Superheroes are not a recent phenomenon in the Marvel Universe. Created by the legendary Jack "King" Kirby, a race of super-powered beings called The Eternals have used their fantastic abilities to safeguard and protect humanity for many thousands of years. A new age begins for these heroes this week, as the first issue of the ongoing "Eternals" series hits the stands courtesy of writers Daniel Knauf & Charles Knauf and artist Daniel AcuÃ±a. CBR News spoke with the Knaufs about the series.
The Knaufs began working for Marvel when they took over "Iron Man: Agent of Shield" with 2005's issue #7. When Marvel offered the father-son team a crack at the Eternals, they eagerly accepted. "The narrative in 'Iron Man' is kind of a straight line and the 'Eternals' is a little bit more of an organic narrative. You're moving from one situation and one set of characters to another," Daniel Knauf told CBR News. "We thought that was good because what we really wanted was a change up from 'Iron Man,' which is hard science and very rooted in political and geopolitical reality. So we thought this series will be nice; we can move over and do a completely different thing."
"Eternals" is an ensemble book that picks up many of the characters and concepts used in the recent Eternals graphic novel by writer Neil Gaiman and artist John Romita, Jr. At the end of Gaiman's story, the character of Makkari had begun to communicate with the Dreaming Celestial. In the ongoing series, their relationship continues and has elevated Makkari's status among his fellow Eternals. "He's kind of a reluctant religious figure," Charles Knauf said. "And he's kind of fallen into this power. Originally, he was more of this happy go lucky speedster and all of sudden he's been given this role as savior and conduit between the Space Gods [a term often used to describe the Celestials] and the rest of planet Earth. You'll see some interesting stuff with him."
Daniel Knauf added, "It's like a situation where they ask for volunteers and everybody takes ones step back and you're left standing out there alone. I think he was chosen and really this relationship is between him and the Dreaming Celestial, who's rejected Ajak for reasons unknown."
The Dreaming Celestial's rejection of Ajak has had a profound psychological impact on the Eternal. "In a lot of ways the story of Ajak and Makkari is a retelling of the story of Cain and Abel, in that Cain had been making all these sacrifices and just can't seem to please his god," Daniel said.
"Ajak spent his life learning to understand the complexities of the Celestial Mind. We explain that the Celestials just can't talk to anybody because the language alone would destroy the average brain. So Ajak has invested incredible amounts of time into learning the discipline of how to deal with the Celestials and all of a sudden they just shut up on him," Charles stated. "If you notice, Makkari is a little reluctant in his new role but it's also like a drug. You're seeing these amazing things that no one has ever seen before and all of a sudden for Ajak that's gone."
"Eternals" isn't the only comic book in which Ajak is featured. In the recent "Incredible Hercules" #117, which ties into Marvel's "Secret Invasion" event, Ajak joined Hercules's "God Squad" and set out to take on the deities of the Skrulls. "The writers have been keeping in touch with us and we've loved what they're doing," Daniel remarked. "They told us what their through line is and we suggested things like, 'This might be out of character or voice for this character or you might want to give this bit to somebody else.' But you don't want to constrain their creativity and for the most part they're doing their own thing and just checking in with us to make sure everything makes sense as a unit. It's been a freaking love fest!"
Makkari's relationship with the Dreaming Celestial is also a cause for concern for his lover, Sersi. "Sersi is an interesting character because remember when Gaiman's story left off, she was still almost in doubt about being an Eternal. She's slowly realizing again that she is an Eternal and has these responsibilities," Charles said. "But she was with Makkari before she became an Eternal again. So there is a conflict there and she's very concerned about Makkari's wellbeing."
Daniel added, "Given Sersi's past interactions with the Avengers and humans in general, she's kind of gone native in a way and is more individuated than other Eternals. She's not much of a team player and her feeling is that she's watching the slow destruction of the man she loves. Our emotional through line with Sersi is, imagine if somebody you were deeply committed to and in love with became a heroin addict. You're just watching that slow degeneration and fighting like hell to stop it from happening but to stop it from happening is to condemn humanity to oblivion. So she of all the characters she is probably the most conflicted."
The Eternal Thena's major conflict springs from her dual roles as Eternal and mother to her human child. "When the rubber meets the road there's only one thing on the planet that supersedes her role as guardian of humanity and that's her son," Daniel explained. "I don't think she's used to it and I don't think she's comfortable with it but she's a fiercely protective mother."
Ikaris's chief conflict stems from his position of power. As the Eternals chief warrior, he wants to solve the problems they face as quickly as possible, but his hatred of his fellow Eternal Druig, who in Neil Gaiman's "Eternals" chose to abandon his role as protector of humanity, often blinds Ikari's ability to make decisions.
"In a way, Druig and Ikaris are two sides of the same coin," Daniel said. "Druig is tired of raking out the monkey cage. He feels like a zoo keeper. It's like, 'They keep making the same mistakes over and over again. They're bent on destruction!' As an Eternal Druig is having a bit of an existential crisis but at the same time he's saying, 'Look there's something better for us. He is a visionary in a lot of ways,"
When "Eternals" begins, most of the cast sees Druig as a villain, but that's not how he sees himself. "My personal philosophy on writing villains is that when they look in the mirror they see a good guy," Daniel explained. "Charlie feels the same way. So when we write Druig, his motives have to make sense from a heroic stand point. They might be subverted or twisted but there is a heroic sense to what he wants to do. I think he sees himself as a type of Moses leading the Eternals from Bondage."
