18 years ago, Walter Simonson put his stamp on the New Gods' Orion in much the same way Tom King and Mitch Gerads have done with Mister Miracle. And now, DC are republishing Simonson's 2000s era Orion run in the first of two planned editions.
Newsarama looked back on Simonson's Orion run with the writer/artist himself, discussing his memories from that era, the assistance of a then-budding Cliff Chiang, and working in the shadow of Jack Kirby.
Newsarama: New Gods proved that Jack Kirby could move beyond Marvel's pantheon of heroes (especially Thor). Did you feel pressure to prove that you could do the same with Orion?
Walt Simonson: Not really. I’d already worked both sides of the aisle a lot by the time I was doing Orion. And I’d worked on a lot of characters that Jack had had a major hand in creating.
That had been much of my job description before I got to Orion. That’s just what we did in the 70s and much of the 80s. But Jack’s Fourth World work is maybe my favorite Kirby work, and I wanted to get it right, whatever that means. I wanted to be as true to the spirit Jack had imbued the work with as I could, and I also wanted the book to feel like something other than a retread of Jack’s issues.
at’s really what I was aiming for, and I think that took so much concentration that I didn’t have any concentration left lying around to worry about the pressure.
Nrama: You took over the New Gods storyline fromJohn Byrne. How did you work together to make that transition smooth?
Simonson: John was very kind to me about the transition. I drew most of the covers for John’s run so I knew what he’d been doing. I asked him to leave one of the storylines he’d started unresolved - the question of Orion’s parentage -- and he did, so that I could pick up on it at the beginning of my own run.
Nrama: This book features one of the most anticipated battles in comic book history at the time: Orion vs. Darkseid. What was writing and drawing that like?
Simonson: It was as much fun as you’d expect it to be. I realize that this is just one version of that classic fight, and Jack never got to do his, so I did the best and biggest fight I could manage. And I gave it an audience within the pages themselves to give the actual reading audience an intermediary within the story.
Nrama: In this story, Orion ends up using the Anti-Life Equation. Do you think this willingness to go that far was something you added to the character, or was it with him when Kirby created him?
Simonson: I don’t think Jack created Orion with the equation within him; that was something I added. Jack had touched on but not really codified the Anti-Life Equation in his issues although it did appear with Billion Dollar Bates issues. But it is the core/MacGuffin of the great cosmic war around which Jack’s books revolve. I thought actually centering my stories and actions around the discovery of the actual equation would be both true to Jack’s work and give my series a direction readers wouldn’t already be familiar with.
Nrama: Eventually we find out that Darkseid's "loss" to Orion during their battle was part of a larger scheme. Did you know that going into the story, or was that something you discovered part of the way through?
Simonson: The nature of that loss was planned from the beginning. That’s why Darkseid ‘cheats’ in the fight, giving Orion the opening to ‘win’ the struggle.
Nrama: This is a compelling story about power, about the "ends justifying the means." What other comics, in your opinion, handle this theme well? Any on the shelves right now?
Simonson: Beats me. I don’t follow enough modern comics to have any idea. I’m sure there are some.
Nrama: From your perspective, what were fans’ reactions to this run? Do you remember any (positive or negative) that stood out?
Simonson: There wasn’t much reaction at the time that I was aware of. We didn't sell a lot of copies. I think I could hear crickets chirping in the corners most of the time. But I was proud of the work and I think DC liked publishing it.
When it was canceled, my editor, editor-in-chief, and publisher took me out to lunch to tell me. Much better than a fax or a voice mail. I had a good lunch and was completely unsurprised. I had about five years worth of stories I was hoping to tell, but I was able to wrap up the stories I was telling in a satisfactory way.
Who knows? Maybe some of the other tales I didn’t tell will end up in Ragnarök in disguise. But in general, the material seems well thought of almost 20 years later.
Nrama: Cliff Chiang was your assistant as you were writing this story. What was your experience like working with him?
Simonson: Fun. Cliff’s a sharp guy and I think we had a good time together in the studio for the brief period he was there. I think that was right at the beginning of Cliff’s freelance career and maybe it helped him get his feet wet. But you’d have to ask him; he might have a whole different impression of his time in my studio. [Laughs]
Nrama: Last time DC released an Orion collection it was as an omnibus, you were disappointed with how it was put together. Has DC improved the collection in this edition? If so, how?
Simonson: In my original run on the book, I ran a series of short back-up stories, drawn (and occasionally written) by different creators, folks whose work I admired. A lot of artists were willing to pitch in. Not every issue had a back-up story; perhaps half of them were augmented in that way. The idea was that the back-up stories were mostly grace notes to the lead stories in some way. Some back-ups were mostly atmospheric, expanding what was in the lead story. Some back-ups were more directly related to the lead story, and one - Arthur Adam’s story - was really a flashback that explained something that had happened in the lead story.
I wasn’t consulted regarding the omnibus or its organization. That’s cool. I don’t expect that in the work-for-hire world. I was sent of nice set of complimentary copies and DC did a fine job packaging my run on the title.
However, when I opened the book, I discovered that all that backup stories had been moved from the stories they belonged with to the back of the omnibus as if they were independent little tales. I kind of presume that nobody had actually read the material before they organized the omnibus. The back-ups do mostly stand alone but they weren’t intended to be read separately from their lead features, and I was pretty cranky about it when I saw what had been done to the work.
That afternoon, I had a call from DC Comics, apologizing for what had happened. And with 24 hours, I spoke with DC co-publisher Dan DiDio. Dan was very sorry it had happened and said that if DC were ever to publish the work in a trade, he would move heaven and earth (his words, I believe) to be sure that the back-up stories were returned to their original and correct positions within the body of the work.
The first half of my run has now been issued in paperback and that promise has been kept. In fact, DC got in touch with me last winter to be certain that they were arranging the stories properly.
Can’t say fairer than that, and I am very pleased with the results. And I’m grateful to DC for working hard to set things to rights.
Nrama: How do you feel looking back at this work? How did it change you? What will today's comic readers get out of it?
Simonson: I feel pretty good about it. Thought I did okay with that work. Not sure about changes, but it is something that I can check off my bucket list.
As far as modern readers are concerned, I hope they are able to read it and enjoy it. I tried to write the series so that new readers who are not familiar with Jack’s work would still be able to understand my stories. And if they do, I hope they go back and find and read the original Kirby Fourth World stories. That’s great stuff.