Marvel Comics is bringing the Eternals to the forefront of the Marvel Universe for the publisher’s big summer event story AXE: Judgment Day.
The ‘AXE’ prefix stands for Avengers, X-Men, and Eternals, the three teams that will find themselves at odds in Judgment Day, starting with a serious ideological clash between the Eternals and the X-Men over a new belief among the Eternals that mutants such as the X-Men are in fact offshoots of the Eternals’ ancient enemies the Deviants.
But where does this belief actually come from? Teasers for AXE: Judgment Day have directly referenced the mutant-Deviant connection, but the details of how the Eternals come to believe that mutants must be eradicated haven’t been spelled out yet.
Still, the idea that mutants are a form of Deviants is only the latest evolution – pun fully intended – of the comic book story behind the origins of mutantkind.
In Marvel Universe terms, the long, secret history shared between mutants, Deviants, Eternals, and Celestials goes back to the very beginnings of the Marvel Universe and encompasses everything from the Inhumans, to Multiverse alt-realities, and even a connection between the Deviants and the ancient mutant known as Apocalypse that strangely reflects some of the plot points seen in Marvel Studios’ Eternals film.
The First Mutants
As with many comic book stories that have undergone their share of retcons, revamps, and newly added revisions, the origin story of mutantkind in the Marvel Universe isn’t exactly cut-and-dry even before adding in the new Deviant-derivative concept that’s coming up in AXE: Judgment Day.
For starters, the idea of who might be the so-called ‘first mutant’ in the Marvel Universe has changed significantly over the years. At one time, Namor the Sub-Mariner was considered the first mutant in the Marvel Universe, a product of the interbreeding of human and Atlantean physiology.
These days, that concept has been adjusted to reflect Namor’s status as one of the earliest published Marvel heroes, debuting all the way back in 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, with his mutant status retconned backward onto his history in modern stories.
Then there’s Apocalypse, who was born thousands of years ago as En Sabah Nur, who once claimed to be the first mutant. (He’ll be important again in a bit – keep that in mind.)
This has been disproven in subsequent stories, with several mutants shown to predate Apocalypse, including some full mutant populations like the original dwellers of Okkara, the living island that would one day be split into the two mutant islands Krakoa, the current homeland of mutantkind, and Arakko, the long-lost namesake of the terraformed planet Mars which is now under mutant rulership.
There are a few other ancient mutants, notably the mutant vampire Selene who was born during the Hyborian Age of Conan the Barbarian, as well as the enigmatic immortal known as the Forever Man. And Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King, has claimed that his true psychic form predates the dawn of humanity.
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Oddly enough, the actual ‘first mutant’ in the Marvel Universe may date to the time of the prehistoric 1,000,000 BC Avengers.
The hero known as ‘Firehair’, the first Earthling to become the physical host of the cosmic Phoenix Force, has been depicted as an early human who was one of several humans known as the ‘Tribe Without Fear’ who developed natural mutant powers. Firehair’s mutant abilities manifest as telepathy and telekinesis, drawing the Phoenix Force’s attention.
(That ‘Firehair’ has red hair, and somewhat resembles mutant leader Jean Grey may not be a coincidence, all things considered).
Firehair has been a part of Jason Aaron’s ongoing Avengers run since its launch as part of the prehistoric 1,000,000 BC Avengers, composed of the very earliest versions of heroes such as Ghost Rider, Starbrand, the Black Panther, and even Thor’s father Odin – with the Phoenix Force even recently claiming to Thor that she is his actual mother, having been conceived by Odin and Firehair while she was the host of the Phoenix.
And that brings us to what’s kinda odd about Firehair also potentially being one of the first mutants – she actually technically predates what is now believed to be the closest version of the ‘true’ mutant origin story shown yet.
That same flashback story set in the ancient past actually plays directly into the events of AXE: Judgment Day, and provides the biggest modern clue about the true origins of mutants – and whether they’re actually somehow connected to the Deviants.
We’ve discussed the so-called ‘Celestial Vomit’ theory of superhero origins in-depth right here, but to recap, the basic idea is that a Fallen Celestial who was infected with a cosmic plague called the Horde crash-landed on Earth eons ago, and in its dying moments vomited a deluge of the very infection that killed it into the Earth itself.
According to the story, as told in the first volume of Jason Aaron’s Avengers (opens in new tab), the infection’s arrival on Earth through the Fallen Celestial led the Earth itself to develop ‘antibodies’ – or in other words, the potential for the sentient beings of Earth to develop super-powers capable of repelling threats like the cosmic plague that felled the Celestial, including (but not limited to) the evolution of the X-Gene in humanity and the subsequent rise of mutantkind.
This entire concept – that mutants are ‘antibodies’ created through some version of Celestial tampering – was actually codified in the 1999 limited series Earth X (opens in new tab), which established that in that story’s reality of Earth-9997 mutants are purposely seeded on Earth by Celestials as a kind of ‘antibodies’ against a greater cosmic threat.
