This article is part of The Reading List, a recurring column where we encourage you to take your enthusiasm for a particularly groovy movie or TV series and direct it into a wide array of extracurricular studies. This entry ranks the best comics to read alongside Eternals.
The most common frustration I hear from my non-comic-book-reading friends is, “There are too many comics! I don’t know where to begin!” Attempting to wade into Spider-Man comics or Captain Marvel comics feels intimidating. These are characters that have been around for decades, and in that time, there have been very few gaps in publication, resulting in thousands of comic books to sift through.
I want to tell those friends that there is no good place to start; you just have to do it and play catch-up. As Douglas Wolk, the author who recently read every Marvel comic book ever published and wrote a book about it, says, “You have to embrace not-knowing.” Like everything, reading comics is a practice, and you’ll figure it out as you go along.
But when I tell my non-comic-book-reading-friends this, they roll their eyes. The mountain of Marvels is still just too damn big, and most won’t bother with that first step. To the Wikipedia page, they go! I can’t be too mad about it.
However, if you’re excited about this new Eternals movie, the pile of comic books associated with these characters is not impossible to climb. The characters have been around since 1976, but their popularity never solidified, leaving them mostly residing at the bottom of comic book readers’ attention. Why is that? A number of factors, but mostly, they’re really, really, really weird, and it takes a particular kind of oddball to appreciate their eccentricity.
This Reading List is designed to take hold of your curiosity and channel it toward five essential Eternals comics. Not all of them will be your jam, but one or two should connect profoundly with your enthusiasm for the cinematic iteration. What you’ll find below is a mix of old and new comic book sensibilities. You will uncover their origins here, and you will discover modern literary masters attempting to make sense of those origins. Every time a new writer tackles The Eternals, they have to bash it and smash it to make sense for the reader of that day. To read Eternals comics is to experience constant reinvention. Reboots, baby. They weren’t born with The Amazing Spider–Man.
Jack Kirby’s The Eternals
To say the least, Jack Kirby‘s relationship with Marvel was complicated. Alongside Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, he created the whole thing, igniting the big bang with The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. Eventually, Kirby’s relationship at Marvel soured, and he jumped over to the competition, DC Comics, creating The New Gods and their Fourth World, born from Kirby’s rejected concepts surrounding Marvel’s The Mighty Thor. Then, Kirby and DC split, and “The King of Comics” returned to Marvel, where he once again reshaped old ideas into another cosmic odyssey, The Eternals.
At the time, there was nothing quite like it at the publishing house, and their editorial staff and their audience didn’t know what to make of it. Jack Kirby’s sprawling, jampacked comic screamed from every page and fell on deaf ears. After a year, The Eternals was canceled, but what remained would obsess certain fans forever.
The basic premise involves the Celestials, titanic space gods briefly glimpsed in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, returning to Earth after a long absence. The Eternals are their creation, made to watch over humanity as we evolve into something worth keeping. The Celestials also bore the Deviants, monstrous mirrors who thirst for humankind’s destruction. One group attempts to defend us from the Celestials’ grim judgment while the other tries fiendishly to expose us as nothing more than bugs who deserve squashing.
Jack Kirby is a bombastic creator. Exploring this Eternals era can be challenging for a modern reader. You gotta love exclamation marks, folks. But there is no denying Kirby’s grand vision and brilliant illustrative execution. The writer/artist offers a grand declaration with the Eternals, and it’s a shame we never got to see his vision grow beyond these twenty issues.
Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr.’s Eternals
Thirty years after Jack Kirby created them, author Neil Gaiman and artist John Romita Jr. revamp the Eternals into a group of confused, heavily burdened superheroes. They have forgotten who they are and have integrated themselves into normal, painfully dull human lives. That is until their Superman, their champion, Ikaris, reclaims his memory and reassembles the team.
Set during the period that saw Marvel’s comic universe engulfed in a Civil War, Gaiman and Romita put all of themselves into this bizarre mythology. Their Eternals is clearly told with a deep sense of love for these characters and a profound reverence for Jack Kirby. The comic reads like a defense for what Jack Kirby achieved in 1976. “Oh, you didn’t get it then, but we’ll show you why these characters are rad and why their world is even radder.”
