“Please guide me home” – ODY-C #1 is a stunning, beautiful contradiction

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Since I put ODY-C on my pull list, following the book’s announcement at Image Expo 2013, I’ve moved across the country, started a new job, quit smoking, began a relationship, turned around my opinion on ramen, read somewhere around 1,000 X-Men comics and rewatched “30 Rock” four times. My comic shop owner regularly asked me “Hey, when’s that ODY-C coming out,” and I would dutifully reply that it got pushed back again or that it seemed like Matt Fraction might be abandoning the book as he kept swapping around Marvel projects, backing out of Inhuman and falling behind on Hawkeye. I eventually, almost gave up hope.

But I didn’t and I’m very happy that I did not. ODY-C, written by Fraction and drawn by Christian Ward, is a powerful, self-assured debut from one of comics’ most recognized modern writers and an up and coming artist with a lived-in style. It’s a book that doesn’t feel like it could be created by any other team, in the same way Fraction’s most recent independent, the smash-hit Sex Criminals, felt as if it couldn’t have been made by anyone other than himself and artist Chip Zdarsky. However, where Sex Criminals took the first issue to establish protagonist Suzie’s motivations, back story and unique ability, ODY-C does everything in two pages.

Well, technically 10 pages.

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Yes, the much vaunted 8-page opening spread is there and it’s glorious but it’s what that spread both shows and doesn’t show which is the real masterstroke of the opening. Before unfurling the spread, The sides hold both a map and a timeline, respectively of the world Odyssia and her crew inhabit. Both have the same impressionistic style Jonathan Hickman popularized in charts and diagrams in The Nightly News, Pax Romana and Secret Wars but they serve dual purposes and those purposes highlight the contrasting worlds ODY-C exists in. While a dry, loose timeline explains the background of Zeus’ actions, the reason for so few men in this world, and the conflict in Troii, it all serves as useful flavor around a shocking, imaginative and gruesome tableau of Odyssia and her companions. It’s a smart move, grounding the physical cost of massive violence against the dispassionate recounting of the bickering and pettiness which leads to it.

That fusion of new-age artistic aesthetic and Western canon is what provides some of the more intriguing moments of ODY-C as well. After the ship takes off to bring its crew of warriors home, we visit the Gods, a seemingly powerful family of conspirators and battling factions all watching the actions of Odyssia from on high. While the issue up to this point, has held all of the action unobtrusively in narration, the shift to word bubblers when the gods appear is jarring and an interesting touch, certainly open to interpretation. Is letterer Chris Eliopoulos attempting to show a difference between the controlled, set as legend story of Odyssia with the more emotion based tales of the Gods? Are we meant to view the Gods as more traditional characters while the soldiers are more untouchable by the comics medium? Are the characters and tropes permanent even when placed them in an unfamiliar medium, while the gods wholely inhabit where they are?

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To his credit, Fraction doesn’t offer many answers in the first issue but there’s lots of room for debate. So it goes throughout the story, where each of Fraction and Ward’s choices are meant to accentuate both the power of Homer’s original text as well as the new subtext a few changes can bring to these tales. Nowhere is this clearer than in the death of Xylot. While The Odyssey contains many passages referencing Odysseus’ loyalty to his crew as well as the violence he is capable of, the shift to Odyssia’s crew, more in tune with one another and in desperate need of cooperation makes her choice to kill a crew member feel different. She’s no less of a hero and no less worthy of a character than Odysseus when she damns Xylot to the cold reaches of space but it’s a moment that requires the reader to ask something of themselves. Just who is this captain who makes these sacrifices? What is waiting for her back home and is she deserving of taking it upon her return? Reframing these questions, which have formed the backbone of so much of Western fiction as we know it, is the key success of ODY-C #1 and create a strong start for the sure to be long journey to come.

“There is no problem that can’t be solved” – The road to SECRET WARS begins here

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“Everything dies.”

