Saturday, September 11, 2010

Eternals by Neil Gaiman - September 26th

Eternals is a reboot of a 1970s Jack Kirby series of the same name. The Eternals are a small group of gods whose job is to protect the Earth. In classic Gaiman fashion, he takes an obscure superhero and puts his own mythological spin on it. Gaiman introduces the reader to the Eternals universe by putting you in the shoes of Mark Curry, a harried medical student. When Curry meets a man who claims to be an ancient superhero named Ikaris who has known him for thousands of years by the name of Makkari, the saga has only begun.

Some general thoughts on Gaiman's Eternals from our book clubbers:

-Wasn’t very good because Gaiman was too enamoured with Kirby’s original series. Limited himself too much.

-We liked the mystery and grandeur of the story, but were disappointed by the fact that immortal gods still have miniscule emotional problems

-Eternals needed to be independent of the universe, don’t have to deal with Marvel characters or crossovers

-Seems like the motivation for this comic could have been a capitalistic gain, with the huge Gaiman letters on the cover

1. Gaiman tends to reuse ideas and themes in his work. Are there any similarities or differences between Eternals and Sandman or American Gods or Neverwhere?

Gaiman's modus operandi is reviving obscure superheroes (possibly to keep Marvel/DC's copyright recent?) and making them relevant for a new generation. He also loves mythology and talking about gods, as evidenced in American Gods and Sandman. It seems in Eternals, Gaiman was limited to Kirby's mythology, arguably too much, speaking of the "space gods" that are the Eternals. Taking a page from Neverwhere, Gaiman takes an everyman in Mark Curry and throws him into a strange world not unlike our own. The difference here, as mentioned before, is that Gaiman is held back; either by Marvel's rules or by his own allegiance to Kirby's original story.

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing a reboot of an older comic (like Sandman for example), such as this one adapted from Kirby's work?

Jeremiah argues that this is not a reboot and more of a retconned sequel. (Retcon meaning retroactively fitting the story and characters into an already existing storyline). Rather than a reimagining the Eternals, Gaiman is continuing the characters from Kirby's story; it’s more like a sequel. The advantage to doing a reboot, obviously, is that the writer doesn't as creative since a framework is already built an audience is already built in.

3. How did you feel about the origin and purpose of the Eternals, being ancient ones who protect the Earth?

The story has it that the Eternals are wired to protect the Earth, as boring as that sounds. So the purpose of the Eternals is not terribly interesting. The origin, in the Antarctica-esque earth coffins, is a bit more interesting, but too convoluted for this reader to fully understand.

4. Is there any deeper commentary or meaning on Gaiman's satire of reality television with It's Just So Sprite and America's Newest Superheroes?

It's Just So Sprite is significant only to introduce the reader to Sprite, and later find out that he is an Eternal and used his power to become famous. America's Newest Superheroes seems to be a vehicle just for Gaiman to poke fun at reality television and superheroes in general.

5. What are your thoughts on using amnesia as a plot device, especially in Sprite's plan and with the character Mark Curry?

This isn't any amnesia, this is God-induced amnesia. Super amnesia if you will. However, that doesn't make it any better a plot device. Amnesia is a decent way to introduce us to Mark Curry and his transition into becoming an Eternal, but Sprite's amnesia-induced hypnotism on the rest of the Eternals was lame retconning at its finest.

6. One of the challenges of being a non-independent comics writer is writing recent universe plot developments into the story. How does Gaiman tackle this? Do you think universe continuity is important in comics?

Unfortunately, Gaiman wrote Marvel's Civil War storyline into Eternals, so there's bare bones talk about registering as a hero from Iron Man. However, this inclusion enriches neither this graphic novel or Marvel's series. In the case of Eternals, I think it would have been better all around if Gaiman was able to ignore the Marvel Universe all together and have free creative reign to do what he wants. Keeping with continuity in comics is an art that few writers have, all too often storylines end up being ridiculous, retconned, and/or convoluted like One More Day.

7. Kirby's original Eternals series was originally not supposed to be a part of the Marvel Universe and was later brought into continuity. Would the Eternals be better off in their own world?

See previous question.

