There’s a new star in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one whom audiences may be quick to fall in love with. One of the two post-credits scenes in Chloé Zhao’s Eternals, Marvel’s big-screen adaptation of Jack Kirby’s 1976 comics epic, introduces singer-actor-fashion icon Harry Styles as Eros, the Eternal also known as Starfox (no relation to the Nintendo game). First, yes, Eros is indeed Thanos’s brother. And, yes, the idea of Harry Styles and Josh Brolin playing siblings is very funny. But for the former, it’s also spot-on casting: Styles has the kind of devil-may-care attitude perfect for the character, not to mention there’s a sizable fan base already in love with him. Still, Eros’s arrival heralds a major shift in this new phase of the ever-expanding MCU, and poses tricky questions about how to adapt a hero whose superpower is seduction for the screen.
Created by Marvel’s cosmic guru, Jim Starlin, Eros debuted as a relatively minor character in The Invincible Iron Man No. 55 (1973), the same issue that introduced Thanos, the Mad Titan who snapped half the universe out of existence in Avengers: Infinity War. Blessed with powerful persuasive abilities, Eros became central to Avengers story lines and the cosmic side of the Marvel universe, where characters like Captain Marvel, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Silver Surfer reign. His main power is a super-ability to psychically stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, making those around him susceptible to persuasion and helping to alleviate conflicts. Plus, it helps that he is classically handsome. No alien makeup effects for this guy.
Eros describes himself as a “man of love, man of adventure,” and he’s known as the galaxy-traveling Titan who goes wherever lust and trouble take him. He’s something of a cosmic Dorian Gray, a persuasive hedonist, though one who works in the service of the galactic good. His relationship with Thanos has long been the character’s defining conflict, a Cain and Abel parallel that runs throughout the comics. Their antagonism runs deep and their story is rife with tragedy, not least because the Mad Titan killed their mother and father along with the rest of their home planet.
Where does he come from? That would be Titan, an Eternal colony settled by their father A’lars and mother Sui-San; Eros is the second-born child of their ruling family. While the Eternals of Earth believed they should never have children for fear of genetic corruption, A’lars craved the human feeling of family. To avoid a war over the matter, A’lars left Earth with his followers to Titan, where, through biological and technological experiments, he worked to alter their genetic makeup. Eventually, he and Sui-San were able to conceive a child, but at a heavy cost: Thanos was born deformed by the genes of the Eternals’ sworn enemies, the Deviants. A’lars managed to correct the mistake during Sui-San’s second pregnancy with their son Eros. But predictably, because of their looks, Thanos was bullied and rejected as a child, while Eros was beloved and embraced.
The brothers differ in more than just appearance and disposition: Eros is also far less physically powerful than Thanos (and not nearly as strong as the Earth-bound Eternals), though he’s still a skilled fighter. The comics have explained this difference as a personal choice: Eros is just less interested in honing his body’s powers than he is in pursuing romantic conquests. And while most of his romantic interests have been women, alien and human, it was more recently suggested that Eros is bisexual — though maybe he’s got less game than he thinks. In bed with a harem, he beckons the interstellar hero Tyco Stallerus to join him, sprinkling in some flattery. “Well, aren’t you a strapping fellow,” he says. “Join us. The more the merrier.” (Tyco does not take him up on the offer.)
Eros witnessed his brother’s obsession with death at an early age, and did try to form a bond with Thanos, though his brother spurned him. He played a central role in the alliance to defeat his brother in the Infinity Saga, but the MCU seems to be going about this part of their story differently. (For one thing, in Infinity War, Thanos blames the destruction of their home planet on a lack of resources and infighting. Was he telling the truth?) Eternals’ version of Eros was nowhere to be found during Thanos’s reign of destruction. Where’s he been all this time? Did he survive the Snap? Or was he just off doing what Eros does best: Getting caught up in the thrill of his own heroism?
As for why Pip the Troll, Patton Oswalt’s character in the post-credits scene, calls him “Starfox,” you can thank (Marvel’s version of) Ronald Reagan for that. When Eros joined the Avengers as a replacement for the then-injured Hawkeye, Wasp warns that the president is “hesitant to approve of anyone named Eros. He would rather you were called something less provocative in public.” To appease him, she comes up with a new and not at all ridiculous moniker: “You’re a pretty foxy guy and you’ve been out among the stars …How about Starfox!” Eros plays along, though his distaste for Reaganism —the kind of battle all superheroes should fight — is clear.
Still, provocation has followed Eros and the lingering question of how consciously he exerts his persuasive abilities. In a 2006 story line, Eros stands trial after a woman accuses him of using his powers to sexually assault her. The courtroom debate interrogates whether Eros consciously manipulated her or if her attraction and willingness to have sex with him was just a result of his very being. (She-Hulk even questions her own years-prior romantic entanglement with the character.) The arc never lands on a clear answer about Eros’s guilt or innocence. And while there’s an interesting conversation to be had about superpowers and consent, it’s doubtful that Disney will gravitate toward that territory, even if She-Hulk is set to make her MCU debut next year.
In his brief moments onscreen at the end of Eternals, Eros offers to help Thena (Angelina Jolie), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), and Druig (Barry Keoghan) track down their abducted comrades, hinting at a significant role for him in the MCU to come. If the comics are any indication, he may even join the next iteration of the Avengers. Either way, Marvel Studios is going to have to make some concrete decisions about how his powers will be explored and used on film, and they won’t have the liberty of playing fast and loose with them the way the comics have. In the age of Me Too, a character who makes people become infatuated with him so he can sleep with them is a hard sell. And manipulating emotions while remaining a hero will be a tough line to toe, too.
As for encounters with villains, the ability to render them docile isn’t useless, but it also veers perhaps too close to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Shifting Eros’s power set toward the ability to unlock the fullest potential of those around him, for better or worse, would be a more intriguing direction. Starfox could help unlock Thena’s (Angelina Jolie) eons of memories, for example, or rid her of the Wy’ry affliction and allow her to craft weapons from every planet she’s ever lived on. Or perhaps he could even unlock the full potential of the Hulk in Bruce Banner, with both useful and disastrous consequences.
Streamlining Eros’s history will also be necessary, given his lengthy and complicated comic-book background. It could all be boiled down to a few key points: Eros is heroic and a far cry from his villainous brother. He’s fought alongside Earth and the galaxy’s greatest heroes, but he’s not immune to wreaking havoc in the pursuit of pleasure. If Thanos’s whole deal is death, then Eros’s is life. And a quest for either, when approached with such obsessive and reckless abandon as these two brothers do, proves destructive.
Whether we’ll see Eros and Thanos’s conflict play out onscreen is anyone’s guess. In the MCU’s current timeline, Thanos is already dead. But Eternals are immortal and there’s still plenty of history to be explored, as the millennia-spanning Eternals establishes. What if the MCU were to pit young Thanos, still grappling with his desire to wipe out half the universe in order to preserve resources, against Eros and his selfishness and hedonism? That might prove too interesting to pass up. Plus, there is a whole multiverse out there, full of different iterations of Thanos, some of whom we already met in What If?. Maybe Eros could finally save his brother, though he couldn’t in our universe.
Whatever lies in store for Eros in the MCU, his presence opens doors to a whole new phase of cosmic storytelling. The character has, ironically, never been the most beloved by fans when confined to the pages of comic books. But wherever he shows up next onscreen holds the promise of turning him into one of the greatest heroes in the multiverse, portrayed by one of the biggest stars on Earth.
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