written by Neil Gaiman
art by John Romita Jr.
published by Marvel Comics

“Intelligent Designer”

“Have you ever wondered about the origins of intelligent life on this planet … I’m talking about the purpose of life. The meaning of everything. Why we’re here.” –Ikaris

Every time Neil Gaiman does a comic book, it is an event. Vaulted to comic book deity status after his epic run on Sandman, he has gone on to writing acclaimed novels (American Gods, Anansi Boys), but has never strayed far from his true love of comics. It has been nearly three years since his last project for Marvel, 1602, and now he examines what it means to be a god in The Eternals.

This borders on sacrilege, but I was never a fan of Jack Kirby’s Eternals. It was like poorly thought out New Gods stuff for a different company. Somewhere in there lay an interesting story, though I thought the whole “aliens created life on this planet” angle a little cliche–and the whole thing buried in more than a little cheesiness, even for its day. And the property hasn’t been handled especially well since (excepting some of the ideas incorporated into Earth X, which wove the history of the Celestials into the Marvel Universe seamlessly).

However, the ideas are ripe for Neil Gaiman to re-visit.

They provide the toys he loves to play with most: large mythology, strange concepts, a sense of family, and big ideas. The task is to reacquaint us with the characters slowly, revamp them, and then add them back to the Marvel universe. In a major continuity break, the Celestials don’t create life on this planet but rather take proto-humanity and create two distinct races from it: the Eternals, who become the archetypes of the pantheon of gods worshiped by many early cultures; and the Deviants, who become the demonic aspects and images. So, between the world of angels and demons battling, man thrived.

Skip to today.

Mark Curry leads an ordinary life as an intern at a large hospital. He encounters a madman, Ike Harris, who claims that they are actually 500,000 years old and imbued with incredible powers, though he and the rest had forgotten their old life. From here, the journey for the truth to their reality begins.

“I know my designers were intelligent. I just don’t know what they wanted me for.” –Ikaris

The theme of remembering that we are tied to the divine or that there is this secret/spiritual side to our reality reverberates through much of Gaiman’s work. Like us, the Eternals have an eternal aspect to them, but have forgotten who they are and have to go through a journey to discover/remember what they were meant to be. All under the conceit that where there is a design to creation, there must be a designer.

The Eternals may feel like a bit of a letdown, but only for those who had unreal expectation from whenever they hear that Gaiman has picked up a pen to write a comic book. With great characterization and his typically wonderful dialogue, there is a mystery to be unfolded. And few do it better than Neil Gaiman.

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