What’s more, nearly all of humanity on Earth-9997 begins to develop mutations when the entire world is exposed to the Terrigen Mists, the substance which causes Inhumans such as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel to develop their powers in comic books. The same thing happened on Earth-616, but in the mainstream Marvel Universe, the Terrigen Mists actually caused a plague that killed mutants.
Back to the Fallen Celestial and his vomit, Firehair was among the Avengers who faced the Fallen Celestial when it landed on Earth before its death, and her mutation predates its arrival, not to mention the arrival of the Eternals and Deviants on Earth, who actually showed up not too long after the 1,000,000 BC Avengers disbanded (about a million years ago, per Marvel lore).
So if there were mutants on Earth before the Eternals and Deviants, how could mutants be the genetic descendants of the Deviants? And where do mutants actually originate?
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Well, the latter question may not be answerable just yet – the story’s technically still unfolding. But given the connection between Firehair and the Phoenix Force, the supposed secret parentage of Thor, as well as the Phoenix’s later obsession with mutants, there could be something there.
For the former question, how could mutants descend from Deviants if Deviants came later, and how could the Fallen Celestial’s antibodies cause the rise of the X-Gene as well as other sources for humans to gain super-powers?
There’s a potential answer in the current Eternals (opens in new tab) ongoing title from Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribic, which is one of the key titles leading up to AXE: Judgment Day. In that series, the Eternals have defied their own nature to ally themselves with the Deviants in order to stop a wave of Deviant mutations known as ‘the Change’ which is sweeping through the Eternal population and causing monstrous, out of control genetic deviation among both the Eternals and the Deviants.
It may be that whatever is causing ‘the Change’ is part of what caused the population of mutants to balloon and the ongoing proliferation of the development of the X-Gene in humans, with the cause of rising mutant births to somehow also tie into the uncontrollable mutations faced by the Eternals and Deviants.
If so, the Eternals may even figure it out when they invade Avengers headquarters in upcoming issues of their title – which is situated where else but inside of the husk of the Fallen Celestial, which is partially submerged in a mountain similar to the final fate of the emerging Celestial in the Eternals movie.
But there’s another, even deeper potential connection between mutants and Deviants, and it actually goes back to the aforementioned Apocalypse who, as it turns out, has been an enemy not just of the X-Men, but has also fought the Eternals time and again through the ages.
Survival of the Fittest
As we stated, Apocalypse is thousands of years old, and in his extensive time on Earth, he’s developed some particularly bloodthirsty ideas of what the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ means, working time and again to genetically tamper with mutants to make them the dominant species of Earth, and even occasionally plying his experiments on other beings as well – including the Deviants.
Apocalypse’s attempts to conquer the Earth date back millennia as well, and in that time he’s faced the Eternals as the self-styled protectors of humanity on more than one occasion, with Ikaris and Sersi even once believing they had killed him thousands of years ago.
But that belief was shaken when Apocalypse turned his machinations, designed to suss out and empower the strongest members of a given population while culling those Apocalypse considers weak, on the Deviants, attempting to start a full-on war between humans and Deviants with the goal of eliminating one of the populations entirely.
Before his scheme is eventually thwarted by Ikaris and other Eternals, Apocalypse begins experimenting on and hideously evolving Deviants, turning them into uncontrollable monsters that wreak havoc on humanity – not too unlike the effects of ‘the Change’ as seen in the current Eternals title.
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Could Apocalypse, or at least something to do with his schemes, come into play in AXE: Judgment Day? Could something to do with Apocalypse’s experiments be part of the cause of ‘the Change,’ and moreover, part of the deeper connection between mutants and Deviants as genetic cousins?
Interestingly enough, the idea that Deviants are evolving into stronger, more deadly beings is also reflected in Marvel Studios’ Eternals movie, in which the Deviant known as Kro has a small part as a Deviant who develops full intelligence, unlike the more animalistic, monstrous Deviants seen in the film. This plot point is barely touched on in the story – so could it be setting up a bigger exploration of the idea down the road?
The history of mutants and Deviants, as well as the Deviants’ creators the Celestials, is one of the longest-running subplots in the Marvel Universe, with hints, questions, and connections being seeded between the rise of mutants and the interference of the Celestials dating back decades.
Now, it seems that AXE: Judgment Day is preparing to codify the various concepts that could tie into the origins of mutantkind into a more cohesive narrative, tying mutants to Deviants. Perhaps that comic book connection will come just in time for a similar connection to somehow be drawn in the MCU, which is still awaiting the debut of its own mutants, with fans consistently speculating on where and how mutants could appear – or if they’ve even been hiding in the MCU already.
AXE: Judgment Day is just one of many stories coming up for Marvel’s mutants. Stay on top of everything that’s coming with our handy listing of all the new X-Men comics scheduled for release in 2022 and beyond.