Four Color Primer: Sersi & The Eternals Part 1

Chloé Zhao will be directing Marvel’s forthcoming Eternals movie

With the recent news that Marvel Studios is developing The Eternals as the next major entry into the MCU, as well as the focus on The Celestials in Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness’s new Avengers series, the selection of this year’s longbox excavation and research project was pretty easy. I’d long been fascinated by Jack Kirby’s concept of the three branches of humanity (adding Deviants and Eternals to our own lineage) ever since I pored through Mark Gruenwald’s Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe in the 80’s.

I’d had a working knowledge of the group, and of course followed Sersi during her tenure with the Avengers, as my inner teenage fanboy followed me off to college, but until now I’d never pieced together the formation of The Eternals, and hadn’t appreciated the extent to which Kirby’s vision had evolved in the decades since their inception.

from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe – Deluxe, #4 and #11 (1986)

The latest in our series of Four Color Primers unravels the origins and development of The Eternals, with a special emphasis on Sersi, historically the most interesting and active of this band of demigods. The aim with these posts has always been to function as a character survey (hopefully less convoluted than your average Wikipedia article, albeit almost always more verbose) that puts a primary consideration on the historical progression of concepts and stories passing from one creative team to the next, rather than a strict fictional biography. This is especially pertinent for The Eternals, whose original conception places their origin a million years in the past, a timeline that has seen refinement and elaboration from numerous writers and artists since Kirby first introduced us to the group in 1976.

Eternals vol. 1, #1 (1976)

Along the way, expect reading recommendations (in collected print format, as often as possible) so that you, too, can gain a firsthand appreciation for the source material that has been inspiring the recent pop culture explosion of four-color superheroic fantasy.

In that eponymous inaugural series, we learn that the Eternals came to life when titanic space-faring beings called the Celestials visited our planet eons ago and, as god-like cosmic entities are wont to do, experimented on our evolutionary ancestors. Using pre-human hominids, this “first host” of Celestials manipulated the genetic stock of our forebears in order to create three distinct branches of life: we humans, the beautiful and seemingly immortal Eternals, and the hideously unstable race of Deviants.

To fully appreciate the inspiration for Jack Kirby’s Eternals, however, we need to first go back several decades, before The King’s groundbreaking work at Marvel and the launch of their 1960’s superhero revolution. Jack and ancient aliens have had an impressively long (and, as conspiracy theorists have suggested, eerily involved) history together.

Eternals summoned to Olympia by Zuras to form the Uni-MInd (Eternals #11, 1977)

Ancient Aliens and Realms Eternal
Early Kirby comic stories hint at a fascination that, in subsequent decades and for different publishers, would border on obsession. In “The Great Stone Face” for Black Cat Mystic Comics #59 (1957), adventurers investigate an ancient carving of a giant stone head, hidden away for millennia deep in the heart of Africa.

from Black Cat Mystic Comics #59 (1957)

The origins of this massive head are alien in nature, suggesting a tantalizing mystery of pre-historic visitations from beyond the stars.

from Race for the Moon #2 1958)

A year later, a strip for Race for the Moon #2 entitled “The Face on Mars,” likewise involves human explorers uncovering the extraterrestrial origins of an ancient monolith, this time a colossal face on the Martian surface (almost two decades before the celebrated “face on Mars” photos of Mars’s Cydonia region taken by the Viking orbiters). Many of Kirby’s stories in the 1950’s, whether full-length tales in a monthly like DC’s Challengers of the Unknown or stories in anthologies like House of Mystery or pre-superhero Tales to Astonish, featured similar narratives of alien machinations or giant statues of seemingly inexplicable origin.

We do not know, and we have no satisfactory explanation of the origins of civilizations such as these — nor the ways in which they came to an end… The high plateaus of Bolivia and Peru give an impression of being on another planet. This is not the Earth, but Mars… human beings, skilled in metalworking and possessing observatories and scientific knowledge, may have built these giant cities thirty thousand years ago. Under whose guidance?
– Pauwels and Bergier, The Morning of the Magicians (1960)

Of course, Kirby wasn’t alone in his fictional exploration  of alien visitors. Stories of this ilk had been prevalent throughout the 1950’s in virtually every medium. But UFO yarns merged with the unexplained mystery motif in the 60’s, particularly after publication of the pseudoscientific exploration of historical phenomena, The Morning of the Magicians, by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier. Passages in this book on vanished South American civilizations in particular may have inspired the pre-Colombian style on display in “Great Stone Face” and, more significantly, The Eternals many years later.

