Eternals is Marvel’s shot at Superman and the DC Universe

Do Batman and Superman exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s a less absurd notion thanks to two notable lines in the latest MCU movie, Eternals. Both times, the characters in the film are compared to characters from the DC Comics lore. Comic book history is littered with nods, winks, and even legitimate crossovers between these two competing stables of heroes.

But in the context of the successful, culturally defined MCU, it’s even more shocking. It raises all kinds of thorny philosophical questions and makes one wonder if Eternals is perhaps, in its own way, a satirical look at DC’s higher, mythological, and divine superheroes.

On this week’s Galaxy Brains, Jonah Ray and I are joined by Polygon Comics Editor-in-Chief Susana Polo to chat Eternalssubtle critique of Superman, Jack Kirby, and the ever-evolving DC and Marvel rivalry.

As always, this conversation has been edited to sound less bizarre.

Dave: There are two different references to DC Comics characters in Eternals. We would have had the impression, OK, that’s kinda cute. Two seems deliberate. Does that mean DC Comics exists within the MCU?

Suzanne: Well, how do these characters know who Batman is? The fictional character of Batman. I don’t think you can say that Batman exists as a crime-fighting person in the MCU. I think the only thing we can conclude from this is that both the Batman comics and the Superman comics exist in the MCU. The question is, do they make Batman movies? Did the Snyder Cut happen inside the MCU? Did DC Comics make the Thanos Blip part of their comic book canon? These are the questions that left me whispering behind my mask in the theater and completely missed the rest of this scene.

Dave: Yeah, I was so blown away by the audacity of that. Not that it was a negative thing, but just like, Oh wow, you go there more than once. But the central figure, the creator of Eternals, Jack Kirby has worked for both DC and Marvel. Can you tell us a bit about the backstory and story of how important Jack Kirby is to these two companies?

Suzanne: Sure. So we hear a lot about Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby is really the other side of the coin at Marvel. Stan was known for his personality, but Kirby really made a mark on the comics with his visual style and not just the way he dressed the characters, but also the way he choreographed the fight scenes and the size of the panels he had. they use. You go back and re-read Kirby’s work and see what he did, it’s like being able to see the matrix. It’s like all of a sudden you realize that everyone who came after this guy tried to do what this guy did because he was so original for his time. He just pushed the superhero comics in a direction that became so indelible everyone just tried to do it.

Dave: So Jack Kirby is the kind of forgotten Marvel son, but then he goes to DC. He turns his back on all these people and goes to Washington as a disgruntled person. What did he accomplish? What did he do when he was in DC?

Suzanne: So, around 1970, Jack Kirby was really fed up with the way he was being treated at Marvel. He felt like he wasn’t even given credit. He felt like he wasn’t being given enough money, and he decided to sever ties with Marvel after co-creating the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. He is even said to have played a role in Spider-Man. He defined the Marvel Universe as much as Stan did in the 1960s and 1970s. He’s really sick of it and will be working exclusively for DC instead.

It’s a big hit for DC, obviously. And they’re like, Hey Jack you can do just about anything. And he’s like, Okay, cool, I don’t want to put anybody out of work. So give me your lowest-selling title that you were going to cancel anyway. And then give me some books too to do whatever I wanna do about it.

And so he takes this comic called Superman’s Boyfriend Jimmy Olsen, and he starts doing this thing called the Fourth World, which is a series of comics that all have nested characters. And these characters are in what I call a Shaggy Gods story, which Kirby really liked. I think outside of his visual aesthetic and the comic book language that he used, what comes up over and over in Jack Kirby’s work is that he’s really into this idea of ​​super- heroes as gods, superheroes who are those immortal beings who have been alive since the dawn of time. They inspired mythology and the Fourth World sort of comes out of it.

Fourth World was an idea he pitched to Marvel, saying, like, Hey we’ve been teasing Ragnarok and Thor forever. I really want Ragnarok to happen, I want to kill all Asgardians and it will trigger this wave of divine energy. Divine energy will become a new pantheon of gods, and these will be our new characters. So, the Fourth World in DC implies that those gods that were created in the Nordic pantheon have been destroyed. It’s really hard to compare to anything else because there isn’t much like the Fourth World anywhere else in the comics except with the Eternals or the Inhumans which are other attempts at Kirby to create these very, very old and super powerful characters that may have inspired figures like Medusa and Zeus and Icarus and Mercury.

Dave: So the Fourth World and the New Gods are what Kirby does in DC, and it looks a lot like the Eternals, the Inhumans, and all those kinds of super cosmic characters that exist above the tangible world that we understand. So, has there ever been a time when DC and Marvel were like, Hey, that Darkseid guy … he looks familiar.

Suzanne: Well it’s funny you ask that because Eternals was created after the new gods, Kirby finally went back to Marvel and they were like, OK, Jack, do your own thing. Just do something to us. And he made the Eternals, which is quite similar to the New Gods. They are like the Inhumans. They’ve been on Earth for a very long time, and they all have mythological names, but they mispronounced it when they wrote the myth. And the Eternals never really took off at Marvel the same way the Fourth World took off in DC. I think in part because the Fourth World always came back because Darkseid became such a convincing Superman villain. Then everyone continued to bring him back. And also, I think maybe it’s because that was the one thing with a super Jack Kirby aesthetic that DC had to play with, and that aesthetic is really cool and compelling and different and weird.

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