Retro Review: Cosmic Odyssey By Starlin, Mignola, & Garzon For DC Comics

Columns, Top Story

Cosmic Odyssey #1-4 (1988)

Written by Jim Starlin

Penciled by Mike Mignola

Inked by Carlos Garzon

Coloured by Steve Oliff

Spoilers (from thirty-four years ago)

In 1988, I was still largely unfamiliar with the DC Universe.  I was reading a few titles, and my interest and knowledge were growing, but there was still I didn’t know very much about.  One thing I did know was that a prestige format series meant that something was special and worth paying attention to, and that’s probably why I first picked up Cosmic Odyssey, the four-parter by Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola (who I knew from his short run on Alpha Flight).  Well, that and because the cover looked amazing, with a variety of characters I liked (Batman and the Martian Manhunter), some I’d never seen before (like Forager, who I expected to see in every New Gods comic afterwards), and Mignola’s cool bulky figures.

This series was, more or less, my introduction to the New Gods and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.  I had some familiarity with Mister Miracle and Barda from reading Justice League (International) and Byrne’s run on Action Comics, but didn’t know much about the rest of them at this time.  I also remember that this book put Green Lantern John Stewart through the wringer, making him one of the most interesting Green Lanterns to me (which led to me reading the excellent Mosaic series, which introduced me to Cully Hamner’s work).

I’m curious to dive back into this series with deeper knowledge of the characters and their relationships.  I also love when Mignola draws characters at the Big Two, so this will be a rare treat visually.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:


  • Superman (Clark Kent; #1-4)
  • Lightray (New Gods; #1-4)
  • Darkseid (Apokolips; #1-3)
  • Batman (Bruce Wayne; #1-4)
  • Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz; #1-4)
  • Starfire (Koriand’r; #1-4)
  • Green Lantern (John Stewart; #1-4)
  • Highfather (New Gods; #1-4)
  • Orion (New Gods; #1-4)
  • Forager (#1-4)
  • The Demon (Etrigan; #1-4)
  • Adam Strange (#2-3)
  • Dr. Fate (#4)


  • The Anti-Life Force (#1, 3-4)
  • The Anti-Life Force Aspects (#1-4)
  • Darkseid (#4)
  • Desaad (#4)

Guest Stars

  • Metron (New Gods; #1)
  • Lonar (New Gods; #1)

