When a new series launches with an opening page containing 300 words of backstory, it’s like a sign to the reader saying, “we want you to hop on board this train, but it’s really important to know where we’ve been, and we really won’t have time to explain it all later because the rest of the trip will be full of the awesome.” Or, perhaps the sign says, “You know that story inside this comic? The one with the pictures? Well, it doesn’t explain much of what’s going on, so if you want to understand it, you’d better read this Wikipedia excerpt first.”
Probably more of the latter than the former.
Here’s the thing: how many times have Marvel and DC resurrected Jack Kirby’s cosmic creations? And how often have those resurrections been critically or commercially successful? Rarely, right? DC went so far as to wipe out the New Gods and turn the concepts over to Grant Morrison — possibly the only writer capable of breathing new life into such Kirby-centric characters, and even he is probably destined to fall far, far short of the Platonic ideal of Kirby cosmic. Marvel has resurrected the Eternals a couple of time in the past, most recently with Neil Gaiman’s slow-building series about the Eternal reawakening. And even with Neil Gaiman writing and John Romita, Jr. on art, that series didn’t live up to its promise. It was like a prologue more than a story. It awakened the Eternals from their imposed metaphorical slumber, but then it ended. That was it.
Until this “Eternals” #1 issue, of course. This new series picks up where Gaiman and Romita, Jr. left off. Even though it may be just as doomed to failure as every other Kirby resurrection, I’m interested to see where this comic is headed next. Writers Charles and Daniel Knauf, fresh off their “Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.” run, haven’t imprinted their own DNA on the series yet. They’re still following the template established by Gaiman, almost beat-for-beat. If you read Gaiman’s series (and if you didn’t, there’s that 300-word introduction on page one!), you know that every issue was a mixture of unease and strangeness, as various humans found themselves remembering that they weren’t so much humans as immortal heroes and villains birthed by alien space-gods. You know, that old chestnut. It continues here, in issue #1.
Most of the Eternals know who they are by this point, of course, but they still don’t seem to know what they’re supposed to do. And we do get, literally, yet another secret Eternal (or Deviant) revealed. The rest of the issue is made up of Makkari trying to contact other Eternals and/or find out more about this super-evil space horde that may/may not be on it’s way to destroy the Earth, plus a bunch of scenes where the awakened Eternals wonder, “what should we do? How should we do it?” And so on.
Frustratingly, it’s all still set-up, even after the Gaiman series, um, set everything up.
But — and this is a big, huge “but” — the art on this series is by the incomparable Daniel Acuna. His work is worth the cover price, even if the story isn’t quite up to speed yet. Acuna’s work looks better here than it’s ever looked, with a stronger sense of location and characters grounded in space. It transcends my normal loathing for overly-rendered digital coloring. I don’t know a thing about his working methods, but it looks to me like the whole book is painted with a computer, and I normally dislike such obvious, artificial techniques. But Acuna is a master of light and shadow, and his Earth-bound humans look as distinctive as his cosmic Eternals. But, man, is he great with the Eternals. One of the reasons these Kirby resurrections keep failing is that so many artists try to do some kind of Kirby riff, or try to adapt Kirby to their watered-down styles. Acuna — whose work looks nothing like anyone else’s — helps to distance this comic from other cloned Kirbys, and he single-handedly gives this series a chance for success.
The Knaufs have a fascinating premise to work with — space-god resistance fighters vs. even bigger space-anti-gods, against a backdrop of average American life — but they need to avoid their tendency for the slow burn in “Eternals.” With Acuna’s considerable help, they have begun with a good first issue, but I’d like to see it move beyond mere exposition and set-up and into something worthy of Kirby’s legacy.