Vagaries from the Void: Jim Starlin's The Metamorphosis Odyssey
By: Daniel Mills
(Editor's Note: Cosmic Book News would like to extend a special welcome to our most recent editon - Daniel Mills! Daniel will be covering some of the more obscure and lesser known cosmic titles in his "Vagaries From The Void" column. Welcome, Daniel!)
Hello, Cosmic dreamers. This week’s foray into the Void takes us to the outer reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy where we will take a look at a Jim Starlin classic, The Metamorphosis Odyssey. Interestingly, the Metamorphosis Odyssey is actually only the first part of a series of comics/graphic novels featuring a protagonist by the name of Vanth Dreadstar. Originally published by Epic Illustrated in 1980, the first part of the series was originally told in 14 chapters over 9 issues. I first happened upon the series in 1986 at the ripe young age of 7. My uncle ran a cleaning crew that specialized in cleaning out the properties of recently evicted tenants of rental properties, and he used to give me any kid goodies that he came across. One day he gave me this big box filled with comic books and magazines. Among its contents were The Savage Sword of Conan, Sword of Solomon Kane, Tomb of Dracula, Power Man and Iron Fist, The Micronauts and a little comic featuring some guy called Nova. As you can probably imagine, I was like, well, like a kid in a candy store! I mean I was 7 at the time and some of these comics actually had full frontal nudity! But I digress; also among the contents of that magic box was The Metamorphosis Odyssey.
Synopsis: Our story begins in a galaxy neighboring the Milky Way on a planet called Orsiros, where a race of highly advanced god-like beings watch in horror and astonishment as another race of equally advanced yet malevolent beings called the Zygoteans cut a path of death and destruction across the universe. The Orsirians, being a peaceful race dedicated to blending science with the mystic arts, know nothing of war, pain or death. What they do know is that it’s only a matter of time before the Zygoteans turn their evil gaze upon the planet Orsiros. Thus begins a heated debate amongst the elders of Orsiros as to the course of action that they should take to deal with this matter. Inevitably they decide to make preparations for war, so that at the very least they will not be caught unawares if/when the Zygoteans strike. After an agonizing wait, the Zygoteans finally attack.
The Zygoteans, having never been seriously challenged during the course of their imperial march, have run into a few problems when first encountering the Orsirians. First, they aren’t prepared for the overwhelming assault that the Orsirians greet them with before they can even reach the planet’s atmosphere. Secondly, they have trouble dealing with beings like the Orsirians, who combine scientific prowess with magical know-how. And so the war rages on. Eventually (after 500 years) the Orsirians push the last of the Zygoteans out of their solar system. The victory is short-lived, however, as the elder Orsirians realize that the Zygoteans will eventually return with even greater weaponry and numbers. The elders know that a war with the Zygoteans is a war of attrition and that ultimately, even beings such as they will fall, so they chose an eager disciple by the name of Aknaton to carry out a mission of grave importance. They endow him with cosmic power, and set him about planting the seeds of the eventual demise of the Zygoteans. I won’t go into detail about the exact nature of those plans (as I’m hoping that you’ll read for yourself) but I will say that it ends with a bang, even if it’s a longtime in coming. Sounds good so far, right? Well good because that’s just the first chapter! What takes place over the course of the series is astounding, to say the least.
Themes: The Metamorphosis Odyssey deals with various themes during the course of the story. One of which is the consequences of inaction: being able to put a stop to a situation that you can see is getting out of hand but yet choosing to do nothing to stop it. I find it fascinating -- especially considering recent events throughout the world -- that those themes were touched upon in the early ‘80’s when this series was published. It’s the sort of paradox that has troubled the human race from our inception, namely, when is it right to fight? The people of Orsiros watched as the Zygoteans pillaged and plundered world after world for untold millennia and did nothing. Eventually even they had to at some point realize that the situation would be out of control as the enemy’s armies grew and developed devastating new technologies. If they had chosen to intervene at a more opportune time could the galaxy have been saved? Perhaps, but Starlin seemed intent on portraying the Orsirians as a seemingly isolationist and fatalistic people who only changed when war was brought to their very doorstep. This is also evidenced by their final solution to the Zygotean problem.
As most fans of Starlin’s early work know, Mr. Starlin is a fan of allegory as a literary device, particularly in a pseudo-religious context. In that regard, Metamorphosis is no different from his other early works, most notably Warlock. I won’t get into too much detail about that issue but just to say that those with even a passing knowledge of Judeo/Christian theology will be able to pick up on the religious subtext within the greater story.
Format: As I noted in my introduction, The Metamorphosis Odyssey was originally published in a magazine format back in 1980. If you’re a fan of original editions and such, you’re out of luck here as I have no clue where to get them. For those of us with less discriminating tastes, the series can be found in comic shops across the country in a trade format. Slave Labor Graphics put out the main four-part series in collected editions for a decent price. I got mine at my local comic shop for around $10. They place the order of the series as such:
The Metamorphosis Odyssey
The Secret of Z.
Dynamite Entertainment has also put out some nice hardcover editions simply entitled Dreadstar: The Definitive Collection. The books are 2 parts and are a bit more pricy at nearly $30 per book. I believe that Amazon.com had a nice deal somewhere in the $20 price range if you want to go in that direction.
Closing Comments: Although it can be classified as science fantasy/space opera, it has its hard moments that fans of the more militaristic sci-fi action in the vein of Marvel Comics’ Annihilation events can appreciate. The pace of the story is pretty fast and doesn’t lag for too long and although the story will make you think, it doesn’t delve too deeply into existentialism and other philosophical endeavors.
Again, while I’m not a big fan of allegory as a literary device, it’s not overly bothersome for me either. Others may disagree. Also, be forewarned, the art direction and dialogue will be very retro; it was written in 1980 after all! Having said all of that, I really enjoyed re-reading this story for the first time in over 20 years. It’s funny to think of how I looked at it when I was a kid versus how I see it now as a (sometimes) mature adult. I hope that others can appreciate this classic for what it is: a story that deserves to be read.