Jack Kirby is the king of comics, without a doubt. I know the Stan and Jack debate is controversial amongst the comic book community but in my opinion Jack Kirby did more for superhero comics then any other creator, including Stan Lee. Jack wasn’t just the king, he was prolific and his mind was jam packed with so many high concept tales that he produced incredible book after incredible book. His legacy is amazing and it’s no wonder that many creators want to romp around in Kirby’s playground and Jim Starlin was no different as his fertile imagination and Jack’s creations gave us the highly enjoyable Cosmic Odyssey event in 1988.
The Fourth World was created by Kirby in 1971 when he left Marvel for greener pastures at DC. DC allowed Kirby the freedom to craft a long form story that comprised four books that he wrote and drew himself. The Fourth World is the tale of the war between the New Gods that lived on the twin planets of New Genesis and Apokolips and unfolded in the pages of Mister Miracle, The Forever People, New Gods, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. A long tale that took years to finish as DC did not like the sale numbers and ended the multiple series before Kirby could wrap the tale up. It was finally concluded in the graphic novel the Hunger Dogs in 1985. But DC has continually mined this well time and time again, as the New Gods are wonderfully complex but easily accessible.
The brief explanation is that The Fourth World is the tale of the war between the clean and peaceful planet of New Genesis and the destructive and dirty Apokolips. New Genesis is ruled by Highfather while Darkseid is the dictator of Apokolips and rules with an iron fist. To cement a peace between these two worlds the two rulers swapped babies to ensure the other would not return to war. So Highfather’s child, Scott Free, grew up in the slave pits of Apokolips only to escape and become Mister Miracle, the Worlds Greatest Escape Artist. Darkseid’s son grew into New Genesis’ greatest soldier, Orion, whose costume may be the most simplistic yet perfect in the history of comics. I remember seeing a copy of the New Gods #1 on the wall of my LCS as a kid and I knew I had to read that book. It was years before I did but it was well worth the wait. If you’ve never read the original material do yourself a favor and pick up the four Fourth World omnibuses DC released a few years ago, they are worth it. Kirby may not be the greatest writer but his art and ideas more then make up for it.
There were several revivals of the Fourth World over the years, probably most famously in the Super Powers toy line and tie-in comic. Themes from the Fourth World are used today, most recently in Geoff Johns Justice League and the upcoming Justice League movie. The New Gods was the basis for Cosmic Odyssey, a four-issue prestige format mini-series released in 1988. This event is one of a string of events that DC produced after their highly successful Crisis on Infinite Earths and it closely followed the release of Legends and was released around the same time as Invasion.
Cosmic Odyssey is a great event. It is comprised of four books and luckily it required no crossovers to enjoy but it helped to redefine the New Gods for a new generation of readers as well as including some of DC’s most prominent heroes of the time. The tale is simple as it deals with Darkseid’s obsession with the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical formula that will allow him to control the minds of every living thing. It is the search for this equation that drives most of the motivations for Darkseid and it is the focus of this book. Darkseid’s eyes are opened to the fact that the Anti-life Equation spawned and Anti-Life Entity at the end of the Old Gods reign and this entity is invading the DC universe and threatens to destroy it all. Darkseid finds himself aligning with Highfather, the New Gods, and some of DC’s elite including Martian Manhunter, Starfire, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Superman and Batman. Thrown in for good measure is another Kirby creation, the Demon who is crucial to the finale of the series and Doctor Fate.
Cosmic Odyssey is simplistic in nature. The heroes are brought together after it is decided who has the best chance of success. They are then divided into classic two man teams and sent to four different planets to defeat aspects of Anti-Life Entity and stop the destruction of the universe. Orion and Superman are sent to Thanagar, home of the Hawk People. Starfire and Lightray travel to Rann, where the add Adam Strange to their team. Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter are sent to Xanshi while Batman and Forager are sent back to Earth. Each team meets its set of hurdles and the personality traits are a source of conflict. Green Lantern’s ego leads to the destruction of Xanshi, an event that haunts the character to today. Orion decimates the Hawk Legions, much to the dismay of Superman who refuses to return to New Genesis with him after the defeat their foe. Lightray’s sexism almost costs him and Starfire their mission. The only team that function’s as a team is Batman and Forager, an obscure New God who meshed nicely with the Dark Knight.
Darkseid of course turns against his assembled team and he uses the Demon Etrigan and his dark powers to enter the world of the Anti-Life Entity and tries to harness the power only to fail. Luckily Doctor Fate arrives and with the power of Order is able to defeat the Anti-Life Entity. As the series wraps up the division between hero and New God is at an all time high and Darkseid has sulked away to continue his pursuit of the Anti-Life Equation the domination of the universe.
It was a joy to read Jim Starlin as he weaved a cosmic DC event. Known mostly for his Marvel work and more specifically his cosmic Marvel work with Warlock, Captain Marvel, the Infinity Gauntlet and his creation of Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, and of course Thanos. Having him play with the DC cosmic was a nice treat. Some true Fourth World fans despise Starlin’s depiction of the New Gods. They felt Orion was too violent, Lightray too sexist, and Highfather to quickly to yield to Darkseid. All valid complaints but very nit picky for the story being told. My two complaints were that Mister Miracle wasn’t included and the New Gods were not depicted as the giants they are on New Genesis but rather as human sized. But that’s a minor criticism that is common with the New Gods as no one other then Kirby has gotten them completely right.
A young Mike Mignola contributed the artwork for Cosmic Odyssey and it is beautiful. I wish he had done more super hero work and maybe he will after he wraps up the Mignolaverse later this year. There is still a darkness to his work on Cosmic Odyssey but there’s lots of great splash pages and dynamic super heroics. The colors were excellent by Steve Oliff as they are bright and vibrant on New Genesis, dark and brooding on Apokolips, and there is a sense of emptiness in space. Each planet visited has its own unique pallet and his Gotham is one of the grittiest I’ve ever read.It all comes together well and really contributes to the story. Sadly I recently read that there was an aborted New Gods comic that Mignola was going to pencil after Cosmic Odyssey but DC pulled the plug on it. I would have loved that series but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
Cosmic Odyssey is not the greatest event DC has ever produced but it is one of their most enjoyable. It is easily accessible, you don’t need a deep knowledge of DC history to understand it, and it is stunning. Jim Starlin is a great writer, overshadowed by many of his contemporaries but no one writes cosmic stories better then he does and seeing him at DC for a time was a joy. It’s easy to see why Mike Mignola became the sensation he is as his artwork here is superb and lends itself perfectly to the story. If you’ve never taken the time to read Cosmic Odyssey but are looking for a classic event pick up the trade, you’ll be glad you did.