Ahh summer. School’s out, the sun is shining, the beaches are packed. But what would summer be without a world-ending comic event? The Distinguished Competition has already kicked their summer off with the shocking deaths of the
Squadron Supreme Justice League, so it’s high time for Marvel to threaten to kill their heroes too. A.X.E.: Judgment Day #1 dropped this week, the first in a six part event destined to change the fate of the Marvel Universe (you can read The Beat’s review right here!). Though the first issue in an earth-shattering event should be easy to jump into, prospective readers are bound to have some questions: Just who are the Eternals? Are the X-Men evil now? Is Harry Styles in this comic? What’s the correct spelling of Judg(e)ment?
That’s where the team at Stately Beat Manor comes in. While we can’t answer every single question (it’s judgment), we can lay out the roadmap as to how Judgment Day started and what it might mean for the future of the Marvel Universe. This article is chock full of SPOILERS, but feel free to scroll down to our reading order to see where to start!
Need to A.X.E. us for any clarification? Drop us a line down in the comments or on social media @comicsbeat!
Obviously my first question is what is Judgment Day?
Judgment Day (or Avengers * X-Men * Eternals: Judgment Day if you’re fancy) is a Marvel crossover between the Avengers, X-Men, and Eternals in which the Eternals try to kill the X-Men for stealing their immortal gimmick and the Avengers has to break up the fight.
Uhh, ok. Is that really it?
No, I’m burying the lead quite a bit here. Here’s the solicit text for the first issue, which does a much better job than me of summing it up:
The X-Men claim they’re the planets’ new gods. The Eternals know that position is already filled. The Avengers are about to realize exactly how many secrets their so-called friends have kept from them. Years of tension lead to a volcanic eruption as two worlds burn. Who has leaked the X-Men’s secrets to their latest foes? Why is Tony Stark abducting an old friend? And who stands in judgment over the whole world? Judgment Day from Kieron Gillen and Valerio Schiti is the apocalyptic emotional event to define the summer.
Whoa that sounds interesting. How do I get started?
Honestly, you could pick up issue one this week and you’d be fine. It does a great job of explaining how we got here while also establishing where we’re going from here. I don’t even know why I started writing this article. See ya at the next Marvel Rundown!
…ok yeah, obviously there’s a bit more to it than that. As far as events go, this one has naturally grown from a number of books from across the Marvel line over the past few years (we’ll get into those below). While some of the beats from those books haven’t been as foregrounded as, say, mutants becoming immortal, they’re important enough that this event feels story-driven, rather than coming out of nowhere.
Ok, I’ll bite. What’s Up With the Eternals?
For those who may be unaware, the Eternals are a group of 100 humanoid beings modified by the Celestials (space gods) to guard humanity and protect the Earth. In the original stories by Jack Kirby, their stated purpose was to defend the world from a group of beings known as the Deviants, so-called “genetic mistakes” of the Celestials. There’s a lot more to it than just this, but thankfully, the Beat’s own Matt O’Keefe compiled a handy guide on the original gods just a few years ago that outlines their complete publication history.
Prior to 2018’s Avengers #4, the Eternals were almost completely out of the picture following the conclusion of a brief title from 2009. Aside from Thanos, the group was featured in the odd story here and there, but were otherwise missing from the Marvel Universe. Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness, and Paco Medina brought them back in the aforementioned issue, but merely as plot devices: in a story centering around the arrival of the Dark Celestials, the Eternals discover that their main purpose was not to protect humans, but to cultivate them in order for the Celestials to use them as the ultimate pathogen. By the end of the issue, every Eternal has either killed themselves or killed each other. The Avengers go on to defeat the Dark Celestials and turn a dead Celestial corpse into a new headquarters.
The Eternals don’t make their true return until Eternals #1 by Kieron Gillen, Esad Ribić, Matthew Wilson, and Clayton Cowles. In the issue, narrated by The Machine that is Earth, Gillen lays out the central principles of Eternal society:
Protect Celestials. Protect the machine. Correct excess deviation.
These core tenets are the basis of the series to come, the first act of which revolves around the Eternals resurrecting themselves only to discover that one of their own has sabotaged the Machine, murdered Zuras the Prime Celestial, resurrected Thanos, and activated armageddon on Earth. It’s a phenomenal first arc that ends with two startling conclusions: 1) Thanos is the new Prime Eternal and 2) Every time an Eternal is resurrected, a human dies in their place.
The combination of those two factors leads a small faction of the Eternals (most of our main characters so far!) to leave Eternal society and join the Deviants, leading us directly into the second act, “Hail Thanos.” With Thanos leading the majority of the Eternals, he enacts a plan with Druig and Uranos (Thanos’ great uncle) to destroy the Machine (aka Earth) for kicks. In order to stop him, Ajak and Makkari attempt to commune with the Celestials to learn their grand designs for the Machine.
Unfortunately for them, the Avengers have converted the only connection to the Celestials on Earth into Avengers Mountain. After the Eternals distract the Avengers and break-in to the mountain, Ajak doesn’t discover how to stop Thanos, but instead learns that the Eternals were never the important ones on Earth. The Deviants were. Thanos is eventually stopped by some clever trickery employed by Druig, who goes on to become the Prime Eternal.