Supporting Characters

  • Commissioner James Gordon (#1)
  • Jason Blood (#1-2)
  • Alanna Strange (#2)
  • Sardath (#2)
  • Alfred Pennyworth (#2)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • Six months before the proper beginning of the story, a boom tube opens in Gotham City and a bunch of soldiers from Apokolips emerge.  As they hurry to set up a forcefield, they discuss their plans to establish a beachhead on Earth for their master’s forces.  Their plans don’t survive the sudden appearance of Superman and Lightray, who destroy the force shield device before it can be activated, and chase the troops back into their boom tube.  They don’t see that one of the soldiers is left behind; he sneaks off into the alleys, wondering what he’ll do.  Two weeks before the story begins, Metron emerges from a boom tube and crashes his chair onto a barren world.  He appears catatonic.  Darkseid boom tubes in with some techno-chiefs, who extract information from the mobius chair.  Darkseid’s narration tells us that Metron was close to discovering the secret of the anti-life equation, and now wants to go over his data.  He has his men bring Metron back with them.  Later, he talks about how the information he found has frightened him, as he sees that the entire universe is up against a threat that will require the help of heroes (this is why I’ve listed Darkseid as a hero in this series).  One week ago, Batman is called in when a police officer, Bester, disappears while on patrol.  Commissioner Gordon explains that people have been disappearing from this neighbourhood, and Batman agrees to check it out.  He hangs out in the area wearing a trenchcoat and hat over his costume, and notices that something is watching him from the sewer tunnels.  He drops into the tunnels (classic Mignola falling panel) to investigate, and finds evidence of someone very large living there.  He finds the individual’s lair, and comes across their meat locker, which includes the decaying bodies of at least three people, including Officer Bester.  Having seen the radio pack the Apokiliptan had, he assumes he’s dealing with a “cannibalistic alien” (which doesn’t make sense, if he’s eating creatures not of his kind) and wants to return with help.  On his way out, though, Batman sees the creature and gets angry enough to attack.  They fight, and recognizing no other way to win, shoots the being with his own gun.  When he returns later with Gordon and some cops, the creature’s body is gone, as is the corpse of Officer Bester.  One week ago, there is discussion at the White House after the new President (George HW Bush started to serve in 1989, so I assume that’s who it is) receives a visit in the form of Lonar, a god from New Genesis declaring himself the new ambassador to the United States.  He asks that Superman be declared ambassador to New Genesis, and gives the President a list of people he’d like to meet.  Soon enough, a collection of heroes convenes at the White House. In addition to Superman and Batman, the Martian Manhunter, Starfire, and Green Lantern John Stewart, there is an old man referred to as Mr. Blood.  Lonar takes everyone to New Genesis via a boom tube, where Highfather, Orion, and Lightray wait to greet them.  The Earth heroes are surprised to see Darkseid there, and Superman immediately attacks him, although to no avail, as he’s tossed aside.  Highfather calms things down, saying that Darkseid came to them for help.  Once they’re all sitting nicely in a garden, Highfather tells the story of a race that existed long before even dinosaurs walked on Earth.  He talks about how this highly advanced race, which expanded over hundreds of worlds, ended up being enemies to the beings of another planet through nothing more than their own arrogance.  That society bankrupted itself, financially and morally, in the race to win their war, and developed a cannon that used the anti-life equation.  When their leader fired the cannon, it destroyed their main world.  The anti-life energy spread throughout the galaxy, destroying the race’s enemies, but also their other planets in a two hundred square (shouldn’t that be cubic in space?) lightyear space, before the energy turned back on itself and imploded.  The only things left in that space were the two planets that are now known as New Genesis and Apokolips.  Highfather talks about how those two worlds developed, and how they ended up being in a dimensional rift separating them from the rest of the known universe.  Highfather explains that the idea of anti-life was lost, but because Metron found it, there is a problem.  Darkseid explains that the data alone doesn’t reveal what he suspects, and that to truly understand, they need access to Metron’s mind.  Forager brings out the still catatonic Metron, and gets treated badly by Orion (I’m not sure how racism works on New Genesis).  Martian Manhunter figures out this is why he was brought there, and accesses Metron’s mind.  He narrates as if he is Metron, and we see that the super-genius accessed the source of anti-life, and learned that it’s not so much an equation as a sentient being.  Its power terrified him, and as Metron tried to escape back to his own dimension, the anti-life broke off four aspects of itself to chase him.  Metron made it back, and the four aspects took off in four different directions.  Metron managed to crash before losing his mind.  Everyone is reeling from this information.  Darkseid explains that the entity is made of anti-matter and can’t exist in the positive dimension, but its aspects can.  He’s tracked them to four planets – Earth, Rann, Thanagar, and Xanshi. Darkseid believes that destroying any two of those planets will upset the gravitational balance of the entire Milky Way, and destroy it, which would allow the entity the chance to cross the dimensional barrier.  Darkseid has constructed devices that should trap the aspects’ energy, and gives them out to the heroes, explaining that they are to split into four teams and travel to the four planets.  He sends Orion and Superman to Thanagar, Lightray and Starfire to Rann, Batman and Forager to Earth, and Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter to Xanshi.  They travel through a single boom tube but end up at their different locations (I’m not sure how the Xanshi team is expected to return).  Once on Earth, Batman makes a phone call from a payphone, asking someone he doesn’t name to keep an eye on Darkseid for him.  On New Genesis, Jason Blood asks what his role is, and Darkseid brings out his old partner, Etrigan, the Demon.  Blood yells out, clearly not wanting this.
