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Sunday Slugfest: Death of the New Gods #8 (of 8)

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Jim Starlin
Jim Starlin, Art Thibert
DC Comics
"The End"

Shawn Hill: 4 Bullets
Paul Brian McCoy: 1.5 Bullets
Marx Pyle: 2.5 Bullets
Thom Young: 3 Bullets

Shawn Hill 4 Bullets

Plot: Superman is the sole witness to unprecedented events beyond his reckoning, and maybe his physical endurance.

Comments: Starlin has turned in some of his strongest illustrations in years on this title. His fascination with all things cosmic has been a consistent theme of his career, and he plays a memorable--and let's hope definitive--final hand in the passing of DC's Fourth World stable of Kirby-given characters.

The whodunit nature of the previous issues has given away to a "what next?" air of despair in this final issue. Mysteries have been solved, and questions answered, and
Apokolips and New Genesis are forlorn ghost towns. The killer doesn't seem to have been Orion, or the Forever People, or Himon, but rather personified aspects of the Source and the Anti-Life Equation themselves. At least from what Clark can tell, as he's been unconscious for the most recent occurrences.

The Source was gathering the souls of the New Gods to a new Source Wall, apparently in order to create a new race of gods. And it was all going so well (if horrifically for the Gods watching their friends picked off one by one), except for that pesky Darkseid, who, as always, has his own plan for events set in motion, and doesn't intend to give up his soul for anyone else's plan.

The Darkseid vs. Source battle takes place on Apokolips, and is beyond a scale even for a Kryptonian to do much more than watch. Starlin draws not only on Kirby for this sequence, but also on Ditko for some cosmic reality-warping effects. The Source, its disparate halves joined, is taken captive because Darkseid has usurped that reservoir of New Gods soul power before the Source could act.

Darkseid intends to survive despite the impending Fifth World, but the Source has one more weapon left in reserve: Orion's soul (he perished in a previous issue) wasn't merged with the rest. And so sire and scion are locked in eternal battle, so explosive that Clark is rendered little more than a commentator, and then even grander celestial events change things forever more, knocking Clark unconscious again.

He awakens where he began, mourning the loss of a generation of heroes and villains he knew so well. And so should we, but never more than if the events of this series don't stick. Maybe it's time for a Fifth World, though Darkseid and Orion live on. Will the new world equal the glory of all that has passed? That's a daunting task.

Paul Brian McCoy: 1.5 Bullets

The cover says it all, really. Superman on his knees, teeth gritted, exclaiming "No! It can't end like this!" And he's right. Apparently it actually ended last week in Countdown. Go figure.

The only actual "End" in this issue is the end of my buying DC titles without Grant Morrison's name on the credits.

I went into this series wanting to love it. Some of my earliest memories of great superhero stories were of those crafted by Starlin. Then, his Dreadstar was there for me when I gave up on mainstream superhero comics in the mid-Eighties. And I really enjoyed last year's Mystery in Space.

We just won't mention all that Nineties Infinity Gauntlet stuff. I thought that entire period was just awful.

I've also had a long affection for the New Gods, ever since picking up the reprint collections DC released back in 1984, where Kirby himself concluded the story he'd begun all those years earlier. And the new hardback collections of Kirby's Fourth World comics are great.

I'm even one of those people who enjoyed Grant Morrison's reinterpretation of them in his Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle series.

But this comic in my hand today is pretty worthless.

I suppose there's a symmetry to the fact that the story began in Countdown and then returned there to conclude, but I find myself wondering just what the hell I spent twenty-eight dollars on? A story with no beginning and no end, that's what. And all there was in between was murder after murder. Thanks, DC.

This issue marks a change of pace as, instead of killing off a variety of New Gods (Oops, we ran out), it's just one long fight scene between a powered up Darkseid and The Source in physical form. How did Darkseid get so strong? He explains it, but it's kind of dumb, so I'm just going to ignore it. Luckily for the Universe, since his dead son has his genes (or something), Orion can come back from the dead (as an energy being of some sort), using that same power, and fight his dad.

And apparently kill him. In another book. A week before this book hit the stands.

There are plenty of splash pages and big, dramatic moments that really aren't that dramatic at all, since we know going into this that there will be no resolution. We even get New Genesis and Apokolips crashing together in a mighty blast, but instead of being destroyed, they are combined, forming a new planet: Half New Genesis, half Apokolips, but cleverly in a Yin Yang pattern. You know, because one was good, one was evil; one was darkness, one was light, etc. etc. Really, DC?

The only thing good about this comic is the color art of Jeromy Cox. He uses color to create a sense of energy and power that is beautiful to behold. Without his talent this art would be cartoonish and flat, only rising anywhere near Starlin's historic best in brief moments that never really result in anything substantive. Although I do wish that most of the book weren't stuck in the orange/red range. Nearly three quarters of the book seems to be done in only those two colors. The way Cox uses a plethora of colors in the first full-page engagement of Darkseid with The Source is much more effective.

