It's hard to believe that this tale is nearly twenty-five years old. It's also hard to believe that somehow as a fan of the Fourth World, I've never read this solid saga by Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola. That oversight has been rectified. Cosmic Odyssey tells how a group of disparate heroes are drawn together by Highfather of New Genesis and Darkseid of Apokolips to battle the threat of the Anti-Life.
The Anti-Life Equation as imagined by its creator Jack Kirby was an indistinct thing, a cosmic Maguffin which was the goal that Darkseid sought which triggered the battle on Earth among the New Gods. It was a somewhat vague notion which was held enigmatically in the minds of some humans. In this story by Starlin and Mignola the Anti-Life is reimagined as a sentient force, an actual being which exists beyond our dimension but which after discovering us through the overly bold investigations of Metron and Darkseid wants to visit. Four aspects of the Anti-Life find their way into our realm on four different planets and so a super team is called together to battle this threat.
The heroes are pretty solid. Superman and Batman are on board and both are handled exceedingly well. Martian Manhunter is present does himself proud. Starfire of the New Teen Titans and John Stewart of the Green Lantern Corps are on the team. In addition to these stalwarts are Orion, Lightray, and Forager. Kirby's Demon is also on hand. In classic Gardner Fox fashion they divide into duos and seek out the planets Xanshi, Rann, Thanagar, and Earth to discover the Anti-Life fragments which have been up to various types of mischief, not least of which is the goal of sundering the Milky Way Galaxy and ushering in the complete Anti-Life. How they manage is of course the stuff of the story.
I can't say honestly that this is how I best understand the Anti-Life. I prefer Kirby's rendition, an enigmatic equation I found puzzling as a young reader, but which I now understand to be simply the lack of freedom and more importantly the lack of the desire for freedom. Darkseid ideally seeks willing slaves, those who pursue not life but what can only be described as "anti-life". Starlin by changing it into a thing apart, turns a familiar trick to what he did with Thanos and Death in his vaunted Captain Marvel saga, a tale similar in many ways to the Fourth World. It makes for a solid story, but I'm not so much sure it's solid Kirby theology.
That said, this is a compelling story which thanks to Mignola's rock-solid storytelling unfolds quickly and quite effectively. There are plenty of twists and turns and each hero has a moment, some of glory some of ignominy. I'm glad I've finally gone on this particular "cosmic odyssey", it was a worthy journey, and one not inappropriate for the holiday.