AS I SAVOR Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus vol. 4, which concludes Kirby’s original saga, I am continuing my look at some of the many followups to it DC Comics has produced. Here’s the third installment in the series:
|Orion: The Gates of Apokolips
By Walter Simonson and various
DC Comics – softcover, $12.95
Unlike the previous two installments, which featured a Jimmy Olson tribute and a sitcom approach to Mister Miracle, respectively, Walter Simonson’s Orion is a direct continuation of the New Gods storyline. The Gates of Apokolips collects the first five issues of the series, which ran for two years. The story is explicitly reminiscent of the original, as Darkseid returns to Earth looking for the Anti-Life Equation, “the outside control of all living thought,” and Orion follows to confront him.
In tone, Gates of Apokolips feels like a “’90s Vertigo” New Gods, opening on a rural American town possessed by the Anti-Life equation and preying on travelers. The chapter titles are even lines from “America the Beautiful,” recalling the many “dark side of America” stories to come out of the imprint during that decade. (The color scheme, a not-entirely-appropriate palette of washed-out earth tones and cool tones, also looks Vertigoesque.)
Gates of Apokolips is made up of an interesting mix of elements. On one hand, it is more straightforward and plot-driven than Kirby’s original New Gods, focusing less on big symbolic moments than on intrigue and double-crosses. On the other hand, it is in some ways more similar to classical Greek myth, with husband and wife gods plotting against each other, and questions of paternity (The Greek gods spent far more time cuckolding each other than being involved in adventures).
The mythic tone is enhanced by the inclusion of backup “Tales of the New Gods,” most notably “Nativity,” depicting Orion’s birth and “Goodness and Mercy,” filling in Granny Goodness’s early years. Such stories could easily feel redundant, but Simonson and, in the case of “Nativity,” Frank Miller on art, bring the kind of big moments and epic proclamations that add weight to the main narrative. Once Orion is born, a midwife whispers, “Milady… your son. He is trembling… in fear.” “No,” Orion’s mother, Tigra, replies. “In fury.” It’s dialogue that would sound over-the-top coming from mortals, but the setting and characters are big enough to match them. Just as significant as Orion’s birth, “Nativity” reveals the origin of the prophesy pitting Orion against his father, as Tigra declares, “Thus will Darkseid forge the tool of his own destruction.” Miller’s intense, high contrast art is a perfect match for the material and his depiction of Orion’s birth through Tigra’s changing shadow against a wall is masterful.
Other backup stories take us away from Orion to fill in what other characters, such as Lightray, are doing during the main story. The format is effective, though some editorial hand-holding crops up when a caption follows some of Lightray’s dialogue with “Details in next story.”
As the story unfolds, we’re reintroduced to one of Orion’s original Earth allies, Dave Lincoln, as well as Police Sergeant Turpin, and even the Newsboy Legion. Whenever the New Gods are revived, the impetus seems to be to include as much of the extended cast as possible, be it Funky Flashman in the 1980s Mister Miracle, Simyan and Mokkari in “The American Evolution,” or Billion Dollar Bates––whose cloned brain is channeling the fragments of the Anti-Life Equation found in hundreds of humans’ minds to simulate access to the complete equation––in Gates of Apokolips. The odd thing here is that most of the long-untouched characters who show up do so simply to serve as spectators to the action, with Orion and Darkseid the story’s only real prime movers. They become literal spectators in the fifth chapter, which consists of a sustained battle between the two. Several returning human characters are also too blasé about the presence of gods among them, making the story a bit more pedestrian than it would otherwise be.
Not at all pedestrian is Simonson’s art in the main stories. Sketchy and blocky, it’s an acquired taste, no doubt, but Simonson is in good form here. He makes no effort to emulate Kirby’s figures or compositions, but he achieves the necessary power to carry the New Gods. His pages are smartly designed and exciting, especially in the issue five battle between Orion and Darkseid. Large sound effects highlight the scope of the action, and add visual interest through their clever integration into panel compositions.
As a continuation of The New Gods, Orion is flawed, but smart and entertaining, among the better Fourth World followups. It has an appropriately epic flavor, even if the plotting tends more toward intrigue than grand gestures and symbolism. An incomplete story, it’s hard to tell exactly where it’s going; I assume that the aftermath of Darkseid’s defeat and the question of whether he is really Orion’s father are resolved in later chapters. I would be happy to see the rest of the series collected, and it’s a shame that hasn’t happened.
Kirby Continued part 3