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Sunday Slugfest - The Eternals #1

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: John Romita Jr.

Publisher: Marvel Comics

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of The Eternals will appear in stores this Wednesday, June 21.





Average Rating:

Michael Aronson:
Michael Deeley:
Charles Emmett:
Kelvin Green:
Shawn Hill:
Dave Wallace:

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews discuss several plot developments of the issue.






Michael Aronson

Hey, guess what? Eternals #1 is a Civil War tie-in! You think I’m kidding? I wish I were kidding too.

If someone had obscured the credits and told me Neil Gaiman was writing this series, I wouldn’t believe him. It’s not that the writing is bad. In fact, it’s perfectly average, but if you look at Neil Gaiman’ s track record, you don’t see many average-level projects. So you have to wonder why he’s using a different, more pedestrian approach to Eternals, and after one double-sized issue, I couldn’t tell you.

Ike Harris sort of remembers he’s an Eternal. Mark Curry doesn’t remember he’s an Eternal. Ike tries to convince Mark and fails. End of chapter.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a decent amount of content in this issue. There are many scenes given over to the introduction of multiple characters, as well as a brief overview of the Eternals’ history. Yet for all that content, not much actually progresses in the story. None of Ike’s speeches make a difference to Mark, and we hardly know anything about what Thena and Sersi have planned. This first issue is nowhere near as decompressed as Marvel’s first issues have typically been, but like devouring a plate of takeout Chinese food, you’ll still find yourself feeling rather empty afterward. As I mentioned earlier, nothing about the writing says “From the brilliant imagination of Neil Gaiman!” and the character work, while somewhat quirky, is also pretty flakey.

I’ve never understood the hype over JR Jr. There’s something to be said about never missing a deadline, and that something is “reliability,” but reliability doesn’t equate to beautiful art. The last time I was genuinely impressed with JR Jr’ s art was the first year of his Thor run, due to the overwhelming sense of scope and power he brought to the cosmic cast of characters. Thankfully, he taps into that sense of power again for the beautiful splashes of the Celestials in this issue. If you’ve seen that one particular two-page spread preview, you know what I’m talking about. Were there ever a series about Marvel’s cosmic gods sitting around in a circle chatting over scones, I’d get JR Jr. to draw it. However, Eternals is not that book.

Instead, a good three quarters of the book features human characters, and it really makes me wish the artist had an interest in rendering faces. No matter the series or the cast of characters, they always end up looking somewhat the same. Sersi looks just like his MJ with dark hair and a mole on her face. Ike looks like Thor/Jake Olsen with shorter hair. Mark looks like Peter Parker with slightly darker skin, and so on. Marvel has all these new exclusive artists at their disposal, and this is the best they could pair with Neil Gaiman?

As it stands, Eternals is still only six issues long, as there has yet to be an announcement like that which was issued when 1602 #1 came out to stretch the story thin over eight issues instead of six. However, whether or not there will be any meat to Eternals still remains to be seen.




Michael Deeley

If you know nothing about the Eternals, there’s no reason to worry. They don’t either.

Ikaris tries to tell a hospital intern that he’s part of a race of super-powered immortals created thousands of years ago by the space-faring Celestials. It’s their duty to guide and elevate mankind while protecting them from the monstrous Deviants. But after the Third Horde of Celestials, the Eternals forgot who they were. Even Ikaris can’t clearly remember his origins, nor answer questions like, “Why did the Deviants multiply, but the Eternals didn’t?” The intern remains unconvinced and turns Ikaris over to a couple of big men who might be Deviants. Meanwhile, Sersi plans a party for a new middle-European country with sinister plans, and we get a look at superhero culture post-Civil War.

Let’s get the worst out of the way first. After the superhuman registration act passed, there’s a reality show called “America’s Next Super-Hero” where six people with super-powers compete for an unknown prize. It ’s a great piece of propaganda glamorizing government control, but it’s also incredibly lame. Think of all those characters created during crossovers whose solo series wither and die in less than a year, (New Guardians). Then put them on American Idol. Yep, it’ s that bad. Thank God we only get two pages of this, but it’s enough to make Mr. Fantastic and the Wasp look bad.

Next, the whole “friend doesn’t believe the hero so he turns him into the bad guys while the hero’s in the hospital” plot feels so familiar. I swear I saw that in the American Dr. Who TV movie! And the whole “superhuman hiding in plain sight as a TV star” isn’t exactly fresh either. I’d expect something more original from Gaiman.

Finally, are there any middle-European countries in comic books that aren’t secretly evil?

Other than that, this is a great comic! It doesn’t ignore Jack Kirby’s work, but it’s not buried in it either. (It does ignore Chuck Austen’s Eternals mini-series, in case you haters were worried about that!) Gaiman brings back some of the mystery and awe of the Celestials and their giant stone-based technology. He also asks some basic questions about the whole premise behind the Eternals that promise to expand and deepen the species. And there are nice sub-plots brewing with Thena’s research and Sersi’s life. And this could be the best artwork in John Romita Jr.’s career! They are off to a great start.