  • Orion and Superman are greeted by a large number of Thanagarian wingmen, who they manage to fight off.  Superman suggests that Orion “moderate his use of force” in the next battle, given that the Anti-Life Aspect is controlling these people.  On Xanshi, John Stewart and Martian Manhunter determine that the Anti-Life Aspect has caused a plague that is killing everyone.  Using his ring, John is able to cure one person, and tells him that the rest can get transfusions of his blood to be cured (I’m not sure why he couldn’t have shared his “magic elixir” with a few more people, because that’s going to be hard on that one guy).  John accesses the planet’s computers to determine that the plague has caused all electricity to go offline on the planet (I’m not sure how this computer is working), but one weather station in the polar region is operating well past its normal capacity.  John figures out that this weather station is tapped into the planet’s geologic structure.  They head off.  Batman takes Forager to his Bat-cave, where he learns that this New God was raised among the Insect Legion, and is therefore treated with discrimination and scorn by people like Orion.  Batman wants to alter Forager’s costume so it will work better at night.  Batman has figured out, from Superman and J’onn’s reports, that the Anti-Life Aspects on Thanagar and Xanshi are tapping into dangerous resources.  He figures that means that on Earth it will be using computer networks (this feels like a stretch, especially in the late 80s).  Lightray and Starfire head towards Ranagar, where they find that the people have succumbed to a sort of madness.  They head to a prominent looking building, and find that Adam Strange, who is unaffected, has tied up his wife and father-in-law to protect them.  They explain what’s going on and head out to investigate.  On New Genesis, Jason Blood makes it very clear to Highfather and Darkseid that he doesn’t want anything to do with Etrigan.  He explains that he’s been happier since separating from The Demon, and even though he’s aging quickly (as is Etrigan, who looks emaciated and weak), he’s not going to change things.  Darkseid explains that even if the heroes stop the Anti-Life Aspects, the barrier to the Anti-Life Entity’s dimension is weakening, and only through using the Demon’s powers can Darkseid stop it.  Blood agrees, but walks away.  Superman and Orion fight off another large force of wingmen, and decide that following the ones retreating is the only way to find the Aspect.  As John and J’onn fly across Xanshi, the Aspect uses its weather control devices to send a massive tornado at the heroes.  John is being pretty arrogant, dismissing the threat, but then they are struck by lightning.  Both heroes are fine, but the device Darkseid gave them is destroyed.  John puts a protective cube around them, and shows that he can build a new device with his ring.  Alfred shows Batman Forager’s new, darker, outfit, and Batman explains that he’s discovered a number of scientific equipment orders being sent to a remote spot in Arizona, in the name of the dead policeman from last issue.  Starfire, Lightray, and Adam discover a massive doomsday bomb in the basement of a building in Ranagar.  Lightray figures it’s designed to knock the planet out of orbit and into the sun.  Since the bomb isn’t yet active, they split up to search for the Aspect. It attacks and knocks out Adam in a corridor, but the other two aren’t able to find it.  As John and J’onn approach the weather station, J’onn questions why Stewart is not taking the Aspect more seriously as a foe.  A volcanic plume almost engulfs them, destroying the protective cube John put around them.  He explains that he’s commanded the ring to protect J’onn automatically, the way it does him.  He then decides to leave J’onn behind, figuring he doesn’t need his help.  He wraps him in an energy sphere, and flies towards the weather station, yelling about how powerful and great he is (really, he’s acting more like Guy Gardner at this point).  He’s shocked when he finds the same kind of doomsday bomb we saw on Rann, only this one is all yellow.  The Green Lantern rings are powerless against the colour yellow, and J’onn is too far away to help.  John watches the bomb count down and then explode.  The ring protects both heroes, but the planet itself is half-destroyed, and sent hurtling through space into the local sun.  Because the explosion turned the core of the planet into anti-matter, when it touches the matter of the sun, it causes another explosion, destroying that star.  John lies on some rubble, devastated by what happened.  J’onn approaches him and tells him he’ll never forgive him for this.  When John tries to make excuses, J’onn tells him to shut up, and flies away.  Highfather lets Darkseid know what happened, and he feels that it’s time for them to move ahead with their backup plan.  Highfather collects Jason Blood from a garden (he says that flowers didn’t smell the same when he was the Demon) and takes him to Etrigan.  Jason and Etrigan hug, and are combined, instantly restoring Etrigan to his former self.
  • Lightay recaps the situation for Starfire and then leaves her behind with Adam Strange while he goes to track down the Anti-Life Aspect, feeling confident that he can defeat it alone.  While Kory sits with Adam, she notices an oily substance that smells like gasoline spread across the floor.  She doesn’t see it pick up a large piece of machinery, and we hear it crash down on her.  Superman and Orion watch the Thanagarian city where they are sure the Aspect they are hunting is.  Because of how well guarded it is, Superman sends Orion to create a distraction while he burrows through the ground.  Lightray can’t find any sign of the Aspect until he shifts his visual spectrum.  He follows the trail he finds back to the room with the doomsday bomb, where he finds Kory (her name is spelled wrong in half of this issue) unconscious.  The creature, which is basically living goop, attacks him. Superman finds the doomsday bomb on Thanagar, but no sign of the Aspect.  He starts to work on the bomb, but a gigantic robot emerges from the ground and attacks him.  Lightay can’t hit the goop monster, because it moves so quickly it can evade his force beams.  We see it fight Lightray while the robot fights Superman on Thanagar.  The monster on Rann turns on the doomsday bomb, just as Kory starts to wake up.  She pulls Adam Strange and Lightray away, while they are both unconscious, and prepares to fight the goop.  Superman starts to turn the tables on the robot just as the goop captures Kory and throws her against a wall.  Batman and Forager have arrived in Arizona, and are staking out the butte where all the scientific deliveries were made.  Batman suspects that the Aspect on Earth took over the body of the Apokoliptian soldier he fought in issue one.  Superman is able to do a lot of damage to the robot’s body, and then uses Apokolips’s device to capture the Aspect.  He destroys the bomb, and heads to the surface, hoping to celebrate his victory with the Thanagarians that were under the Aspect’s control.  Highfather lets Apokolips and Etrigan know that Superman was successful, but Apokolips still wants to use his backup plan to confront the Anti-Life Entity.  