Chariots has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide since 1968

In 1968, Erich Von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods? took the compendium-style collection of conspiracies and mysteries in Magicians and posited a more concrete theory: humanity had been visited by aliens in the distant past, regarded then as deities, who were responsible for creating or guiding the creation of anything from monumental artifice to sophisticated cities. As influential as this text is for what becomes The Eternals, this fervent fantasy cocktail requires the distillation of another crucial Kirby passion. And for that, we look to the Silver Age rebirth of the Marvel universe.

Marvel’s Journey into Mystery, during the new Marvel Age, became the Thor book, a monthly superhero title increasingly more entrenched in the interconnected universe of comic book characters, most of whom swung from New York skyscrapers or held back interstellar invasions while headquartered in Manhattan skyscrapers or Central Park mansions. Unique to this title, however, was a backdrop of myths and legends from the Norse tradition. Gods like Odin and Loki were given life in a superhero context and Kirby, alongside Stan Lee, had given themselves access to a wealth of storied characters and settings from which they could populate this new corner of the Marvel universe.

the first Tales of Asgard story (Journey into Mystery #97, 1963)

But it wasn’t until Journey into Mystery #97 (1963) that the legendary tales of the Viking gods became more than just superficial inspiration for Thor’s supporting cast. In the first Tales of Asgard back-up feature, Kirby breaks from the typical superhero comic book conventions and starts telling stories more directly tied to Norse lore. The feature, which ran for several years, still employs the Kirby bombast and Lee hyperbole that was on display in just about every issue of The Fantastic Four, but the stories are mostly strict interpretations of legend, and rarely draw reference to the capes n’ tights community.

Despite being one of the principal architects of Marvel’s celebrated continuity, Kirby wasn’t a fan of this ever-expanding, infinite connectivity of characters and concepts. Perhaps he begrudged the company for keeping the products of his imagination, properties owned by Marvel, as permanent sources of stories and profits. Or maybe he just felt, as a storyteller, that every good tale should have a beginning and an ending. Create opportunities for fresh ideas; start anew. That was how comic stories had been in the decades prior, of course. And that’s how even the great saga of the Norse gods had been foretold. There was a beginning, a middle replete with tales of adventure and mystery, and then, Ragnarok — the death of the gods, the end of times, and a clean slate for a new era.

Kirby’s vision of a world post-Ragnarok, and the “new gods” who come into being (Thor #128, 1966)

When it comes time to tell that story in Tales of Asgard, here narrated as a vision of the future rather than something happening within present continuity, we are introduced to another Kirby constant: the rise of new gods.

the young, new race of gods which joyously takes domain over all it beholds..! And, in time, this new race spawns a new civilization… a new golden age… a new rebirth, as glorious as any the world has ever known!
– “Tales of Asgard: Aftermath,” Thor #128 (1966)

The New God Lonar surveys the ruined home of the Old Gods, finding an all-too familiar helmet (Forever People #5, 1971)

After Jack Kirby’s departure from Marvel in 1970 and subsequent defection to DC, he debuted his “Fourth World” saga in the pages of Forever PeopleMister Miracle, Jimmy Olsen, and, most importantly, New Gods. That flagship series opens with the premise that “when the old gods died — there arose the New Gods.” There are hints throughout the Fourth World books that those old gods in question are in fact the deities of the Realm Eternal, those Asgardians whose interminable storyline vexed Kirby and impinged upon his desire to create a reborn pantheon of characters.

Sadly, Kirby was no more able to properly conclude his New Gods story for DC than he was the Old Gods story for Marvel. None of the Fourth World titles made it for more than eighteen issues. Kirby never had the chance to craft the climactic battle between the heroic gods of New Genesis and the evil denizens of Apokolips, and even minor storylines introduced by other writers limped along into bare relevance after several attempts at reviving the core series.

Return of the Gods
Seeds had been sown and concepts had been explored, paving the way for what arguably would be Jack’s most “Kirby” work to date. When he reached an agreement to return to Marvel in 1975, Jack’s contract included complete control over the Captain America title (which resulted in some of the weirdest Cap stories ever) as well as the opportunity to debut the culmination of so many favorite themes and motifs in his newest series, The Eternals.

