In the Beginning
Marvel’s first openly gay superhero will make his big-screen debut in Eternals.
When Marvel releases Eternals in November, it’ll mark a milestone for the studio — and not for being the longest Marvel movie released to date.
The Chloé Zhao directed feature will introduce a new generation of superpowered beings, including Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos, who’ll be the first openly gay hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, outside of a brief cameo in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.
In fact, Phastos is such a big part of the movie that his sexuality has earned the film a mature rating in infamously conservative Russia. But who is Phastos, and what does he have to do with the rest of the Eternals?
Fans of the original 1976 series The Eternals might be wondering that question as well. Although most of the characters appearing in the upcoming movie can be found in that original 19-issue series by the great Jack Kirby, Phastos wasn’t one. He wouldn’t appear until Marvel Comics revived the concept almost a decade later.
Debuting in the background of 1985’s The Eternals #1 and created by Peter B. Gillis and Sal Buscema, Phastos wasn’t given the spotlight until the series’ third issue. The cover melodramatically described him as “the Deviant Slayer Supreme!”
The description wasn’t merely melodramatic; it was also incorrect.
What made Phastos stand out amongst his fellow Eternals wasn’t his role as an engineer and inventor, nor the color of his skin — Kirby, for his sins, made all of the original Eternals white. It was that he rejected the ongoing war between the Eternals and the Deviants, something both sides were seemingly obsessed over.
“Ask me to solve a mystery — build a device— invent a technology — and I will do it all! All that I will freely give you!” he declared, when approached by his immortal brethren, “but do not ask for war from me — for I will fight no more for ever!”
He didn’t precisely hold to that sentiment. Because of the nature of superhero comics, when the Eternals decided to try to become superheroes themselves in 2000’s New Eternals: Apocalypse Now, he was amongst their number, adopting the codename “Ceasefire.” (Because he’s a pacifist. Get it? Get it?) However, all of this is beside the point because everything was about to change for him in his next appearance. And I mean, everything.
As part of Neil Gaiman’s 2006 miniseries Eternals, illustrated by John Romita Jr., the mythology around the Eternals was reset. One Eternal, Sprite, managed to change reality and scatter the Eternals across Earth with their memories rewritten so that they had no idea of who and what they really were. Again, Phastos wasn’t part of this initial series. But he did show up in the subsequent monthly comic launched in 2008, where readers met Phillip Stoss, the married, straight, and most surprisingly, white man who had no idea he was of an immortal race of superpowered beings.
Even when he finally accepts his true nature, Phastos surprisingly stays white. It wasn’t part of disguising the character into a new life, nor a feint on the part of creators to make readers suspect the Eternals had misidentified the character in his disguised form. He stays white in all of his appearances for the next six years before an appearance in the final storyline of 2014’s New Warriors series seemingly remembers that he was actually Black all along. He has, thankfully, remained Black ever since.
If Phastos has played a specific role in Eternals comic book lore, it could be argued that he’s the outsider. He throws the reality of what the Eternals are into sharp relief, intentionally or otherwise. He’s the pacifist who clarifies that the Eternals are trapped in an endless war with the Deviants. He’s the Black man who underscores how white the original comic characters were. Even when the comics introduce the Phillip Stoss incarnation, his reluctance to accept his birthright as an Eternal lets the reader truly consider the cost of what it means to be an Eternal.
That idea is made more explicit in Marvel’s current Eternals comic book series, where Phastos plays a vital role. Be warned: major spoilers follow. The end of the series’ first story arc reveals that Phastos has intentionally sabotaged the mechanisms by which the Eternals’ immortality is guaranteed — to the point where he’s even brought Thanos back from the dead, as part of an admittedly arcane and complicated plan. He’s not doing so out of a sudden turn to the dark side, however. Instead, he’s uncovered the truth behind what makes the Eternals eternal and made a moral decision that he believes is the right one to end their line as quickly as possible.
(For those who are curious: The truth is, each time an Eternal dies and is reborn, their rebirth means that a random human dies in their place. Given that the comics just introduced this element into its mythology in the last couple of months, it’s unlikely this will be an element in the movie.)
Phastos is a crucial figure in larger Eternals mythology, at least in their comic book existence. Speaking truth to power, he acts as a moral compass for the group as a whole. Whether this means the same will be true of his cinematic equivalent won’t be clear until the movie’s release.
But, let’s be honest. When it comes to Marvel finally getting around to sharing a gay hero in one of its movies, even if Brian Tyree Henry only manages to portray half of what the comic book character has come to embody in the quarter-century since his debut, the contradictory, compelling Phastos is a pretty great place to start.
Eternals arrives in theaters on November 5, 2021
In the Beginning