The Eternals are living concepts, perfect embodiments of ideas and ideals. They are ever-returning and timeless, the unstoppable guardians of the great Machine that is Earth. Whenever they die, they are reborn as themselves. Certain aspects may shift, but the Eternals live up to their name and then some.
But there is a cost. Even superhuman protectors of the planet bow to the law of conservation of energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. But it can be moved — from place to place, time to time… and for the Eternals, from life to life. Whenever an Eternal dies, the Machine resurrects them. By taking the life of one random human. Faced with this horrible truth, and with the reality that whenever they’ve discovered this the Eternal Uni-Mind has mindwiped them, the Eternal Ikaris and his peers have come to a realization: this cannot continue.
Thus, Ikaris and company have sought the aid of the Deviants, the Changing People, their longtime enemies/targets in the hopes that they might learn to change too — so that the horrific system powering their immortality might be broken.
And Thanos of Titan, an Eternal by heritage if not culture, is on the prowl. Revived and connected to the Machine by the Eternal Phastos in the hopes of using him to break the system (instead, to his horror, he damn near broke the entire Machine), Thanos has broken free of Phastos’s control and allied himself with the Eternals’ resident treacherous slimeball, Druig.
And so the stage is set. The Eternals who have taken refuge in the Deviant city Lemuria want to change, and Thanos wants to bring his brutal brand of change to the rest.
The status quo that defined the Eternals for so long? It must not hold. It cannot hold. It will not hold.
Good gravy, the work Esad Ribić and Kieron Gillen do with Thanos in this issue. Eternals #7 is a feast for those who want to see Thanos in all his malign glory, and the creative team delivers. How? By contrasting the uncertainty and discomfort of Ikaris and company with the absolute certainty and gleeful ruthlessness of Thanos.
The Eternals, even those who are more comfortable in human society, are decidedly out of place in Lemuria. Their situation is fraught with peril. Ribić accentuates this by emphasizing the regal stiffness of the Eternals in contrast to the wider, more chaotic range of motion he affords the Deviants. This even extends to how the two groups see each other, by way of a darkly hilarious sculpture. The Eternal Thena’s Deviant lover Tolau is an artist. To pay tribute to their love, he crafts a sculpture of the two. The Thena is made from adamantium, shining and resplendant. The Tolau is made from meat. Meat that is already attracting flies.
It’s a marvelously grody piece of work from Ribić, one that deepens Tolau’s character through the care with which he approaches his craft and Sersi’s through the effort she makes, while nonplussed, to engage with Tolau on his own terms.
Thanos, by contrast, has never been bound by the mission and programming of his fellow Eternals. At rest, Ribić’s Thanos slouches and schemes. In action, he’s relentless — a driving force that, put simply, cannot and will not be stopped. And when Ribić’s Thanos goes into action, he goes into action. He is force and impact and mercilessness, wrapped up in a being who, even as a Fraknensteined undead, may well be the most lethal person in existence.
Kieron Gillen matches his collaborator step for step. The adamantium/meat statues of Thena and Tolau is of a piece with some of the creations he introduced in The Ludocrats, ludicrous and a bit gross, but smartly, even hilariously so. It has layers, commenting on both the text (Thena and Tolau’s relationship and the fact that, given their vastly different lifespans, she will easily outlive him even without resurrection) and the thematics of the book (The Eternals are unchanging, but in their inability to change, they have been rendered incomplete people). It’s a really terrific piece of work.
And oh, his dialogue. Especially his dialogue for Thanos. Gillen’s Thanos relishes his own viciousness and cunning. He is an egomaniac with the skill and strength and experience to back it up. And he is genuinely enthused about and intrigued by the prospects of a new sort of challenge, the opportunity to partake in a part of his history that has not been a priority. As he says to another character he’s just gleefully slain in the issue’s climax, “I sometimes forget how much politics can refresh the spirit.” It’s a terrific take on one of Marvel’s arch-villains, and I’m excited to see how Eternals‘ creative team will move it forward as this story continues.
Eternals #7 gets the book’s second arc off to a very, very strong start. Whatever happens next, it will not be a reversion to the unacceptable status quo that was. Whether the Deviants will teach the Eternals how to change or Thanos will lay waste to them all, what happens next will be unprecedented for the guardians of the Machine.
It’s exciting stuff, and damn good comicscraft.
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