The banner declaration on The Eternals #2 (1976) draws a very clear correlation to one of Kirby’s inspirations

The working title for The Eternals was actually Return of the Gods, which even more clearly suggests that Kirby’s inspiration for the series included the pseudoscientific theories of Pauwels, Bergier, and Von Däniken. In an afterword to the first issue, Kirby expresses the creative genesis for the series rather clearly: “What did happen in those remote days of men’s early struggle for civilized status? What is the true meaning of the myths which shared a global similarity among diverse peoples? Did beings of an extra terrestrial nature touch down among us and influence our lives to this present day? And then, the all-important question of the lot — are these beings in some cosmic orbit which will lead them back to us someday?”

Damian, Margo, and “Ike” discover evidence of Celestial presence below the Andes (Eternals #1, 1976)

The series opens with mysterious “Ike Harris” leading archaeologist Doctor Damian and his daughter Margo into the long-lost Chamber of the Gods, deep beneath the Andean plains. Ike, as we soon learn, is actually the Eternal Ikaris, and this vast complex he helps them uncover was created by the Celestials, the “gods” in question whose return is now imminent.

Ikaris goes on to explain how the Celestials, in their initial visit to our planet one million years ago, established the evolutionary chain reaction that would produce three distinct humanoid races. This “first host” of Celestials experimented on our hominid ancestor, “the dawn ape,” and from there guided the creation of humans, Eternals, and Deviants.

Deviants, Humans, and Eternals, as explained by Ikaris (Eternals #1, 1976)

In ancient times, the savage and genetically inconstant Deviants, from their home base on the continent of Lemuria, used their power and superior technology to subjugate humanity. According to Ikaris, over the course of human history, our ancient stories of demons, giants and other brutish enslavers were interpretations of actual encounters with Deviants. When the Celestials returned to Earth in a second host, some 20,000 years ago, they punished the Deviants by destroying Lemuria and sinking it beneath the oceans. The ensuing “Great Flood” threatened humanity as well, but Ikaris explains how he helped guide a floating ark full of people and animals to safety.

Makkari chalks up his Mercury identity to a human speech impediment (Eternals #5, 1976)

In this way Eternals have likewise been slightly misrepresented by human cultures. As opposed to giving rise to stories of monsters and sunken kingdoms, humans regarded the Eternals as gods, slightly confusing their names in the process. The speedy Eternal Makkari, for example, is who the Romans referred to as Mercury. Warrior maiden Thena was confused for Athena, and her father, Prime Eternal Zuras, for Zeus, both by the ancient Greeks. And the Eternals’ home in Greece, Olympia, was spoken of by early civilizations as Olympus, home of the gods.

The “real” gods, that is, the Celestials who molded these species in dawn times, are now returning as the fourth host. And according to Ajak, the one Eternal who is able to communicate with the Celestials, they have come to judge the planet and its three dominant species, ourselves included.

the Celestials return! (Eternals #2, 1976)

The colossal beings emerge and seal off an area in the mountains, a staging area from which the Celestials begin a fifty-year evaluation. Thumbs up, and the planet can proceed. Thumbs down, and, well… we assume the worst. The means by which Celestials deal with a planet whose seeded genetics are judged a failure is explored by other writers in the 80’s and 90’s (spoiler: it’s bad). So Ikaris, who feels responsible for protecting not just his small breed of fellow Eternals, but the more fragile and unsuspecting humans as well, rallies his kinsmen to prepare both species for the period of judgement.

Arishem, leader of the Fourth Host, begins his fifty-year assessment of Earth (Eternals #3, 1976)

Meanwhile, the Deviants, led by Warlord Kro, plot to destroy the new Celestial host, both as revenge for the devastating attack by the second host millennia ago, and as a precautionary attempt to stave off a planet-wide execution.

with the Human Torch unavailable due to licensing issues, Kirby created H.E.R.B.I.E. as the fourth member of the Fantastic Four for the 1978 animated series

Kirby’s Eternals series only lasted for nineteen issues and one annual. Over the course of the series he introduces us to more titular characters and a full cast of Deviants. In the shadow of the fourth host’s silent observation of Earth, Kirby develops more backstory, including a chilling look at life in undersea Lemuria and the shameful treatment of the Mutates, an offshoot of the already genetically unstable Deviants. He chronicles humanity’s reaction to not just the arrival of the Celestials, but to the revelation that we have been sharing this planet with two awesome kindred species. What he doesn’t do, unfortunately, is resolve the outcome of the Celestial judgement. Once again, Kirby’s series is canceled before he has the opportunity to wrap up the story himself. When he leaves Marvel in 1978, the departure from comics is permanent: Kirby enters the more financially rewarding animation industry, and we are left to wonder if and how he ever intended to conclude his Eternals saga.

