Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cosmic Odyssey Part Two: Hubris and Failure

Cosmic Odyssey #2 (1988)
"Book Two: Disaster"
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Mike Mignola
Inker: Carlos Garzon

Karen: In the first issue, the cast was assembled. Now, the different teams have been sent to their respective planets in order to trap the "Aspects" of the Anti-Life Equation entity that have infiltrated into the universe. These Aspects, according to Darkseid's calculations, will attempt to destroy these planets. If any two of them are obliterated, the entire Milky Way galaxy will collapse, and weaken our universe enough so that the Anti-Life Equation entity can enter it. Got it? Good, let's go.

Karen: A comment on the art before we move along. When I was a kid, I used to check How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way out of the library all the time. For the would-be comics artist, John Buscema provided the fundamentals of figure drawing: circles, ovals, and graceful curves. When I look at Mike Mignola's art in this comic, I feel like if he drew the instructional art for a text book, it would be filled with rectangles and squares and hard, straight lines. Really, the characters are all so blocky. It takes some getting used to. 

Karen: The first team we see is the pairing of Superman and Orion on the planet of Thanagar, the homeworld of Hawkman and Hawkgirl (Hawkwoman?). Where they have arrived looks something like Utah, with a desert and buttes in the distance. The thanagarians come flying towards them, and Orion predicts they are being mind-controlled by the Aspect, and will attack immediately. He's absolutely right, as the winged warriors swoop in, wielding axes, maces, and other charming weapons. Superman and Orion handle them fairly easily, and we begin to see the seeds of some conflict between the two, as Superman suggests to Orion that as the Thanagarians aren't their real enemy and not responsible for their actions, they should try to do as little harm as possible. Orion just stares at him and says nothing. He is, after all, the son of Darkseid. You know this is not going to go well. 

Karen: On the planet Xanshi, Green Lantern John Stewart and J'Onn J'Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, discuss how to proceed. Stewart suggests they head into a large city, to see if they detect the Aspect's presence. They do indeed -in the form of a plague. They encounter a scientist in the street who was working on a cure and Stewart uses his ring to miraculously synthesize a compound for him. This is the first of many problems that Stewart resolves rather easily by using his power ring. The ring also helps them figure out the Aspect's location -a weather control station in the arctic.

Karen: Team three checks in from Earth, and the batcave. Batman leads his ally, Forager, inside his secret lair. The detective asks about Orion's nasty remarks towards Forager before they left New Genesis. Forager explains that although he is a New God, he was raised by a "deviant" race called the Insect Legion, a people that are known derisively as 'bugs.' And Orion's not the only one with this prejudice -others on New Genesis share his feelings. Batman gruffly says that he finds those attitudes "stupid," and then moves on to their task. He's been taking the reports of the other teams and feeding them into his computer. He says it's obvious that the Aspects are utilizing the most powerful force on each of the planets it has occupied. Forager immediately assumes this means the Aspect on Earth will grab the worlds' nuclear arsenals, but Batman says no. He believes it will go for computers.

Karen: Our last team is Starfire and Lightray, and they are on the planet Rann -you might have heard of it. They discover chaos in the streets -the people have all apparently gone mad and are attacking one another. They fly to what appears to be a seat of government and there find Adam Strange, with his wife and father-in-law tied up before him. Strange demands answers from the twosome, which are delivered off-panel. Convinced, he agrees to help them search for the Aspect. He even thinks he knows where it is: at an automated manufacturing center outside the city. They fly off to check it out. 

Karen: Back at the power center of New Genesis, Darkseid and Highfather try to convince Jason Blood that he must rejoin with Etrigan the Demon in order to save the universe. I admit, I was as puzzled as Blood as to why the Demon, a character of mystical origins, should be involved in this storyline. Darkseid says that the Anti-Life Entity (let's just call it A.L.E., all right?) is attempting to find a way into our universe and that the Barrier between our universe and its universe has been weakened, so it may  breach it regardless of whether or not the Aspects succeed. This barrier has to be reinforced, and the Demon, being an elemental being, is connected to "the limitless resources of pure nature." Darkseid apparently intends the Demon to be some sort of living conduit that he will manipulate to strengthen the barrier. Since I never read The Demon, I have no idea if this really makes any sense or not. Whenever I saw the character as a guest star in books, he never came across as being very powerful. It feels to me like an excuse to work another Kirby character into the story. But since I don't really know that much about the character I suppose I'll just go with it. Blood is finally persuaded as well, and says he'll do it. Highfather seems all-too-willing to go along with Drakseid's plan.

