The deeper I get into writing a novel, the more actual time I spend writing. That means I spend less hours reading and more hours at the keyboard. I’m still reading Tanith Lee’s  THE BIRTHGRAVE, but my progress on it has slowed to a crawl as I’ve been writing way more than reading. Still, I need to keep my inspirational batteries charged, so to speak.

That’s where graphic novels and comics come in…

First up, Jack Kirby’s THE ETERNALS. This series was the last great book Jack Kirby did when he returned to Marvel Comics in the mid-70s. A few years ago I managed to assemble a complete 19-issue collection of THE ETERNALS, but they were unfortunately left behind when I moved from SoCal to NorCal in 2007. However, I recently replaced them with the much superior ETERNALS two-volume collection released by Marvel in 2008.The colors are brilliantly restored and I found my re-read of the series much better than my old, faded, yellowed copies of the original comics.

Jack Kirby was indeed the King of Comics, and my favorite work is his 70s comics. THE ETERNALS was something I stumbled across in the late 70s as a young lad–I picked up a coverless copy of ETERNALS #3 somewhere. Years later I rediscovered it in my collection and it set me on the path toward acquiring the whole series. All of Kirby’s brilliance is on display in this tour de force of imagination. Nobody did the High Concept Book like Jack Kirby.

Instead of a supergroup of six or seven superpowered characters, Kirby gave us an entire RACE of them in the Eternals, immortal beings who have lived among humanity since prehistoric times, hiding in the cracks of our histories and legends, living on remote mountaintops and working miracles. At the same time he gave us their opposites, the twisted, warlike Deviants, who were also born of the same humble origins as Humans and Deviants, but were genetically unstable monsters.

Best of all, Kirby gave us the Celestials. These “Space Gods” were inspired by the Incan legends and carvings of space travellers of legend. They were towering titans of unimaginable power who had visited the earth three times before. The first time they had messed with hominid DNA to create the triple race of Human, Eternal, and Deviant. The second time they came to destroy the empire the Deviants had created, effectively freeing humanity from enslavement by their Deviant masters and sinking the lost continent of Lemuria. In the first issue of THE ETERNALS (published in 1976), these Celestials return to earth. The mission of this Fourth Host? To monitor mankind for 50 years and then decide if it deserves to exist or be utterly destroyed!

This series was exceptional for many reasons, and Kirby was once again breaking the “rules” of comics. The story rotated between a huge cast of Eternals and Deviants and Humans and Space Gods; there was no true central character. The stories were not meant to be part of the existing Marvel Universe, but eventually they were retconned into it. The Deviants weren’t single-minded villains, but complex beings with the potential to be as deep and heroic as Eternals or Deviants.

Among all the great ideas unveiled in THE ETERNALS, my favorite was the Uni-Mind. When all the Eternals of the world united, their atoms and minds combined into a single entity that looked like a giant brain and floated into the cosmos to solve unsolvable problems. The cover of issue #12 features the Uni-Mind and it’s one of my all-time favorite comic book covers.

Kirby was firing on all cylinders here. The art is mind-blowing, the concepts are truly cosmic, and the action is practically nonstop. It’s too bad THE ETERNALS only lasted for 19 issues, but even so these concepts invested the Marvel Universe in the same way Kirby’s New Gods had invested the DC Universe. THE ETERNALS became lynchpins in the Marvel world, and they’ve never stopped appearing in Marvel comics.

Most recently Neil Gaiman delivered a great take on Kirby’s most celestial creations. Jack Kirby’s imagination continues to rock the Marvel Universe nearly twenty years after his passing.Yet there’s nothing like Kirby’s original series, especially when it’s presented in such a quality format as these two volumes. THE ETERNALS is the kind of comic you’ll want pull out and re-read ever year or two. You can almost hear the crackle of cosmic energies as you turn the pages.

In the next post, I’ll talk about another two-volume collection of classic comics goodness that I’ve been enjoying:  Dark Horse’s reprints of Marvel’s KING CONAN, illustrated by the great John Buscema (and various inkers including the great Ernie Chan).