Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Metamorphosis Odyssey

Here's the first installment of a new Wednesday feature. Leaving Warlord behind, I'm branching out to other comics, starting with Jim Starlin's Metamorphosis Odyssey...

"Metamorphosis Odyssey: Aknaton"
Epic Illustrated #1 (Spring 1980) Story & Art by James Starlin

Synopsis: An alien in pseudo-Egyptian garb flies through space via power of a mystic chance on a disc. This is Aknaton, and his mind is consumed not by the wonders of the cosmos he travels through, but by the past.

He remembers his world of Orsiros, an ancient civilization mixing magic and science, now gone. He thinks of the friends and loved ones he lost including his beloved Nieth. All of them gone now. Only the hated Zygoteans remain.

Even the Orsirosans didn't know the origins of the Zygoteans. They knew well the Zygoteans war of conquest though, as they watched horror befall world after world. The Zygoteans invaded, enslaved the people, then stripped the world of resources, and left their slaves to die on the withered husk.

The Orsirosans watched but didn't act. War was unknown to them, and though centuries were as hours to them, they feared death. Still, they knew that the Zygoteans would one day come for them, and so they watched and learned, and made ready. When the Zygoteans finally attacked, they met stiff Orsirosan resistance. The confrontation lasted 500 years, but Orsiros stood.

The Elders of Orsiros knew their victory wouldn't last. They considered many strategies for overcoming the Zygoteans, but ultimately came to realize that the outcome was inevitable. And so, they fixed their minds on the idea that Orsiros should not die alone.

All their facility for magic and technology went into making the Horn of Infinity; the universe's last resort, the end of the Zygoteans. One of the elders was chosen to be the Horn's guardian: Aknaton. He was granted great powers by his fellows, and these he used to look into the future. He saw the Zygotean triumph, the destruction of his homeworld, the sounding of the Horn and vengeance--and his own death.

Aknaton hid the Horn on a barren world. Then he laid the foundation for what he knew must be. He visited Earth and place a racial memory in emerging humanity. He visited a lush world in the Crab Nebula and released life of his own creation. In Alpha Centauri, he instilled in cannibalistic brutes the capacity for empathy, and on a gelid world in Vega, he hide "a sword of icy fire."

When he was done, he returned to Orsiros to await the end. Though it took 100,000 years, it came. As the Zygoteans attacked, Aknaton said his good-byes. Then he stepped on his helodisc and left his doomed world.

He tried not to watch, but in the end, he couldn't resist. He turned at the precise moment to see Orsiros ripped apart. And then:


Things to Notice:
  • Aknaton has a pointy nose (and to a lesser extent, chin) that the other Orsirosans don't share. Maybe it's just Starlin deferentiating them, but I wonder...
  • The Zygoteans are never clearly seen, only their "thralls."
Commentary: 
Metamorphosis Odyssey was serialized in Epic Illustrated, Marvel's answer to Heavy Metal, starting in it's first issue. Starlin had been working for DC just prior to this, but his return to Marvel (albeit in a creator owned environment) marked a return to the cosmic vistas and big themes of his work in Strange Tales and Captain Marvel. Starlin has said some things about the origins of this story, but I don't want to touch on them now as they might be a bit spoilery for what's to come.

The Orsiros clearly have an ancient Egypt vibe going on. Orsiros is derived from Osiris, the god of the afterlife. Orsiris was killed by his brother Set and then dismembered. Unlike Orsiros, Osiris gets reassembled and resurrected. The name Aknaton is reminiscent of Akhenaten, pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who forced the abandonment of Egyptian polytheism and the adoption of monotheism, in the form of the worship of Aten.

"Zygotean" is likely derived from zygote, the name for a cell formed by the union of a sperm and egg. The word is derived from a Greek term meaning "joined" or "yoked." Perhaps this choice of names represents the Zygoteans as a growing threat to the galaxy, its gestating doom?  

9 comments:

John Till said...

Very interesting! I read Warlock as a kid, but never crossed paths with this comic. Oddly enough, I just started Freud's "Moses and Monotheism" over the weekend, which deals with the court of Akhenaten and the identity of Moses.

Trey said...

@John - Ah, yeah, I'm familiar with Freud's theory. It's interesting to consider than monotheism (or monotheism) may have only been invented once.

Anyway, this is the precursor to Starlin's epic, Dreadstar, as we'll see in later installments.

Francis Lee said...

I do like me some tearful whispers of vengeance!

Aos said...

Cool. I have read this one. I like it quite a bit. Starlin has always come across to me as a bit of a pessimist.

garrisonjames said...

Excellent choice for following-up Warlord. Starlin did some intriguing stuff, going boldly into some pretty wild territory. This is going to be a fun journey...

Trey said...

@Fran - I know you do.

@Aos - I think that's probably correct, at least when it comes to political or religious institutions.

@Jim - I hope so.

Sean Robson said...

I think Metamorphosis Odyssey was the anchor that tethered regular readers to Epic during its early issues. The magazine took a while to get its footing and, for me at least, it was M.O. that kept me coming back.

This was my first taste of Jim Starlin's work. I missed out on his stint on Captain Marvel, which I've always regretted.

Booberry said...

This is timely as I've been on a bit of a Starlin tear. I actually didn't even know about Metamorphosis Odyssey.

Trey said...

@Booberry - Have you read the other Dreadstar stuff?