If you dig on Gaiman’s Sandman (and who doesn’t?), and you’re curious as to what his mind would do with Marvel characters, this is where you gotta go (then you can try out his goofy-yet-fun medieval mash-up, 1602). The author is sinking into troubled philosophies with Eternals, trying to understand our twisted humanity in the same fashion as Jack Kirby did with his initial run. And, sadly, Gaiman has even fewer issues to root around, only seven.
That being said, with such a short burst of comics, Gaiman and Romita’s Eternals is easy to recommend. The art is divine and easily discernable for new readers. Gaiman’s characters snap your attention quickly, and if you can’t jive with classic Marvel comics, you’ll certainly slip into this book’s rhythm. And it leaves you with enough questions that you’ll happily plunge into the books below.
Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribić’s Eternals
Now, Gaiman and Romita’s series is already fourteen years old, and for some, that’s ancient. If you want an Eternals comic that is up-to-the-minute fresh, then you gotta go with Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribić‘s recent series, which was also constructed with the movie’s release in mind. Here is the comic that should be good for anyone seeking further education in Eternals lore and character.
Gillen and Ribić’s series does not ignore past Eternals comics, quite the opposite as it pulls classic and not-so-classic concepts into its fold, but it never allows its continuity to form a wall around its readability. Someone within the Eternals ranks has partnered with Thanos, an Eternal himself with a splash of Deviant DNA, and they’re slaughtering other Celestial children. The comic works as a mystery and an introduction, creating a nail-biting pace that’s irresistible. You’re not putting this comic down until you’re done.
The Kirby and Gaiman characters tend to be larger-than-life. Gillen brings these demigods down to Earth. The writer puts the emotions first and the plot second, and the result is a comic that elevates the heroes above their big idea sci-fi trappings. You care about these cosmic puppets, and more importantly, you relate to them, which is far harder to do with past comic book versions.
Eternals: To Slay a God
Giant space bugs are coming to eat the Earth! Only the Eternals have a swatter large enough to take them down. Considering that Eternals: To Slay a God directly followed Gaiman and Romita’s reinvention in 2008, the book is far too damn silly and frivolous. However, Daniel Acuña‘s art is so stellar that you forgive the basic but bonkers plot fueling the panels.
To Slay a God is mostly driven by the internal skirmishes caused by the impending doom. The group can’t seem to meet each other on the same plane of thought, which causes shouting matches to escalate into literal combat. Battles brought on by extreme emotions and miscommunication are at the heart of most superhero storylines, and it can get dull for sure, but writers Charles Knauf and Daniel Knauf maintain the logic behind the anger. And, again, Acuña’s art slays, and whatever keeps him scribbling is good enough.
Thanos: The Infinity Siblings
Within the MCU, Thanos may be dead, but as the Eternals arrive in theaters, his shadow will continue to loom large. The Mad Titan is kindred, and these new Marvel heroes will have to answer for the atrocities their cousin committed. They have a lot to prove.
A few years ago, Thanos’ creator Jim Starlin returned to his villainous child and crafted six exceptional original graphic novels centered around the cosmic psycho killer. Thanos: The Infinity Siblings sits in the middle of this epic and explores Thanos’ relationship with his Eternals brother Eros, aka Starfox. Like all who know Thanos, the two have always had a contentious relationship, and this storyline cranks their familial anxiety to eleven.
A temporal distortion on Titan piques Thanos’ curiosity, and when he travels to investigate, he discovers Kang the Conqueror. Oh yes, that other Marvel villain destined to gain more attention in the MCU’s Phase Four. With few friends he can trust, Thanos turns to his brother for assistance, and the two barely survive each other as they prepare to clash with their time-traveling despotic opponent.
Thanos: The Infinity Siblings is not a great jumping-on point for new readers, but it’s a satisfying one for those that plowed through the previous four entries on this list. And maybe, if you really want to get nuts, you can go ahead and read the other Jim Starlin titles in this series. Once you’ve accomplished these heady, continuity-heavy tomes, no other comic book character run could possibly intimidate. From here, the Marvel comics universe is your oyster.
Eternals lands in theaters on 11/5.