[cover & interiors by Esad Ribic and Matthew Wilson]
Ah, Gillen knows how to write epic and write smart. If his recent track record is anything to go by, and I think it certainly is, Judgment Day promises to be a special treat—and thankfully while it’s sure to be big and consequential, it won’t be watered down as a company-wide event. Even so, I’m happy to bet it will be better, at least in terms of the comics I’d like to read more of, than any such recent Marvel events (King in Black, Empyre, even Heroes Reborn, etc.). It will clearly be focused on the two rosters of Gillen’s two titles, Eternals and Immortal X-Men, but it’s also refreshing that he’s getting a crack at writing the Avengers, especially as Earth’s Mightiest have been, for the past several years, in dire need of a fresh perspective.
Farewell, Eternals – We Hardly Knew Ye?
Intriguingly, with Eternals #12, the “Hail Thanos” finale, we see now that Thanos is, for now, tidied away before the big event—and yet it’s not at all as if Gillen just created a 12-issue filler to whittle down the time before Judgment Day. The first twelve issues of this series will go down as a major redefinition of not just the Eternals but, more excitingly, the Mad Titan himself.
As for the finale itself, it is also in fact the end of this series. Happily, Esad Ribic returns in fine form here, after his break last issue, making this maxiseries such an effectively tight and consistent story from start to finish. If you’ve read this final chapter, you know how smartly Thanos has been dealt with—along with Uranos’ ancient secret armory.
And now, the hero of the hour is Prime Eternal: Druig. Which, looking back, we see as perfectly aligned with Druig’s snaky ambitions since the start of the series. Still, it came as a surprise after the rush of events. And while the Free Comic Book Day issue released a week prior doesn’t spoil this reveal, that preview story (the part with the header: “Krakoa, now”) is clearly set after Eternals #12, and I’m glad I waited to read it after reading the “Hail Thanos” finale. Of course, if you haven’t been following Gillen’s Eternals, I’d think that the FCBD teaser would come off as pretty flat—you’re getting the most basic info necessary to pick up Judgment Day going forward, but you’ll be missing all the fascinating context and nuance, the deep history and distinctive characterization Gillen created for this previously dreadfully boring IP.
At first, I was really surprised that what had currently been the best ongoing Marvel series just wrapped up here. Of course, Gillen is continuing his Eternals stories in the Judgment Day event—but that appears to be it for some time. This certainly feels like it’s coming down from on high rather than Gillen’s own choice. And that begs the question of whether the Judgment Day remit was actually originally meant as the third arc of his Eternals. Maybe it would’ve been the final one, too, but who knows. Sales-wise, the series was clearly a sleeper hit; still, anyone who actually gave it a look was an immediate fan, and we want to know where these fascinating characters will go next.
Druig. Phastos. Makkari. Sersi. Ajak. Thena. Ikaris (still desperate to do good). Gilgamesh. Kingo. Sprite. Jack of Knives. Uranos. A’Lars. Sui-San. All these and more have so much story, past and future, yet to tell.
Now, for the series immediate follow-up with Judgment Day, we should expect the big revelation here to play out at least its first act: In Ajak’s summoning of a Celestial “ghost” (temporary digital avatar?) which turned into a brutal interrogation, she discovered that all along the Deviants, not the Eternals, are those who matter most to the Celestials.
What Are Deviants?
In other words, and per another mind-blowing Eternals data page, the Deviants were the ones who were designed to “act upon the necrofluid” that spilled from the dying Progenitor on Earth four billion years ago (I think this is Gillen’s own original term for what I remember Jason Aaron just calling god’s vomit or pus, as mentioned here as well. But I can’t help but think Gillen is once again improving upon a big concept vaguely, um, hurled up from the dank haze of Aaron’s stoner death metal musings). The Deviants are apparently something like Earth’s antibodies, somehow “stabilizing” the necrofluid’s toxicity—except when particular Deviants prove unable to overcome that noxiousness, they succumb to “excess deviation.” That is where the Eternals step in, “to ensure that the Changing People do not entirely destroy themselves.”
So, the Eternals are no more than superhumanly perfect, self-glorified caretakers. Now, wait—wasn’t that what they already knew themselves to be? Sure; they just thought they were caretaking Earth, and typically from the threat posed by the Deviants. What works about this retcon is that it doesn’t seem the Celestials ever lied to the Eternals; the Eternals, it appears, just assumed they were the center of Terran cosmology (along with the Machine—another Gillen contribution to the Eternals mythos—which has been interpreted as more or less important than Earth itself, defining Earth as the overall ecosystem of biological life). And so, whenever the necrofluids are stabilized through Deviant interaction/metabolism, they’re passed on somehow “to other biological beings.”
