Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Jack Kirby’s ‘Fourth World’ presents the saga of 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 young son of peaceful Highfather of New Genesis is sent to Apokolips to be raised under the eye of tyrannical ruler Darkseid; his savage little boy is sent to New Genesis in turn. This exchange of hostages ensures peace between the two worlds, but the psychological pressures on the two swapped boys grow as they become young men and their true natures assert themselves. How much longer can the truce hold? Kirby’s torrent of powerfully original ideas and characters made his series a towering achievement in American superhero comics and a source-text for much of DCs direction since, especially since many of the story threads were left unresolved.
With Orion Walter Simonson grabs all those threads to weave a story dealing with the essential questions: what kind of sacrifices are necessary to achieve true cosmic balance between humanity, New Gods and The Source? Who or what is Orion’s true parentage? What is his ultimate purpose? And what role will Orion’s counterpart, the uncontainable Scott Free, play in this battle between father, son and control of the Anti-Life Equation? The grandiose impact of Kirby’s impossibly huge concepts are restaged here feeling as new and exciting as on their first appearances, interpreted through Simonson’s cleverly plotted and ingenious narrative that takes events to a logical but completely unexpected and thrilling conclusion.
Simonson proved himself the truest and most gifted heir to Jack Kirby’s legacy in his astonishing four-year run on The Mighty Thor. Excellent as that was, this is somehow even better. His brilliant imagery is as impressive as his ideas. Simonson’s sophisticated graphic sensibility and gift for original, dynamically expressed compositions make for powerful spreads of gorgeous drawing. It all makes this book the greatest and most fitting capstone to Kirby’s work on this series that could possibly be achieved. If you were a fan of the ‘Fourth World’ mythos this will astonish, entertain and leave you thoroughly satisfied – and perhaps even slightly emotional at the appropriate nature of the conclusion, when you reach the end of this tour de force of storytelling.
Orion also contains forty pages of sketches, original page layouts, cover art and other material. It is worth noting that Simonson was unhappy with one feature of this Omnibus. Many of the original Orion comics issues featured a chapter of story followed by a small back-up tale drawn by guest artists, which commented on or illuminated some aspect of that chapter. In this collection all the back-ups are placed together in a separate section at the end of the book, breaking the connections. DC corrected this decision in the two-volume reprinting of Orion that followed in 2018, returning the back-ups to their original positions. So if you want to read this series in the manner that Walter Simonson intended, then those two books are the ones to buy. Handily, they are together still much cheaper than this single massive hardcover, and feature extra content not collected here.
A different 144-page trade paperback collection Orion: The Gates of Apokolips was published long before this volume, in 2001, not featuring any new material. It reprints the first five issues of Simonson’s Orion series, plus two short stories created for two other DC titles. You can find those two stories in Orion by Walter Simonson: Book One.