Let’s get straight to the particulars of today’s featured artwork, officially #114 (of, currently, 127) in my Common Elements commission series, shall we?
On the left is Orion, one of the key players in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World mythos. On the right, that’s Laurel Gand, better known as Andromeda, of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The artist wielding the pencil is Kevin Sharpe — Kevin has drawn dozens of comics for most of the main publishers, but is probably most familiar for his work on G.I. Joe for Image Comics and Army of Darkness for Dynamite Entertainment.
The more astute among you will have recognized that the “common element” uniting our two mighty heroes is the fact that each is named after a constellation — more specifically, a constellation containing a noteworthy nebula. The Orion Nebula (officially Messier 42) is one of the brighter objects of its kind in the night sky, and is clearly visible to the naked eye as the middle “star” in Orion’s “sword.” The Andromeda Nebula (Messier 31), more accurately referred to as the Andromeda Galaxy, is one of our Milky Way galaxy’s closest neighbors in the universe. (“Close” being relative, when discussing cosmic distances.)
As for our own two superpowered stars…
Orion first appeared in New Gods #1 (February 1971). He’s the son of DC’s ultimate villain Darkseid — coming soon to a movie screen near you — but was raised as the adopted child of Darkseid’s opposite number, Izaya the Highfather, as part of a peacemaking infant-swap. (The Highfather’s son, Scott Free, is in turn raised by Darkseid, eventually rebelling against his foster dad and becoming the heroic Mister Miracle.) Under the Highfather’s tutelage, Orion learns to (mostly) control the darker nature he inherited from his natural forebear and conduct himself in a more noble manner. He is often seen zipping about the cosmos in his Astro-Harness, as illustrated here in a sketch cover drawing, also by Kevin Sharpe.
To be honest, I was never a huge fan of the Fourth World saga. For me, it quickly devolved into a morass of Kirby’s unchecked worst impulses, with way too much weird and crazy simply for the sake of weird craziness. Kirby was a brilliant artist, a dynamic creator of characters and concepts, and one of the greatest visual storytellers who ever put a pencil to paper, but as a writer… yikes. He desperately needed collaborators to edit and wordsmith his scripts. And no one ever should have let the King compose dialogue. Ever. (This might sound like sacrilege to some, but I’m just keeping it 100%. Your Kirby mileage may vary.)
It’s no accident, then, that New Gods was my least favorite of the Fourth World books, because it was the core of the mythos and as such, the place where Kirby most surrendered to his unfettered imagination and purplest prose. I much preferred the two series that tied more closely into the familiar DC superhero universe — Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (where Kirby first began introducing his Fourth World saga when he moved to DC from Marvel) and Mister Miracle. The fourth book in the line, Forever People, could be fun but was impossible to take seriously — Kirby putting words into the mouths of space hippies read just as badly as that phrase sounds.
Orion, though, like almost every character Kirby ever designed, looks awesome.
Andromeda was something of a Jenny-come-lately to the original Legion of Super-Heroes roster. When Supergirl famously died during Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC decided to replace her in the Legion with a character as similar to Kara Zor-El as possible. Thus, Andromeda — another blonde with an almost identical array of powers — was born. Laurel Gand (as did her Legion predecessor Mon-El) hailed from Daxam, a planet colonized by Kryptonians centuries earlier. Unlike her counterpart from Krypton, Andromeda had a vulnerability to lead, with potentially fatal complications arising from lead exposure.
To my mind, Andromeda epitomizes one of the ongoing weaknesses of DC’s editorial philosophy: namely, cloning its top-line characters over and over again. By the Andromeda came along, DC already had one alternate Supergirl in Power Girl, she of the imposing bosom and keyholed costume. Then again, killing the original Supergirl in the first place was a silly stunt that never should have happened.
But I have to admit — Andromeda, though not designed by Jack Kirby, looks awesome.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.