“Never die, never win” has become “Probably die (and probably badly), never win”:
The Eternals are the Earth’s nearly immortal, superhuman guardians. They are mighty, and they are very hard to kill, but they can be killed. Temporarily at least. For each Eternal, for all their distinctions and idiosyncrasies, is also a part of the Great Machine, which can revive them upon their death. And since the Great Machine is the Earth itself, well, living up to the name “Eternal” is done as easily as it’s said.
Or at least, that was the case.
Someone’s subverted the Machine. A yet-hidden traitor resurrected the Eternal-by-heritage-if-not-culture Thanos, sent the Mad Titan to murder the Eternals’ leader Zuras, and then for good measure broke the Machine. In other words, the Earth is broken. If it isn’t repaired, all life on the planet will perish. And if an Eternal dies? They die for good.
The Eternals, for all their eons of fraught history with each other, have a job to do. Their future is at stake. Life itself is at stake. The only way out is forward. And the Eternals, even sure-flying arrow-of-a-man Ikaris, are terrible at moving forward.
“Eternal” and “unchanging” are synonyms. That is not a good thing
With Eternals #3 artist Esad Ribić, writer Kieron Gillen, colorist Matthew Wilson and letterer/designer Clayton Cowles begin to ramp up their tale’s intensity. With the Machine broken, Earth is swiftly sliding into a seriously bad state. And with Zuras’ murderer/Thanos’ savior in the wind, the complex web of interpersonal relationships amongst the group has been pulled taut even as it continues its spinning.
Eternals #3 splits up Ikaris and Sprite, the mismatched duo who have been the main players amongst the ensemble so far. Ikaris ventures to the suburbs to look after Toby Robson, human boy he is certain must be protected at all costs. Sprite travels with fellow Eternals Kingo, Phastos, and Sersi to the Deviant city of Lemuria – currently home to the Eternal Thena – Zuras’ estranged daughter.
These two threads are kept separate narratively, but thematically they weave together to illustrate the issue’s key argument – the Eternals are forever themselves, to a downright unhealthy level. Ikaris, always the arrow, is so focused on where he’s aimed that he can miss everything around him – like the fact that a superhero hanging out outside your house indefinitely is both reassuring (hey, a superhero’s looking out for you!) and alarming (why the hell is a superhero going out of their way to look after you specifically?!). As Sersi points out to Thena, the latter is a woman of habits and patterns, both good and bad.
The Eternals’ endless lives have a way of coming back around to certain points, certain behaviors. On a long enough scale, they revert to their defaults. If their status was quo, this would be a quiet sort of tragic. But in this book, with their support system cracked and calamity imminent, it may just be downright disastrous. Three issues in and Eternals is shaping up to be a comic about characters who must change or die, and if they cannot make that choice, everyone dies. It’s ominous as all get-out, and further builds the tension of the mysteries at the book’s core.
Eternals remains intriguing, witty and beautiful, but the challenge of balancing its scale remains. Ribić, Gillen and their collaborators are telling an enormous story with enormous stakes through the prism of an increasingly thorny murder mystery/cosmic superhero tale. It’s a vast comic book (this issue’s data pages hammer that home through Cowles’ stylish, revealing text design).
Ikrais’ jouney to the home of Toby Robson and his family gives Ribić a chance to contrast the otherworldly Eternal with some regular suburban folks and Gillen an opportunity to work some absurdist humor into an otherwise fairly sober issue. But it feels disconnected from Sprite, Sersi and company’s conversation with Thena, which takes up the majority of the issue and closes with another layer of complication.
Ribić’s work in Lemuria is beautiful — grand and of a piece with the vistas of issues #1 and #2, but with its own feel thanks to coral architecture and Wilson’s pink colorwork. His New York suburbia is less successful, particularly when it comes to its inhabitants — he’s more comfortable with the grand and statuesque body language of Ikaris than he is the baffled and uncomfortable body language of the Robson family. Hopefully, that will even out as this part of the story continues and/or grows more in line with Ribić’s strengths.
Given the current narrative disconnect between Eternals‘ main threads and the further layers of complication the issue’s end introduces, the possibility that the book derails on tangents is now real. With that said, thus far Eternals has consistently maintained a solid balance between deepening and exploring its mysteries – it’s a dense superhero comic, but that density has been assembled with care. While the possibility is there, Ribić, Gillen, and their collaborators have earned my trust that Eternals will not prematurely sink the eight-ball for the sake of SCALE.
Eternals remains a darn good cosmic superhero comic. The spiral it’s unspooling is one worthy of following.
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