8. Graphic novels such as Watchmen, Eternals, and Kingdom Come are superhero deconstructionist graphic novels, meaning they redefine or question the superhero archetype. How does Eternals deconstruct what superheroes are currently made out to be? Are superheroes gods?

As Jeremiah so eloquently pointed out, Eternals is not quite a deconstruction. Superhero deconstructionist stories ask why superheroes do what they do and why society allows it. In this case, it is clear what the Eternals have to do. Protecting the Earth is their job. It is almost the opposite the Eternals can’t change. They are like robots, or a system. “We MUST protect.”

9. Why did Sprite do what he did? Would you have done the same thing if put in his situation?

In this book club's opinion, there was very little reason given. Just being eleven for eternity doesn’t seem to be the major factor. Sprite didn’t know the consequences of his actions. He’s been alive for so long, he doesn’t think any bad things were going to happen.

10. What is the purpose of having the Eternals in the Marvel Universe? Is there any significance to the timing of this comic, since it was set during the Civil War storyline?

See # 6. The short answer: little to no purpose and none, other than capitalistic gain.

11. Why are the Eternals compelled to protect the human race if they are not human themselves?

The Celestials told them to do so, the Eternals are hardwired to protect Earth. The book club made a comparison to Greek gods on Olympus - the lives of the humans are insignificant to them, but watching their existence, however meager, is all the gods have have to entertain themselves or keep busy. It could be argued that the Eternals are not involved in human struggles they are more motivated to save the Earth. Earth's inhabitants are only secondarily served.

12. Are the Eternals too powerful to be a part of an interesting storyline? Is this perhaps why they've never had a long-running series?

Yes, as far as a traditional comic story goes, which it is limited to in the Marvel universe. Again, gods are difficult to relate to. A better story would be less about them, more about internal struggle. Readers need something relatable to care about what is going on.

13. How did you feel about the ending of Eternals? Some criticize the graphic novel and its ending for feeling like a set up to simply put the Eternal heroes into the Marvel Universe.

The ending seemed unfinished and a start to a miniseries that never got enough attention to go anywhere. So, as it stands, with no continuation of the Eternals in the Marvel Universe, it could be argued that it was a standalone with an ambiguous ending or a failed launch of a new superhero series.


  1. I noticed that you actually had an issue of the old school Eternals in the used book sale bins. I had to laugh!

  2. You know, it's funny, but I think this is the first book we've all universally agreed is crap-a-roo.

    I'm usually the guy who just loves everything regardless. I mean, this is a Gaiman story about giant space robot gods, so I should have been fainting from awesome every other page. Yet still, it just didn't quite work.

    It felt too much like fan-fiction for something I wasn't really into, I guess. Jack Kirby had some great ideas and was very talented, but his stuff isn't always my cup of tea. I think was squarely aimed at people who enjoy Kirby Tea.

  3. Kirby is the immortal god of awesomeness, so it's impossible to diss him. So I will. He had so many normal-to-mediocre ideas that were either normal or mediocre that his great stuff was never popular. I don't know his whole personal history either, but Stan Lee banked on his personality and charisma while Kirby seems like he was, especially in his final decade of life and now, quiet but well respected for being the founder who didn't peddle himself or his merchandise. His books that failed are in awe today as a cult classic/critics' delight, loved as much for being an idea, even if the idea made no sense. Further, the failure of "Eternals" is blamed not so much on Kirby but on Marvel for putting it into the mainstream comicverse, so "The Man" can always be blamed for any problems that happened to it. And they still can because even Gaiman couldn't make them interesting; he must have been held back by Marvel and obsessed comic book fans.

  4. At the end of the last few discussions, we've come up with an interesting question that isn't part of the above list that we sort of touch on but not really.

    Jeremiah said that he doesn't understand how immortals have problems -- shouldn't they be able to get their stuff together over a million years?

    That's not the question I came up with that I think is more important. Are we as readers -- or even as people experiencing the world -- giving too much credit to age and experience when we associate those traits with wisdom and intelligence? We couldn't get an answer to why some Eternals (the changers Druig, Sprite and Sersi) were able to choose not to be slaves to the big robots in the sky, while others were. But maybe the answer is that we assumed that the bearded guy and the army leader in red and blue are smart, when they're actually not. (Just like old people can be jerks, and owners or some businesses do things the same way.)