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Marvel's Thena: What you need to know about the Eternal

Avengers: Endgame ended a glittering era of the MCU, making way for the massive franchise's much-hyped Phase 4. Plenty of fresh faces are set to populate the star systems, parliaments, and space stations of the MCU, many of them little-known outside of comics-savvy circles. Sure, Iron Man wasn't an iconic hero on Batman's level before Robert Downey Jr. made him an internationally recognized name, but he also wasn't as obscure as, say, the Eternals. Yet in this age of comic book blockbusters, Eternals is a real movie, with a massive budget, a serious hype machine, and a star-studded cast.

Who are the Eternals, you ask? Well, they're among Marvel's most cosmic creations. These virtually immortal Earth-dwellers embody comics at their weirdest — the sort of property a '90s comics fan would never have dreamed of seeing on the silver screen. Consider the Eternal known as Thena. She saw ancient Babylon rise and fall, is a scholar with literal eons of knowledge, and isn't actually the goddess Athena, but isn't entirely not her either. Confused? Not to worry. We're here to break down Thena's whole story, from her Olympian origins to her mind-bending powers.

The Celestials

The Eternals are an immortal race of super-beings, created through experimentation upon early humans. Who were these experimenters? A group of ultra-powerful pseudo-deities known as the Celestials. The Celestials were some of the first creatures to ever exist in the Marvel universe, and are themselves the creations of an entity called the First Firmament. 

In the beginning, the First Firmament was the entire universe — nothing else existed. Being the only game in all of eternity gets lonely, and so, the First Firmament created a race of servants. This group soon split into two: the Aspirants and the Celestials. The Aspirants were loyal servants, who wished for nothing more than to serve their creators. The Celestials deviated from the First Firmament's plan, having a bit more of the entity in them than it liked: They wanted to create life of their own too. This difference in opinion festered until a civil war broke out between the inhabitants of the cosmos. In the end, after utterly brutal violence on both sides, the Celestials triumphed. The First Firmament and its Aspirants beat a hasty retreat into other fragmented universes, leaving the Celestials behind in the Marvel universe to tinker as they pleased.

Earth's own immortals

The Celestials landed on Earth eons ago, and set to experimenting upon early humanity. What resulted were two offshoot races: The uniformly beautiful and enormously powerful Eternals, and the hideous and dramatically mutated Deviants. The Deviants' resentment of humanity led to an adversarial relationship with Earth's inhabitants, while their rapid mutation allowed them to build an advanced civilization in record time. In short order, the Deviants had built a vast and cruel empire. At the same time, the Eternals voted to remove themselves from humanity, building isolated cities away from the rest of the world.

Both of these outcomes displeased the Celestials, who flooded the Earth upon their return. Thena, the daughter of Eternals' leader Zuras, was born around this time,  in the Eternal city of Olympia. Though she is many thousands of years old, she's considered quite young compared to many of her immortal brethren. She was actually born with the name Azura, and later took on the name Thena to secure the Eternals' place in the ancient world.

Thena and Athena

The Eternals were written with Greek myths in mind. Icarus became Ikaris. Hephaestus became Phastos. Circe became Sersi. This isn't just set dressing — it's a purposeful part of the Eternals' complex story.

What you need to know is that the Eternals are not actually the gods they are mistaken for, most of the time — those gods tend to actually exist in the Marvel universe. Some exceptions apply: Sersi appears to really be the mythical Circe, though she notes Homer got her name wrong in the Odyssey. But generally speaking, the Eternals are frequently confused for their Olympian counterparts and other great heroes, rather than truly being them. The Eternal known as the Forgotten One was often mistaken for Hercules, who he's actually been buddies with since the era of ancient Greece. Phastos was assumed to be Hephaestus, god of the forge, given his impeccable smithing skills. So it follows that Azura, daughter of an immortal named Zuras, who led a city called Olympia, was mixed up with the goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus.

A bargaining chip

Centuries in the past, the Greek gods decided to put down roots — only to find the Eternals already established in Olympia. The two groups met, and immediately noticed the striking resemblances between them. A deal was struck, in which the Eternals would act as the Greek pantheon's representatives on Earth. They would visit with humanity in the gods' stead, leaving the actual deities to their pocket dimension of Mount Olympus while ensuring a steady stream of worship.

To seal the deal, Zuras decreed that his daughter's name would now be Thena. Thus, Thena came to be worshiped as Athena, goddess of wisdom, war, and handicraft. She even inspired the construction of the city of Athens. While Thena protected the city for quite a while, she ultimately let the Spartans take it over. Though she did not need to use the guise of Athena once the Olympic gods fell out of fashion, the name stuck with her, and she's continued to use it.

A complicated relationship with Kro

Thena might not be as much of a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist as Phastos, but she does view fighting between Eternals to be essentially pointless. That viewpoint only grew stronger when she met and fell for a Deviant named Kro. 

Kro and Thena met in ancient Babylon, where Kro had an opportunity to slay Thena ... and refused. Love grew between the two, but Kro and Thena knew well enough to keep their relationship secret. Their on-again, off-again partnership is known to few, even as it has carried on for thousands of years. They eventually had children together, after reigniting their relationship during the Vietnam War. Using her Eternal powers, Thena implanted the resulting twin children in a human woman to continue to keep their relationship secret. They were born as Deborah and Donald Ritter, seemingly ordinary humans. Of course, as Eternal-Deviant hybrids, they were anything but. 

