I’ve been thinking about gods a bit recently, after hearing Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has been greenlit for television by STARZ, and the way they’re rather underused in pop culture. The last gods I saw on ye olde TV were the chthonic gods in The Cabin in the Woods, which were pretty cool — but, I want something more!
I don’t go pull American Gods off the shelf, it still quite clear in my head, but instead Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories, also about New Gods replacing Old Gods. Though, I’m yet to read it because I’m in the middle of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and proofreading a friend’s adventure feature script. I really want to take my time absorbing it. Thus, another quick fix, I find in the deep recesses of my backup server a digital version of Marvel’s The Eternal (2003) by Chuck Austen and Kev Walker, a story about new gods on the company’s MAX imprint: adult-orientated, ultra-violence, gratuitous language. I think great, a story to fit space gods into the MAX format.
I’m wrong. It’s not the case. It’s adult-orientated, it’s ultra-violent, it lacks gratuitous language – why? Because Chuck Austen writes it to make sense in this science fiction drama within an allegory of Adam & Eve with allusion to the great slave revolt of the ancient Egyptians. It’s a brilliant reimagining of Jack Kirby’s The Eternals (1976), a pastiche of Erich von Daniken’s Chariot of the Gods? And it’s this intertextuality that grounds it to stand the test of time. Yeah, so, slightly Game of Thrones-feel as science fiction but cooler. See, this Adam & Eve story begins from the idea behind Chariot of the Gods? that humanity was created by advanced beings from outer space, in this case, god-like beings, human in appearance, called Eternals, that experiment on life around the universe under the auspices of their masters, The Celestials: space gods who work in mysterious ways only privy to those of seven dimensions or higher. From there a domestic drama unfolds around Ikaeden, the Eternals leader, and Jeska, the first human woman (evolved from an ape not a male rib) that explores the notion of ‘being content with what you have’ (as per Hebrews 13:5) by delving into themes of lust, love, domestic violence, rape, slavery, sex out of wedlock, all caused by the curse of knowledge, The Apple, all of which is subtext engaged by the biblical allegory of Adam & Eve.
OK, look, let’s get this straight. This book has great plotting, storytelling and overall feel, but suffocates from wordy dialogue that lets down the second half of Act 2. But it pays off.
Austen claims that knowledge is wonderful because it enlightens, brings love, happiness, as per the first half of the book, but he also warns that it destroys: lusts and from that violence, elaborated upon after Act 1. By the time it gets to issue 4, the second half of Act 2, Austen brings the subplot of the curse of knowledge to a turning point that not only moves the story forward by bringing it back down to the character level, but with undertone suggests not to take scripture as if law. Particularly, teachings found in Western religions.
See, The Apple’s third dose of knowledge leaves them ‘spiritually detached and superstitious’ as Ikaeden puts it. So, without ruining it, through the characters actions it shows a progressive attitude of living life. By the end it climaxes similarly to Adam & Eve, a tragedy of psychic enlightenment.
It’s a shame this was cancelled at six issues. I’m betting the second half would have dealt with the protagonist of Kirby’s series, Ikaris, who Chuck might have told his story within the allegory of Adam & Eve’s children: Cain, Abel and Seth. I recommend this hidden gem to any reader interested in the other gods of the Marvel Universe. Though, note, Kev Walker’s art is nowhere near the fantastic level it’s at now, it’s still awesome!
So, there’s one pretty cool tale that’s filled with gods: scary, horrific, powerful, gluttonous, human things that can be us in our extremes of imagination. They fit within any genre.