Back in the early 1990s when I was constantly on the hunt for back issues of The New Titans, I used to come across a house ad for a series called Gilgamesh II, which was written and drawn by Jim Starlin. The ad showed an open escape pod from a spaceship and had copy that talked about a dying alien civilization launching two of its last remaining citizens onto a planet that they thought was uninhabited but in reality wasn’t and in fact was Earth.
I was pretty deep into comics and science fiction at the time (definitely deeper than now, although I still love both) and found this ad fascinating. At first I wondered if it was a sequel to something else Starlin had done, not knowing at the time that Gilgamesh was an ancient Sumerian epic poem (which I still haven’t read, btw); however, a stroll through the Overstreet Price Guide found in my local library didn’t come up with anything. So, I went looking for it in the back issue bin at Amazing Comics and when I found only one issue out of the four (and for about $4 or $5), I balked and picked up some New Teen Titans books.
Fast forward nearly thirty years to a couple of years ago when I was at a show in Richmond and saw the entire series for a dollar an issue. Since I always wanted to read it and the price was right, I snatched it up. It sat on my shelf since then and I recently put it on the reading pile as a breather between Suicide Squad reads and muddling through the remaining issues I have of The Badger.
The concept is exactly what was described in the ad: an alien civilization’s last survivors is drifting through space and running out of fuel and energy. They find Earth and decide that not only is it perfect for them, they have no choice but to land because they cannot make it to another suitable but uninhabited planet. Being that it’s 1987 and tensions between the super powers are high, the ship is picked up by NORAD and blown out of the sky by an ICBM, but not before the ship’s AI launches two escape pods.
Granted, the escape pods both have male occupants, so there’s no hope of the race actually surviving, but they will have a profound effect on our world. One of them lands in the Amazon; the other lands in a marijuana field in Mexico and a couple of hippies who had been living there so they could try and make a fortune off of the pot-growing operation (there’s a particular irony in capitalist hippies, I guess) find him and adopt him. Yes, it’s very Kal-El, but this predates Elseworlds, so aside from a Hulk-like structure and strength, this baby doesn’t have any real superpowers and won’t go on to be mankind’s savior.
Instead, he’s named Gilgamesh (after what the mother thinks is the hero of a Viking epic) and we soon flash forward 25 years to where the world has drastically changed. Russia and most of Eastern Europe has literally disappeared into a white void following an experiment in teleportation that went terribly awry, wars were fought and devastated quite a bit of the population, and in the wake of all of that rose governance by corporations. There are shades of Matt Wagner’s Grendel in it as well as a pretty prophetic message about the power that corporations have over the world, and at the center of it is Gilgamesh. He is the CEO of the world, and is fighting off corporate saboteurs as well as dealing with a problem that his teams of developers have in South America.
That problem will be known as Otto, and he’s the other alien who landed on Earth. After a confrontation, they wind up becoming best friends and Otto begins to influence the corporation to take up more environmentally saving measures because the Amazon is one of the only undeveloped places on the planet and if it goes, humanity will go extinct (since, you know, plants produce oxygen).
That’s a summary of the first half of the series and I’ll stop here so I don’t spoil issues three and four, except to say that the friends/brothers face a monstrous threat in the jungle and we eventually do learn what is in the mysterious white void that swallowed up Russia and much of Europe.
This came out in 1989 and is right around the time when Starlin was riding a pretty prolific high–he’d been writing Batman (including “A Death in the Family” and “The Cult”) and Cosmic Odyssey at DC and would go on to do The Infinity Gauntlet (and subsequent War and Crusade) for Marvel. And seeing that he’s probably best known for Marvel’s cosmic stuff, this science fiction series fits right in with all of that.
It also comes at a time when DC was continuing to experiment with non-superhero fare, having published a series of science fiction graphic novels up until 1987 and then switching to miniseries in both “new” (printed on baxter paper) and “prestige” (square-bound and printed on glossy paper) formats. This would eventually lead to the Vertigo line as well as other imprints, but I bring up the history lesson about DC and Starlin to say that Gilgamesh II wasn’t an “odd one out” and that Starlin had built up enough creative capital to publish something experimental.
And you know what? It’s a really solid book. While there’s definitely a Superman-esque aspect to the origin at the beginning of issue 1, this isn’t a DCU or superhero story, and I think that since continuity wasn’t hanging over my head the entire time, I really enjoyed it. Plus, it seemed that Starlin enjoyed writing it because he could just do what he wanted. He gets to explore some classic science fiction ideas of what humanity does to its home as well as political ideas about corporate greed and the consequences of unchecked capitalism.
He also draws the book and therefore can marry the art to the writing very well and his art style fits the story. I haven’t read a lot of his comics that also include his art, so I can’t compare this to anything else he did, but Starlin has a style similar to Bronze Age greats like Rich Buckler, George Perez, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praised be his name), and Pat Broderick, so it was easy to adjust to. Furthermore, it’s really good and compliments everything well.
Based on a quick search, this series isn’t in trade or on Comixology, so if you’re looking for it, you’re going to have to find it in a bin or on eBay. But those seem to go for a reasonable price, so my finding them all for about a buck a piece wasn’t a complete fluke. If you like science fiction comics, I recommend seeking this one out.
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