“The Eternals” invades my mind from the opening pages. Those dark corners of Marvel’s universe, where the branches of shared cosmic tragedy overlap, are off-limits. The galactic scale is too big and clunky, and no movie marketing ploy will ever fix it.
There is a space station on a distant planet with superpowered people holed up, using ancient technology and ghost language. The station’s inhabitants call themselves “the Eternals,” and their future unfolds on a massive scale, top-down. Their only chance of reaching the promised land—if they’re lucky—is a big space-shuttle flight, with a whole bunch of aliens on board.
“The Eternals” seems like a nice little hero story, until you see the ending. When I first read its Marvel Universe origin last year, I was thinking, “Marvel’s latest colorful idea for a cosmic soap opera. And it’s yours to sell to your audience, so be sure to tell them they’re the only ones getting all the cool stuff.” This new six-issue miniseries, starting in March, turns that straightforward, crowd-pleasing pitch on its head. The Eternals are run ragged from start to finish.
A lot is going on here, and it’s all worth it. Like all fantasy worlds, “The Eternals” is dedicated to adding layers. There’s a greater struggle for existence and survival in this narrative universe than “Guardians of the Galaxy” ever hinted at, whether it’s in the arctic wastes, where the Eternals must survive a missile attack, or the dusty deserts of Mesopotamia, where they send out hunger signals and struggle to hold onto their ark in an arid age.
All this is captured beautifully by longtime Marvel artist Simone Bianchi, whose art enriches the 10-page “chapter” recap from its opening pages, celebrating a year of cosmic defeat. The ominous, dark night skies inspire unbridled imagination, as does this large, emotional cavern where the Eternals reside. A giant beanstalk becomes a telescopic teleporting beacon. A fallen temple’s golden parapets are a mid-air billboard for the pyrotechnics and synchronized synchronized swimmers of this challenge.
Writer Robbie Thompson has deftly nimbly combined humor and heart to build a compelling and endearing group of people. Tristan Jones added his quiet magic, and the late superstar artist Esad Ribic, for this version of the Eternals, is respectfully honored. This sequel to the critically acclaimed Marvel miniseries is another huge win.