Gillen’s Eternals is rather easy to follow, with the twelve main issues acting as one story in two acts. For those looking for a bit more background on the Eternals, Gillen also wrote three one-shots that fleshed out the world of the Eternals while also providing set-up for the remainder of the story to be told. While not technically included in the main series, these issues are incredibly important to the overarching narrative and do a lot to further Eternals lore. The reading order for said series is as follows:
- Eternals #1-6
- Eternals: Thanos Rises #1
- Eternals: Celestia #1
- Eternals #7-9
- Eternals: The Heretic #1
- Eternals #10-12
By the way, I left something rather important out. In learning that the Deviants were the important Celestial creations, Ajak also discovered that Deviant DNA has successfully integrated with human DNA over billions of years of gestation… leading to the mutant race as we know it today. That’s a whole lot of excess deviation, wouldn’t you say?
Ahh, so that’s where the X-Men come in.
Exactly. And ever since the Krakoan era began, mutantkind has been slowly increasing their number by the hundreds of thousands. It started with House of X/Powers of X, when it was revealed that a very specific group of mutants (known as The Five) would be able to use their powers in tandem to resurrect any dead mutant through the utilization of the memory/soul recording machine known as Cerebro. This went a step further when the Scarlet Witch gifted mutants a so-called “Waiting Room,” a liminal space between life and death, where mutants could choose to let their souls reside when/if they wanted to resurrect themselves.
Though that obviously sounds great, the mutants have a loose end that leaves them with the risk of losing it all: Moira MacTaggart.
Yes, she started out as a the most important secret kept by Professor X and Magneto, her mutant power to reboot her lives making her a crucial leading founder of Krakoa. Unfortunately for mutants, in stories like Inferno and The X Lives and X Deaths of Wolverine, MacTaggart lost faith in the mutant dream and transferred her consciousness into a cyborg body, determined to destroy mutantkind. With the help of new allies from the anti-mutant ORCHIS, Moira has been attacking the X-Men at their weak points, slowing gaining an inch in this forever war of the species.
When Emma Frost learned about Moira, she was so frustrated with the powers that be that she immediately revealed it to the Quiet Council (ruling body of Krakoa). The turmoil that decision caused within the council led to a further examination of their oversight within the pages of Gillen and Lucas Werneck‘s Immortal X-Men. The book cycles between different members of the council every issue, with a keen focus on the return of the precognitive Destiny and what she means for the future of mutants.
Mister Sinister has also been in the spotlight lately, with the staggering reveal that he has a collection of Moira clones he frequently kills in order to reset the timeline to “save points” that work for him. That’s not to mention that recent issues of X-Men by Gerry Duggan, Pepe Larraz, Javier Pina, and C.F. Villa let slip the existence of another Mister Sinister running around the Earth, claiming to be a human version of the geneticist named Dr. Stasis.
That same X-Men series also featured Cyclops and Synch struggling to keep the secret of mutant resurrection from all-star Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich. After pretending to be new hero Captain Krakoa for a few issues, Cyclops came clean to Urich, and the story about the “Immortal X-Men” went public just before the start of the most recent Hellfire Gala. As the world watched, Eternals and Avengers alike began to question how much they could trust mutant kind….
TL;DR: mutants are functionally immortal now and humans/robots want to exterminate them. Isn’t that peachy?
The most important stories for all of this probably come down to how invested in the Krakoan era you are. Wanna start from the beginning? Go all the way back to HOX/POX and jump around from there. Only want the essentials for what’s the come? I’d read the most recent X-Men series, along with Immortal X-Men to see what’s going to be the most impactful for the upcoming event. I’ve highlighted the most important books for the event at the very end of this piece.
Alright, I get why all these weird people are involved. What does any of this have to do with the Avengers?
Well, they’re mostly on the outside looking in. Aside from setting up the current status quo for the Eternals and the brief appearance in Gillen’s run, there hasn’t been a ton they’ve done to set up this story on their own. They do have a dead Celestial as a base, but it’s not like they have any idea what’s really going on between the Eternals and the mutants. A few Avengers went to the most recent Hellfire Gala to grill the mutants about how they became immortal, but they left with a lot more questions than answers. It’s safe to say that the first arc of Aaron’s Avengers might be the only big reading to understand their place in this story, as they appear in the background of the “Road to Judgment” reading order I’ve pieced together below.
Ok, I think I’m ready to jump in.
Above is the official Judgment Day reading order, but there are a good deal of books that help to directly set-up the event that weren’t included. Gillen’s Eternals is absolutely the most important book not listed, but here’s everything else that feels necessary to truly understanding this event (listed in the order they should be read):
- Immortal X-Men #1-3
- X-Men #12
- FCBD 2022: Avengers/X-Men (2022) #1 (Judgment Day/Hellfire Gala Set-Up)
- X-Men: Hellfire Gala #1 (2022)
- Immortal X-Men #4
- A.X.E.: Eve of Judgment #1
While it might be too early to tell what exactly is going on, based on what we’ve seen so far? It looks like we’re in for a wild and bumpy ride.