We’re left with the critical tidbit that this process has ramped up over the past few centuries, meaning that “the Deviants are the mothers of the Age of Marvels.” So, we’re presented with the immediate question: Are mutants the children, through whatever fantastic bio-magic, of Deviant biology—and are human mutates (Spider-Man, the FF, Black Panther, super-soldiers, Hulks, etc.) also similarly descended?
The next question, from the Eternals’ perspective, might be: Isn’t this all too much—excess deviation?
For Druig, as we see at the very end, not just Krakoa but Arakko—“Deviants on Mars,” as he assumes—“sounds like the very definition of ‘excess deviation’”—“How shocking!” In fact, he’s delighted.
What Does Eternal War Look Like?
Readers have already seen some clear devious similarities between Druig and Sinister, two characters that Gillen really knows how to write the snaky hell out of, and I can’t help but assume Druig’s interest here is more Sinister-esque than traditionally “Eternal.”
To a zealous true believer like Ajak this is all devastating, a breaking of her faith—a sure recipe for apostasy against what she would view as apostate gods. The question for her, then, is which way will she be turned by the Eternals’ suddenly quickly shifting fortunes? After all, she seems most tied up with traditional dogma among her kind and thus potentially the least sympathetic and humane … barring the omnicidal Uranos. Previously, it was hard to imagine any of the major Eternals we’re familiar with siding with the Uranites, but now, who knows.
What matters is that the disarray of Eternals society is sure to sharpen and clarify new factions that we’ll see manifest varying levels of belligerence and rhetoric. Or that’s the compelling worldbuilding complexity that I’d hope we would get.
But regardless of how they lash out, the Eternals have waged large-scale wars against each other across geological time—godlike conflicts totally alien to Earth’s modern metahumans. If they were to really unite against Krakoa, most Krakoans would be woefully unprepared. From the outside, that’s a credible threat, but Eternals fans know such unity would never be a reality.
Also—there is Arakko, and, insanely, that’s what Druig will apparently be gunning for. Again, to what end?
Yet we still haven’t met a number of Eternals, like the Oceanic Watch (some of whom previously appeared, twice at most, in totally forgotten issues of What If?) and the mysterious Hex that Druig is so taken with (hinted at in the FCBD issue)—as well as the criminal Tricks, of whom we’ve met only Jack of Knives.
Druig is laying a heavy bet on the Hex, an unknown quantity to everybody else. Should we be worried, then, if with them in his pocket, he thinks he can take down Arakko?
A Chance for Metahuman Solidarity?
However, from the human mutate and mutant perspective, this common ancestry or at least inflection through Deviant biology could potentially be an opportunity for Earth’s two main types of metahuman finding some common ground—not to assimilate one into the other, but to create an ancient narrative that could establish the solidarity that’s always been missing between the heroic metahuman communities.
But hey, if nothing else, Gillen is on the verge of clarifying what Marvel has only vaguely and haphazardly gestured at for decades, since creators after Kirby hemmed and hawed about what to do with his mythos of the Celestials, Eternals and Deviants. We might finally see a straightforward “evolutionary” narrative that doesn’t so much exhaustively explain the origin of “the Age of Marvels” but straightforwardly reframes it such that it simply becomes clearer and more useful/generative of future storytelling.
Also satisfying this issue, the Eternals’ “misunderstanding fight” with the Avengers is resolved but without sorting back out into “Hey, we’re all really friends here, right?” Nope! Instead, Earth’s Mightiest are justifiably put out with the condescending Eternals for keeping secrets, treating them like children (and mayflies) and just generally being condescending pricks with way too much power. And yet Sersi’s response to the Avengers’ outrage is at least honest, as she really lets her guard down: “You shouldn’t trust [us…] We’ve endured. That’s terribly suspicious.”
And yes, bitterest of ironies, it’s nice to see the Avengers get a taste of what it’s like, including Thor. Now, with these three powerful, heroically aligned metahuman types at loggerheads, there could be opportunity for self-reflection and greater communication about what exactly shared power and responsibility mean for all involved, the whole world. Again, this is all wonderfully generative of further storytelling.
There’s much to speculate about going into the summer event. But damn, I will miss this too-brief series—and the dream team of Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribic.