‘Eternals’: How Neil Gaiman’s Comics Could Influence the Movie

As the November release date of Marvel‘s Eternals approaches, fans started to wonder how the new roster of characters will fit into the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some are asking why cosmic beings as powerful as the Eternals wouldn’t have intervened to stop Thanos from erasing billions of lives.

And that begs a larger question: how can characters with such mighty abilities be woven into the MCU without completely overshadowing everything else that’s going on? Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr. tackled that question with their 2006 seven-issue limited series.

The Eternals have lives on Earth

‘The Eternals' cast standing side by side on stage at Disney’s D23 EXPO in 2019
‘The Eternals’ cast at Disney’s D23 EXPO, 2019 | Jesse Grant/Getty Images

The Celestials, godlike creatures who are even more powerful, created the Eternals as protectors of Earth. And all of these cosmic beings were conceived of by comics creator Jack Kirby. By the time Gaiman and Romita were working on their series, the Eternals weren’t as prominent in the Marvel comics universe. So they had to find an organic way to bring them back into the fold.

They addressed this by starting the story with the Eternals having lost their memories. They lead the lives of ordinary humans.  Significantly, this means the Eternals have full lives on Earth before the cosmic drama begins — careers and relationships that they care about. So the stakes feel personal for them in a way they maybe wouldn’t have otherwise. 

Ensuring that the Eternals have some sort of real emotional foothold on Earth will prove important for the movie, as well.

The story’s scope gradually gets bigger

The gradual expansion of the story’s scope in Gaiman and Romita’s series mirrors the ever-broadening nature of the MCU in some ways. In the comics, when the Eternals regain their memories, they turn first to the implications for their own personal lives.

For example, the comics story is set during the original Avengers Civil War crossover event. Sersi (played by Gemma Chan in the movie) realizes she will have to get registered as a superhero. That, of course, has drawbacks of its own.

Similarly, Thena (Angelina Jolie in the movie) realizes her role as mother to her young son is going to drastically change after she regains her memories.

From there, the Eternals begin to feel the influence of the events of the Civil War. And ultimately, the story’s scope expands even more as the Celestials become involved. The comics don’t drop the full magnitude of the cosmic drama on Iron Man, Captain America, and the others in one fell swoop. Rather, the Eternals’ story serves to gradually reintroduce these beings to the Marvel comics universe.

The Eternals movie could serve a similar purpose. It could function as one more step toward expanding the breadth of the MCU.

The ending of ‘Eternals’ is somewhat inconclusive

‘Eternals’ trailer

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Trailer: Why Aren’t Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in it?

So what exactly is the role of the Eternals in the Marvel universe? The comics series doesn’t answer that question in a concrete way. What’s really important about the series isn’t who allies with whom, or which fights are won or lost. Instead, what gives the story heft is that it forces the Eternals to look inward. It makes them question how they will go on when the lives they thought were their own turn out to be just facades. 

And how can they make peace with the fact that the day-to-day dramas they thought were so important are, on a cosmic scale, quite insignificant? Finally, how can they coexist with ordinary humans?

The conclusion is rather open-ended. And perhaps the movie’s ending will be similar. That way, viewers will be able to see the Eternals’ stories and character arcs evolve over time.