Cosmic Odyssey (1988)
Written by Jim Starlin
Art by Mike Mignola
For eons, Darkseid has searched for the Anti-Life Equation, a manifestation of ultimate power that would allow him to conquer all of reality. It turns out that Anti-Life is a living entity and it has sent four essences into the positive matter universe with the goal of destroying a chain of solar systems that would affect the gravity of the galaxy so drastically it would obliterate it all. A tenuous alliance is made between Darkseid and Highfather of New Genesis to prevent this from occurring. They gather a group of Earth’s greatest heroes (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Starfire) and a mysterious old man named Jason Blood to help stop Anti-Life’s plans. But of course, with Darkseid, not everything is as it seems.
1988 began with Millennium (January-February) and bookended with Cosmic Odyssey (December). There couldn’t be two different event titles. The first significant difference is that Cosmic Odyssey is entirely self-contained in four oversized monthly issues. Millennium with its bloated 45 parts just becomes too overwhelming while Odyssey is streamlined. Millennium ended up having little no repercussions outside the event, most creators ignoring what it revealed. Odyssey managed to have one significant lasting effect, the trauma suffered by Green Lantern John Stewart. In a bit, I’ll go more into the great parts of this and how DC never really followed through with just how amazing that character arc could have been.
The seeds for Cosmic Odyssey came as a result of The Books of Magic which wouldn’t be published until 1990, but was in pre-production at DC Comics during this time, according to writer Jim Starlin. Editorial was so impressed with Neil Gaiman’s mapping out of the magical landscape of post-Crisis DC that they charged Starlin with doing the same for the cosmic/space books. At the time Starlin was writing Batman at the time, a run that would include the infamous death of Jason Todd. He didn’t really have an interest in doing a cosmic travelogue so instead developed a story centered around the Fourth World created by Jack Kirby, even finding a way to include The Demon in there.
The best thing about Cosmic Odyssey and the most obvious is the Mike Mignola art. His style matches this story perfectly and is very reminiscent of the DC animated shows, especially Justice League. Mignola is excellent at large two-page spreads, that give a sense of scale, notably the opening issue’s introduction to Supertown. There’s never a sense that the art is in decline as we get closer to the end of the story, which is something that happened on Millennium.
The plot feels like it would be very well-suited for a feature film. The threat is clear, the cast is relatively small for a superhero crossover, and there is a decent twist in the third act. While the cast is concise one member felt completely wasted, Starfire. I’m not sure why she was included but I can imagine. Wonder Woman might have been off limits based on an editorial edict or in the same vein, editorial may have demanded representation from the Teen Titans. Ultimately, she doesn’t even need to be there and we never get a sense of her personality. With DC originally wanting this to be a guide to the cosmic side of their universe, I would assume she was included because of her alien nature.
One character who does get a fascinating spotlight is Forager. Forager is from a race of humanoids called Bugs on the planet New Genesis. They live in colonies centered on a queen figure and in Kirby’s original work they were part of his exploration of social hierarchies and prejudice. The New God Orion was notoriously dismissive of the the Bugs and especially Forager. Starlin decides to pair Batman and Forager as they venture to Earth to stop Anti-Life there. Some fun banter is had between these two personalities and leads to a very dramatic conclusion.
But for all the good there are some considerable flaws in this event. The main problem is that the story runs out of steam around the halfway point. Starlin actually has a pair of heroes fail to stop Anti-Life on the planet Xanshi. John Stewart, full of hubris from his ring, holds Martian Manhunter back so he can single-handedly stop a world destroying bomb and he fails. And entire planet and then its solar system are destroyed, millions are killed. Stewart actually contemplates suicide in the aftermath and Martian Manhunter is enraged with what he did. This incredibly interesting subplot ends with Manhunter sort of messing with Stewart and the Green Lantern just getting over his suicidal ideation. Starlin truly dropped the ball here. Thank goodness for Gerard Jones who would take this and Stewart’s loss of his wife and use that to fuel the most interesting character arc the Green Lantern has ever had.
Doctor Fate pops up near the end of Odyssey and just magics away the problem which ends up reading as sloppy. There is never a real sense of peril once he arrives and Anti-Life feels very simply defeated. It also didn’t help that Starlin turned Anti-Life from an abstraction in the Kirby books to an actually thinking being. Overall, Cosmic Odyssey is a fun read that will eventually feel like it is overstaying its welcome. The biggest positive is that you only need to read these four issues and you have the entire story.
Next up: Invasion!