Who waits forever anyway? Eternals (2006)

Written by Neil Gaiman
Penciled by John Romita Jr.
Inked by Danny Miki, Tom Palmer, Jesse Delperdang, Klaus Janson & Tim Townsend
Letters by Todd Klein
Colored by Matt Hollingsworth, Paul Mounts & Dean White

Neil Gaiman thinks a lot about immortality - it's a recurring theme in his works. So it's not a surprise that one of the key themes of Gaiman's Eternals is what it means to be immortal. Gaiman's Eternals are not merely long-lived, highly-evolved humans - they're engineered biological constructs, millions of years old. They cannot breed, cannot die, cannot grow or change. They're Eternal in the true sense of the word. Immortal. Immutable. Static. Stagnant.

It stands to figure that at least one Eternal isn't happy with that state of affairs. In this case, it's Sprite, the youngest of the Eternals, who has been pushed over the edge by a million years of preadolescence, a million years on the cusp of becoming something else. When sees a chance to change the world and become something else, he seizes it. And, just to make sure that no one can stop his plan, he changes the other Eternals as well, wiping their minds of their true nature in the process. Of course, the Eternals eventually regain their memories and powers, and clean up the unintended consequences of Sprite's actions.

The problem is that this isn't the end of a story. It's the begining of a story. For the first time in a million years, the Eternals have had to cope with real change. This is something that should shake them to their very core. They should be confused, frightened, by these new sensations and experiences. Some of them might be angry to have change forced upon them. Some might even long for the simple pleasures that they experienced for one sweet, shining moment.

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Of course, there's no money for Marvel in that. So the next time the Eternals show up, Gaiman's story will be referenced in a way that makes it clear it really happened, without actually following up on the consequences in any meaningful way.

I'm a little more concerned about Gaiman's treatment of the Celestials. In the book they're depicted variously as the "owners" of Earth, as avenging warriors destroying Lemuria in an act of holy vengeance, and even as mere gluttons downing Deviants by the handful. Of course, all of these depictions come from highly unreliable narrators. Everything Ikaris and Makkari recall in the first two issues is suspect, shadowy memories half-obscured by Sprite's brainwashing. The Deviants are merely repeating what Ajak told them, and may have been lying in order ensure their cooperation. Still, the extended conversation between Makkari and the Dreaming Celestial suggests that Gaiman's sensibilities don't quite align with mine.

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Gaiman's metaphor is apt, but he doesn't go far enough. I certainly couldn't explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to a blade of grass. But the lack of referents is only part of the problem. Grass is so alien, so far beneath me that being able to communicate with it is completely unthinkable. Gaiman's Celestial is not a normal human trying to talk to a blade of grass. It's a primate researcher trying to teach grammar to a chimp. This is no alien, no space god, just a creature only slightly removed from our own experience.

Still, Gaiman gets the Celestials right in at least one important aspect.

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Marvel, you're on notice. Once again the Celestials are here to observe, to watch and weigh. And one day, sooner than you think, they will pass judgment. If if you are found wanting, you will be cleansed from the Earth. Which could be a handy excuse, in case your continuity ever gets so screwed up that you need to re-set the entire damn universe or something.

Just saying.

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