Note: This thread was initially begun at the old Classic Comics board and has been reposted here. Responses posted prior to the switch-over are reproduced here as embedded images. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Metamorphosis Odyssey and Beyond
A review thread for Jim Starlin's cosmic epic, as well as the stories that followed. Eventually, this will be followed by a sister review thread devoted to the Dreadstar ongoing series (which I've not yet read).
Metamorphosis Odyssey, Chapter I: Aknaton originally published in: Epic Illustrated #1, (Spring 1980)
Had anyone ever tried a sci-fi comic on this grand a scale before? We've seen all powerful elder races before and intergalactic battles that claimed entire galaxies, but to have a protagonist literally shape and/or create life on other worlds in order to sew his own band of allies -- to essentially be their god and creator, as well as a mortal being who had already foreseen his entire future up to the moment of his inevitable death -- I mean wow. Add to this some truly breath-taking art and writing, and it's clear this was a labor of love and obsession for Starlin -- the kind of high point a creator is damned lucky to find once in his/her career. And here it was.
A few favorite lines from this chapter:
"These wisps of the past, while they linger, gently soothe his troubled soul. They are forever gone, but it helps that they once were. They aid him in dealing with the razor sharpness of his reality. They blunt the searing pain of his loss and control the hatred which travels within him."
"At last death became an accepted part of their future and a major factor in their plans...Orsiros would fall. The Orsirosian prepared to die but refused to die alone."
"Massive forces were forged into matter, new concepts were embraced, old beliefs were twisted and new and forgotten gods were called upon..."
- Though Vanth Dreadstar does not yet appear in this first chapter, nor is his home planet named, we do witness Aknaton create life on "an outer planet of Vega," where he also "left a sword of icy fire, knowing that someday one would come to claim it."
- Not sure how Aknaton slipped past the Zygotean blockade around Orsiros, not that it matters much.
- The Zygotean practice of conquering and assimilating worlds feels vaguely prototypical of Star Trek's The Borg.
plot synopsis in one sentence:
Orsiros is an advanced world in which beings resembling the Egyptian Gods live for vast expanses of time and enjoy tremendous technological advances, they grow concerned with an invincible conquering race known as the Zygoteans and watch them conquer planet after planet, they prepare defenses, hold them off in their first attack, realize the Zygoteans will eventually return and win, and so send Aknaton, a powerful elder, gifted with the powers of the other elders, as well as the Infinity Horn, a powerful and devastating weapon capable of wiping out the Zygoteans, and Aknaton plants seeds on several worlds for heroes to ultimately rise up, returns to Orsiros, and flees again to reap what he sewed 100,000 years later when the Zygoteans return and finish the job of destroying Orsiros.
AWESOME concept, and AWESOME execution, but we still don't know anything about who Aknaton really is as a character, nor who his comrades will be, so the series still has some proving to do.
Last Edit: Aug 18, 2014 20:00:04 GMT -5 by shaxper
Metamorphosis Odyssey, Chapter II: Za! originally published in: Epic Illustrated #1, (Spring 1980)
We'd learned in the previous chapter that Aknaton planted his third seed when, "On a harsh world of the Alpha Centauri system populated by cannibalistic brutes he introduced the potential to care." The second chapter elaborates upon this moment by introducing us to Za!, the first being on this planet afforded the opportunity to experience compassion because he lacks his racial taste for meat on a planet where the only meat available is his own race. Instead feeding upon blue crystals that provide more meaningful sustenance, he grows stronger than his peers (ten times stronger, to be specific) and is able to stand apart from the unending violence and experience limited wisdom, compassion, and a sense of alienation in contrast.
It's interesting to note that it's not until he experiences the loss of a loved one, possibly intended to resemble the loss Aknaton feels for Orsiros and his lover there, that Aknaton appears to him, bestows knowledge upon him, and asks him to join his plight.
Questions are also raised by all this:
1. Why does Aknaton know that "the stars have need of a monster with a mind and a soul?" Did he select his comrades based upon a plan he devised, or did this come from his ability to see his own future -- did he see that he had made these selections and then, in one hell of a time paradox, make his decision based upon having seen what his decision was? Or perhaps he was able to use his ability to see the future to take a trial and error approach, viewing various possible answers before arriving at the right conclusion of which participants would be needed? Of course, the backstory in the first issue implied more of one inevitable future as opposed to a myriad of possibilities.
