The titanic warrior of New Genesis, son of Tigra and Darkseid of Apokolips, wielder of the Astro-Force and all-around eternal with the most rage issues, folks, let me introduce Orion, greatest of the New Gods.
Honestly, it’s not easy to conjure up the adequate words for this superb Kirby character, a complex, brooding, angry and (quite literally) two-faced hero of Jack’s Fourth World masterpiece especially because he plays such an integral role in the epic. And Orion’s destiny, to bring an end to the Super-War between New Genesis and Apokolips, is hinted at early on in this chronicle of his cosmic adventures.
“Of all the celestials,” his companion (and opposite) Lightray says, “you are the one most plagued by shadows!” Orion concurs, telling his friend, “I am two worlds — like New Genesis , and that demon’s pit — Apokolips! — One drifting forever in the shadow of the other–”
Highfather explains to Lightray, “He, alone, has been fighting his monsters from birth!” For Orion is “savage offspring” of Tigra and Darkseid, the fruit of a prearranged marriage, and as a boy, the fierce “murderous little monster” is used as barter in the Pact between the Master of the Holocaust and Highfather. Orion is traded for Scott Free, the man-child of Highfather himself. “Our son was raised without knowing his father!!” cries Orion’s mother, and Darkseid replies, “But I know him, Tigra!! He’s like you! — A fighting, snarling killer-cat!!”
Orion is raised in New Genesis, and though he doesn’t know of his sinister lineage, he suffers depression and seeks solace on the pristine planet. All we see of his time before the Super-War is an encounter with Lonar and the battle-horse Thunderer, when Orion spooks the living artifact of last monumental holocaust, striking alarm in the steed, which doubtless senses the warrior’s Apokoliptian heritage. Orion laments, “Fear! Fear at the touch of Orion!! Is it not always so?!”
Orion is forever conflicted by his bloodline. His Mother Box gives the illusion that he has a handsome, flawless face, but when Orion is in brutal combat that deception evaporates and we see the true snarling, ugly visage of a merciless warrior. Orion knows that he, at his core, is deeply defective though he has yet to discover the truth. When Orion delays an attack on Darkseid, the demon despot observes “Finish me — and you finish yourself!You hesitate, Orion! You can sense why — but you don’t know — do you?”
We will learn the prophecy that the ultimate battle in this Super-War will be waged in Armagetto, a sector of Apokolips, where father and son will face off in the “Last Battle of the New Gods!” Playwright Eve Donner, Deep Six Slig, half-brother Kalibak, they all sense that Orion will not survive the war because of the conflict raging inside his own soul.
Orion is singular possessor of the dreaded Astro-Force, a powerful, destructive beams which is emitted from his transport device, the Astro-Sled (which also houses his Mother Box). He is also mighty effective with his fists and, of course, is a born combatant. His nicknames include Orion the Hunter and Orion the Fierce. “A free and angry Orion is more than a menace! — He is the ultimate in mayhem!”
In a rare moment of slight levity, Orion takes on a disguise as a Metropolis gangster, cleverly named O’Ryan, with his earthling compatriots, who join in the subterfuge as (what else?) O’Ryan’s Mob.
Nearing the end of the initial run, when Orion and Lightray find some peace on the terrace of Eve Donner, aforementioned playwright, her hand reaching to the brutalized face of sleeping Orion, and she muses, “There is something in that fierce and mangled face beyond anything I’ve ever written about! The sleeping monster — the raging heart — a vessel of fire — which consumes — even love.”
The red-headed warrior awakes and replies, “As for love, madam — I find love in battle hotly fought! — In vengeance fulfilled!!”
Before the new gods depart, Eve shares with Orion her fear that “You’ll never survive your war! You’re big –! But not bigger than what’s eating you! Your enemy, Darkseid, will use it against you!”
He joyfully lifts her off the ground and says cryptically, “And, though I pay for victory with death — I shall seek you out in that final moment!”
In the end, with darkness descending, will Orion finally find what he needs most of all, the soothing caress of a loved one…?
Kirby talked fairly extensively about Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in interviews. The Quasimodo theme (a suit of skin) is found going back to Kirby’s earliest work you find grotesque or impaired characters with exceptional intellect or other abilities.