Now let’s see if they can keep it up.




Charles Emmett

Mark Curry’s life sucks. Med Student, long stressful hours at work. A brand new ex-girlfriend, who also managed to take the cat with her. Yeah, it’s not going well for Mark. So when someone tells him that he’s an immortal, indestructible being with powers he’s never dreamed of, you’d think he’d say “what the hell?,” and we’d get started from there on some grand magical adventure.

But that’s the obvious thing to do, and Neil Gaiman is never one to take the easy way out. Instead of just going with the cliched story, Neil lets his characters act like real human beings. So instead of just going for it, Mark asks the gentleman to please leave him alone before he calls security.

The rest of the issue deals with the man trying to convince Mark that he is some sort of super-being and that his race is at war with a bunch of ugly demon rejects. The issue also deals with several other characters who may or may not be Eternals themselves. Of course, they all seem to be dealing with one form of amnesia or another, so nothing is really clear as of yet.

Which is exactly as it should be seeing as how this is simply an introduction and fills the reader in on some back story but not everything. No, that would be too darned easy. Neil is the master of subtle hints and teases, and this issue is rife with unanswered questions. The thing that separates Neil from the rest of the pack is the fact he can make readers care about those unanswered questions instead of just throwing the book across
the room in frustration or sheer boredom.

The art in this book is good, but not breathtaking. I guess that’s because Marvel wanted to keep it in more of their mainstream sort of style, but I kinda wish it has some of the radical styling of some of Gaiman’s other works, which to me really helps to draw one into the story. Again, the art is good, just don’t expect the kind of art you see on the cover.

The only thing that really kept me from giving this book a perfect score were the several references and cameos by famous Marvel superheroes. Alright, we get it, you want this to be considered an in-continuity book, we get it. You really don’t need to beat us over the head with it. Though what really kind of got under my skin was a 3 page PSA about mutant registration in the form of a commercial. Do we REALLY need a Civil War tie in to this series? It took me out of the book a little which was a shame since it was so near the end.

All in all, this is a book and a series that looks to be well worth your time and money. Gaiman is the king of magical realism though all types of stories, and it shines here. While not perfect, it does set up what seems to be an amazing story that fans new and old will enjoy. This book is designed for the people who have never heard of an Eternal to be sucked right into their world, and with this tale, with this writer, how can we not be?




Kelvin Green

Well you know, I wanted Neil Gaiman’s second Marvel project to be a revitalisation of the Thor franchise, but this’ll do nicely, thanks. The writer has, in other work, shown a solid grasp of how mythology works, which is why he’d have been perfect for Thor (“perfect for Thor,” try saying that ten times fast), but that skill applies just as well, if not more so, to the Eternals, long part of the Marvel Universe’s “deep” mythic framework. And the glimpses we get this issue of that mythic framework work tremendously well, suggesting that when this series really gets going, Gaiman will be in his element, but for now this first issue places an emphasis on more mundane happenings. And it’s there where some of Gaiman’s creative choices work against him; the “gods amongst us” aspect of the premise feels a bit tired, having been used very recently in both Wildstorm’s Thunderbolt Jaxxon revamp and more notably the Mister Miracle bit of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, and also in Gaiman’s own novel American Gods. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does tend to make one yearn a bit for more of the epic history of the space-gods and their ancient feuds rather than the ordinary stuff.

That said, there is still much to enjoy here; the writer sets up a fascinating mystery concerning how the Eternals ended up in such a mundane state (and how it fits into Marvel continuity), and the characterisation is exceptionally well-done, with the Eternals being true to their natures while still coming across as seemingly normal people unaware of their true origins. Sersi, for example, seems very familiar to me as an Avengers reader, even though I have no idea at this point how events have conspired to position her as a party arranger in New York (the Scarlet Witch’s lunacy and/or Superboy’s wall-punching notwithstanding). The result is a compelling blend of the familiar and the unknown, and while I’ve not been convinced by Gaiman’s plotting skills in the past (particularly the strangely hollow and pointless-seeming 1602), this series already seems to be heading in the right direction. Well, there is a slight bit of encroachment from the bloated storytelling cancer that is Civil War, but you can’t have everything.

If there is an heir to Jack Kirby at Marvel today, it’s John Romita Jr, who seems to have been born to draw these quintessentially Marvelesque cosmic shenanigans. The imagery is absolutely wonderful, in the truest sense of the word, as Romita effortlessly captures the sheer cosmic scale of the events and the fantastic nature of the characters. Romita’s long been one of my favourite comic artists anyway, but he really does excel here; the Celestials, the Eternals and so on have been used on and off for years, but they’ve become somewhat ordinary, with that essential sense of scale and raw power somehow lost as they’ve been demoted over the years to guest appearances in other books. That mythic magnitude is fully restored here, partly in the way Gaiman tells the story, but mostly in the way Romita draws it. Romita also excels at the day-to-day parts of the story, with a solid understanding of body language and characterisation, and it’s his storytelling skills that do the most to prevent the mundane parts of the issue from becoming boring.