2. Did Aknaton also plant the seeds for one of these beings to eventually be born without a craving for meat?
3. If so, how could he have done so when he had no idea when the Zygoteans would return to conquer his planet? He couldn't have known in advance that he'd need someone like Za! to be born exactly 100,000 years later, nor could he have counted on Vanth Dreadstar arriving on his own homeworld just then to take up the sword. I accept that there's much about Aknaton's abilities and understandings that we don't know, but this dimension feels fuzzy to me.
All that being said, I'm impressed by so much in this installment, from Starlin's fascinating explanation of how Darwinism might play out on a very different kind of world, to the level of pathos he develops for Za! by making him the one compassionate being amongst mindless and compassionless brutes, and finally to the dark frankness of Aknaton, introducing himself to Za! by explaining that, "I, the creator of the Hell that is your life, ask you to help me in this labor, man-monster." Of course, a being that can foresee future outcomes to the extent that he can specifically and deliberately affect the genetic make-ups of beings one hundred thousand years into the future probably knows exactly what to say to make Za! come along with him. Most likely, there's no free-will involved, and Aknaton can engineer his assistants' reactions just as precisely as their genetics and racial evolutions.
Fascinating fascinating stuff, and the art and writing remain uncannily strong.
- None for Vanth Dreadstar
- Is his name Za! or Za?
plot synopsis in one sentence:
We learn about the development of Za!'s race as one of meat eating mammals on a planet with no other meat, how this drove them to consume each other and thus never evolve beyond basic survival instincts, see Za! born without the craving of meat and see the impact this has upon his development, watch him discover his strength, fall in love, lose his loved one to cannibals, and be approached by Aknaton, ultimately agreeing to join him.
Last Edit: Aug 18, 2014 20:00:21 GMT -5 by shaxper
Metamorphosis Odyssey, Chapter III: Juliet Originally published in: Epic Illustrated #1 (Spring 1980)
As Aknaton selects his party across the span of this first handful of chapters, I'm paying careful attention to the sequence of those selections. They do not follow the sequence in which Aknaton planted his seeds so many centuries earlier, so it stands to reason that Starlin has a different logic in mind as he arranges the order of these stories. Thus, while I'm still not sure why Za had to come first, I find placing Juliet's story second incredibly meaningful.
I mean -- it's Earth.
The end of our planet; all life and civilization as we understand it.
And yet, this story is so much larger than our small reality on this planet, little deserving to be placed either first or last in the sequence of "origin" stories. Starlin's choice to place it second seems to deliberately make its placement seem anything but deliberate; an after-thought. "Earth? What makes that planet so special? The whole universe is about to end."
While this is my favorite art we've seen yet in this story, so authentically capturing what the moments before Earth's full occupation would look and feel like (no panic in the streets -- just confused people hovering around a radio, yet each lost in their own world of calm and morose bewilderment), the writing let me down this time. Aknaton and Za's rescue of Juliet felt somehow hokey in its timing and action-oriented nature. Aknaton even challenges an occupying soldier to a one on one duel (though he chides himself for it later). Furthermore, while Za's story painted him as a thoroughly important and unique individual among his people, we are given absolutely zero information about Juliet other than her age and gender. Juliet asks Aknaton what makes her so special, and while it's appropriate for Aknaton to be withholding secrets this early in the epic, we've been left with absolutely no sense that she does have special worth. Is Starlin planning to capitalize on this, to exacerbate the self esteem issues of a teenage girl on a cosmic level, or is this just carelessness? Whatever the case, something dropped out a bit for me in this chapter, as a result.
That being said, I enjoyed this further elaboration upon Aknaton's philosophy in undergoing this mission. As he explains it:
"...but there are different shades of death. There is the slow and degrading death of Zygotean enslavement or...a quick, clean darkness that engulfs foe with friend."
While he's speaking specifically about putting Earth out of its misery in this line, it clearly is intended to apply to his larger mission of using the Infinity Horn against the Zygotians. Of course, that then begs the question of why Aknaton waited until their forces came to his own planet to put this plan into action. If he and his people believed in waiting until the last moment and enjoying every second remaining before the inevitable end, isn't it hypocritical to deprive the other races in the galaxy of that same luxury?
