WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Marvel’s “Eternals.” You’ve been warned.
“Eternals” tries to do a lot of things at once, from introducing several new weird ideas into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to somehow juggling the origin story for a team as big as the original Avengers whose members, for some reason, didn’t get their own solo movies first. And yet, the thing my brain latched onto more than anything else is that “Eternals” also established that DC Comics actually exists in the MCU.
Is this the most important detail in the film? Absolutely not. But we need to talk about it. Because if DC Comics, Marvel’s direct competitor, exists in this universe, does that mean Marvel Comics itself exists in the cinematic world based on the comics published by Marvel Comics?
And if that’s the case, who’s running it? What kinds of comic books does it even publish? Also, my brain just broke.
First, let’s recap the DC references. They were quick and offhanded, so you’d be forgiven for not processing them right away.
First, at one point Eternals Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) track down their old teammate Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) at his home in Chicago. When Phastos’ son sees Ikaris, he mentions seeing Ikaris fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes and excitedly asks if he’s actually Superman.
And at another point, Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) introduces his valet to the other Eternals, who note that he’s “like Alfred,” Batman’s butler.
Obviously we can rule out, for a ton of reasons, that Superman and Batman actually exist in the MCU as real humans. Setting aside ownership rights issues, the name Alfred obviously wouldn’t be an actual reference since no one in Gotham knows Bruce Wayne is also Batman. The name drops are actually much simpler: DC’s biggest superhero characters are famous enough to be casually referenced, even by immortal beings who might not quite be as up on the ins and outs of popular culture, considering they measure their lives in centuries, not years.
Thing is, DC Comics, which was founded as National Comics in 1937, is barely older than Marvel, founded as Timely Comics in 1939. (Timely became Marvel Comics in 1961; National, which had been nicknamed “DC Comics” since the 50s, formally changed its name in 1977.) In fact, their rivalry, really beginning in 1961, helped shape a huge amount of what we now take for granted in Superhero lore.
That’s in part because some of the biggest names in comics kept jumping back and forth between them. For instance artist Gil Kane, who co-created the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern for DC, then jumped ship to Marvel where, in addition to co-creating Iron Fist, also had a legendary run on “Spider-Man” that included the “Death of Gwen Stacy” storyline.
Then there’s writer-artist Jim Lee, who got his start at Marvel Comics in the 1980s and became perhaps the most successful creator in the company’s history, particularly on “X-Men” and “Punisher” comics, before co-founding Image Comics in 1992. He is now the Chief Creative Officer of… DC Comics. Where he’s come up with some of the biggest recent Batman and Superman stories.
And then there’s the great Jack Kirby, you’ve heard of him? Co-created most of The Avengers at Marvel? He also created the villain Darkseid, one of Superman’s greatest enemies, for DC, after he left Marvel due to a dispute over royalties in the late 60s.
It’s safe to say that DC Comics, including a lot of what we now take for granted as basic lore, would not exist without the rivalry with Marvel. But clearly, something close to our world’s version of DC Comics exists in the MCU. Is your brain broken yet? Great, glad to have you here with me.
Well, speaking of Jack Kirby, his first major contribution to comic book history came in 1941 when he co-created Captain America, introducing America to Steve Rogers by drawing one of the most recognized covers of all time: Cap punching Hitler.
Sound familiar? It should, because you not only saw Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) fake-punch an actor dressed as Hitler — many, MANY times — during the US bond drive tour in the movie “Captain America: The First Avenger,” you also saw this:
Yes kids, that is the real life cover art for “Captain America” #1, published in March 1941, drawn by Jack Kirby. We don’t know if he’s actually working for Marvel Comics at this point. For all we know, he’s just a guy, hired by the government to illustrate the cover and story.
What is not up for dispute is that the man who co-created a vast amount of what ended up in the MCU apparently existed in the MCU. To quote Iron Man: “Thought we wouldn’t notice, but we did.”
So, to get as meta as we can here, we really have no choice but to imagine that Marvel comics exists in the MCU too. But since obviously, Spider-Man and Iron Man couldn’t have existed as comic characters first in that world, it probably ended up a very different kind of publisher. Let’s try and speculate what the MCU’s Marvel Comics is known for, because honestly, the stories are ripe for picking.
Stan Lee’s Cameos Take On a Whole New Meaning
Yes, I know “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” pretty much confirmed that Stan Lee was a Watcher. But let’s just pretend for a moment that it didn’t.
Up until his death, Stan Lee had a cameo in every Marvel movie. In many of them, he interacted with the characters he himself had created, making the moments extra emotional. But what if his cameos were actually a subplot, leading to the eventual creation of Marvel Comics in the MCU?
Perhaps his many interactions with the supers of the MCU inspired him to write stories about them in that universe. So instead of being fictional stories like they are in real life, Marvel Comics are actually just factually accurate, cartoon biographies of these super-human beings.
Maybe before Tony Stark revealed himself to the world, Marvel published biographies about other kinds of heroes, and MCU Stan Lee is just a good journalist who strategically placed himself in the Avengers’ orbits over the years, simply observing from afar, so he could turn their adventures into stories for kids. Maybe in his stories, Tony Stark really was renamed to Tony Stank, to avoid lawsuits.
Who knows, maybe he was MADE a watcher, so he COULD write these stories for people. And Marvel Comics in the MCU is actually a method of recording history, crafted by some cosmic being.
Then again, maybe Marvel comics in the MCU is something else entirely. They could be little romance novellas, meant more for teenagers and adults.
After all, the MCU has long been criticized for its lack of real romantic moments between its love interests. Sure, the men are always shirtless, and there are a few heat-of-the-moment kisses throughout the first few phases but there are rarely any truly meaningful moments between partners. “Eternals” breaks that mold by having the MCU’s very first — and very PG — sex scene.
So hell, why not make Marvel Comics in the MCU a series of romance stories? The Avengers and Guardians and whatnot are essentially celebrities in this universe, and naturally, fans ship celebrity couples. There’s a whole lot of possibility in just pairing up fan-favorite heroes for short stories.
Obviously, Wanda and Vision would be a clear starting point. Anyone who knows about the Westview anomaly knew that Wanda created it to give herself a family with Vision. That could easily translate to Marvel’s first series of comics in-universe.
Or, what if Marvel Comics in the MCU were actually Marvel mysteries? There’s plenty of questions surrounding the heroes of this universe.
Is Steve Rogers actually on a secret Captain America mission on the moon? Probably not, but Space Steve would make for a real fun comic arc. “Captain Marvel” may have told fans how Nick Fury lost his eye, but no one in the MCU actually knows. There are countless stories to be made up to explain that.
Marvel Comics in the MCU could crank out these stories a la John Grisham novels. Or, if they really want to aim it toward kids, it could be like a new version of Scooby-Doo. We’ll call it Groot-y Doo.
Since we’re already down the meta rabbit hole, allow me to suggest this; what if “What If…?” was a serialized version of the MCU’s comic stories?
Perhaps, after seeing all the heroes in the world, some author decided to blend their stories and trade powers with each other. Maybe they thought T’Challa would’ve been a great thief, and turned him into Star Lord, or that Peggy Carter really should’ve gotten her due and become Captain Carter.
Really, there are endless possibilities at the moment. Marvel comics within the MCU could literally be anything — and that doesn’t have to necessarily be comics.
Seriously, if you thought Vision meeting a reconstituted, militarized version of himself and contemplating his whole existence over in “WandaVision” was meta… well, “Eternals” is actually pretty similar in that respect.