Apokolips starts to scheme in his head about how he can turn this whole situation to his advantage.  Highfather, for his part, doesn’t trust Apokolips.  He’s visited by a “friend of the Batman”, whom we don’t see, who suggests that the way to safeguard against Apokolips is to let him have his way.  Lightray starts to recover, and sees the goop monster holding Kory, while the doomsday bomb’s countdown approaches the single digits.  Superman is dismayed to find that Orion has killed scores of Thanagarians.  He argues with Orion, who feels he’s done his job very well, and Superman punches him.  Orion’s scorn for Superman is clear when he offers to take him back to New Genesis.  Instead, Superman says he’s going to stay and bury all these bodies.  Lightray wants to help Kory, but she yells at him to leave.  As she flies, the goop creature catches on fire.  Kory pushes Lightray out of the building ahead of a big explosion, but not as big as if the bomb had gone off.  As Adam Strange joins them, Kory explains that she smelled gasoline and surmised that the creature, which is probably native to Rann, was flammable.  Because she couldn’t hit it with her starbolts, she figured that she could set it on fire when she flew (I always thought that the trail of hair behind her when she flies was just a visual effect, but I guess it’s fire, which makes sense given her name).  When that happened, the bomb burnt up before it could explode.  They spot the Anti-Life Aspect escaping, but aren’t able to catch it.  On New Genesis, Darkseid speaks to Etrigan about how with his demon energy, he should be able to enslave the Entity.  Reluctantly, Etrigan agrees to work with him.  Batman and Forager move in on the Earth facility, having waited for dark.  Orion returns to New Genesis, bringing John Stewart and the Martian Manhunter with him.  John is being very hard on himself, and J’onn is not too happy when Highfather asks him to go look after him.  Highfather tells Orion that they can’t go along with what Darkseid is planning.  We see that Darkseid has tethered himself to Etrigan, and explains to the Demon that they are shifting into becoming a cosmic force.  He pushes a button on his harness and they disappear and materialize in the Anti-Life Entity’s presence.  Highfather and Orion realize that Apokolips has already made his move.  They are joined by Batman’s unseen friend (I’m not sure why they went to such trouble to hide his identity here when they put him on the cover of issue 4), who taking their hands, transports them all to the same place.  We see the Aspect from Rann arrive, and enter the tether to Darkseid.  On Earth, the Apokoliptian soldier and his dead cop companion start the countdown on their doomsday bomb.
  • As the timer counts down on the doomsday bomb on Earth, we see Batman pulling some wires from the device.  When it gets to zero, the two beings possessed by the Anti-Life Aspect – the Apokoliptian soldier with a hole through his chest and the dead Officer Bester don’t know what’s happened.  Batman and Forager knock a big piece of equipment onto the soldier, and Forager beheads Bester with his shield.  He discovers that Bester is a robot (this doesn’t really make sense, but okay).  Batman fights the soldier, who is way bigger and stronger than he is.  It grabs him and starts to crush the life out of him.  Batman blacks out.  Darkseid and the Demon stand in front of the Anti-Life Entity, and Darkseid prepares to fight.  Darkseid quickly realizes that the Entity is too powerful for him, and decides to return to his own dimension, while stealing some of the Entity’s energy to seal off its dimension, and still have some to spare back home.  The problem is that the other Aspect arrives then and overloads his harness, returning him and Etrigan to the Entity.  On New Genesis, the heroes try to figure out where Darkseid and Highfather have gone, while John wallows in guilt over Xanshi.  Forager saves Batman from being crushed but is quickly knocked out.  The soldier starts to fix the machinery while Batman desperately tries to think of some way to stop him.  Just as the Entity reaches out to grab Darkseid and Etrigan, a beam of light surrounds them and they are pulled away.  Dr. Fate is there with Highfather and Orion, and he explains that he’s Batman’s friend, and the only hope they have of surviving.  Fate arranges the five of them into a pentagram, which he calls a “cinque of cosmic power”, and starts blasting energy at the Entity.  He uses the power he’s drawing from the other four to destroy the Anti-Life Entity and his entire dimension, returning them to New Genesis.  Fate tells the heroes that the job is done, but Darkseid is angry that Fate used his powers against his will.  He wants to make Fate pay, but Superman stares him down.  Highfather reminds them that they still don’t know if Batman was successful, and reminds them that if the Earth is destroyed, the balance of the Milky Way is still at risk.  On Earth, the soldier has reset the countdown to thirty seconds.  Batman painfully approaches, but is easily kicked away.  The soldier boasts a bit, and turns his back on the two injured heroes.  Forager rallies and gets up, diving through the hole in the soldier’s chest.  Batman yells at him to deal with the bomb, and with one second left on the clock, uses his shield to smash the control panel.  There’s a large explosion which kills Forager and the soldier.  Batman calls the others and asks for some help with cleanup, saying he needs another Aspect catching device since his was smashed.  Superman and Lightray take a boom tube to Earth, and Martian Manhunter goes off to look for John, who seemed even more despondent before.  John sits in a room filled with weapons, and takes a yellowish gun in his hand.  He tells his ring to fly twenty lightyears away and wait for him to call it back, figuring that is far enough away that it wouldn’t be able to protect him.  He holds the gun to his head, thinking, not knowing that J’onn is watching him.  When he puts the gun down, J’onn tells him that he might as well go ahead and kill himself, since he’s not a good hero and not responsible enough for the job.  John thinks a little longer, and then recalls his ring, and says, “Screw you” to J’onn.  After he leaves the room, J’onn smiles to himself.  Superman and Lightray return with Batman and Forager’s body.  Batman tells them of Forager’s sacrifice, and when Orion calls him a bug, Batman punches him in the face.  Lightray notices that Darkseid is gone, and Highfather realizes he took the Aspect-catchers with him.  Back on Apokolips, Darkseid complains to Desaad that he didn’t achieve his goals, but at least he made off with some Anti-Life energy.  Highfather tells Orion that he is going to take Forager’s body back to the Insects, in the hope that he learns some tolerance.

