Orion: The Gates of Apokolips

Orion: The Gates of Apokolips

I’ve never been that interested in the New Gods. Their original appearances were before my time, so my exposure to them is limited to reprint volumes and occasional appearances in The Legion of Super-Heroes. There wasn’t a lot about the characters I could relate to, but that changed with this collection, Orion: The Gates of Apokolips.

Between the clarity of the god’s motivations, the epic plans and schemes, and the interaction with regular people, there’s more than enough to keep anyone interested. This is an excellent superhero comic — it’s wonderfully done and new-reader-friendly, encompassing epic plots, exciting action, and amazing art, all with heart.

This is a book of big themes, dynamic art, and excellent storytelling. Walter Simonson demonstrates himself to be more than a worthy successor to the King; he’s bringing his own exceptional ability as well. There’s more talent and excitement in these first issues than in a year of some other books. The new direction Simonson sets up seems to be the first real step forward taken with these characters in a long time.

I was especially pleased to see that you don’t need to know anything about previous series; everything’s beautifully established in the first collection. Orion’s quest for the truth of his parentage drives him to journey through significant locations in the New Gods canon, explaining them and himself as he goes. Due to the nature of his search, this soliloquizing seems perfectly appropriate. At the same time, he finds himself fighting Darkseid’s quest for the Anti-Life Equation on earth.

Orion: The Gates of Apokolips

The book opens in America’s heartland, as suggested by the story titles. (The introductory arc is four issues; #1 is “Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies”, #2 is “For Amber Waves of Grain”, #3 is “For Purple Mountain Majesties”, and #4 is “Above the Fruited Plain”.) The nature of America and its citizens is explored through the story of a small town with huge weapons (supplied by guess who) blockading themselves against the rest of the country.

Familiar faces make cameos, including Sgt. Turpin, Jimmy Olsen, and the Newsboy Legion (who may have to think about changing their name if a girl calling herself Famous Bobbie keeps hanging out with them). Private eye Dave Lincoln, who was kidnapped to Apokolips in the first New Gods series, also returns. I enjoyed his role of the blasé sophisticate who won’t be fazed by anything; it’s an older type of character that we rarely see nowadays, but it makes for some amusing byplay with Orion.

The first arc sets up the expected epic clash, that of father and son. This culminates in issue #5, where we see the showdown that’s been decades in the making: Darkseid vs. Orion. The question of whether or not they’re actually related by blood only adds another level to their inevitable battle.

With the New Gods, the creator has to avoid the temptation to overwrite the descriptive captions and dialogue in that fake-gothic dialect. The reader also has to be willing to play along, to a degree. But in this case, the few long pages of exposition are far from talking heads; gestures, postures, and body language all reinforce the mood of the exposition.

A new reader can get an excellent idea of the strengths of the work from the fabulous cover. Darkseid’s scary, Tigra’s gorgeous, and both loom over a shot of Orion in action against a cosmic background. This art symbolizes the larger-than-life — but still approachable — epic contained within.

At first, I wrote off issue #5, the concluding showdown between father and son, as one big fight scene, but in even the simpler structures Simonson demonstrates thought and detail. In this case, once I’d finished riding the adrenline rush of the fight, I noticed a lot more going on in the audience (drawn as page borders): cameos of noted characters and creators, plus Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion covering the clash.

Overwhelming panoramas, capturing the scope of another world with different rules, alternate with closeups that illustrate character distinctions and motivations. The events of this book are like some terrible prophecy, where meanings alter and flow as the reader considers the portents and happenings. It can be a quick read, if you only grasp the action, but rereadings reveal new interpretations and possibilities.

I was glad to see Tigra take such a prominent role. I’ve always disagreed with the way that most superhero books give the father almost sole credit for how the kids turn out. Tigra demonstrates that both parents affect their children while providing a rationale for why Orion contrasts with Darkseid in so many ways. Besides, the Father/Son dynamic in this cycle of stories has been almost fully explored, and concentrating on her provides new story ground.

We learn more about her character and motivation through flashbacks. She’s a tragic character, underneath her machinations — due to the events of her life, she’s been corrupted, disavowing love in favor of power, and she’s secretly jealous of lovers because that simplicity and hope is no longer possible for her. Amazingly, much of this is conveyed through a two-page scene. With such an accomplished creator, much insight into her, her society, and her civilization is conveyed succinctly and clearly.

Justeen, Desaad’s second-in-command, and Mortalla, both new characters, fit into the overall tapestry so well that their newness isn’t obvious. This is just one of the many factors that show how well Simonson “gets” Kirby. He’s not just using the characters for nostalgia or to show which comics he loved; he’s building and enhancing the mythos.

This book makes me want to reread the Kirby work not because I have to, but because I want more adventures of these fascinating characters. It’s an excellent starting point to understand and participate in the Kirby pantheon.

If you’d like to read more, there are a number of Kirby reprint books available:

Also, among Simonson’s other works are two dealing with similar cosmic themes:

Aside from reprinting Orion #1-5, this book also includes stories from Secret Origins of Super-Villains 80-Page Giant #1 and Legends of the DC Universe 80-Page Giant #2. The Orion series ended with issue #25, and there were no other collections.

The following guest artists contribute to the “Tales of the New Gods” included in this volume:

  • Frank Miller illustrates Orion’s birth in “Nativity”
  • Dave Gibbons is the artist for “Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down…” featuring Lightray
  • Jon Bogdanove and Bill Reinhold bring us Granny Goodness’ origin, “Goodness and Mercy”
  • Klaus Janson illustrates “…Carnival in Armagetto!” with Darkseid and Mr. Miracle

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