Cosmic Odyssey by Jim Starlin (writer) and Mike Mignola (artist)
On the one hand, the story of Cosmic Odyssey is a simple one — a terrible and dangerous force known as the anti-life equation threatens our universe, and all the good characters must unite with the evil Darkseid to save the day. On the other hand, this story is rich with Jack Kirby’s wonderful cosmic characters that form the background for much of DC’s Cosmic Universe as it remains to this day.
To understand why you should read Cosmic Odyssey is to understand its background, its creators, and the characters: Cosmic Odyssey is a DC story that includes major characters created by Jack Kirby — characters known as the “New Gods.” Jack Kirby, the influential artist from Marvel who worked with Stan Lee to create major, iconic characters, eventually left Marvel for DC where he was allowed to write and draw his own storyline that, over time, has been fully integrated into the larger DC universe. He came up with his now well-known Fourth World Series. In this series, the New Gods exist on two planets — the Edenic New Genesis ruled over by the kindly High Father and the hellish Apokolips lorded over by the controlling Darkseid and his minions.
Though the Fourth World is fairly complex, you don’t need to know much about it to appreciate and understand the stand-alone story told in Cosmic Odyssey. There are a few more characters from the New Gods — Lightray, Orion, and Metron — but most will be familiar to you: Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern. There are a few others, but they are all introduced and explained in the course of the story, and the introduction to the book is worth reading because it points out some of Starlin’s key narrative and thematic goals. One of my favorites is that the most powerful “God” in the story — Darkseid — is ultimately checked in his quest for even more power by a mere mortal from Earth without any special abilities — Batman.
The last character you should know about before reading this book is another Jack Kirby creation: The Demon Etrigan who comes from hell and speaks in rhymes. Usually he is combined with the human form of Jason Blood, a man who hates being paired with this terrible demon. When we meet the two of them in Cosmic Odyssey, however, we see a withered demon and a dying old man. So, you should know that readers familiar with Kirby’s character see split in two a single character who is usually bonded and at war with itself: an evil demonic nature vs. the good human host. Of even greater interest is the fact that Jason Blood is no modern man: In fact, he is a former Arthurian knight who was bonded to Etrigan by Merlin himself!
What else do you need to know? Well, you must know that’s Darkseid main goal is always pursuing the never-quite-defined anti-life equation. That’s his primary goal in DC stories even to this day. Robert Greenberger, in his introduction to Cosmic Odyssey, explains that the significance of keeping the anti-life equation vague is to allow for it to take on different thematic meanings depending on the goals of different writers: “Kirby saw it as the motivating factor in Darkseid’s life, never really trying to define what it meant during his tenure in the Fourth World. Mark Evanier, Jack’s spiritual successor, saw the Anti-Life Equation as a concept that, once possessed, would alter the universe in philosophic ways. To Jim [Starlin], it was a sentient thing, and therefore needed to be harnessed by Darkseid.” As we all know too well, the Darkseids in our world now and throughout history pursue their versions of the Anti-Life Equation in different ways and for different purposes. Its dark vagueness adds to its horror.
There are a few other characters you might find yourself typing into Google, but there’s no need to. And you don’t need to read any other comics before this one: The story holds up on its own. I do want to make clear that the writing is a little sluggish compared to current comics, but it was written in 1992 and comics were still being overwritten from our perspective. But it’s a good story that is worth revisiting, and it would be interesting to read after Jim Starlin’s The Infinity Gauntlet, a story about Thanos that I’ve already reviewed. What I like about Starlin’s work is that he deals with larger concepts without forgetting about the smaller themes played out by pitting one type of personality against another.
The art, too, is excellent, and it’s of interest to fans of Hellboy since Cosmic Odyssey’s art was done by Hellboy creator, artist, and writer Mike Mignola! For me, it was a real treat to note in Cosmic Odyssey certain stylistic tendencies that I’ve come to know so well through my devoted reading of Mignola’s Hellboy stories.
I really struggle in rating these comics because the art form is so new historically speaking, and it has changed so much just in the past 30 years. I suppose the sluggish writing will make it a little slow for some readers new to comics, but it’s a great example of the stand alone, “The Universe is Being Threatened” Big Story. So, if you’re new to comics and haven’t read any stories about Kirby’s New Gods, this book is a great place to start. Or if you’re already a fan of The Fourth World and have missed this one, grab it in this affordable trade collection.