It’s just so wonderfully refreshing to see some of the big Marvel Universe concepts return as it’s this crazy mix of space-opera, lunatic mythology and cosmic melodrama that got me into Marvel comics in the first place. Add to that an intriguing plot and amazing visuals, and the result is one of the most entertaining and exciting Marvel titles I’ve had the pleasure to read in a long while.




Shawn Hill

Plot: Dr. Mark Curry encounters strange patient Ike Harris, who tells him of a fanciful realm where they were both immortal gods. Thena Eliot works for Stark Industries inventing humane weapons. And homeless Sersi is a scattered but persuasive party planner. Meanwhile, on TV, the most popular tween-age star is a little boy named Sprite.

Comments: This isn’t bad by any means. It’s competent. It makes sense that this is Gaiman’s next Marvel project. He’s got experience with pantheons of iconic god-like beings, and his conceit for this revamp of the Kirby concept, where the gods are for some reason leading normal lives and have forgotten their grand history, is a familiar one he’s visited before.

Gaiman has a vision of the world as a mundane place where magic is just waiting around the corner to whip it back into fanciful glory, at least for certain special or gifted beings who can sense it. He knows that if our ancient gods are still around these days, they’ve become faded shadows of their former selves.

Sadly, he’s got an uphill battle here, because the Eternals weren’t Jack Kirby’s most inspired concept. The pantheon of Sersi, Makkari, Ikaris, and Thena is as generic as can be, without even the peculiarities of Kirby’s quite similar New Gods project for DC. And definitely without a grand villain like Darkseid looming in the shadows. Instead the Eternals are caught between the generic Deviants and the obtuse and unreadable Celestials.

There are some points with potential. There’s a reason Sersi has been the breakout character over the years; all-powerful, fun-loving and unpredictable, she just might shake things up yet. And the hints that TV star Sprite may be a pervasive force in kid culture due his unperceived divinity, while not original, are in interesting touch.

But Ike Harris and Mark Curry are dull, and the disguised Deviants chasing them are standard-issue heavies. There’s going to need to be something fresh here, because this first issue reads like a script for a new TV show, with all the formulaic parts in place, but with no real spark to make it distinctive.




Dave Wallace

Neil Gaiman’s second project for Marvel looks to be less instantly accessible than his 1602, yet also less gimmicky and more in tune with the Marvel Universe proper. Gaiman’s resurrection of The Eternals walks a fine line between showing respect for a pre-existing concept and re-introducing it for a new audience: I have to confess to being a complete Eternals novice, but Gaiman’s first issue sets up their godlike backstory effectively, making the book’s concept clear and setting up an intrigue which I have to admit has me at least a little bit hooked. My problems with the book are for the most part purely personal: I’m not a big fan of the grander, more fantastical Marvel Universe stories (give me street-level characters like Spidey or Daredevil any day), and as such, this kind of book doesn’t instantly grab me in the way a more grounded character would. That said, Gaiman does go to great lengths to make his protagonist – Mark Curry, trainee doctor – relatable and sympathetic, and encourages the reader to see the wacky concepts of the Eternals, the Deviants and the Celestials through his disbelieving eyes. It makes for a fun read, and as the constant attempts of one of the Eternals to wake him up to his true identity, we get further and further drawn into the characters’ fantastical back story.

Kicking off with a fantastically attention-grabbing double-page spread, the book’s visuals evoke the spirit of the kind of larger-than-life and cosmic sensibilities that define the term “Kirbesque,” but Romita puts his own distinct stamp on it too. Romita’s artwork mixes fantastical elements with a real-world feel, and as such bears a closer resemblance to his own creator-owned series Gray Area than to any of his recent Marvel work. The colour palette is subdued for the city scenes but vibrant and colourful for all the sequences which depict the Eternals themselves, and in this way reflects the slightly schizophrenic nature of the book effectively. There’s no getting around the artist’s blocky style, and there’s little here to convert those readers who don’t like his style (and I know there are a few), but for fans it’s a real treat to see him back on top of his game after the inking and colouring on his Sentry miniseries let his pencils down. If Romita is inking his own pencils here, he’s doing a great job (the fine, precise style reminds me of frequent collaborator Klaus Janson’s linework), and Matt Hollingsworth’s colours really serve to give the artwork a fitting tone.

There’s a lot to like in this book, and Gaiman sets up a lot of subplots which will be ripe for exploration later in the series without selling the main thrust of the story short (I particularly liked the reality TV segment). If you’re a fan of either the writer or the artist’s previous work then you’ll definitely enjoy this first issue; other more tentative readers may find it less instantly appealing, but should still give it a try if they find the sound of the concept at all interesting.



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