Sersi & The Eternals
Although the roster of Eternals even in the original series is extensive, and has continued to grow in the decades since, let’s focus on some key players.

Ikaris gets most of the attention at the onset of Kirby’s series, and despite not being the Prime Eternal (an honor reserved for Zuras), Ikaris is clearly among, if not the, most powerful of his race. He flies, has god-like strength, and can shoot powerful beams of cosmic energy out of his eyeballs. Like all Eternals, he is immortal. Technically, and this is a point made several times in Kirby’s series, Eternals aren’t just immortal, they’re unkillable. The hows and whys of this aren’t explored until much later, but suffice to stay it takes a lot to get rid of one of these guys.

Dr. Holden introduces the world to several Eternals and a Deviant (Eternals #6, 1976). From left to right: Makkari, Thena, the Deviant Kro, Sersi, the human Margo Damian, and Ikaris

Makkari is the speedster of the group. Ajak, who, in issue #2, is reconstituted in the Andean facility, has the ability to communicate with the Celestials. He’s the guy who gives everyone the bad news regarding the fourth host’s visit to Earth. Thena is the wise warrior and daughter of Zuras. She’s also been having a secret love affair with Warlord Kro, one of the commanders of the Deviant forces. Kro, for his part, is fiercely loyal to his king and, in his own way, showcases a kind of prideful nobility.

Sprite gives The Forgotten One a fresh spacesuit in Eternals #13 (1977)

There’s Sprite and The Forgotten One, the former an impish prankster and the latter a legendary warrior, who was once cast out of Olympia by Zuras. There’s Domo, a Metron-like chair-bound technologist; and Druig, a stern and sinister member of the northern sect of Polar Eternals.

the Uni-Mind “lives in the climate of catastrophe… defines the nature of cataclysms, and seeks the path to survival” (Eternals #12, 1977)

Zuras is the wise old red-bearded leader of the race and, apart from maybe Ikaris, seems to have the most cosmic energy at his disposable for psionic blasts and explosions and shit. As the Prime Eternal, he also has the singular ability of forming the Uni-Mind, a massive, floating brain-like blob composed of the molecular energy of all of the Eternals. The Uni-Mind is formed in times of dire need and, as such, we first see it in issue #12 (1977) when the Eternals need to collectively process the Celestials’ visit.

And then there’s Sersi. She is introduced in issue #3, dancing across a classic Kirby splash page, a composition of color, geometry, and dynamism that is as impressive as any of his full-spread depictions of cosmic fantasy and magical machinery.

Sersi’s first appearance (Eternals #3, 1976)

Sersi, unlike the other Eternals who live in isolation either in Olympia or at the North Pole, chooses to live among humans. She is a Manhattan elite, with a reputation for throwing the best parties on the West Side. And in this issue, Ikaris asks her to protect Margo Damian, the woman whose father, the intrepid archaeologist with questionable parenting instincts, abandoned his daughter to remain sealed off for the rest of his life in the Andean staging area of Celestial judgement.

Sersi’s primary power is molecular rearrangement. Most Eternals, to some degree, can extend their mastery over their own atomic structure to other objects, but with Sersi this ability is off the charts. She can transform virtually anything, organic or inorganic, with a flick of the wrist or a crackly eye-blast. As is explored in later years by other creative teams, this singular ability makes her arguably one of the most powerful super-types in the Marvel universe (I mean, just look at what Jim Shooter and Jonathan Hickman were able to do with goofy little Owen Reece).

Sersi reveals a long history of living among mortal humans, and
claims to have been mistaken by different cultures over the millennia for various mythic and legendary magic-wielding types. Key among them, of course, is Circe, the sorcerer-goddess most notable for having turned half of Odysseus’ crew into pigs in Homer’s epic.