Karen: Back on Thanagar, Superman and Orion once again face down hordes of Thanagarians, in a two-page sequence that does absolutely nothing to move their part of the story forward. Honestly, I have no idea why it was included other than to pad things out a little.

Karen: The meat of the story is back on Xanshi, as the two Johns, John and J'Onn, fly towards the weather station. They are harassed by storms and what John calls a hurricane, although it looks like a tornado. Stewart is taking everything far too lightly; he ignores J'Onn's warning and zips around the tornado, but when he does, a lightning bolt comes down and hits J'Onn. The bolt destroys the device he was carrying to catch the Aspect, but again, Stewart whips up a replacement with his all-powerful ring. Really, could the the power ring just make objects out of thin air like this? I thought the constructs they made were always temporary. Anyway, Stewart projects a force cube around the two of them as they venture further in to the storm and closer to their quarry.

Karen: Back on Earth, Batman has given Forager a make-over by turning his red and white suit red and black, since they'll be working at night.  Batman has discovered that some specialized scientific instruments have been shipped to a location in Moosejaw, Arizona -and the recipient is Joe Bester, the policeman who died down in the tunnels with the alien flesh-eater in the first issue!

Karen: Back on Rann, our trio discovers a gigantic bomb, which Lightray describes as a doomsday bomb, "thousands of times more powerful than any of Earth's hydrogen bombs," and which will ultimately send the planet out of orbit and colliding into its sun. What? Yes, OK, go with it. They decide to look for the Aspect in the factory and Strange is quickly knocked out by something in a tunnel. Starfire and Lightray come running but find nothing. They don't notice a black goo on the ventilation grate...

Karen: Things are heating up on Xanshi -quite explosively, as the Aspect causes volcanic eruptions directly below Stewart and J'Onzz. The Lantern's ring protects both of them from the flames and molten rock. This sense of invincibility though, leads Stewart to make a terrible decision. He feels like J'Onzz will only slow him down, so he puts him inside a protective force sphere and flies off alone to deal with the Aspect. Again, as a more casual DC reader, I have to ask: was this the first time that John Stewart was depicted as being arrogant and overconfident? Was this done just to serve this story? If so, I can only imagine how fans of the character must have felt, seeing him act like an utter jerk here. Actually, 'jerk' isn't a strong enough word, but we try to keep it PG around here. Stewart flies off leaving the Manhunter behind, prophetically warning him that he's relying too much on his ring to save the day. But the Lantern is so full of himself, he goes in, proclaiming to anyone in earshot, that the Aspect is in "big trouble," because now he's facing a 'former member ' of the Green Lantern corps (I guess they were disbanded at this point, based on things previously said). In any case, Stewart talks more trash than Seahawk Richard Sherman, proclaiming there's nothing he can't do just as he enters the weather station to encounter - a huge bomb painted bright yellow. The power ring's vulnerability to anything yellow always seemed incredibly stupid, and this full page shot seems to magnify the ridiculousness of it all. What makes it worse is there's a strange man holding a paint brush standing right under the bomb. He looks nothing like the Xanshi people we've seen previously -if anything, he looks a lot like a stereotypical fanboy. Is it supposed to be Mignola? It's bizarre. We've no time to ponder that as the bomb has only 5 seconds til it explodes, and for once, Stewart has no idea what to do. It goes off, and over the course of seven pages, we see Xanshi and its people burn, and the planet itself become a chunk of anti-matter that seeks out its sun like a torpedo. The star explodes and causes massive devastation, but Stewart and J'Onzz both survive. Stewart cannot comprehend that he failed. J'Onzz has no sympathy for him. "Thanks to your arrogance and stupidity, I have now seen two worlds die. I will never forgive you for this." The issue ends with Jason Blood regretfully joining back with Etrigan the Demon, who is   regenerated from a pathetic shriveled creature to his former robust self.

