Salma Hayek

It’s been almost a year since Marvel took to the D23 Expo in California and announced their latest and greatest superhero team, the enigmatic Eternals. These new heroes, deeply rooted in Marvel lore, will come to life on the big screen for the first time by way of some major A-list stars, including Angelina Jolie, a newly ripped Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, and Game of Thrones alums Kit Harington and Richard Madden.

Also on board is actress Salma Hayek, one of the most surprising inclusions on the list. She will be playing Ajak, a wise patriarch of the Eternals. Obviously, if you’re trying to cast a father figure, you likely wouldn’t find yourself reaching for Hayek’s headshot — yet that’s exactly what happened. Take it from the actress herself: "I’m so excited to join the Marvel family as Ajak, the mother of all Eternals. It used to be the father of all Eternals, but girls … this is OUR time!!!!"

As Hayek so eloquently put it, this is an exciting time indeed for Marvel fans all over the world. However, those unfamiliar with the comics might still be wondering who the heck Ajak is, and what makes him so special. We’re here to illuminate the mysteries of this Eternal, from his extraterrestrial origins to his stint as a god.

Who are the Eternals?

The Eternals, from Marvel Comics

Although they aren’t at the forefront of most fans’ minds, the Eternals cast a huge shadow over the history of the Marvel universe. Those mutations that make the X-Men so spectacular? That’s tied to the Eternals’ origin. Thanos? He’s involved with them too, in a roundabout way: The Eternals once colonized a little place called Titan, which became home to the purple-faced villain centuries later. His parents, in fact, were a pair of Eternals.

The Eternals are essentially the product of experimentation, done by an ancient, omnipotent group of super-sized humanoids called the Celestials. The Celestials tinkered with ancient humanity’s genetic code, creating two offshoot races: The grotesque beings known as Deviants, and the immortal, super-powered beings that make up the Eternals. Despite looking like (totally gorgeous) humans, they are very nearly divine in their abilities: They can control the aging process, cast illusions, fly, read minds, and transform matter. Essentially, they are gods, and have often ended up becoming the source of many of humanity’s legends, religions, and fables. The Eternal Sersi, for example, was immortalized as Circe in Homer’s Odyssey, while Ikaris’ life inspired the ancient tale of Icarus.

Who is Ajak?

Ajak, like all the Eternals, has a rich backstory of his own. However, to understand fully who he is, it’s important (and fun) to understand what he can do. Like all the other team members, Ajak is equipped with superhuman strength. He can also fly at surreal speed, teleport, and do everything nigh-divine that falls under the category of "energy manipulation." When it comes time to throw down against some bad guys, he’s capable of projecting beams of heat and concussive energy from his eyes and hands, and is also a skilled wrestler. He is also a brilliant archaeologist — perhaps helped by the fact that he was around for much of the history he digs up.

Uniquely, Ajak possesses an uncanny ability to communicate with the Celestials when they’re nearby. This is kind of his signature thing when it comes to protecting humanity — not every Eternal can do it. Given the fact that the Celestials pop by every once and a while to see if they feel like destroying humanity, this is a massively important ability.

Family History

Ajak was born in the Eternal city of Polaria, located in the Ural Mountains, to parents Rakar and Amaa. His branch of the Eternals is sometimes referred to as the Polar Eternals. Not much is known about Ajak prior to the Celestials’ intervention in his life. We know that Ajak and his brother Arex were active in ancient Greece around 1200 BC, where he was mistaken for (and possibly the inspiration for) the mythical hero of the Trojan War, Ajax. Needless to say, he came off as being pretty gifted in battle, thanks in large part to his super powers. Respectively Ajak and Arex were known as Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Lesser.

Unfortunately, there’s very little information about what happened to Arex after the brothers’ time in Greece. He has popped up very rarely in the Marvel canon, and the jury is out as to whether or not he’s even still alive. Ajak, in contrast, went on to travel the world, where he made quite an impact on other human cultures.

Time as a god

Ajak wandered the Earth, making his way to places like Babylon, where he took on the Deviant leader, Warlord Kro. After that, he spent some time in the Americas, where he was worshiped as a god. The Aztecs paid tribute to him as Quetzalcoatl, one of the wisest and most powerful of their deities. In time, the Incas also came to worship Ajak as Tecumotzin, the Lord of Flight. During this time, Ajak wasn’t shy about using his advanced knowledge and supreme power to advance the civilizations he favored. In fact, he outright helped them, shaping their societies for the good and taking on the threats they could not tackle on their own.

By the time 1000 AD rolled around, Ajak was an accomplished warrior, cosmic genius, and influential figure in the progress of humanity. While that would be enough for characters with a shorter lifespan to hang their hat on, he wouldn’t be as extremely consequential to the Eternals’ history as he is if it wasn’t for his involvement in the Third Host of the Celestials.

The Third Host

Unable to escape his own past, Ajak crossed paths with both the Celestials and the Deviants once again when the former of the two cosmic races returned to Earth on a fact-finding mission. You see, Earth wasn’t the only planet the Celestials decided to experiment on: The home worlds of races like the Skrulls and the Kree got the same treatment. To help judge whether or not they made a race of Dr. Frankensteins or a race of Frankenstein’s monsters, the Celestials subjected each race to four tests, or "hosts," to deem them worthy of life.

During the Third Host, Ajak was dwelling in Peru. He acted as a liaison between the Celestials and humanity, as well as a liaison between the Celestials and the gods humanity had given rise to, like Zeus of the Greek pantheon. Humanity passed the test with flying colors, and Ajak decided to put his atoms into storage until The Celestials returned, so that he could, once again, act as the arbiter between races when needed. That’s when his time as a god ended, and his origins as a superhero really began.