Or am I assuming too much? Perhaps Aknaton is not planning to take out anyone other than the Zygotians with the Infinity Horn at this point. Some degree of "safeguards" against its cascading devastation effects were alluded to in the first chapter.
- None for Vanth Dreadstar
- Why is the final page colorized? Is this just because the story on the reverse side is also colorized, or is Starlin somehow trying to highlight the power and destruction in watching Earth get obliterated by Aknaton's hand?
- It still seems like a race as advanced as Aknaton's could do something more to stop the Zygotians. Do they have key supply lanes, stockpiles, or even a limited number of invasion fleets that, if caught in destructions like the one staged in this chapter, would ultimately disable their ability to conquer others? Heck, couldn't a star faring empire master time relativity manipulation through faster than light travel and use that to somehow disrupt the work of the Zygotians? Can't we at least be offered some more substantial suggestion that such things have been explored and ultimately ruled unfeasible?
plot synopsis in one sentence:
Earth is being invaded by the Zygotians, Juliet, a 15 year old girl in Covert, Kansas, watched her family get annihilated, and is then saved from the Zygotians by Aknaton and Za at the last moment, Aknaton foolishly tries to take on a Zygotian one-on-one, is wounded, chides himself for being so foolish, and then activates Earth's own defense systems to destroy the planet, sparing it a slower death by Zygotian hands.
A good chapter with a great concept behind it, but the actual writing and characterization in this one fell flat a bit.
Metamorphosis Odyssey, Chapter IV: Whis'par Originally published in: Epic Illustrated #2 (Summer 1980)
Momentum begins to build. In addition to meeting Whis'par, the third recruit of Aknaton, we're finally given a more specific sense of where this is all going. Juliet, Za, and Whis'par make up a trio that, together, will build a "child" that will gain the following traits from them:
Juliet -- "a strong, ambitious breed with the gift of youthful innocence still intact"
Za -- "the proof that something beautiful can grow from the nightmare of reality"
Whis'par -- "generations of environmental harmony and the wisdom that comes with it."
All creating some unstoppable cosmic hippy with which to defeat the Zygotians. Additionally, there's suggestion that it's somehow critical for the being to harbor whis'par's doubts as well.
What I find interesting here is that Aknaton did not approach Juliet and Za until they had already experienced a sense of great loss similar to what he, himself, has experienced. I had assumed this was part of his selection criteria. And yet Whis'par has experienced no such loss. Her life seems interrupted only by Aknaton's needing her. I suppose one could argue that Za and Juliet might not have been ready to come with Aknaton until they had lossed everything they held dear, while Whis'par's people revere Aknation (correctly) as their god and simply do his bidding.
On that note, Aknaton as God, surrounded by a small band of dedicated followers for whose existence he is responsible, somehow felt prototypical of Gaiman's Sandman. I think it was his seriousness, internal darkness, manner of speaking, and even his being clad all in black. I wonder if Gaiman was aware of this series.
Finally, one has to ask how in the world Juliet's youthful innocence is still intact after watching the death of her parents and grandfather(?) firsthand.
As for what I thought of the chapter as a whole, it's really two stories merged into one -- Whis'par discussing her being selected by Aknaton with a fellow native of her planet, and Aknaton finally explaining his plan at a later point. The first story did little for me either through visuals or writing. It's just two talking heads speculating. Similarly, the second part isn't particularly compelling beyond finally revealing where the story is headed and, perhaps, finally giving us a chance to sense some more of who Aknaton is as a person and leader. Starlin's choice to gradually color the chapter as Aknaton began to explain the hope he still had for a better future was an interesting choice, but it felt more forced than appropriate.
- Aknaton says the following about Vanth:
"I've a man I must locate on a world called Vega...to remain a living trio you'll need protection. Protection only the one I seek can provide. Neither he nor I shall be part of that new beginning I spoke of...but the death he carries in his hands will assure its coming."
Going back to the importance of how Starlin sequences these origin/recruitment stories, saving Vanth for last suggests that Starlin saw a greatness/potential in the character beyond that of the others right from the start. I wonder if Starlin had considered that Dreadstar's story might continue beyond Metamorphosis Odyssey at this early stage.
