Cosmic Odyssey #1 (1988)
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Mike Mignola
Inker: Carlos Garzon
Karen: Over the next four weeks I will look at Jim Starlin's and Mike Mignola's 1988 four-part series, Cosmic Odyssey. I'm working from a TPB version that unfortunately does not include the original covers nor does it show where the issues began and ended, but with a little detective work, I believe I have figured it out. It's really frustrating to me when publishers don't include covers, or just run stories together. I much prefer to have things presented in their original format. But this will work.
Karen: In the book The Art of Jim Starlin: A Life in Words and Pictures, Starlin describes how the project began. As usual, Starlin went down his own path. "DC had just published a series called The Books of Magic, which apparently mapped out the mystical DC universe. They wanted the same sort of thing for their science fiction characters. I wasn't all that into this idea and wrote up the script for Cosmic Odyssey the way I wanted to. No one seemed to be bothered by this and the talented Mike Mignola was given the assignment of pencilling it. It was only when his pages started coming in that someone up at DC finally noticed I hadn't written the book they'd asked for, but by then there was nothing much to be done about it since two issues had already been inked. So they dumped it out on the stands with next to no promotion, figuring that it would sell what it did and that would be the end of that."
Karen: Starlin wryly adds, "Twice a year since 1988, Mike and I have been getting healthy royalty checks for Cosmic Odyssey from DC Comics. It doesn't look like it's ever going to go out of print."
Karen: So what is it that makes this series so popular? The easiest answer is to point to the cast of characters: it's got Superman, Batman, and Darkseid all front row center, with a gaggle of Kirby Fourth World characters in supporting roles and Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern John Stewart, and Starfire from the Teen Titans, although she hardly seems to be the same character (I don't think Starlin had any feel for her -she was most likely included to pull in the Titans fans). The sheer number of super-heroes is sure to bring some readers in. Then of course, it's also got a grand space adventure, with big stakes (the universe!), so that helps. Some people might pick it up just because Starlin wrote it, or because Mignola drew it.There seem to be any number of reasons that it's stuck around all this time.
Karen: Honestly, I read this as something of an outsider. I didn't read the books when they came out. I think I did pick up the first issue, but didn't find myself that interested. But now, after having read Kirby's Fourth World tales via two Omnibus editions, and being a Starlin fan, I wanted to see what he had done with these characters. It's different for me reading this series than say reading something like the Infinity Gauntlet or some other big cosmic story in the Marvel universe. My connection to the Marvel characters is strong, and when things happen to the characters, I feel it. With the DC characters, I am much more detached. I approach this more with a sense of curiosity than anything else.
Karen: I do wish Starlin had been able to draw the story as well as write it. Nothing against Mignola, who does a good job, but his art takes some getting used to. I read Hellboy and appreciated its quirkiness there, but I don't know that I find it well-suited to this cosmic tale.
Karen: The first issue opens with Superman and Lightray of the New Gods flying into Gotham City right as a boom tube opens up and a bunch of Apokolips soldiers come marching out. The misshapen creatures panic at the sight of the two heroes and re-open their dimensional transport and escape, but one misses the tube and winds up cowering in an alley way, terrified at being left alone on this alien world. Mignola does a nice job using a series of panels that gradually pull away from the soldier to depict his sense of isolation.
Karen: The scene switches to a planetoid in the Alpha Centauri system. The New God Metron sits in his Moebius chair, comatose. A boom tube shatters the silence and Darkseid arrives, accompanied by a group of technicians. They examine Metron and inform Darkseid that all of his data records are intact. They bring him back with them to Apokolips, where Darkseid studies the information and comes to a conclusion that does not please him: he's going to face a power greater than his own, and in order to overcome it, he has to call on the help of those he despises: heroes.
Karen: Back on Earth, weeks after the initial boom tube incident in Gotham, Batman is called in to investigate a missing policeman. Commissioner Gordon tells Batman that others have gone missing in the area too. Batman decides to use himself as bait and puts on a disguise and wanders around the area. He soon determines that whomever is abducting people is utilizing the sewers, and he makes his way down into them.He finds a hideout, and realizes that his target is too big to be human. Further, he finds technology of alien origin. But the real surprise is when he finds bodies (and parts of bodies) hung up like meat in a meat locker. This sight even gets to Batman (this was back when he was still somewhat human, after all), and he becomes more determined than ever to stop this thing. Unfortunately, he soon runs into the Apokolips refugee and discovers him to be a towering brute. Batman somewhat foolishly still tries to take him on and gets thrown around like a rag doll. As much as he hates to do it, Batman takes the alien's own gun and uses it on him, blowing a nice big hole in his center.He heads off to get the police but when they return, the alien is gone! What's more, the missing cop, who Bats had seen hanging up like a side of beef, is also missing. The Darknight Detective is puzzled, but he's on the case.