The Fourth Host

Eventually, Ajak’s big moment came when the Fourth Host of Celestials returned to Earth to see how their experiments were faring. Thus begins Ajak’s story in the modern Marvel universe.

Ajak is awoken by Ikaris in 1976’s Eternals #2. The two Eternals meet, and Ajak comes off as a bit of an old fuddy duddy, who is obsessed with the Eternals’ creators. The Celestials once again come to South America, and settle on an Incan plateau that Ajak has set up for them. Once again, he acts as their liaison.

This time, however, their presence sparks intervention from the likes of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as Odin and the forces of Asgard. Despite the combined efforts of all three factions, they end up losing the fight against the Celestials. However, this combat helps the Celestials realize that humanity is worthy, and therefore, they agree to let Earth off the hook. Just like that, the Eternals don’t have to worry about regular tests from powerful cosmic entities. Meanwhile, everyone else has their memories erased of the whole incident. It’s good news all around … but it also means that Ajak doesn’t really have a job anymore.

He spends a bit of time as part of the Uni-Mind, a merging of consciousnesses, with the other Eternals. Upon his return, however, his troubles truly begin.

Making Enemies

During the Fourth Host event, Ajak befriends a human archaeologist named Dr. Daniel Damian. After Ikaris brings the brilliant doctor along to awaken Ajak, the two become thick as thieves — Damien even watches the Fourth Host event take place from within the Celestials’ impenetrable dome. However, he is more interested in preserving the history of the Incas than he is in making sure humanity passes its test and that the right gods survive.

Damian begins with all the makings of a human superhero ally, in the vein of Dr. Selvig or Ned Leeds. However, grief does horrible things to people sometimes. His daughter, Margo, flees the Celestials’ city with Ikaris, while Damian agrees to stay behind to protect history. Ikaris and Margo are separated and eventually, she is turned into a Deviant and killed in an effort to get to Ikaris.

In the wake of this tragedy, Damian seeks revenge on Celestials, Deviants, Eternals, the whole gestalt. Part of his evil plan includes an elaborate trick against the Eternals and Deviants: He turns Ajak into a literal monster. Needless to say, Damian’s relationship with the Eternals sours, and his friendship with Ajak dies a miserable death.

Ajak the monster

Damian’s plan involves planting false prophecies about the twin offspring of Eternals and Deviants being the ones to eventually conquer both races. He then uses advanced Celestial technology to transform Ajak into a monster whose sole purpose seems to be systematically hunting down and killing twin siblings on Earth. Thus mutated, Ajak assists in the kidnapping of twins Donald and Deborah Ritter, the offspring of the Eternal Thena and the Deviant Kro, the former of which will be played by Angelina Jolie. Fortunately, the doctor’s plan to murder the twins in front of their parents fails when Ajak gets wise to the whole situation and, disgusted with his own actions, disintegrates himself and Damian.

Luckily, this all happens in comic books, where death is merely a distraction. Ajak is eventually resurrected in the chambers of the Eternal city of Olympia by an Eternal named Sprite, to be played by Lia McHugh. Sprite is later revealed to be deceiving Ajak and the other Eternals into helping him use the power of the fabled Dreaming Celestial to overwrite reality. Sprite’s plot is thwarted, but it leads to an enduring rivalry between Ajak and another Eternal, that leads to his second death and resurrection.

Rivalry with Makkari

When the Dreaming Celestial is awoken, it chooses the Eternal Makkari (to be played by Lauren Ridloff) as its spokesperson. Those who have been paying attention will know that Ajak’s experience with that particular job is extensive. As a result, he feels slighted by the choice and grows to hate Makkari. He even hatches a somewhat failed murder attempt on him — Makkari does die, but it doesn’t stick.

Ajak, at loose ends, decides to travel the world and learn as much as he can about the Celestials. He lives in San Francisco for a time, and even becomes a gardener. This journey eventually leads Ajak to join Hercules in a battle with the Skrull Gods. He squares off with a divine Skrull named Kly’bn, which results in his death.

Again, this being the Marvel universe, this death doesn’t last. Ajak returns to Earth and travels to Olympia, where he lives among his fellow Eternals. However, all this changes the day dead Celestials rain from the sky, signaling the arrival of the Dark Celestials on Earth. That’s when the Eternals learn a terrible secret about themselves and their existence, that leads many of them to either turn on each other or commit suicide, including Ajak. For now, he is dead — but hey, it’s comics. He’ll be back soon enough.

The movie

While Ajak boasts a rich and complex story in the comics, all of it might go out the window when it comes to the Eternals’ introduction into the MCU. As it is, the character will now be a woman, alongside a number of other Eternals who have historically been portrayed as male. While it’s doubtful that the broad strokes and important character details of Ajak’s history will be entirely tossed, we don’t yet know what, exactly will end up on the big screen.

As for what we do know? Well, we know Salma Hayek will play Ajak, and we know the movie will be released on February 12, 2021. Marvel has also graced fans with a plot synopsis for the film, that promises an "exciting new team of … ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows to reunite against mankind’s most ancient enemy, the Deviants."

When it comes to Ajak, fans have also been gifted a little insight into where the character will be in life when the movie picks up. Hayek told Total Film that her character is the group’s leader: "I play Ajak, who is the leader of the superheroes and all of them are people you would never have imagined."