This is Propaganda, I’m Richard Bruton and this is what I’ve been reading lately:
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by John Romita Jr
Of course, the first thing that you notice about this book is that it looks bloody awful. Eternals is only available in the UK as a British version from Panini UK who seem to have decided that they want to make the book look different from the American version (luckily we also have the US hardback edition from Marvel too, as seen above, more expensive, but worth it by the sound of things – Joe). So they’ve hired a first year design student and told him that they want it to look like something cutting edge from the 80s. That’s the only conclusion I can come up with for the terrible packaging on the book.
Then, in addition to the awful packaging, Marvel have decided to add an absolutely pointless interview section with Neil Gaiman, done in that splendid “Make Mine Marvel” style, much appreciated by 9 year old boys and almost no-one else. And after that, for some reason, again known only to whoever commissioned this thing is an interview with Tori Amos. In which she talks at length about her connection with Gaiman’s Sandman and then admits to not knowing anything about this Eternals series at all. All this is absolutely pointless and only helps to make the book more of a mess.
(cover to Marvel’s Eternals by Jack Kirby hardback collection from last summer)
But enough of first impressions; the actual book itself was one of those things I just wasn’t sure about because to me the very idea of Gaiman at Marvel is slightly jarring, like listening to Kraftwerk cover a Kylie song (“you should be so lucky” – Joe). Luckily I’d heard enough good things about it from the fine folks at Nostalgia & Comics to fight past the initial revulsion of the design and actually read the thing.
The Eternals of old were part of Jack Kirby’s triumphant return to Marvel Comics in 1975. After creating most of the company’s characters he dropped out of favour and had been working over at DC creating his Fourth World series until returning to Marvel with these characters. Unfortunately Kirby’s Eternals lasted a mere two years and the characters have cropped up in various bit parts ever since. This version of the Eternals is the latest revamp in a long line of attempts to make good use of the characters.
But this time Marvel has Neil Gaiman to write the series. And although Gaiman and Kirby are two completely different writers, his choice is an obvious one really; Gaiman’s writing always seems to include something in the line of Gods and Monsters, which is something the Eternals series always had plenty of…..
(some of John Romita Jr’s art for The Eternals, (C) Marvel Comics)
The Universe-travelling Celestials came from space and crafted three races from the proto-humanoids walking the Earth in prehistoric times: Humans, Eternals and Deviants. The Eternals are immortal god-like beings charged with protecting Earth for the Celestials return. The Deviants are the Eternals’ enemies; a race of changing things, monsters bred by the Celestials for rather less noble purposes – a kind of Celestial buffet as it later turns out. But one Celestial spoke out against his kind and defended the Deviants. At which point he was buried beneath Manhattan to become the Dreaming Celestial – and the potential saviour of the Deviant race.
As Gaiman’s story starts the key Eternals – Thena, Sersi, Druig, Zuras, Makkari, Ajak and Sprite – are all living life as humans; mortal, deactivated and almost completely unaware of their previous lives. Something or someone has wiped their existence as Eternals from the world and from themselves. Only Ikaris is even aware of his true nature and is attempting to contact and effectively re-activate the others. His first contact is Mark Curry, ER intern, who keeps having dreams of God-like beings and monsters… and then begins to realise that he has powers of his own.
Slowly, Mark Curry is brought into contact with the other deactivated Eternals and the illusions shaped by their mystery foe start to slip as the Eternals return to greatness once again. But whilst the Eternals have slept, the Deviants have plotted to free their own saviour; the Dreaming Celestial that rests beneath the Earth who may just end up destroying the world.
Gaiman’s plot of taking the Eternals back to mortal form and slowly revealing their true natures allows us to identify with the characters and immerse ourselves into their confusion. As you’d expect from Gaiman it’s well written, nicely dialogued and full of flashes of brilliance. Mark Curry’s confusion and fears for his own sanity in the first issue works nicely, as does his superhuman “outing” in issues 3 and 4 when Gaiman writes a super speedster dealing with real life physics – just how do you stop bullets when travelling at super speed? If you try to catch them the kinetic energy has to go somewhere and they’re just too hot to hold. Very nice.
As the issues roll on, the villain responsible for the Eternals fall to mortality is revealed. Although it’s hardly a surprise and most of you reading the book will have guessed from very early on. But this is just a little plot twist in Gaiman’s overall story. The fun is in seeing how the Eternals get back their powers and how they’ll deal with the greater threat of the deviant horde and the Dreaming Celestial.
(Thena battling Deviants, art by John Romita Jr, (c) Marvel Comics)
As for the art in the book, I’ve always considered John Romita Jr to be one of Marvels’ classier artists and have always enjoyed his art since first seeing him on Iron Man many years ago. His stylised, slightly blocky figures are a refreshing alternative to the standard fare of the artwork in most Marvel books.
But overall, the Eternals is vaguely disappointing. Simply because it’s a Neil Gaiman comic and he’s set his own standard far too high with previous works. This is Gaiman trotting out a superhero book by his numbers. Of course, Gaiman doing superhero by the numbers is still better than most writers doing superheroes. But is that enough to give this enjoyable book a glowing review or should I be comparing it to other Gaiman work? Is it as good as Sandman? Signal to Noise? Mr Punch? Violent Cases? Death? The simple answer is no, it’s not.
It’s very good, it’s very enjoyable, but it’s not what I really want from a Neil Gaiman comic. But if you’re after a well written, but not too dense superhero story about Gods and Monsters with some lovely stylised artwork the Eternals is the book for you. Just try to ignore the awful design work.