Karen: The White House is paid a visit by an ambassador from New Genesis, who has brought a list of names of Earth ambassadors they would like to meet with. Superman is on the list, and he helps to gather the rest: Batman, Green Lantern John Stewart, The Martian Manhunter, Starfire, and an old man named Mr. Blood. Once they're assembled, the New God fires up his mother box and they're transported to New Genesis. Mignola ably mimics Kirby's otherworldly paradise, replete with giant statues, abstract shapes, and an abundance of foliage. The heroes are greeted by New Genesis leaders Highfather, Orion, and Lightray. Superman immediately begins asking questions, realizing the whole "diplomat" thing was a ruse. Highfather apologizes for having to lie to them, and then another voice says, "It was my idea." Darkseid then steps into the light. Mignola draws Darkseid so stout he at times looks like Thor's pal Volstagg! Superman sees red and goes flying at him, but is repelled. Orion restrains the Man of Steel as the New Gods explain that they have formed a temporary alliance with Darkseid, due to a terrible threat that must all soon face.
Karen: In order for the heroes to understand what they are about to face, Highfather has to give them a history lesson. Really, it's more like a short course- it goes on for 7 pages. That's one of the luxuries of having 48 page issues. To boil it down, millenia ago, two highly advanced civilizations, one humanoid and the other non-humanoid, came into contact and wound up going to war. They threw all sorts of nasty weapons at each other, but the war went on. Finally the humanoid race stumbled upon the answer: the anti-life equation. This discovery was harnessed with technology, a cannon that would wipe out the aliens' solar system. But when it was fired it went haywire, exploding and consuming the humanoids' world and then spreading through more and more star systems. It seemed as though it would tear through the entire universe, but suddenly, without warning, it turned back on itself and imploded. Somehow, two planets orbiting a star survived the cataclysm -New Genesis and Apokolips. They were thrown back to a primal state, and somehow separated from the rest of the universe, reachable now only by boom tube.
Karen: J'Onn J'Onnz asks what this has to do with the current situation. Darkseid explains that although he had long been seeking the secrets of the Anti-Life Equation so has Metron -although for different reasons. He and Highfather believe that although Metron is now catatonic, he still retains the knowledge he gleaned of the Anti-Life Equation. That's where J'Onn comes into play. USing his telepathy, he is able to link with Metron's mind and see what happened to him. We then get a five page flashback told from Metron's point of view, which describes how his thirst for knowledge drove him to learn about the Equation. After he had deciphered the last part of the equation, Metron went to an unoccupied part of space and triggered the formula. It hurled him into another dimension, to the source of the Equation. It was there that he discovered the truth -the Anti-Life force is a sentient being. Metron's presence has alerted it to a way into our universe. As the New God tried to escape, the Anti-Life entity reached out for him. Metron managed to close off our universe, but not before four aspects of the Anti-Life entity were able to pass through into our universe.
Karen: Darkseid has theorized that these four aspects will seek out four planets to destroy, and that the destruction of any two of them will cause such instability to our galaxy, that it will collapse. The heroes are incredulous, but Highfather backs up Darkseid's statement, so that's good enough for them. Darkseid tells them he's chosen teams to go to each planet: Superman and Orion to Thanagar, Batman and Forager ( a type of sub-New God) to Earth, Starfire and Lightray to Rann, and Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter to Xanshi. He outfits each team with a device to capture the aspect and then uses a boom tube to send them to their targets. Once on Earth, Batman stops at a payphone(!) and makes a call to someone, asking them to keep an eye on Darkseid (!!). What is the Dark Knight up to, hmmm? Back on New Genesis, Darkseid and Highfather turn to Mr. Blood, who has been neglected throughout our tale. Blood asks what his role is to be. "You are to be a part of a duet," Darkseid says. A curtain is drawn back and the twisted, emaciated body of the Demon is revealed.
Karen: This first issue unravels rather slowly, as all of the pieces are put out on the board and the plan is revealed. This is my major complaint with this issue -it drags. And as much as I enjoy Batman's role in things, really, why would he be chosen? He's strictly an Earth-bound character, who, granted, is terrifically clever and determined, but not suited to adventures involving other worlds. But the answer of course is he might be the most popular character in the DC universe, so if you're doing a limited series, he's going to be in it. I also have a hard time seeing the New Genesis folks agreeing so readily to an alliance with Darkseid, but again, you have to move the plot forward somehow. So right now, the most interesting and compelling part of the story for me was the segment with Batman dealing with a murderous cannibalistic alien, even though I'm not sure Batman should really be in this type of story! In part two, the story moves on to alien worlds. Will it prove to be more exciting?