decade of mainstream superhero comics. From star-shattering action to stupefying architecture, Ribić’s work is superheroic storytelling at its peak. His first issue of Eternals has its share of the vast and striking, for certain.
But where Ribić’s work on Eternals really sings is the way he depicts the title characters. In his hands, the Eternals are beautiful, powerful and more than a little eerie. They’re cousins to the Fae, carved from marble but lithe. They simultaneously shape and are shaped by their powers, from the way they carry themselves in private to the way they fight. Consider this page:
Ribić’s Zuras carries a bone-deep weariness that has blended with his certainty in his power and his confidence in his will. His irritation with Ikaris is petty, yet he transmutes it into something regal. Likewise, Ikaris, who the issue’s narrator directly compares to an arrow, is a creature of grace and raw force. Whether in battle or in conversation, he’s both unsubtle and unforgettable.
The Cosmic Ballet Goes on. But the Steps aren’t Quite the Same
Ribić’s art is joined by Kieron Gillen’s words. Like Ribić, Gillen’s a creative person with a tremendously varied skillset. He can do intimate. He can do grandiose. He can do intimately grandiose. As of this first issue, Gillen seems to be aiming Eternals in an introspective direction. And in the process, he’s playing with a major cape comic storytelling tool in a really, really neat fashion.
The issue is narrated by The Machine, which is both a specific device (the system responsible for resurrecting and maintaining the Eternals) and more generally a term for describing the loop which defines the Eternals’ existence (each individual Eternal has a role to play, which makes them part of the greater Machine). As the book’s narrator, The Machine lays out the current structure of Eternal society (via data pages that recall the work of Jonathan Hickman and company on the X-Men books) and guides the readers through Ikaris’ revival and subsequent actions.
But The Machine’s narration is not detached from the rest of the comic. No, it’s directly involved with the events of the issue. The Machine converses with Ikaris, reacts to events as they happen, and shifts its speech as Eternals progresses. The Machine isn’t just a plot device, it’s an active character. Always felt by its fellow Eternals, always present, just unseen.
This isn’t the first time a Gillen-penned Marvel comic has breached the barrier that often exists between a book’s narrator and its players. Young Avengers, written by Gillen and drawn by his frequent creative collaborator Jamie McKelvie saw its primary villain attack and devour the narrator. It’ll be very interesting to see how the dynamic evolves as Eternals continues, particularly given some clues about what’s going on that the cast uncovers.
Outside of The Machine, the first issue focuses primarily on the recently revived Ikaris and another Eternal last seen in the John Romita Jr./Neil Gaiman Eternals miniseries from 2006. The pair work well together. Their fraught interpersonal history is fertile ground for dramatic tension and barbed banter. And given the story gears that Gillen sets into motion, what’s fraught is only going to become more so.
Ribić’s art is gorgeous and dense. His tools are majestic and the unsettling, and he combines them to weave terrifying cosmic beauty. Gillen’s script is ominous and playful. His ear for language and his fascination with comics’ tools set the stage for the tale to delve as much into the souls of its immortal protagonists as it delves into the storytelling possibilities of western superhero comics.
Eternals #1 builds on the work that has come before it while setting its own stage. And thus far, the stage commands attention.
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