This miniseries was as exciting and monumental as I remember it being.  I love the rather random collection of heroes (I’m not sure why Starfire or Martian Manhunter were included, although they did have their parts to play), and the way the heroes are portrayed as very fallible in this series.

I would have liked to see more about Superman’s beef with Orion at the end of the series, but I guess Highfather picking him to return Forager’s body is meant to symbolize his penance.  I like how Starlin wrote Superman in this book, and I also like the way he made Batman more fallible than we usually see.  I think I prefer a Batman who is infinitely determined, but faces challenges his more powerful peers don’t.

I’ve never been very familiar with the New Gods, other than Mister Miracle, and this left me wondering if there is anything interesting about Lightray.  He just seems so generic to me.

This story created a lasting change in John Stewart.  I never read any Green Lantern comics prior to this, and therefore wasn’t very familiar with John, but I found his story fascinating here.  His arrogance, and the way he sold just how powerful the Green Lanterns are to J’onn, before totally messing up is heartbreaking.  I think the scene at the end where he considers suicide is handled very well, with J’onn’s goading what helps solidify his desire to keep living.  After this book, John starred in the terrific Green Lantern: Mosaic series, which worked on rebuilding his confidence (something that Geoff Johns also played with in his GL run).

I’m not sure how some of the other plotlines in this book were handled later on.  I know that Metron regained his faculties, but am not sure where.  The Anti-Life Equation has continued to be a mainstay of Darkseid-related stories, and the Entity itself looks a lot like the thing we’ve seen most recently in Dark Crisis.  

Jim Starlin is not really a writer that gets associated with DC all that much, even though he’s done some notable work with Batman, and it’s interesting that he was playing in their cosmic sandbox before returning to Marvel’s with his Silver Surfer run (which I’ve written about recently).  Starlin is always good, but since none of these are ‘his’ characters, the way books featuring Warlock or Thanos are, it does hit a little differently.

The best thing about this book is the art.  I don’t remember if Mignola was widely recognized as a star at this point, or was seen as an up-and-comer, but to me, this is one of his best pieces of work before he launched Hellboy.  I like how squat and solid his characters are, and the soldier from Apokolips is so clearly a Mignola design.  His update of Forager’s look is fantastic, and the art throughout this book really impressed.  Carlos Garzon’s thick inks, and John Workman’s solid letters blended perfectly with Mignola’s style.

I’m glad I dug this series out and gave it another read.  It was just as good as I remembered, and the old prestige format series always feel like a treat to read.

My next column will be a one-off looking at a hugely important Starlin book.

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