Review by Woodrow Phoenix
After a decade of unparalleled inventiveness, generating the heroes and concepts that the Marvel universe still benefits from today, Jack Kirby was the most original and influential creator in the history of American superhero comics. Eventually he didn’t want to compromise on credit or ideas any longer. At DC he was given the freedom to create whatever he wanted, (almost) without interference. The visionary result was his ‘Fourth World’ series of comics, centred around the New Gods who dwell on the heavenly planet New Genesis and the hellish planet Apokolips. Their opposing forces are only kept in balance by a pact between them. The placid infant son of peaceful Highfather of New Genesis is sent to Apokolips to be raised as a warrior under the eye of tyrannical ruler Darkseid; his savage boy is sent to New Genesis to learn the ways of harmony and friendship in turn. This exchange of hostages ensures peace between the two worlds. But as the two exchanged boys become men, their true natures assert themselves. Eventually Orion is compelled to defy his father, to protect the Earth and New Genesis from Darkseid’s genocidal quest for ultimate power. Kirby’s torrent of powerfully original ideas and characters were hampered by the eccentricities of his solo writing style. The series was cancelled, and many story threads were left unresolved. But in the years since, every attempt to continue what Kirby began has failed, defeated by the same features that make his work unique.
Walter Simonson demonstrated a true understanding of Kirby’s creative essence in his four years of The Mighty Thor, creating the greatest work on that Marvel series since the 1970s. He perfectly evoked the sprit of Jack Kirby in both style and execution while remaining original and inventive in his own right, a formerly impossible feat. With Orion, Simonson takes his perceptions to new heights, creating a synthesis of Kirby’s original ideas with his own intelligent extrapolations to create an extension of the Fourth World mythos that feels both utterly appropriate and distinctively new.
Book One opens with an explosive revelation from Orion’s mother that he is not the son of Darkseid after all. While he tries to rebuild himself around this new truth, Darkseid is on Earth with Desaad, once more attempting to distill the Anti-Life Equation from the minds of human captives. When Orion interferes, Darkseid challenges him to a final, unarmed battle for supremacy where only one can survive. Simonson’s incredibly visceral, excitingly drawn showdown features huge single-page images of the two New Gods’ brutal fight to the death, witnessed by thousands of the inhabitants of Earth, Apokolips and New Genesis. And to the shock of all those watching, one of the combatants actually IS eliminated and sent to join The Source. But this saga has only just begun. What will the victor do to Earth now?
Simonson follows one surprise with another, keeping us constantly off-balance as he explores the ramifications of this outcome. The main narrative is further explored in short stories drawn by Dave Gibbons, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, and Art Adams, and this volume also contains a further nine short Simonson New Gods stories (including one written by Scott Beatty) previously published elsewhere.
Orion utilises elements of the original series in an ingenious and satisfying way, building to the best tribute to the work of Jack Kirby that has so far been created by anyone. If you’ve ever been a fan, you should read this. The action concludes in Book Two.
Most of this is also available in the Orion Omnibus, but that doesn’t include all the short stories.