- Aknaton's plan for defeating the Zygotian forces at this point appears to include Vanth's powers, a "child" born from the trio already selected, and the Infinity Horn (I assume) used in unison. Perhaps Vanth and the union of the three are the safeguards needed to keep the Infinity Horn's power in check.
plot synopsis in one sentence:
Whis'par is selected by her people to go with Aknaton (who they revere as their god), she expresses concern and doubt about this, Aknaton explains his plan and intends to visit Vega to recruit the trio's "protector" next...
Half of the story is uninteresting talking heads, and the other half is necessary but largely uninteresting exposition. I'm beginning to really LIKE Aknaton, as we're finally given a chance to watch him talk and interact with others, but this chapter was definitely a cut below what Starlin has offered prior to this point.
Metamorphosis Odyssey, Chapter V: Vanth originally published in: Epic Illustrated #3 (Fall 1980)
It's clear from the start that Starlin has big things in mind for our "protector" character. Whereas each previous recruitment/origin story was told from the perspective of the recruit, Aknaton presented as some omniscient deity, Starlin reverses the perspective in this story, telling it from Aknaton's perspective as he seeks out information about Vanth from another (powerless, initially, to even locate him) and admiring him from afar with each new piece of information we learn. Vanth, "The Cold Man," is presented with an almost mythic back story, beginning with the slaughter of his parents while still an adolescent, his exodus from society, and his return as an avenger/hero in classical monomyth style, yet even as Aknaton asks to learn about who Vanth is as a person, all we learn of is his flawless reputation, freeing him up to make a dramatic cameo at the end of the chapter, omnipotently standing above the fray as Aknaton is now dependent upon him for his very survival.
Message received: Vanth is the true center of this series, not Aknaton.
In fact, if Starlin is truly interested in following the monomyth cycle, then Aknaton is the guide who must ultimately perish in order for Vanth to fulfill his destiny on his own. Having only read the final chapter previously, this certainly seems to be where the story is going, but I could be wrong.
In terms of quality and enjoyment, this is yet another chapter that puts providing valuable information ahead of telling a great story with great art. Still, with a build-up like the one Vanth received in this story, I'm damned anxious to finally meet the character in the next chapter.
- Origin of Vanth Dreadstar (only known as "Vanth" here), including his parents being slaughtered by snow bears when he was an adolescent, his vanishing and taking refuge at a holy place known as the Ice Demon's Lantern after that, occasionally being seen roaming the hills naked after that, his return to society in order to nearly exterminate the snow bear species, his being run off in response by the people who depended upon the snow bears for food, and his dramatic return, outfitted with offworld technology, when the Zygote fleet arrived to invade the planet. We also learn that he has the strength of twenty men, discovered the great caverns that his planet ("Byfrexia" to the natives, Vega to us) ultimately used to conceal their airforce, became leader of their resistence, and outfitted their ships with photonic drive, allowing them to outmaneuver the "Zygs" and hold back the invasion far longer than had been expected. Finally, he carries a special sword with him, rarely uses it, and at those times, it just seems to appear out of nowhere.
- First cameo appearance of Vanth Dreadstar, both in flashback, and in the final panel.
- If Aknaton didn't expect the Byfrexian resistance to hold out this long, then how was his plan going to work out? Wouldn't Vanth already be dead or captured? Heck, hasn't Aknaton already foreseen the future? So why was this a surprise, then? Perhaps he knows the basics (including the part Vanth plays in the future) without knowing all the fine details.
- The Zygs had one clean shot before Aknaton and Lawt would know they were there. Why in the world did they fire at the random Byfrexian instead of the last remaining Orsirosian? And why does the head bounty hunter praise the guy who did it for his aim??
- It's becoming very unclear just how powerful Aknaton is or isn't. We've seen the tremendous things he's capable of, and I assumed his injury in Chapter 2 came from hubris and carelessness, but he seems as vulnerable as any normal person in this chapter, as bounty hunters working for the Zygs surround him, and he thinks "It can't end like this!?"
- Speaking of which, AGAIN, hasn't he foreseen his own future???
plot synopsis in one sentence:
Aknaton arrives on Vega, meets a random resistance fighter working for Vanth (the intended "protector"), we're given Vanth's origin story, Aknaton and the fighter are ambushed by bounty hunters working for the Zygs, and just when all hope seems lost, Vanth arrives.
Neither brilliant, fun, nor particularly exciting, but I like the epic build-up for Vanth. Here's hoping he's worth it.