Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: Jim Starling
Published by: DC Comics
Price: $3.50

“Rival Gods”

Let me start out by naming my bias: I have never been a Fourth World fan. The world of Jack Kirby that brought us the New Gods, the Forever People, I just never got into it. I found his artwork clunky and garish – I simply never got him. However, what was plain to recognize was the epic level on which he operated. His were cosmic tales, carefully constructing a pantheon of newly minted gods set against powerful storytelling. From John Byrne to Walt Simonson, different writers have come along to put their stamp on the huge mythology and mythology is the right word in every sense. Echoes of this story could be felt in his Marvel creation, The Eternals.

The story of the New Gods sounds deceptively simple: a planet called Urgrund was split apart millennia ago after the death of the old gods during their Ragnarok. The planet separated into two planets forever connected. New Genesis, a technological garden of Eden, ruled by the benevolent and wise Highfather and Apokalips, its dark twin of fire pits and foul machinery ruled by Darkseid. The dwellers of New Genesis live in close proximity to the Source, the primeval energy of the universe, guarded by The Wall, the Final Barrier between man and the Creator.

Jim Starlin has toiled in this wheelhouse before, most notable in the mini-series, Cosmic Odyssey. The Death of the New Gods picks up some of the plot threads left dangling from Countdown in which Lightray was killed off and Jimmy Olsen began investigating his death. He ends up witnessing the death of another Fourth World creation, Sleeze. Someone is killing off the New Gods.

It would be easy to see their story as part of the behind the scenes cosmic battle between the angels of New Genesis and the demons of Apokalips. However, I am more intrigued by the idea of Armageddon, the death of the New Gods.

“Though we don’t worship it … the Source is the cosmic force that holds our universe in order. It is omnipotent power with a nearly indecipherable intent.” –Darkseid

As I read through the Old Testament, one of the ideas that get lost in our modern and postmodern readings of it is that the people of the time seem to believe there are other gods. As the monotheism of Judaism and Christianity were taking hold, they did so within the paradigm of nations who worshiped pantheons of gods. Biblical faith—the narratives in the Old Testament—overlap and parallel the contemporary pagan religions. We have to do something with verses like “all gods bow down before him” (Ps 97:7).

In his book, God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church, Gerald R. McDermott poses some challenging ideas. Maybe there are some real other gods, subordinate to God, much like angels and demons worshiped with misplaced faith. Maybe religions are communities of conversations each with some claim to truth that points to a greater truth.

“It is said the value of any quest is in the journey itself … seeking enlightenment is like playing recklessly with a double-edged sword. The truth can be a marvelous boon or a devastating realization.” –Darkseid

Religions, pagan or otherwise, are an attempt to get at some truth, be it of a greater reality, a better way to live, or ultimately God. If God is sovereign and can use all truths to point to Him, the various religions of the world must be within His Providence.

“The Source strives for the creation of a better universe … perhaps that all endings are but the beginning of something new.” –Himon

If we believe that all Truth is God’s Truth, then any pursuit of Truth should lead to Him. God wants Gentiles to know Him and His people can learn from pagans and we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss other religions as “wrong”. “Wrong” is the point. Coming into a relationship with Him is.

I can think of no more eloquent way to say this other than Jim Starlin is writing and drawing his butt off with this mini-series. The Death of the New Gods easily represents some of his best work in years. He understands the symbolic status of the New Gods, their depth, their pathos. Better than most comic book writers, whose stories you can feel being stretched to accommodate their eventual consolidation into trade paperbacks, Starlin writes for the individual issues, his ending panels propelling you into the next issue. The art is dense and detailed, an homage to George Perez in scope. I can’t wait to see what the end of the Fourth World gives rise to.

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