The Eternals are the immortal guardians of Earth, created by the Celestials to protect the planet from any and all threats, including “excess deviation.” While each Eternal is an individual, collectively they are part of The Great Machine. The Great Machine is a massive living supercomputer that, for all intents and purposes, is the Earth itself. As parts of The Great Machine, the Eternals are just that: Eternal. They can be killed, but as long as The Machine functions they cannot die. And since The Great Machine is the Earth, well, the Eternals are not going anywhere. Even when one of their cycles is driven to madness and death by the revelation of a horrible truth, The Great Machine will ensure that Eternals find their way back to life, back to duty, back to themselves (and given the Eternals’ nature, life, duty, and the self are all wrapped up in each other.
Here’s the thing though: as mighty and without end as the Eternals are, The Great Machine is still a machine. And machines can be sabotaged. Trouble is that since The Great Machine is Earth, whoever sabotaged it sabotaged the planet. To make matters worse, given the nature of the sabotage, the saboteur must be an Eternal. And they have resurrected none other than Thanos (an Eternal by heritage if not culture) to act as their agent.
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Thus, as annihilation (not to be confused with Annihilation) approaches, the Eternals go to work. The questions are these: Who sabotaged The Great Machine and sicced Thanos on their fellow Eternals? Why? How do they repair The Great Machine before everything burns? And what does an extremely ordinary teenage boy from New York named Toby Robson have to do with all of this?
The answers, harrowing though some of them may be, are of vital importance to The Eternals.
The Game-Player (not from Titan, but not averse to using the Mad Titan):
Only Death is Eternal collects the first six issues of this volume of Eternals. Esad Ribić is its artist, Matthew Wilson its color artist, Clayton Cowles its letterer, and Kieron Gillen its writer. In terms of craft, I stand by what I wrote in my reviews of the first two-thirds of this story: Eternals is one heck of a comic. Ribić’s Eternals are distinct, majestic, and a bit unsettling. Each of them is so thoroughly defined by a core tenet that it shapes their body language as much as it does their behavior.
Consider the above panel: Sersi is confident, even comfortable in a decidedly fraught confrontation with warrior/scholar Thena. Fraught is where she lives. Fraught is what she knows how to navigate. She knows that Thena is more than capable of backing up her implicit threat, and she’s completely comfortable with that — because what would a tense interrogation of one of the Eternals’ greatest warriors be without an implicit threat? For Eternals, extreme is their ordinary. It’s part of their system.
Ribić and Wilson capture this beautifully, with the Eternals far more at home amidst fantastical vistas and clashes with Thanos than, say, a New York suburb.
Likewise, taking in Only Death is Eternal as a whole reveals its scripting to be an impressive piece of work from Gillen. He’s juggling a tremendous number of balls in this story arc thanks to the Eternals’ ensemble and the story’s tendency to jump from place to place and time to time. Not only does Gillen keep his rhythms smooth, he works in some seriously neat storytelling tricks in the process. I’m particularly taken with the tale of Toby Robson, a story thread that weaves a hell of an impact into Only Death is Eternal‘s denouement.
Indeed, while Gillen’s writing is strong throughout the book, it’s the close that makes Only Death is Eternal‘s thematic work sing. As with his beloved Marvel breakout Journey into Mystery, Gillen’s using Eternals to dig into the cyclical, static nature of character development in western superhero comics.
But where Journey‘s Kid Loki was desperately, actively trying to change, the Eternals accept their nature as constants, as permanent. This acceptance has consequences. Dire consequences. Consequences that riff on the core conception of a superheroic character and how far they can be stretched while remaining recognizably themselves.
Likewise, there’s an interesting thread between Eternals and Gillen’s longtime love of tabletop gaming — secrets, hidden information and the fallout they bring with them are vitally important to both. Who knows what, when they know it, and how they know it is vitally important both to tabletop mechanics and to the way Only Death is Eternal plays out. And given that, secrets will remain important in Eternals next arc. I’ll be curious to see what Gillen does with this, and how it’ll interact with his gaming-based work (THE and Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar) going forward.
Only Death is Eternal is a consistently strong opening for Eternals, and its ending is terrific (if a gut-punch par excellence). I’m excited to see what will come next for what Gillen’s called the team’s “berserk sci-fi mythological comic.”
‘Eternals Vol. 1: Only Death Is Eternal’ is a cosmic mystery with a haymaker of an ending
Eternals Vol. 1: Only Death Is Eternal
Ribić, Wilson, Cowles, and Gillen reintroduce Marvel’s dysfunctional immortals with a gorgeous, thrill-powered mystery. Its resolution packs a hell of a wallop, both narratively and thematically. Gillen’s continuing work with the inherently cyclical nature of corporate superhero comics remains welcomely thought-provoking.
Esad Ribić’s impossible vistas are stupendous, and his Eternals’ physicality ties into each of their characters beautifully.
Kieron Gillen’s interpretation of the Eternals as beings both shaped and trapped by their core natures leads to both excellent character work and some intriguing thematic work.
Likewise, Gillen’s ear for language remains a delight, whether it’s Thanos’ elegant boasts or The Machine’s increasingly erratic chattiness
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