Thena's father, the Eternal Zuras, and her human son Joey are two important members of the supporting cast of "Eternals." "Once upon a time Zuras was Ikaris. He was that hairy chested guy who threw lightning bolts," Daniel remarked. "But he's reached a point where he's gotten more and more into the life of the mind; studying, learning, reading and focusing on intellectual pursuits. He's leaving that other world behind. So in a lot of ways with Zuras, we have a guy who if there was a mandatory retirement age for Eternals, he's past it. He's really kind of lost his zest for life. So really the story of him and Joey is finding that spark again through someone like your grandson. Suddenly you find yourself reengaged and seeing the world through their eyes and getting a vicarious sense of how wonderful things are."
The enigmatic Dreaming Celestial is also a very important part of the supporting cast of "Eternals." "The interesting thing about the Dreaming Celestial is that he's sort of been out in the dark for so long and later on we'll reveal exactly what happened to him," Charles said. "He's been in the dark for so long that he's taking the time to get himself up to speed on what's been going on with the world. That's why Makkari is so terribly important to him. He's a conduit. The Dreaming Celestial needs to talk to somebody on the ground."
"The Dreaming Celestial understands there's a quid to the pro quo," Daniel added. "Really in a way it's almost insidious. It's very manipulative in that he's unveiling these cosmic secrets to Makkari and drawing him in and furthering his addiction."
One of the cosmic secrets the Dreaming Celestial unveils is the threat of the Horde. "The Horde serves a vital function in the cosmos. They're the scrubbing bubbles," Daniel explained. "Whereas the Celestials are the ones who get the ball rolling, the Horde ends things. The Celestials are planters and the Horde are reapers. They're both on opposite, opposing sides and yet they're united in a very important way."
The Horde and the Celestials are united in that they both serve the mysterious entity known as the Fulcrum. "You'll get an explanation of the Fulcrum more in the second arc," Charles said.
Daniel added, "And as far as the Fulcrum's motives, everything that seems so pointless does have a point. It may not be the point anybody expects, likes or respects but there is a point."
In Neil Gaiman's "Eternals," it was established that the renegade Eternal known as Sprite altered reality and made all the earthbound Eternals forget their true identities. The opening arc of the Knauf's series picks up with this plot thread and finds Druig and the Olympian Eternals racing around Earth trying to wake up more of the "sleeping" Eternals.
"Druig is gathering Eternals for his own purposes which we haven't really revealed and the Olympians are gathering their Eternals to fight the Horde. Druig is just doing it faster," Daniel stated. "He seems to have a really solid line on how to locate them. Thena has said, look we're not going to just jolt these guys because it messes them up. We want them to have an element of free will. We want them at 100%. They can't be automatons. Whereas Druig is kind of like one those Japanese game shows where they bring a cannon into the bedroom! He blows these guys out of bed and just indoctrinates them so they really don't have any sense of who they are. They think, 'I've always been on this guy's side and he's always been my master and I do whatever he says.' Over the short term that will probably serve him because Druig is a short term planner. He's got his plan and he knows what he wants."
In the first arc of "Eternals," older Eternals like The Forgotten One and Phastos are reintroduced and a brand new Eternal named Legba makes his debut as well. "Legba is so weird because we did all of our homework on the Eternals and for some reason we came up with Legba as an Eternal," Daniel laughed. "We ran him past editorial and they were like oh yeah he's an Eternal. Than later on we we're looking him up and we couldn't find him. Turns out there is a Legba but he's a Voodoo God. So we're like, 'Well that counts as an Eternal!'"
The opening conflict in "Eternals" is between Eternals themselves, but that doesn't mean the book will exist off in its own isolated corner of the Marvel Universe. "You'll see a lot of heroes from the Marvel Universe because it's one of our marching orders, and hell, we'd be doing it anyway. [We will] take every opportunity to try and tie it into the Marvel U," Daniel said. "In the first few issues, they're interacting with both Iron Man and The Order."
The Knaufs have been blown away by the artwork Daniel AcuÃ±a has produced for "Eternals." "What I love about Danny's style is that it feels so familiar," Charles said. "It feels like Kirby especially in the way he draws the characters and their faces but it's still his own style. It's an amazing style that serves the book well and Danny is great to work with."
In terms of tone, the Knaufs wanted to achieve a couple of goals with "'Eternals." "We really wanted to get that sense of breathless awe that Kirby brought to the party so well," Daniel said. "We also wanted some humor as well. We want this to be fun. It needs to be fun. If Kirby was one thing he was really fun. We picked up the 'Eternals' omnibus and read through the whole thing. It just knocked my eyeballs out. It was really my personal introduction to Kirby. I knew he was a legend but I really hadn't read him. He brought so much life and almost this sense of cackling, gleeful wonder to every page. Every single panel something is happening or something is just about to happen. You just get a sense as you're reading it of hang on for the next page! We both totally dug that. In a lot of ways this whole thing has been about trying to channel Jack Kirby.
"'Eternals' not a funny book but it's a little bit lighter than I think Gaiman's was. Gaiman's was a little bit darker and more serious. Ours is a little more brightly colored and that was important to us because the Mandarin story [which the Knaufs wrapped up in "Iron Man: Agent of Shield" #28] was so relentless. Story-wise, we're working with the bones of Gaiman's story and picking up where he left off, but tonally and spiritually if we we're going to write a big thank you it would be to Kirby."
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