As Marvel’s original cosmic beings, the Celestials have been a staple of the Marvel Comics universe for decades, and their actions have directly resulted in the birth of the Eternals and several teams of superheroes. They have even been linked to the creation of humanity itself. Despite all of this, and despite having been major players in the sagas of Thor, the X-men, and the Avengers, the Celestials are still a group that receives little attention from even the most passionate comic book fans.
The Celestials first made their debut in 1976 in The Eternals #2, written and drawn by Jack Kirby, and have been an essential part of the team’s backstory ever since. With the recent release of the new trailer for the upcoming Eternals, it looks as though the Celestials are set to lumber into the MCU in all of their colorful, jagged glory.
With both the Celestials and the Eternals about to be introduced to a much wider audience in the coming months, it is the perfect time to reflect on the origins of the Celestials and their impact on Earth and humanity within Marvel Comics. As a group, the Celestials have always been characterized by the mystery surrounding their agenda for the cosmos. Yet, over the decades, a surprisingly large amount of detail has been revealed about them.
The Celestials are the first lifeforms ever created in the Marvel universe. To steal the tagline from The Eternals’ poster: “In the beginning…” there was only the First Firmament, a sentient universe who in their loneliness decided to create life. As seen in The Ultimates 2 #6, by Al Ewing and Travel Foreman, this life was the Celestials: the first cosmic beings.
But there was quickly a schism within the Celestials between those who wanted to worship the First Firmament and those who wanted to create life themselves and allow the universe to grow and change. This was considered sacrilegious and war broke out between the loyalists and these “multicolored rebels.” The rebels won and the First Firmament was shattered creating the first multiverse, which the rebels (now the only Celestials) quickly colonized. Celestials have always appeared as giant humanoids locked inside colorful armor, with each Celestial’s armor differing slightly in appearance.
The truth of the Celestial’s origins confirms two things: firstly, their iconic brightly colored armor has always been their preferred style; and secondly, the Celestials are the true source of the creation of life in the cosmos. This explains their borderline-Biblical status among the species that populate the multiverse. The Celestials are the closest things to true gods that exist within the Marvel universe.
Since their creation, the Celestials have been in the business of creating life. The exact process of how they do this is unclear, but it has resulted in many old and powerful races, such as Asgardians. In Avengers #5, written by Jason Aaron with art by Ed McGuinness, Loki dubs them omnipotent.
The process by which Celestials develop life on a planet is divided into four visitations of a planet by a specialized team of Celestials referred to as “hosts.” The First Host visits a planet to seed life and review the resulting lifeforms, identifying those that show the most promise. The following two Hosts primarily visit to study and inspect the planet’s evolutionary process. The Fourth Host of Celestials is tasked with arriving on a planet on the verge of intergalactic travel and remaining there for fifty years in order to judge its people. If the Celestials deem a planet’s evolutionary trajectory successful, they leave and wipe all memory of their visitation. If they deem it unsuccessful, all life on the planet is exterminated.
As this process shows, Celestials are considered the most powerful race in the Universe: wielding unequaled power as well as being ageless and resistant to almost all forms of damage. As seen in Avengers #4, by Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness, the combined forces of Odin and the Stone-age Avengers were unable to stand against the First Host’s arrival on Earth. While this doesn’t mean the Celestials are un-killable, it means that they are effectively immortal against the mightiest heroes of the universe.
The ancient cosmic race’s repeated interactions with the heroes of Earth is where most of the information about the Celestials in Marvel Comics comes from. It is also where readers can see what makes Earth so special in the Marvel Universe. Firstly, the creation of life on Earth was an accident. As was revealed in Avengers #5, four billion years ago a Celestial was infected with a ravenous space parasite known as the Horde. The sick Celestial came to Earth and in its death throes, its infected blood and vomit mixed with the primordial soup of the planet. That’s right: human beings are the result of a god’s vomit. This direct introduction of decaying Celestial DNA is the reason why Earth has produced so many bizarre and varied super-powered individuals: because mankind is descended from the gods themselves.
Unsurprisingly the Celestials weren’t too pleased with the death of one of their number accidentally altering a planet’s evolutionary trajectory, so they came to Earth to eradicate the infected life, ie. mankind’s ancestors. After soundly defeating the Stone-age Avengers, the Celestials had a change of heart and decided to let this rogue evolutionary trajectory continue, but not before doing some tinkering themselves.
This tinkering resulted directly in the creation of both the Eternals and the Deviants and indirectly led to the creation of mutants. As showcased in The Eternals #1, by Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribić, the Celestials created 100 Deviants by experimenting on human ancestors to explore the possibilities of the species’ genetic variation. They then created 100 Eternals to guide and protect mankind until they had evolved enough to produce their own heroes. In order to ensure these heroes would come, the Celestials introduced the X-gene into these pre-humans with the plan that one day man would evolve abilities allowing them to surpass both the Eternals and the Deviants. However, the secret origins of mankind and the Horde were not revealed to the Eternals, which created issues for the group when the truth was revealed in Avengers #5.
Considering how directly the Celestials tie into the Eternals’ mythology, it will be interesting to see what inspirations Chloe Zhao’s film draws from the comics. The group’s first appearance in The Eternals #1 by Jack Kirby was set against the backdrop of the arrival of the Fourth Celestial Host coming to render judgment on humanity, with this saga later incorporating Thor and the Asgardians. In the footage seen in the most recent trailer, a figure who very much resembles the Celestial Arishem, responsible for judging humanity, can be seen. This means the Celestials could potentially be set up as an upcoming multi-film threat for both the Eternals and the MCU as a whole. Similarly, the Celestials’ responsibility for creating the X-gene, as seen in What If #23 by Mark Gruenwald, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone, could be a potential way for the MCU could introduce mutants.
The Celestials are a race whose actions and origins in the Marvel Comics are firmly entrenched in the creation of not just the Eternals and Deviants but also humanity, mutantkind, and the multiverse itself. As Marvel’s original cosmic beings, their impact on the universe of the comics cannot be understated. The MCU is about to introduce the real gods of the Marvel Universe.