An attack on New York City

Having to keep up appearances of fighting an eternal war while secretly being in love (and having secret children) takes its toll. At times, Kro's actions brought Thena and Kro into direct conflict. Kro attacked New York City in 1976's Eternals #3, leading bands of Deviants through the city streets. Zuras knew that he would have to fight the Deviants yet again, and sent his daughter to help put down the Deviant uprising.

Though Thena is ultimately successful in stopping the Deviant attack, Kro still believed he accomplished his goals. Years of being treated as second-class creations led to a deep hatred of the Celestials by the Deviants. They believed that their attacks would inspire a widespread hatred of anything from outer space — an animosity that would aid the Deviants if they were to attack arriving Celestials. Still, he had been beaten, and accepted a truce with the Eternals. As always, when it comes to Thena and Kro, the two might fight, sabotage, and spy on each other, but they always end up back together again.

Leading the Eternals

As the daughter of the leader of the Eternals, Thena has always been a prime candidate to replace Zuras, were he ever to falter. Of course, the very nature of the Eternals makes it difficult to talk of succession — they're nearly impossible to kill. But it did eventually come to pass that Zuras died, at the hands of his creators.

When the Celestials came down to Earth for a fourth time, the leader of the Eternals made a shocking decision: He attacked them. Drawing from his knowledge of past cataclysms, Zuras saw that the Celestials would destroy all of humanity if they found the world lacking. All of the world's semi-immortal beings worked to turn back the Celestials for their own reasons — this storyline saw the Eternals fight alongside the Asgardians. When the Eternals formed the Uni-Mind, a merging of their consciousnesses, with Zuras at the center, it left the leader particularly vulnerable. Thus, when the Celestials struck the Uni-Mind with a powerful bolt of energy, Zuras was killed. Thena assumed command as Prime Eternal ... until further events forced her to abdicate.

A battle for the throne

Ikaris, one of the most hot-headed Eternals around, never believed in Thena as the Prime Eternal. One of the leaders of Eternal society, he carried quite a bit of sway in Olympia. He repeatedly challenged Thena for her throne and lost. Despite these victories, Thena struggled mightily with the responsibility suddenly thrust upon her. Having seen her father die, she struggled with the idea that the same fate might await her — and, simultaneously, suffered beneath the weight of being without her father for the first time. It also didn't help that Kro had placed a device on her that very subtly manipulated her decision-making to favor the Deviants. Thena was dedicated to keeping her people safe, but her love for Kro, the influence of his device, and her general anxiety came to a disastrous head when she attacked Ikaris to save Kro from certain death. In this moment, Ikaris saw an opening. He defeated Thena and took over her place as Prime Eternal.

Living as a human

Thena was one of the many Eternals who had their memory wiped when the Eternal known as Sprite manipulated reality in the 2006 Eternals series. Totally ignorant of her past and powers, Thena lived life as a human researcher, working for Stark Enterprises. She was knocked out of her endless mortal reverie by Ikaris, who had broken Sprite's spell and needed the help of the remaining Eternals to stop another Celestial plot. While living as a human named Ike Harris, Ikaris had been captured and vaporized by Deviants. When his body reformed in the Eternals' abandoned city of Olympia, he realized that all of the Eternals were suffering a similar case of memory loss.

Thena and Ikaris traveled around the world to find their former companions, all living as everyday humans, and eventually stopped the emergence of a sleeping Celestial living underneath Los Angeles. Upon their success, Thena decided to live alongside the human son she'd had in the interim, over the objections of her fellow Eternals.

The massacre of the Eternals

After all those millennia of life, Thena died alongside all the other Eternals in a 2018 Avengers storyline. Calamity had struck when a group known as the Dark Celestials began attacking Earth, while the bodies of regular Celestials began to rain down upon the planet. Tony Stark traveled to Olympia to check on the Celestials' most famous experiments ... and found the corpses of the Eternals, clearly having all committed suicide or killed each other. In a dying monologue, Ikaris explained that the Eternals weren't sent to Earth to protect humanity: At the beginning of the attack, they learned that they were placed on Earth to cultivate humanity as a viral weapon.

"We are a lie, Tony Stark. We Eternals were great fools. We weren't here to protect you," he said. "We were ... to cultivate you. Your ... virulence. To them, to the space gods, you ... are a useful pathogen."

This knowledge drove the Eternals mad. As Ikaris lamented, they couldn't handle learning the truth, and so it destroyed them. But this is comics we're talking about — they'll likely be up and about again soon enough.

A new take

The Eternals, being one of Marvel's more obscure properties, weren't predicted to join the MCU any time soon by most fans. And yet, an Eternals movie came to be, meaning people the world over now know about Ikaris, Sersi, and all the rest of the gang — including Thena, played by Angelina Jolie, one of the most famous actresses on the face of the planet.

Jolie has said she's very committed to bringing a realistic version of the immortal warrior goddess to the silver screen. As she told USA Today, she's explored everything from ballet to swordsmanship in an effort to get the graceful fighting of Thena down. "She's a warrior. I'm going to have to work very hard to give the Marvel Cinematic Universe the Thena they deserve," she said. This is music to fan's ears: Thena is a one-of-a-kind character, who deserves an actress of Jolie's caliber. She might be soft-hearted enough to fall for a Deviant, but so too is she a legendary scholar, warrior, and leader of her people.