It’s a mantra that’s popped up for the last two years, spoken by Reed Richards to the Illuminati in Jonathan Hickman’s “New Avengers.” The slow dissolution of multiverse has been the impetus for widespread destruction and the desperation that seems to be the crux of the ongoing “Time Runs Out” storyline which seems to form the basis for this summer’s “Secret Wars” event. Marvel has been pushing Secret Wars as the event where everything changes for months now, first with an impressive array of alternate universe one-pagers and with a barrage of information on creator and editor’s social media pages.

Executive Editor Tom Brevoort has said the genesis for Secret Wars is in Hickman’s much vaunted Fantastic Four run and within the series’ large scale cosmic focus lies a series of hidden clues and hints about the direction of the Marvel Universe and the seeds of this summer’s upcoming event.

With that in mInd, it’s time to go back where it all started with a look back at Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, what it has set up, the occasional hints in SHIELD and Secret Warriors, his Avengers and New Avengers run, the beginnings of creation in Infinity and how everything could lead to Battleworld. In this installment, it’s time to take a look at Hickman’s first major Marvel work, the “Fantastic Four: Dark Reign” miniseries.

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Let’s go back to the end of 2008. In the wake of Brian Michael Bendis’ less than stellar Secret Invasion, the seemingly reformed Norman Osborne had won the respect of New York and the president by fending off the invasion of the Skrull Queen and been crowned head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unable to resist the man he has always been, Osborne assembles The Cabal, a group of villains who will aid him in controlling national policy. While he attempts to keep his new peacekeeping agency, H.A.M.M.E.R., on the straight and narrow, Osborne secretly harbors a hit-list of heroes he wants dead and buried and with the backing of the world, he’s ready to do it.

Osborne’s motivations and actions will change throughout Dark Reign and will eventually bring him to disaster in Siege but for now, he’s unbeatable. In the beginning of Fantastic Four: Dark Reign, he’s moving on the Baxter Building, ready to preemptively take Reed Richards out of the picture. Unfortunately, Reed has already started on a path of self-obsession and discovery which will change the Marvel Universe and define his character moving forward. And it all starts with the Bridge.

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The Bridge, like the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill before it, becomes the defining artifact of Reed Richards as Hickman’s run carries on but for now, it’s almost solely a plot device. It’s worth noting that Reed’s newest invention is little more than a manifestation of his own guilt at this point. After tampering with the world for so long, Reed wants to know if the machinations of the Illuminati, their meddling with the Beyonder and the group’s dealings with the Skrulls which lead to Secret Invasion could have been prevented and if so, were they handled differently on another Earth.

Hickman’s focus in this five-issue miniseries is somewhat split. He’s writing Valeria and Franklin as something of comic relief characters. While the First Family is away, the siblings dress up and goof off, initially oblivious to the arrival of H.A.M.M.E.R. before stepping up later. In the series B-Plot, Sue, Ben and Johnny hop through alternate realities and pick up members of the family from across dimensions as they’re dragged along by The Bridge. It’s all fun and funnier than it has any right to be.

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The real meat of Dark Reign: Fantastic Four, and really the only characterization important going forward is Reed’s actions. Becoming more and more exasperated as he sees the commonalities across dimensions, Reed becomes obsessed with his own place in the dimensional order. Across the surveyed realities, he sees that he alone is the common denominator when searching for peace and he’s ready to discover how and why. By series end, when Osborne has been sent packing after taking a bullet from a trigger happy Franklin, Reed refuses to break down The Bridge and rebuilds it in a secret room of his lab. It’s a defining moment moving forward and certainly one open for debate. How much does Sue know about Reed’s obsession with what he has been across dimensions and what he can do? Reed’s narcissism and focus on himself is a recurring trope in the series and one that will appear time and time again, particularly in the form of those soon to be revealed glowing figures just on the other side of the screen.

Next Up: Who exactly are those people appearing in the Bridge? What do they want and what are they doing? It’s time to jump into Fantastic Four #570.