Walt Simonson is probably best known for his work on “Thor.” He is a dynamic artist and writer, and his “Thor” run is not only for that character, but in super hero comics in general. This review, though, is not about that run on “Thor.” Instead, we’re looking at a different pantheon, a different publisher, but that should be just as influential as Simonson’s work on “Thor.” Today, we’re reviewing his 25-issue run on “Orion.” Be warned, though, as there will be some minor spoilers throughout.
Written by Walt Simonson
Penciled by Walt Simonson and John Byrne
Inked by Bob Wiacek and Terry Austin
Colored by Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh and Tatjana Wood
Lettered by John Workman
Legendary writer/artist Walter Simonson takes on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World! These tales star the heroes and villains of the Fourth World as Darkseid seeks the Anti-Life Equation and Orion battles to stop him!
When “Mister Miracle” started to get some buzz in August of 2017, I decided that to get context for that series, I’d read back through everything related to the 4th world that I could manage. It was an ambitious project, and one that I failed at pretty spectacularly. In part, though, I failed because most of the series I read that were not written and drawn by Jack Kirby never really clicked for me. I liked his work on the titles, but from other creators, there was always something missing. Whether it be the bombast Kirby brought to every panel, or the strange but wonderful mythologizing that was almost constant in his work on the series, most other creator’s work in the 4th world fell short.
In the few cases where the 4th world characters did work, it was because they had been recontextualized. Pulled out of their original status quos and taken from an entirely different angle. The recent “Mister Miracle” series I was so excited for is a perfect example of this. The series works not because it stays entirely true to Kirby’s original conception of the characters, but because the situations the characters are put in are something altogether different. Even when these series work, they weren’t really satisfying what I, personally, wanted. Which was more Kirby. Nothing, it seemed, could match Kirby. Enter Walt Simonson.
Simonson is one of the few artists that can really capture the same bombast, the same kind of energy on a page as Kirby. That isn’t to say he is a copy of Kirby, far from it. But he is the only other person that could wrote and drew the New Gods successfully without pulling them from their original context. Over the course of 25 issues, Simonson creates a fantastic epic, on par with his more famous “Thor” work. The series follows the rise, fall and rise again of Orion as he battles his father, becomes the new ruler of Apokolips, lets hubris and power get the better of him, all before he comes crashing back down to earth. It is the stuff of epics, biblical in scope, playing with many of the original 4th world concepts while continuing to add its own.
Yet, at the heart of this series, beneath the epic scope and intense action, is Orion’s internal struggle. As a character, Orion is the battle between nurture and nature. The dichotomy between his birth father, Darkseid, and the man who raised him, Highfather. Simonson dives into these concepts, but also pushes passed them. For most of the series, both Darkseid and Highfather are thought to be dead. Simonson gives us the grand battle between Orion and Darkseid, but then poses the question, who is Orion once he’s won and is actually given power? Throughout its entire 25 issue run, “Orion” is huge in scale, while still holding on to the personal stakes that make these epic threats matter.Continued below
One of the really cool parts of Simonson’s “Orion,” whether you’re reading it in single issues or in any of the collections, are the backups that ran with the title. These backups come with art from Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Art Adams, and explored the other aspects of the 4th world that the main story couldn’t cover. These backups are part of what makes “Orion” feel like a ture successor to Kirby’s complete 4th world, and to his “New Gods” book specifically. Because while the main title is focused on Orion and his journey, these backups expand the world, add mythology, and give the reader more context for Orion’s story. On top of that, they come with art from some of the greatest artists, giving you a chance to see a variety of different takes on the New Gods.
While the art in these backups is wonderful, and it’s great to see these masters working in the 4th world, in most cases, it still pales in comparison to what is happening in the main story. Even John Byrne, who pencils issues #13 and #14, feels like a bit of a disappointment compared to Simonson’s work. Simonson pencils and writes almost the entire series. His art is bombastic, exploding off the page. One of the highlights of the series comes early in the run, with “Orion” #5, an issue that is focused entirely on the battle between Orion and Darkseid. Simonson understands when to let the art take control, and that issue specifically only has dialogue on the first and last pages.
Simonson’s art is dynamic, perfectly capturing the insanity of the New Gods, giving every moment a sense of momentum. He is able to capture the same kind of energy as Kirby, though in his own unique way. The way that Simonson uses panels is dynamic in a way that very few comics match. His layouts are pair perfect with John Workman’s letters, which do a fantastic job blending into Simonson’s artwork. Workman’s sound effects explode off the page, perfectly matching the action in Simonson’s pencils. There are two colorists on the series, Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh and Tatjana Wood, both of which do a wonderful job with Simonson’s pencils. The series spends much of its time on Apokolips, and both these colorists are able to capture the dark yet fiery atmosphere of the planet beautifully.
If there is one downside to this series, it’s that you do need an understanding of Kirby’s 4th world for context in this series. But, if you’re anything like me, and wanted more after reading through Kirby’s work with these characters, this is definitely the series to turn to. Like Kirby’s original work, it feels like this series ended a bit before it was ready. And it does get dragged into a ridiculous, Joker focused crossover later in the series.
But even with the rushed ending, “Orion” has something even Kirby’s work on the series does not. It feels complete. By the final issue, the loose ends have been tied up, and Orion’s journey is finished. The highest praise I can give this series is that, if you finish reading Kirby’s work and still want more stories in the 4th world, “Orion” is the only follow up that really captures that original energy. Kirby’s stories with these characters are required reading to start with this series, but Walt Simonson’s “Orion” is a pretty good place to end.