Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Up The Long Ladder

When Jack Kirby turned in those first sets of pages for his new series, The Eternals, I wonder if he knew at the time that he was setting in stone the definitive evolution of mankind in the Marvel universe? I.e., that man would owe its genetic makeup to the Celestials?

It beats me why a race as obviously advanced and evolved as the Celestials would spend their time hopping from planet to planet to planet, experimenting with the indigenous humanoid life they encountered and altering its genetic makeup, and then periodically returning to monitor its progress--only to eventually pass judgment on it as fruitless and subsequently wipe it out. Does that sound very enlightened to you? Planetary lab workers? And as it turns out, lousy lab workers, at that--because, with the exception of Earth (and just barely), and allowing for the special circumstances of another world, Pangoria (exterminating its dominant race), they've given a big thumbs-down to every race they've experimented with. That's a 99% rate of failure, just to be clear. All of those Celestials, with all of those analyzing instruments, and having been at this for millions of years, and still no race's evolution has satisfied them? Someone give these guys the High Evolutionary's number, because they're obviously doing it wrong. (Not that his own work couldn't use some fine tuning.)

Still, Kirby's grand concept has stood the test of time, and writer Mark Gruenwald (with artist Ron Wilson) would later craft a limited series which expanded on the Celestials as well as the Eternals--even folding in Jim Starlin's tale of Kronos. In the first segment, Kirby's short introduction of the Celestials' experiments receives more thorough treatment:

It's a splendid retelling, and certainly does justice to Kirby's massive panels and depictions of the Celestials. Even the Inhumans indirectly fall under Kirby's "origin" of humanity--a race engineered by the Kree, but beings which had possibly already had their genetic makeup tampered with by the Celestials. In a later segment by writer Peter Gillis, we're treated to a reunion of sorts when Black Bolt, searching for a more isolated refuge for his people, encounters the race of Eternals. Though that first meeting occurs in typical Marvel fashion:

But it doesn't take long for Black Bolt to make peace overtures, and soon the Eternals are comparing notes with one who is a more distant "offspring" of the Celestials but who has undergone further genetic enhancement:

Obviously we can paint too broadly with Kirby's brush. It's clear that the Celestials gathered a large number of the "native pre-men" to perform their experiments on, but probably not enough to account for the genetic makeup of an entire species. In other words, as you walk down the street, you may well be seeing ancestors of the Celestial experiments, but you're also likely seeing ancestors of humans who evolved naturally--though, when you take into account how many of those mated with Celestial-humans, there's no telling how many of us owe our DNA to space gods. But if you find yourself having an aptitude for science along with a low tolerance for failure, you might want to veer away from genetic research.


Anonymous said...

I would hate to be abducted by an alien known as Oneg the Prober.

Anonymous said...

"Does that sound very enlightened to you?"

I think that's the point of the Celestials: that despite all the high-flown praise of humanity and its special destiny given by Thor and Eternity and The Watcher and the Kree's Supreme Intelligence and, eventually, by Galactus, humanity's final fate will be determined by frighteningly enigmatic god-beings who have more in common with Cthulhu than they have with any terrestrial religion of enlightenment and divine love, and these god-beings are more powerful than all the Earth gods combined and more powerful than Galactus and Eternity working together in tandem. In the mythos backgrounding the Eternals, the ultimate power of reality is the one that sees all sapient life as intrinsically expendable and answers to no explicable morality, and that power will destroy any world that does not live up to the unknown parameters by which they choose to judge.

The Celestials can never behave according to enlightened principles -- or evil principles, for that matter -- because that would make them explicable, and that is the one thing Celestials refuse to be in a universe where almost all other creatures have some recognizable affinity to evil (such as D'Spayre and Mephisto) or to good (such as Gaea or the Vishanti or Norrin Rad the Silver Surfer) or to a dynamic spectrum stretching between good and evil (such as most humans). The Celestials exist at a right angle to that spectrum.

For that reason, the grim Eternals mythos has never quite fit with the more gloried and grand metaphysical assumptions of the regular Marvel universe.

Comicsfan said...

It's not that I'm really questioning the Celestials being beyond humanoid concepts, Anon, so much as their use of that perspective as carte blanche to basically determine the fate of whole species. These are beings who act with complete impunity, who have established unique protocols which guide them in tampering with lesser races (i.e., everyone else in the universe, pretty much) and empower them to wipe the slate clean (i.e., commit genocide) when their experiments fail to measure up (i.e., practically always). It's likely no whim of Jack Kirby's that he created them of such stature and power as to make them both unapproachable and disdainful when conducting their activities; in comics, there have been many such beings who trample on the notion of being answerable to anyone in the pursuit of their goals, simply because they feel justified in doing as they wish (Annihilus would be a good example). The Celestials would no doubt consider our "judgment" of their actions as monstrous to be completely insignificant (just as Galactus would), assuming they bothered to consider it at all. To the Celestials, their plans and final judgment are all that matter--all that matter. My point was more along the lines of seeing that mindset backed up by something other than a path of destruction.

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