Monday, January 4, 2010


Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Eternals (Marvel, 2007).

Well, here's a curiosity. My wife likes Neil Gaiman more than I do, and I like Jack Kirby more than she does, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before one of us picked up this book. Actually, she bought it from Comic Envy in Asheville several months ago, but it took some time to work its way up each of our reading piles for me to tell you about it.

Kirby created The Eternals in the mid-70s after reading those Chariots of the Gods books that were popular back then and figuring those'd make a good comic book. It's a big, weird epic starring super-powered folks with mythological names, scheming among the backdrop of giant space deities called The Celestials influencing human behavior for centuries. Honestly, they were a rung or two down from his very best work, and like a lot of good '70s work by many different creators for Marvel Comics, didn't fit quite so well jerry-rigged into the existing, broader Marvel Universe, but they're still quite good stuff.

After several years of inactivity, Marvel decided to revamp and revisit the characters, and so turned to Neil Gaiman and artist John Romita Jr. for a seven-part series. It's available in a nice hardcover edition, and it's... okay. Just as awkwardly jerry-rigged into the contemporary superhero world, this, bafflingly, features an Iron Man who's nothing like the devil-may-care playboy iconoclast from the movies, but some boring establishment heel who keeps telling these newly-emergent superpeople that they need to get registered with the government for some bound-to-be-forgotten reason that future generations of Neil Gaiman fans will never understand.

If you can get past the unwelcome intrusions by the ongoing Marvel soap opera, this is a pretty good distraction, although rarely compelling. Gaiman does a better job building the events than just about anybody else in comics, and, working outside his comfort zone in the world of super powers, he comes up with some very neat variations on established tropes. One character realizes that he has super speed when the power kicks in during a crisis, and he finds himself among a crowd being fired on by a gang of armed gunmen, having to quickly figure out what to do about hundreds of bullets slowly moving towards the people. On the other hand, Gaiman still has the same problem with climaxes that he did back during The Sandman. I finished this less than a week ago, and I have already forgotten exactly what the protagonists did to save humanity from the sleeping Celestial god.

I found the artwork particularly dull. I didn't like Romita Jr. when I was in high school and he replaced Paul Smith on Uncanny X-Men and I don't like him now. He does nothing at all wrong, but his work looks overly fussy and scratchy to me. For a middle-of-the-road superhero melodrama, I'm sure it's fine, but for something meant to be as epic and mythological as this, I never got that sense of great, cosmic importance the work is asking for.

This sounds like damning with faint praise, and perhaps it is. In much the same way that a Holiday Inn cover band might pull off a performance of "This Old Heart of Mine" that's leagues better than anything on the Q100 pop charts these days, I'm sure this is far superior to the modern comics where Iron Man started acting like such a government stooge. Yet with Kirby's original run of Eternals in print and available from all good shops, there's no more a need to need to read Gaiman's take than to rush down to the Holiday Inn. Recommended for Gaiman completists only.

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