#2 In A Twelve-Issue Limited Series The Eternals (1985)
Written by Peter B. Gillis & Walt Simonson
Penciled by Sal Buscema, Keith Pollard & Paul Ryan
Inked by Al Gordon, Danny Bulanadi, Sal Buscema, Sam DeLaRosa, Geoff Isherwood, Tom Morgan, Keith Williams & Al Williamson
Lettered by Joe Rosen, Rick Parker & John Morelli
Colors by George Roussos & Bob Sharen
Marvel was not kind to the Eternals following the end of their first series. First they were shoehorned into the Marvel universe proper by Roy Thomas in Thor, which also jettisoned the one thing that made the Eternals unique (the Celestials and the Fifty Year Judgment). Then, in the pages of Iron Man and Avengers they were tied to another group of generic super people (the Titanians), most of the Deviants were smooshed into a big cube, and most of the Eternals were sent packing to outer space. So when the Eternals were given their own mini-series in 1985, writer Peter B. Gillis had his work cut out for him. He was left with a handful of recognizable protagonists and antagonists, all of whom were now bereft of purpose.
I suppose the question is, are the Eternals and Deviants interesting enough on their own that they can survive without the Celestials? The obvious answer is, of course, no. A race of generic super people is not a sufficiently interesting concept on its own. That's why we don't regularly see series about the New Gods, Eternals, or Inhumans. No, in order to grab the reader's interest, there needs to be something more. For the original series, that grabber was the Celestials. Without them, the Eternals will have to grab the reader's imagination with their personalities.
And frankly, the Eternals don't have much in the way of personality.
So to a large extent, The Eternals v2 is a successful attempt to create personalities to go with the powers and costumes. Thena is full of self-doubt brought on by her new role as Prime Eternal, which is only heightened by her growing affection for Kro. Ikaris is rash, angry, with a thin veneer of calm covering a soul filled with pain and rage. Makkari is so obsessed with doing things quickly that he sometimes forgets to do them well. Sersi's flighty hedonism becomes even more prominent - but she also gains a core of worldy wisdom which makes her, in a way, the strongest character of all the Eternals. A few new Eternals are thrown into the mix to round out the cast - the stoic samurai Kingo Sunen1, the mysteriously tragic Phastos, the languid Koryphoros, and Cybele, who is, uh, a red-head.
Of course, a good story needs good antagonists as well. Kro is back, of course, largely unchanged - he's still a devious schemer who seeks to improve not only his lot, but the lot of his entire race, but the "tragic anti-hero" aspects of his character are emphasized. Gillis also introduces one of the greatest Marvel villains ever, the sinister priest-king Ghaur, who plans to take his grievances to the gods themselves. And then there's the Dreaming Celestial, the enigmatic threat that may control the fate of the world...
Simultaneously, Gillis is also trying to inject some adult sophistication and nuance into the world of the Eternals. The Eternals are no longer simple paragons of purity - the ones that remain on Earth have such radically different agends that it's almost impossible to get them to agree on anything.
The Deviants are given additional backstory that makes them pitiably sympathetic.2 Now, instead of being forced to lived underground by the space gods, they've been forced to live underground by their own fear and suspicion.3 The Deviants are not monsters by nature, but have been made monsters by the power-mad ruling class, who care only for themselves. And even Ghaur, for all his melodramatic mwa-ha-haing, is still the product of a system that makes him both a monster and a victim.
And, of course, the Gillis drives home that for all their differences, the Eternals and Deviants are still human. That's why Kro and Thena finally succumb to their love. That's why Koryphoros forges a powerful bond with the Deviant artist Yrdisis. That's why the Reject and Karkas are treated as the Eternals' equals, instead their pets.
Then Walt Simonson takes over the series with issue #9 and all that goes out the window.
Normally, I love Walt Simonson. He writes some damn fine superhero stories, and the conclusion to The Eternals is one of them. Indeed, who doesn't remember the end of this series? Ghaur, grown to giant-size, single-handedly reducing Olympia to rubble! The Eternals, unable to form the Uni-Mind in their darkest hour! The megalomanaical Ghaur, hoist by his own petard and forced to obey the space gods he despises! The Eternals and Avengers, battling side-by-side against a Celestial!
But Simonson is not really a writer I associate with nuance, and he jettisons most of the sensibility that made the earlier issues absorbing. The Eternals are good, and the Deviants are evil. Ghaur no longer seeks to right the "injustices" of the space gods, but merely to conquer the world. Ikaris is right, Thena is wrong. Sersi goes from "every life is precious" to "a thousand deviants aren't worth the life of one human" in the span of about three panels. Koryphoros and Yrdisis? The entire subplot is dropped. Thena and Kro? Turns out Kro was sapping her will the whole time with a brain mine, 'cause god forbid we have two people who love each other in spite of their differences.
Once again, we no longer have characters, but generic super people.
Unfortunately, it's Simonson's take and not Gillis's that became the new standard. And that's why the Eternals had to wait another twenty years before someone gave them a fair shake.
- Not technically new character, I know. But given that his previous appearance consisted of two panels where his face wasn't even visible, for all intents and purposes he's brand new.
- The Deviants in the Kirby series are pitiably sympathetic as well, but it's enterly subtextual. Reading between the lines it's entirely obvious that their wretched fate is entirely of their own making.
- After all, if the Celestials had wanted to eliminate the Deviants, do you really think they could have been stopped? No, it's far more likely that the responded to aggression they always do - with equal force, directed without malice.