From the cover of a 1980s issue. Artist: Jack Kirby.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1976
Creator: Jack Kirby
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Many comic book readers thought of The Eternals, by Jack Kirby (Kamandi, Stuntman), with its themes involving ancient legends as surviving memories of early alien involvement with the human race, as a sort of New Gods redux. Others saw it as stemming from Kirby's work on The Inhumans, with fantastic beings having co-existed with normal humans since the dawn of time. Still others considered adding yet another race of …

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… fantastic, co-existing beings, especially in conjunction with such non-Kirby entities as Tigra's cat people and the survivors of Fin Fang Foom's invasion, merely cluttering up the Marvel Universe.

Still others thought it was simply typical of Kirby, whose Captain 3-D, back at Harvey Comics, had been based on a parallel, unsuspected civilization; and whose Secret City Saga, a couple of decades later, would be too.

The alien-yet-earthly race was first seen in The Eternals #1 (July, 1976). Or at least, that's where they were first seen that readers know of; they could have been walking around in the background of any number of crowd scenes before that. They were part of Kirby's work after returning to Marvel following a much ballyhooed sojourn at DC Comics, during which he'd created Mr. Miracle, Etrigan the Demon and more. Other Kirby creations during this stint at Marvel include Devil Dinosaur and Machine Man.

The Eternals originally sprang from genetic experiments conducted on humans millions of years ago, by aliens referred to as "The Celestials", who then withdrew to wherever ultra-powerful aliens who mess with the human race go. With names like Kronos, Uranos, Ikaris and other words that look like slightly misspelled versions of early Greek heroes and deities, they were conflated with the legendary beings of mythology, and the fact that their technological feats had made them immortal wielders of wonders that dazzled the pre-technological humans surrrounding them only enhanced that image. Also created by The Celestials were the less human-like Deviants, who provided a ready source of monsters and villains for them to fight. The Celestials were also involved in the early development of The Kree, The Skrulls and (presumably) other aliens who had been used at Marvel in the past.

Before long, they'd been tied in with practically every aspect of the Marvel Universe, in much the same way as Dr. Fate's Lords of Order and Chaos permeated the superhero world of DC Comics, only more so. Not only did Thor, Warlock and others get into the act — their meddling with humanity was posited as the very source of people's potential to acquire powers and become superheroes in the first place. It was also posited that The Celestials were planning to come back and judge humanity, right about now.

Kirby left Marvel again after a couple of years, so The Eternals lasted only until #19 (January, 1978). But the series was revived in 1985 by Peter Gillis (Strikeforce Morituri), Sal Buscema (The Hulk) and Walter Simonson (Manhunter); and again in in 2006 by Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and John Romita Jr. (Daredevil).

Kirby, who co-created The Fantastic Four, Captain America and other cornerstone characters of Marvel, continued to exert a profound influence on its comics for the rest of his life — and beyond.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.