There's no way his name should be below Starlin's and Thibert's, and in smaller type even. Shame on you, DC.

And shame on me for wasting my time with this crap. That's it. I'm pretty much done. I'll read Final Crisis (and Batman, out of some misguided loyalty to Morrison), maybe check out some Vertigo titles now and then, and perhaps a Wildstorm book or two, but that's it. DC has done nothing but disappoint me since Identity Crisis, so I really don't see any reason to stick around any more. They can get my money with their hardback reprint collections of books I liked long ago.

Marx Pyle: 2.5 Bullets

"No! It can't end like this!" – Superman

I feel Superman's pain. I can't believe this is how the New Gods die.

This miniseries has had its ups and downs. It isn't bad, just not very impressive for such a major event in the DC universe. I feel that the biggest downfall was this ending.

There is only one New God left for the Source to collect, but Darkseid ain't going down without a fight. You see, he has been doing some soul stealing from the soul stealer. By mixing that power with the soul fire formula Darkseid has become a god powerful enough to overthrow the Source itself. Superman tries to help, but he is a gnat compared to this kind of power. The Source though has an ace up his sleeve: the spirit of Orion. Hmm... what did that ancient prophecy say about the father falling to the son?

If you've been reading Countdown, then you know that the final conclusion to this story takes place in that title instead of here. It felt extremely forced at the end of this issue for Darkseid to make his sudden disappearance for the final battle with Orion... that happened last week in Countdown. At least that issue of Countdown makes a little more sense now. A little.

The interference from Countdown and Birds of Prey really hurt this book by revealing major plot points before they were revealed in this miniseries. The final issue just felt like a rushed mess of a story. There was just way too much exposition and monologues in this issue.

I do have to give Starlin kudos for the excellent visuals. It really felt like we were watching a battle between two powerful gods, especially seeing how out of his league Superman was next to the Source and uber-Darkseid.

It was odd seeing a "ying yang" amalgam of New Genesis and Apokolips. I'm curious to see where we go from here, especially with Final Crisis. But considering how much of a mess Countdown and this miniseries turned out in the end, I'm a little worried about Final Crisis.

Final Word: It is sad to see the New Gods die, especially when it happens this way. If you want to fully understand the demise of Darkseid, then you have to check this book out. But don't be surprised if you yell, "No! It can't end like this!"

Thom Young: 3 Bullets

So the eighth and final issue of Death of the New Gods has arrived, and I'm left with an overwhelming sense of "Is that it?" I feel as if I've endured eight issues of lackluster foreplay that has led to no orgasm.

My sexual analogy is relevant because the issue concludes with a merging of the planets of New Genesis and Apokolips into a single planet with a yin-yang motif.

As Superman notes upon seeing the Yin-Yang Planet, "You don't form a new world without plans to repopulate it, do you?" This concept, of course, is a lead-in to Grant Morrison's Final Crisis--which is supposedly about the re-creation of the New Gods as part of the creation of "The Fifth World" (since Kirby's original saga had been dubbed the Fourth World).

I doubt that Final Crisis is going to be a story about the similarly Yin-Yang-themed Source procreating with itself to populate the merged planet with Fifth World New Gods.

Still, the Taoist theme of binary oppositions within a unified whole (the yin-yang symbol) has always been pertinent to the New Gods (and to sexual intercourse):
The Way (Tao) that can be taken is not the enduring and unchanging Way. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

The Nameless Way was the Originator of heaven and earth; the Named Way is the Progenitor of all things.

Thus, purge yourself of desires so that you may observe the secrets of the Way, but allow yourself to have desires so that you can see the manifestations of The Way.

These dichotomies arise from the same Essence, but as the universe develops, the dichotomous manifestations are given different names. Together, though, we call them the Mystery. The gateway of the multiple secrets is where the Mystery is greatest.

(Tao Te Ching Book One, Section I—translation/interpretation by Thom Young)
Back in late 1970 when Kirby's New Gods #1 debuted, we learned on the opening page that "There came a time when the Old Gods died!" We then learned on the second page that their Realm was torn asunder and manifested into dichotomous halves that became the planets of New Genesis and Apokolips.

Of course, Kirby was probably just considering the dichotomous relationship of Heaven and Hell within the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, Taoism's "account of creation" (if it can be termed that) focuses on the notion of a unified whole manifesting as differentiated aspects through observations involving the mundane senses.

All of this philosophical discourse of Taoism and Kirby's foundation for the New Gods fits well into Grant Morrison's strength as a writer--the telling of stories with Postmodern aesthetics in order to reveal the surreal truths that exist beyond the mundane veil. In fact, the branch of Postmodern philosophy known as Deconstructionism is specifically a critical analysis of binary oppositions to discern what can be learned about a culture when one is privilege over the other (as one of the two always is).