Kirby mentioned on several occasions that Frankenstein, a film about a misunderstood monster, was his favorite movie.
A self-described “student of science-fiction,” Kirby was also a student of human nature.
There are any number of stories by Kirby where he explores the theme of A.I. [artificial intelligence], a common theme in science-fiction since Karl Capek’s R.U.R. introduced the term “robot.”
In fact, Capek explores that theme in his play, so it was there from the start.
In Machine Man, Kirby uses X-51 to again explore his fascination with the suit of skin we all wear, which has such an influence on how we are perceived.
At one point X-51 has a nervous breakdown when his artificial “human” face is taken from him.
Kirby’s own identification with the theme can be seen in him often describing how the status of a person can affect the way they are treated by others.
In Kirby’s case, he was short, didn’t have a formal education, spoke with a street accent, was Jewish and, as an artist, wasn’t respected by publishers.
An article on Kirby’s unpublished novel The Horde was featured in The Jack Kirby Collector #50. A major player in the novel is a black man, Hardy Jackson. In Kirby’s synopsis, Jackson has such a degree of self-loathing that he describes his own suit of skin as a “Gorilla suit.” Jackson’s desire is for a suit of shining amour, a mental make-up in line with that of Orion. Of course, Orion already has the mask in place that Jackson desires.
Kirby said that he identified with The Thing, again the character who despises his appearance.
Misshapen creatures are a Kirby staple, true! So are the tiny freaks masquerading as giants — think Overlord and Mystivac — and I think as he matured, Jack was more sympathetic, at times, to these outsiders. I think of the Hunchback in Captain America Comics as compared to later, with his approach in “This Man, This Monster”…
I have a personal theory about Orion, one that is not supported in any comic book by Jack Kirby or anyone else. I think Orion is a child of rape.
Think about it: We learn in The New Gods #11 that the one and only person Darkseid ever loved was a sorceress named Suli — Kalibak’s mother. We also learn that Heggra had Desaad assassinate Suli, and in retaliation Darkseid had Desaad assassinate Heggra. This, while only discussed and never shown, was a key part of Darkseid’s assumption of the throne of Apokolips. I think that after having Suli done away with, Heggra — a disgusting, dominating sow of a queen mother — gave Darkseid in marriage to Tigra, whom Darkseid did not love. Both times we see Tigra, she is a prisoner consigned to life in a dungeon. Darkseid clearly hated Tigra as he must have hated his mother, and I’ve long thought that in a display of contempt for Heggra, Darkseid must have raped Tigra before imprisoning her, and the result was Orion.
This would make the ugliness, violence, and turmoil of Orion’s existence a mirror of the ugliness, violence and turmoil of his conception. Thematically it works, at least for me — even though it is not supported anywhere in any comic book.
Certainly it fits into the tragic court intrigue of the backstory, J.A., and I’d personally say hints are there… I surprised at how blithely Darkseid announces Kalibak is his bastard son… that is, how the Comics Code people weren’t paying attention and that obvious development was published.
The question is, is Darkseid actually capable of love? He’s a fascinating villain and a complex being, to be sure. I love his perverted sense of honor and decorum, whether berating The Forever People as would a drill sergeant scream at his platoon or allowing small mercies to Serifan and Shiloh & Oberon. He’s much, much more than a stock-character bad guy… I mean, he even has a sense of humor, dark as it is!
Opps, I see Darkseid sez he was secretly wed to Suli. My bad.
I forgot the detail about Darkseid and Suli’s secret wedding. Haven’t read that ish in a while, obviously.
Jon, doesn’t Kirby mention somewhere that Orion is a Dog of War? I’m trying to find the reference (might be just the Kirby-L archives) but it explains the Great Dane ears on his helmet.
I’m sure this is a pretty obvious comparison, but Darkseid and Orion are similar to Darth Vader and Luke. Orion, taken from his evil father as a child, is destined to battle with his father while fighting the darkness within himself.
Hmm… Lucas “borrowing” from Jack? Maybe… This trope is literally ancient (Oh Greeks, you’ve told every story there is to tell you jerks), but the comparisons are pretty interesting.