On the eve of the release of Marvel Studios’ The Eternals, I’ll once again indulge in some speculation. I’m usually dead wrong, but in what’s become a tradition since WandaVision, I’ll own it and update this post with everything I missed. (And maybe something I got right?)
UPDATED with spoilers for Eternals
Marvel Comics’ Eternals are not the most memorable characters. They’re godlike, but with less mythic resonance than Thor and Hercules. They’re cosmic, but without the same gravitas as the Silver Surfer. They’re a found family, but without the addictive melodrama of the X-Men. The Eternals’ enemies, the Deviants, are even less interesting in the comics. Their defining trait is their envy of the Eternals.
My interest in the upcoming movie is less about the Eternals themselves, but their connections to the Marvel mythology of the Celestials–and what that means for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What I’m most excited about can be summarized in one panel.
HOPE 1: The Eternals sets up the introduction of mutants in the MCU.
In humankind, the Celestials’ genetic tinkering planted a seed, an X-factor that would allow humans to evolve amazing powers. That is to say, they seeded the potential for Marvel’s merry mutants. The origin of the X-Men goes back to the Celestials.
HOPE: DASHED! Alas, despite a node to a statue of Charles Darwin at the beginning, there is nothing in Eternals that hints at mutant potential latent in human beings. In the MCU, the Celestials didn’t even do any genetic tinkering. They put evolutionary stress on humankind so it would flourish. But that’s about it.
HOPE 2: The Eternals sets up Apocalypse, Rama-Tut, and Mr. Sinister in the MCU.
En Sabah Nur, the mutant known as Apocalypse, is considered the first mutant in the comics to manifest his abilities. (Ignore Selene for the moment. Her association with Conan’s timeline is inconvenient.) He rose to power in ancient Egypt after the time-traveling Fantastic Four defeated Rama-Tut (a variant of Kang the Conqueror, like Loki‘s The One Who Remains). He found and co-opted Celestial technology, and came to look a lot like the Deviant called Kro in the movie. His long game was to apply the evolutionary pressures on humanity so that the X-factor would manifest like it did in him. He did so because he knew that the Celestials would someday return to Earth to judge humankind’s evolution. He applied evolutionary pressure by working behind-the-scenes, through his Four Horsemen, and also through a mad scientist whom he empowered with Celestial enhancements and a shape-changing form: Mr. Sinister. The Mutant Massacre story was Sinister enacting a culling on mutantkind, so the strong would rise to the top. What a great impetus for a young Xavier and Magneto in the MCU to gather mutants to teach them to defend themselves.
HOPE: DASHED! Despite the time span back to the dawn of human civilization, not one mention of ancient Egypt (except maybe some artifacts in a collection, oddly reminiscent of the Time Variance Authority). Despite a Celestial ship that looked like the one Apocalypse commandeered, no indication that anyone had found it while it was hidden away.
HOPE 3: The Eternals sets up Knull and his Necrosword in the MCU.
The Celestials had an enemy. The personification of the primordial darkness, a being known as Knull. When light came to the universe, Knull reached into the shadow he cast and pulled out a weapon, an amorphous, writhing darkness he called the Necrosword. He used it to cut off a Celestial’s head–which became the trading post called Knowhere, which we saw in the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Necrosword was later separated from its master, and wielded by a bitter, vengeful alien who became known as Gorr, the God Butcher. Gorr will be the villain in Thor: Blood and Thunder.
HOPE: ALIVE! It’s a slim hope, though. Sprite mentions the Ebony Blade in passing, Dane Whitman mentions his complicated family history, and in the second credits scene, he opens a case that contains a sword with a moving, oily black coating. Ominous whispers seem to surround the blade. And what sounds like Nick Fury stops Dane Whitman from touching it. Could the Ebony Blade be conflated with the Necrosword? Will that allow Dane Whitman to rescue Sersi from a Celestial? Is the Ebony Blade, like Shang-Chi’s ten rings, Celestial-adjacent technology? Maybe.
HOPE 4: The Eternals sets up Venom in the MCU.
Knull’s living darkness was made up of amorphous creatures that later rebelled and formed a planet-sized prison around him. These creatures, the Klyntar, were symbiotic organisms that could form a hive-mind and bond with other sentient beings and become living weapons, just as the Necrosword in Gorr’s hands. Both Venom and Carnage are members of this species. In the post-credits scene for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Venom told Eddie about the millennia-old hive-mind to which he belonged.
HOPE: DASHED! The movie doesn’t exclude the possibility of a linkage, but it doesn’t do anything to suggest it either. As of now, it’s a stretch. (Though Dane Whitman’s sword does look kind of Venom-y…)
HOPE 6: The Eternals will set up transmode techno-organics.
In Claremont-era X-Men lore, there was a thing called the transmode virus, a sort of living web of microcircuitry that formed techno-organic life. It was the basis of aliens like the Technarchy (New Mutants characters Warlock and Magus) and the Phalanx; alien hybrids like Douglock, Cameron Hodge, and “Prosh;” and cybernetic mutants like Apocalypse and Cable. Apocalypse infected Cable as a baby with the transmode virus, and there’s an implication that Apocalypse acquired it from Celestial technologies. So it all goes back to the Celestials. The Deviants in the MCU seem to have both technological attributes and, well, tendrils. Warlock behaved a lot like a friendly Klyntar symbiote (Venom) with his best friend Doug Ramsey (Cypher). Maybe the MCU will do some unifying of the concepts.
HOPE: DASHED! While the commercials made the Deviants look metallic, the movie makes them look like… plastic tubing. No hint of techno-organics here.
HOPE 7: The Eternals will make the Deviants interesting.
Very little has been said about the movie’s antagonists, the Deviants. We know that the Celestials charged the Eternals to protect humanity from them. We know that they have a vaguely technological look and mutable forms. We know that Kro is unique in that he is a humanoid Deviant who can speak. And we know that Kro wields “tendrils.”
Did the Celestials create the Deviants in the MCU? If so, why did they put the Eternals into conflict with them? Or are they the scions of the Celestials’ enemy, the one who decapitated the Celestial whose head became Knowhere? Are the Deviants, AKA “the Changing People,” precursors to MCU mutants? Are they variations of the Klyntar symbiotes? Are they both? How have they affected MCU history, and what impact will they have on its future?
HOPE: DASHED? The Deviants were mostly animals in the movie, and Kro–the only interesting Deviant–was killed by Thena, unless his absorbed healing factor can bring him back from being sliced to bits. They have the capacity to evolve, and still exist on Earth (as well as, presumably, other planets seeded by Celestials), and they have reason to hate the Celestials, so maybe they could become interesting. But right now, not so much.
Some of these questions might be answered in the movie itself, especially those about Kro. For the rest… There are two credits scenes following The Eternals where Marvel Studios can tease “what’s next.” I hope at least one of my seven hopes is fulfilled.
It really does look like Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings are Celestial technology. In fact, the very tech the Eternals used to form the Uni-Mind.
My speculation on Marvel Phase 5: The X-Men! turned out to have some things that might still be true:
- The end of Eternals promised Arishem will return to Earth in judgment of humanity.
- Arishem’s return could easily be the basis of a Secret War movie.
- The hungry, baby Celestial that Sersi turned to stone (for now) could be conflated with Galactus.