Not only does the philosophical foundation and the exploration of surreal truths fit into Morrison's personal aesthetics, the notion of analyzing the cosmic aspects of such dichotomies is what Jim Starlin has built his career on dating back to his two masterpieces from the 1970s--his original work on Warlock at Marvel and the Metamorphosis Odyssey story that was serialized in Marvel's Epic Illustrated in 1980-81.

However, despite the fact that all the elements are perfectly suited to Morrison's and Starlin's personal interests and talents, this series fell flat and the final issue failed to deliver a cosmic orgasm. The most likely reason for this, of course, is that the orgasm is to be achieved in Morrison's Final Crisis that picks up where this series leaves off.

I won't even address the aspects of all of this that were supposedly contained in Countdown to Final Crisis since I lost interest in that boring marketing ploy after reading the 20th issue (#32). Instead, I want to gripe about how limited series (such as Death of the New Gods and Countdown) are planned as multi-issued lead-ins to other multi-issued series.

My complaint isn't that readers need to read various series that can be collected into "graphic novels." After all, I have no such problem with the various novels of Marcel Proust that make up one larger story. No, the problem isn't with multiple series that crossover and/or lead into one another. Rather, the execution of that idea fails due to a two-fold problem in the concept.

First, this type of "graphic novel" (such as the collected edition of Death of the New Gods that DC has scheduled for release on August 27) do not really contain a full story on their own; they contain a prelude to another graphic novel (Final Crisis) that will, hopefully, contain a full story on its own.

Second, even if the prelude graphic novel could be considered to contain a full story on its own, it's often such a minor story that it didn't need to be told in six to eight issues. However, in order to make it substantial enough (in terms of page numbers) to warrant a collected edition, the story is slated to take six to eight issues regardless of whether it's substantial enough (in terms of plot elements) to require all those pages.

Starlin probably could have told this story in four issues rather than eight. Yet doing so would have reduced the cost (based on cover price) to $14 rather than $28, and it would not have made the collected edition look like a "real graphic novel." Thus, we were given eight 30-page issues so that we could have a 240-page collected edition graphic novel come August.

Yet, there was a lot of "wheel spinning" in this series as the plot often failed to advance substantially from one issue to the next--though we did get some nice cosmic panoramas illustrated by Starlin. Unfortunately, I didn't pay out $25.20 (the $28 cover price less my 10% discount at the comic book store) to get the text of a minimal story superimposed over a Starlin portfolio. Well, I did, but that's not what I wanted for my $25.20--and it has helped to entrench my decision to stop buying these types of minor story preludes to big events. In fact, Final Crisis will probably be the final big event series for me. I'll be buying it for no other reason than because Morrison is writing it.

However, I'm not happy that Kirby's Fourth World has been destroyed. It's clear that most writers have had no clue as to how handle the characters and concepts that Kirby created--though the issues of Mister Miracle written by Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber (illustrated by Marshall Rogers and Michael Golden) in the late 1970s showed that great post-Kirby stories could be created with those concepts.

Additionally, the work of John Byrne and Walt Simonson on the characters from 1996-2002 was mostly exceptional. However, Kirby's characters and concepts are being discarded despite the quality work of those four writers. I'm optimistic that Morrison will do something worthwhile as he creates his Fifth World in Final Crisis. Yet I can't help but feel that once again DC is throwing the baby out with the bath water--in much the same way they did 22 years ago with Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In closing, I just want to add that Starlin knew how to pace a story 30-35 years ago when he wrote and illustrated the original Warlock Saga across two separate series (Strange Tales and Warlock) and two annuals (Marvel Two-In-One #2 and Avengers #7). There were 13 issues to Starlin's Warlock Saga, and they told a complete story in that "graphic novel."

Nevertheless, all 13 single issues (or chapters) also told a complete story in themselves in terms of Gustav Freytag's notion of plot development: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. There were subplots within the larger plot that Starlin had created, but they provided a reader with a sense that each issue was worth reading. It's no different than a TV series like Star Trek: Voyager telling the larger story of Voyager's odyssey from the Delta Quadrant to Earth while telling individual stories each week.

Of course, back then Starlin wasn't considering the work in terms of just making sure he had enough material to fill up a 230-page collected edition graphic novel. He was concerned with telling a story in each issue for the casual readers who might happen to come across an issue each month. Nowadays editors and creators no longer care about the success of a single issue in entertaining a reader on its own.

Unfortunately, neither do they consider whether a concept warrants 230 pages or only 85. Stories aren't allowed to be paced the way novels are truly paced. I can guarantee you that very few novelists, if any, have ever started working on a book with the idea that the story will take exactly X number of pages--no more and no less.

Many college students like to write their papers that way, of course. In the days when I used to include a page count in my assignments, I used to get papers that ended on that page number that I specified even though the actual essay should have concluded either earlier or later (based on the development of the thesis)--and those papers would often end with merely one or two sentences at the top of that last page. I was going to say that I suppose we should be glad that modern comic book serialized graphic novels don't just end with one or two panels at the top of the last page--but, of course, they do.

They're just expanded into full-page panoramas that will take up one or two pages with one or two panels.

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