Karen: I've been told that the events with John Stewart in this issue were used to shape the character for years to come. Perhaps this is the major legacy of the story -or not, considering how DC has rebooted their universe again and again. Does John Stewart still exist now? All in all, it was rather heavy-handed and if you didn't see his comeuppance on the horizon, you weren't paying attention. So far I can't say as the story has grabbed me. I'm somewhat intrigued by what will happen with Superman and Orion, and I enjoy seeing Batman play detective, but I have zero interest in the Lightray/Starfire team-up. Perhaps whatever Darkseid has planned with the Demon will be worthwhile. Right now I feel as though this story is still moving too slowly for my tastes.


Edo Bosnar said...

Ah, yes A.L.E., what Darkseid orders whenever he goes to the neighborhood pub... :P

Another great review Karen. Your criticisms of the story pretty much reflect my own misgivings about it. You also seem to like the only thing I remember liking about this, the sub-plot involving Batman and the Forager, and Batman in general in this story.

On to the rest of the story and, *heavy sigh*, John Stewart. I wasn't really familiar with him before reading this, but I recall a few appearances in Green Lantern in the early '80s during the Wolfman/Staton run, and he was generally portrayed as pretty level-headed and mellow. So this really surprised me, because he seems a lot like Guy Gardner here, except not as stupid.
That said, that splash-page with the bomb all painted yellow is pretty effective. And I vaguely recall reading on some other comics blog years ago that the Aspect's appearance was some kind of insider reference, I forgot the details.

Otherwise, we'll continue to disagree about the art, which is the only overall positive thing I can say about Cosmic Odyssey. Like I said last week, it's just such a pleasure to look at the panels you posted.

david_b said...

I wasn't really tracking on these reviews, since I recall seeing the first issue on stands when it was first released, but never bothered on picking it up. I agree with Edo that the art is particularly nice, from what you've shown here.

As for the '80s GL, I did start following Hal up to the 'Emerald Dawn' story, I didn't get the impression that anyone really had a handle on his character yet, which to me was always an ongoing flaw of GL.

I read a bit of Guy in the light-hearted '80s JL series, that's about it; I don't recall ever following John Stewart.

So this seems like an entertaining story, but I wouldn't divert money away from collecting Silver Age Marvels for it.

Anonymous said...

I always wondered who that chubby dude with the paintbrush was too. It's not Starlin, that's for sure. I've seen that guy. Maybe it was his no-good brother-law or something. I guess we'll never know for sure.
Starlin handled Etrigan's comeback in a pretty cosmic, dramatic way, but the rest of it kinda eehhh.
Coloring was good.

Garett said...

I picked this story up after your last review, intrigued by the creative team and the characters assembled. Mignola's art does the job and is sometimes impressive, but often I had the feeling of smallness--not good for a cosmic story! Like the pages you put up here with lightning and John Stewart flying by himself--nicely composed, but the characters look small on the page, and don't make a big impact. I'd have preferred Starlin to draw this himself.

The page with the big bomb is pretty cool, outside of the strange guy with the brush. But the idea of yellow surprising a Green Lantern--wouldn't that be the first thing you'd have a contingency plan for?? Whip up a big fan and blow the bomb into space, or something! Weak when writers throw the yellow in as a surprise.

You reviewed John Stewart's intro a couple weeks ago, and these two stories are really my only exposure to his character. But he's interesting--intelligent architect turned into angry young man after experiencing the anger is gone, but an arrogance remains. Certainly for those complaining about a lack of personality in Hal Jordan, John Stewart is a good remedy (and not as grating as later Guy Gardner).

I've read the Demon, but I'm not sure about the extent of his powers. With his connection to Merlin and magic, I suppose it's however powerful you choose to make him.

Thanks for the review! I found the overall story readable, if not a classic.

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