Sersi explains that she was once regarded as Circe, the ancient Greek sorceress who crossed paths with Odysseus

Interestingly enough, as the late great Captain of Continuity Mark Gruenwald points out in the aforementioned Handbook of the Marvel Universe, if we believe that the Circe of myth was a real person in the Marvel universe, and she was actually Sersi the Eternal… then her first appearance actually happened more than a decade earlier.

arguably Sersi’s “real” first appearance, from Strange Tales #109 (1963)

In a Human Torch story for Strange Tales #109, Lee and Kirby introduce a sorcerer who attempts to wreak havoc with Pandora’s Box. In reviewing the history of said container of chaos, the antagonist narrates how Circe was responsible for wrangling all of those pesky evils back into the box.

The Sersi of Kirby’s Eternals is marvelously self-confident, with a joie de vivre underscored by frequent encouragement to her fellow Eternals to be less dull and rigid. When the Eternals contingent prepares to reveal their existence to the public, along with an exposition on Deviants and Celestials, they seek the help of City College professor Dr. Samuel Holden. Sersi takes immediately to Dr. Holden, and her flirtations throughout the series provide numerous scenes of comic relief.

Dr. Holden’s bust displays for lectures on the three branches of humanity (Eternals #8, 1977)

An interesting side-note: Dr. Holden is also the name of the explorer who discovers the colossal buried head in Kirby’s “Stone Face” strip from the 1950’s. A real-life archaeologist, Dr. William Curry Holden, furthermore, is famously rumored to have connections to the Roswell UFO crash in the 1940’s. I’m 99% sure that this is all coincidence. But that 1% sure makes for some fun conspiracy theories, don’t it?

A Crisis of Continuity
The relatively quick cancellation of The Eternals and, indeed, the short tenure of Kirby’s return to Marvel, was in large part due to marginal sales on the title. The company that Jack returned to in 1975, after less than half a decade away, was already a dramatically different place. Continuity was the new king, and fans and professionals alike placed tremendous stock in the inter-connectivity of characters, settings, and storylines.

Charles Hatfield, in an article for a 1998 issue of Jack Kirby Collector, sums up the restrictive expectations of the Marvel editors in the mid-70’s:

Marvel was now a scripter’s world, its continuity anxiously defended by writers both fannish and professional. From its pell-mell origins, the Marvel universe had grown into stability under the scripter’s touch, with the once-radical ideas of yesterday curbing creativity in the now. Continuity, as well as editorial mass, pressured production at Marvel, and the stars of the moment were writer/editors as opposed to cartoonists.
– Charles Hatfield, “On Kirby’s Unexpected Constants,” Jack Kirby Collector #18 (Jan, 1998)

Kirby had enjoyed a good deal of autonomy at DC, and even though his ideas for the Fourth World saga would go on to become critical building blocks in DC’s developing universe, Jack was still able to tell his stories the way he wanted. He must have been promised a similar degree of independence upon his return to Marvel; his Captain America run is famously problematic, and The Eternals, from its opening issues, was very clearly intended to exist outside of the Marvel universe. We’ll see a Deviant horde masquerading as Biblical demons setting fire to New York City… and apparently the only super-powered folks on hand to oppose them are a handful of Eternals. Reference is made to characters like The Thing and Doctor Doom as though they are nothing more than fictional comic book characters.

S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in the Andes come face to face with Gammenon the Gatherer (Eternals #6, 1976)

The letters pages in those early issues played host to a lively debate. A discussion kicked off, interestingly enough, with a verbose letter by one Ralph Macchio in Eternals #3. This is the same Ralph Macchio who would go on to write for Marvel a few months later, initiating a long and successful career of his own in comics.

Ralph Macchio’s letter in favor of universe segregation (Eternals #3, 1976)

Macchio’s main point: “But I firmly believe, after much thought, that the Earth inhabited by the Eternals should not be the Earth of the Marvel Super-Heroes. In fact, it’s imperative they be kept separate… If you graft the new Kirby-mythos onto the Marvel mythos, you’re asking for inevitable contradictions that will destroy two of the most important elements that make Marvel, Marvel: continuity and verisimilitude.”

Fans argued as to whether or not Kirby’s new concepts and characters should be folded into Marvel’s universe and, if so, how it could happen. There were as many fans that agreed with Macchio as there were fans who preferred integration. Declining sales, however, likely spurred editorial pressure, and Kirby made two very halfhearted attempts at appeasing the call for continuity.

