With Marvel’s big push to get key Eternals arcs republished prior to the release of the 2021 MCU film, we have been treated to a number of fine runs from Marvel’s back catalogue as of late. Surely, picking up Kirby’s original mid-’70s run (appropriately titled The Eternals) is required reading for anyone looking to understand these characters (or lovers of Jack’s incredible work in general), but this collection of late-’70s Thor issues is a close second. In fact, The Celestial Saga is one of the most high-concept arcs in Thor’s history. You can see its DNA embedded in many future stories (I’m looking at you, Jonathan Hickman).
Providing a summary of these issues is a challenge, and not because the narrative is incomprehensible or requiring deep understanding of the character’s lore. Rather, it’s so preposterous that it may seem silly when taken out of context or detached from the actually work itself. At its core, we have the Norse god Thor encounter the Eternals, one of the three races created by the godly Celestials (Humans and the malicious Deviants being their counterparts). We quickly learn that the Deviants challenged the Celestials themselves, which resulted in their removal from the known world. With Thor realizing that the cosmos is not as he once thought, he goes on a quest for answers. It culminates in the pantheon of worldly gods confronting the Celestials and their judgment of earth.
On the face of it, it’s rather silly comic-book stuff, but the presentation is so exceptional that it feels natural and plausible. Roy Thomas, Ralph Macchio, and Mark Gruenwald craft a superbly structured narrative, fitting the larger theological narrative well within the confines of a monthly superhero book. Just when you think there may be too much in the way of cosmic world building, Thor and the Eternals are thrown into fun battles with robots, dragons and wrestlers alike. Compared to the structure of modern comics, it’s refreshing to see how much is packed into a single issue. The story builds so effectively, that when you reach issues #300-301 (my favorites in this lot), you feel the tension and anticipation. Even the dialogue, which is comic melodrama turned to 11, seems fitting in this tale of gods and beings removed from the likes of human understanding. It’s told in an immense, larger than life fashion, making this some of the best Thor I have read in some time.
The strong writing is complemented by Keith Pollard and John Buscema, who do some of the best work of their careers. I found myself going back over the dense, fantastical pages over and over again, standing in awe of the detail and design. When Odin enters the Destroyer to confront the Celestials, Pollard finds multiple ways to give nods to various mythological and spiritual traditions all while moving the narrative forward with elation and vitality. I was too young to see these issues on the newsstand, but I can only imagine how stupefying it would be to flip through this as a kid. Chic Stone and Gene Day’s inks deserve accolades as well, considering the line work they accentuate without mudding up the page.
This is an excellent collection that effectively bridges Kirby’s Eternals/Celestial concepts with the larger Marvel Universe. It’s vibrant, fun, cerebral, and demonstrates how the nuttiest concept can be turned into a piece of art in the hands of capable comic creators.
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