When Takia Waititi took the reins of the floundering Thor franchise, he made it very clear that he was paying homage to the God of Thunder’s creator and artist Jack Kirby. Not only did Waititi regularly shout out the King when he was doing promo for the movie, but it was also clear to fans of Kirby in every technicolor pattern or intricate piece of intergalactic technology. The fun, frolicking, space romp was far closer to the best works of Kirby than the previous Thor movies had been. But once the MCU returned to the more severe and serious world of Infinity War, Captain Marvel, and Endgame, that engaging, electric spirit appeared to have been forgotten.
But then, at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Kevin Feige got on stage and presented one of the most unexpected and exciting Hall H panels since Tom Hiddleston took over the stage in character as Loki. Gone were the simplistic origin stories and interconnecting, over-structured sequels that the MCU was known for. Here was something a little different. From the experimental and absolutely bonkers sounding Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to the reveal of Blade, there was a tonal shift in the offerings of the MCU that seems to hint at something different and far more exciting than what’s come before.
It’s probably important to note here that the one Phase 4 film we already knew the most about, The Eternals, is based on a Jack Kirby comic—in fact, one of the weirdest and most Kirby-ish. The story centers on a group of near immortals who were created by some of Marvel’s most mysterious and esoteric figures, the Celestials. The creators of all life in the Marvel Universe, the Celestials experimented on early human life and ended up creating two disparate and dangerous races known as the Eternals and the Deviants. It’s a truly wild and epic conceit, one that showcases Kirby’s unending imagination and the massive scope of his storytelling.
The fact that Fiege and Marvel are taking a risk by putting Eternals on screen is a big enough hint that they’re finally committing to the weird world of Kirby. But the fact that the rest of their slate also looks so unconventional means that influence is likely spreading further than the diverse new team that will be hitting screens next year.
It’s not just Eternals that will bring Kirby’s vibrant vision to the screen; two more of the artists most iconic and popular creations are about to join the MCU too. The X-Men and the Fantastic Four—both co-created with Stan Lee— are finally joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe after decades of licensing issues kept them out of the world Feige and company created.
Though it’s been a long wait there actually couldn’t be a better time for Kirby’s famed teams to hit the MCU. While the early days of the MCU had to play it relatively safe, ten years in Feige is finally ready to take some risks and that is the perfect way to pay homage to Kirby and his fearless imagination.
Images: Marvel Studios, Disney