In issue #6, we meet a trio of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who have been tasked by the government to investigate the dome sealing off the Celestials’ Andean staging area (and, as it turns out, to attempt to blow the big bastards up if deemed necessary). The way these characters are introduced, and, indeed, the way they make zero mention of their organization other than a few passing references, seem to indicate that Stevenson, Tyler, and Parks were originally conceived as standard government agents, or military personnel of some sort. The S.H.I.E.L.D. connection must have been either forced on Kirby by Marvel, or have been part of a conscious effort on the artist’s part to attempt to unify both parties across the continuity divide.

Agent Stevenson confronts Ajak within the Andean Celestial complex (Eternals #7, 1977)

Months later, in a more bizarre attempt at placing the Eternals within the Marvel universe, Ikaris, Makkari, and Sersi are forced to do battle with The Incredible Hulk. Issues #14 and #15 seemed to indicate that, once and for all, the Eternals, Celestials, Deviants and all the rest were in fact part of that celebrated and carefully curated Marvel continuity. And I’m sure having one of the company’s most valuable properties — a Kirby co-creation no less — prominently displayed on the covers was meant to help boost sales for the struggling title.

The Eternals face off against the Hulk! But, not exactly… (Eternals #14, 1977)

As it turns out, however, this Hulk isn’t Bruce Banner at all, but a robot made by some college kids (certainly my favorite part about college was how much free time we all had to fabricate lifelike killer androids). The science project gets caught up in the Uni-Mind backwash and is somehow imbued with cosmic energy. Once this FrankenHulk wakes up, he starts trashing the town, and the only superheroes around to take care of the problem are the book’s titular characters.

Maybe it was a cheap marketing gimmick. Maybe Kirby was testing the waters to see if fans would go for a more deliberate effort at integrating these characters into the grander continuity. Or maybe Kirby was already one foot out the door but wanted the title to have a long enough leash so that he could finish his story. There was still the little matter of the Celestials’ judgment, after all.

just kidding kids! This might NOT be your Marvel universe (Eternals #14, 1977)

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Among other plot threads left hanging when the series was canceled, in addition to the most obvious issue of Celestials vs. Earth, are the conflict between Ikaris and his evil cousin Druig, the fate of isolated Doctor Damian, and the Mutate uprising against their Deviant oppressors.

Eson the Searcher, one of the many Celestials appearing around the globe to conduct their assessment of Earth (Eternals #9, 1977)

I can’t say that I completely agree with Charles Hatfield, the Kirby scholar who saw Marvel’s strict adherence to continuity in the 1970’s as a curbing of creativity. Like all great story worlds, whether tales of ancient Greek heroes or Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, there is great potential for growth and exploration when a variety of creators are given opportunities to build upon a foundation. It takes a little time — more than two years before the first threads are spun — but the stable of creatives working for Marvel in the subsequent decades make good use of Kirby’s Celestial storyline, weaving it firmly into the existing tapestry of the Marvel universe.

It isn’t surprising that the first effort to incorporate the Eternals not just into Marvel’s future, but their past as well was spearheaded by none other than Mark Gruenwald. In a back-up feature to What If? beginning with issue #23 (1980) entitled “Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe,” Gruenwald retells the origin of the the three human species on Earth, beginning with the arrival of the first Celestial host.

Gruenwald and artist Ron Wilson’s version of the coming of the First Host (What If? #23, 1980)

The feature runs for six issues, during which time Gruenwald and, believe it or not, Ralph Macchio, take characters introduced back in the early 70’s and connect them to the saga of the Eternals.

the forces of Chronos triumph in Ralph Macchio’s “The First Eternals” (What If? #24, 1980)

Gruenwald and Macchio relate the tale of the first generation of Eternals, and the civil war that results in a cultural rift. It begins millennia ago with Chronos, a scientist who is researching his race’s connection to life-sustaining cosmic energy. He is opposed by his tyrannical brother Uranos, who prefers that the Eternals spend time focusing on using their superior might to “advance on the weaker world around us and subdue it.” Chronos’s side wins the war, and as punishment Uranos and a few of his supporters are banished elsewhere in our solar system.

