When I saw the Eternals movie last month, I was immediately struck by one plot point that was straight from Marvel's comics. Not Eternals, but rather Earth X by Jim Krueger, Alex Ross and the late John Paul Leon. Spoilers going forward obviously.
Earth X was a comic book series that launched in 1999 and ran for several years in one form or another. It showed a possible near future for the Marvel Universe, and also revealed that at the heart of the Earth – and every planet with sentient life – was a Celestial embryo. Sentient life – and superhero – were there to defend it. And Galactus was going from planet to planet to eat them. And in Eternals, the Celestial embryo was indeed inside the Earth, the role of the Eternals was to help life prosper on Earth for the Celestial to feed upon when it woke and was birthed.
And I was rather excited to see it, and my suspicions were confirmed as the creative team go Special Thanks at the end of the film. I talked to writer Jim Krueger, to see how it all went down.
Rich Johnston: When writing Earth X, what led you to place a forming Celestial in the centre of the Earth? What was Alex Ross' influence on that? And would you have liked the main Marvel Comics continuity to have reflected that?
Jim Krueger: When Alex first brought Earth X to me, his idea was that something had caused all of humanity to be mutated. This was partially based on seeing how all of Marvel was so mutant-crazed in those days. And how the mere addition of Wolverine to any book would make it sell. Earth X began, not as a real project, but as an article for Wizard Magazine and their reaction to the amazing work Alex had done in reimagining and designing the DCU for Kingdom Come. There were like 12 – 16 images that he had imagined for the Marvel Universe including a Spidey that no longer fit in his costume, a female Thor, Reed in Doctor Doom's armor, Hulk in a diaper, and (spoiler alert, though it has been almost 25 years), Franklin Richards as Galactus. I'd been reimagining the origins of the Marvel U with artists in a series of articles for Marvel Vision Magazine called Timeslip. The basic idea behind these articles were that the artist chosen for that entry had to redesign a classic Marvel character as if Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or John Romita or Don Heck never had (I had known Alex for years, and my first job at Marvel had been promoting Marvels.). Anyhow, Alex really liked what I wrote and suggested I write a few sentences to suggest the nature and fate of the heroes in each of his redesigns. At the time, he made sure I had no expectation that this was a real project. Alex mentioned that I needed to write an intro to suggest why everyone was mutated.
Earth X was one of the few moments in my life when an idea came fully formed. I had become a father the year before. The ideas and concepts and even the violence of birth, embryos, the placenta, a developed immune system in the form of germ-fighters, and more were still fresh in my mind. So the Celestial Egg and mankind being manipulated into mutated germ fighters to protect the world, the idea of vibranium as a sort of placenta sent to Earth to nurture the growing Celestial and more, all came from me. But to be fair, I was inspired by every one of Alex's images, and we both bonded even years before from all of Kirby's 60s and especially 70s Marvel Work… Kirby 70s Marvel includes the Eternals (which did offer the first scenes of early mankind being mutated into both Eternals and Deviants, but never really offered a reason why), Machine Man (the narrator of Earth X), Devil Dinosaur (who probably fought both the Eternals and the Deviants in a story that has not been told), and Black Panther (the Wakanda and Vibranium element of the story). Anyhow, I remember calling Alex one night and telling him my thoughts on why all of mankind was mutated, and the stages throughout Marvel lore that would have made in necessary), what the Watcher was really watching for (as a sort of Midwife on the moon for the Celestial's birth), that Earth was an egg and the Celestial was growing inside, and how this is how they always reproduced and more. How we could tell the secret origin of every secret origin on Earth by providing an understory while revealing the fates of the classic Marvel heroes that Alex had designed and very much suggested in his drawings. I used up all the space on his phone that there was, leaving message after message after message. If you think of the X in Earth X as two storylines, one came out of Alex's designs of the future of the Marvel Universe, and mine came out of its origins. The whole thing was this perfect convergence of Marvel past and future.
Alex called me later that night, probably earlier the next morning, and told me that now it was a real project. Mind you, it may have become a real project at that point, but it began by Alex asking the questions. It all began with him showing me these images and letting me go come up with stuff. And then, the stuff I came up with, he would begin to speak into, and it went back and forth. Kind of like all our projects. Each of us have always challenged and encouraged and had a blast working with each other. It's one of the best, if not the best, working relationships of my life. And I will always be grateful.
Rich Johnston: How did you learn that this particular plot point would appear in Eternals? What did you think when you were invited to the premiere? And did you look for your credit, with Alex and John?
Jim Krueger: Well, what's funny, is that I first met Kevin Fiege years ago, after the first trade paperback of Earth X had come out. We sat down a number of times and Kevin shared his love for Earth X. He also shared that it was at a time when many of the Marvel heroes, including X-Men, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. At the time, Kevin told me how much he wanted to make Earth X. And I told him that I thought he could do it with the Eternals. Talk about seeds being planted. It didn't take hundreds of thousands of years like a Celestial, but it took almost 25.
I was totally excited about hearing that an Eternals movie was being made. I told Alex a number of times about this conversation, and we talked about the trailers as they came out and the possibility that it would be the Celestial birth story. Alex believed it was the Earth X story before I did. It was the invite from Marvel to the premiere that really got me to suspect that it was that story. I'm glad I didn't know, though, because it was amazing to watch it, listening to the dialog and the mentions of mutations and heroes and beginning to have the story break (or crack if talking in egg terms) as I watched.
And yes, I did look for a credit. As opposed to other Marvel movies, there were maybe only a dozen creators mentioned. It was amazing to see Alex's name, and Buscema's name. And then to be counted with the King and creator of the Eternals, Jack Kirby himself, that is an honor that still hasn't sunk in yet. But most of all, seeing the name of John Paul Leon was especially rewarding.
Rich Johnston: Are there other aspects of Earth X or the series that came after, that you recommend Marvel might look at for future movies? And any chance of a Foot Soldiers movie from 26 Soldiers?
Jim Krueger: I think the MCU is an amazing place and I wouldn't begin to throw them ideas (though I clearly already have, and have had some major uncredited influences on DC as well). Anyhow, back to Marvel, I love seeing what they do and am inspired every time. That said, in the back story continuity of Earth X, the former Galactus has become a star (there's that 25-year-old spoiler again) which sets the stage for Franklin Richards. One of the things I always wanted to do when writing about the characters and who they become in the future that is Earth X, was to add elements of irony. (Spider-Man becoming a cop, for example. Now it really is "His job."). Anyhow, because a star was once a sun, it leads me to wonder about the fate and potential irony of a certain Celestial-serving character who finds himself in the sun at the end of the movie. Could this character potentially and ultimately offer the balance to the cosmos if the Celestials became too powerful? Sounds like a pretty great person to become Galactus one day. Hmmmmm, here's hoping it doesn't take 25 years. But if it does, I'll enjoy every minute of it. Thank you, Alex. Thank you, Marvel.