Titanos becomes a city of peace and learning again, and Chronos fathers two sons, Zuras and A’lars. He returns to his laboratory, and while on the verge of finally discovering the Eternals’ link to the universe, he causes a devastatingly explosive release of the very cosmic energy that he had been studying. The radiance from the resulting blast destroys the Eternal city of Titanos, but it also becomes the source of the species’ immortality.

the experiment and resulting cataclysm by which Chronos becomes Kronos (What If? #24, 1980)

Chronos becomes one with the universe. He is now the cosmic entity known as Kronos. Zuras, now grown, is chosen to lead the Eternals on Earth. He’s the same Zuras we know to be the Prime Eternal from Kirby’s series. A’lars, convinced that his destiny lies among the stars, takes a contingent of Eternals into space, where he soon discovers the settlement once established by his uncle Uranos on Saturn’s moon Titan, and fathers two children of his own, Eros and Thanos.

the exiled Uranos and his followers establish the Eternal community on Saturn’s moon, Titan (What If? #28, 1981)

All of this connects back to the work of another master of cosmic space opera, the early Marvel work of one Jim Starlin. In 1973’s Iron Man #55 he introduces us to Kronos, Mentor (otherwise known as A’lars), and Mentor’s sons Eros (later to be known as the Avenger Starfox) and Thanos (yes, that Thanos).

Kronos helps Mentor (also known as A’lars) in Iron Man #55 (1973)

I like to think that Macchio’s role in this integration meant that he came around to the idea of a bigger, better universe populated by more of Kirby’s creations. Or maybe his letter-writing reputation earned him the job of tidying up books after a Celestial visitation: he takes over Thor after Roy Thomas puts a bow on the Fourth Host; he takes over Avengers after Roger Stern brings the Eternals back to modern relevance. More on these two storylines in the next installment of this primer.

We know now that Kirby’s “Chariots” concepts are well and truly integrated into the Marvel universe proper, and we’ve all seen how the development of the Titanic Eternals in particular have resulted in Thanos becoming a pop culture icon. But some other Eternals take on special roles in the coming years as well.

Sersi brings a date to the Uni-Mind ritual (Eternals #11, 1977)

Despite being generally characterized as frivolous and self-absorbed, Sersi seems to have been one of Kirby’s important links between humanity and the great celestial architects of the cosmos. She is the one Eternal who truly appreciates human beings, despite all their faults and foibles, preferring to spend most of her time among them. In this initial volume of The Eternals, in fact, she even falls for Dr. Holden, the stodgy professor, as far removed from immortal beings or even superhuman mortals as possible.

As the characters and concepts are turned over to subsequent creators, however, the sympathetic quality of Sersi’s character gets obscured by an increasingly vapid personality. Even when she becomes the face of the Eternals and a long-time member of the Avengers in the 1990’s, she is often portrayed with a smug arrogance that seemingly falls more in line with the Circe of myth than the Sersi of Kirby’s original intentions.

That’s not to say that her development in the decade is uninteresting. Quite the contrary. During an era in which much of the non-mutant offerings from the House of Ideas proved stale and inconsequential, Sersi’s contributions to the Avengers and Ultraforce storylines still hold up, and helped pave the way for Neil Gaiman’s eventual Eternals reboot in 2006.

Eternal Origins

The Eternals by Jack Kirby, Volume 1 (2016)

The first collection of the Eternals series is a must-read for any fans of Kirby or Bronze Age superhero stories. This edition collects all the preliminary mythos-building, with details on the Celestials, the Eternals, and the machinations of the Deviants.

The Eternals by Jack Kirby, Volume 2 (2016)

Although the series trails off a bit during the second half of its life, this volume is still worth reading for the Uni-Mind ritual, more fabulous Celestial art, and the intriguing story of the Mutate rebellion in undersea Lemuria.

What If? Classic, Volume 4 (2016)

Gruenwald and Macchio’s secret history begins in this volume of What If? and continues into volume 5. And of course lots of great classic alternate reality tales, including one of my favorites: “What if Gwen Stacy Had Lived?” by Tony Isabella and Gil Kane.

The continuation of the Eternals’ story in the 80’s and 90’s features a more earnest attempt to integrate them into the Marvel universe. Part of that effort involves showcasing Sersi in one of the company’s premier superhero team books.

New revelations regarding the Celestials and their prized experiments, as well as the dimension-hopping adventures of Sersi as a member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, will be the focus of part two of this primer.

Other Four Color Primers:
Black Panther