No, this book is considered required because it is an AMAZING story. It has history within DC continuity, as characters in this book were created by Jack “The King” Kirby after he left Marvel and went to the Distinguished Competition. The characters were otherworldly, but many of them had a certain level of humanity at the same time – Orion, Mister Miracle, Big Barda. The villains were pure evil – Darkseid, Desaad, Granny Goodness… You could tell they were the creations of the 1970s by some of the names, but the names were irrelevant – it was a world about good versus evil.
Although created by Jack Kirby, the characters became entrenched in many of DC’s properties. Orion, Mister Miracle and Big Barda all became active members of several incarnations of the Justice League. Darkseid and his minions became threats to the world and its heroes in various incarnations, primarily around the Superman family but also became more well-known through the Super Powers comics and toy franchises of the 1980s, which is when the characters were introduced as major villains outside of die-hard comics fans.
This story, available in its original mini-series format or as a collected hardcover, was both written and penciled by Jim Starlin. Starlin has been responsible for many a cosmic epic over several comic companies, including Rann-Thanager: Holy War and Mystery in Space for DC, but also for the Korvac saga in Marvel’s Avengers title and for making the Marvel villain of Thanos as evil and despicable as he is. (Never mind the physical resemblance between Darkseid and Thanos; Starlin seems to enjoy writing characters who embody various characteristics and those 2 are the most evil characters in their respective universe.)
For those who are wondering what the story is about: the title says it all. Members of the New Gods – both good and evil – are being killed off. Even neutral, more “hippie” style New Gods in the form of the Forever People. Basically, Jim Starlin and DC Comics opted to remove Jack Kirby’s Fourth World from its continued existence within continuity. The battle rages with good vs. evil, both sides possession power in what is known as the Anti-Life Equation – a way to control the power of life and death. The slaughter is confined to the totality of the New Gods, but with the observation of Superman due to his history with the New Gods and the fact that a fellow JLA member, Big Barda, is one of the fallen warriors.
In the end, no one emerges unscathed. The worlds of both New Genesis, where the New Gods live, and Apokolips, where Darkseid reigns, are both rendered lifeless. However, with death comes life – the ending of one civilization will bring about the emergence of another. The power of the Source, which is what kept the balance of good and evil within the Fourth World, begins its plans to bring life back to a new merged New Genesis/Apokolips – thus bringing about the potential resurrection of many of these characters.
Alas, that was not meant to be. The DC universe was rebooted and the story of these New Gods was rewritten. We have seen the evil already, and soon we will witness the good. It will be an interesting return, but the question is whether or not these characters will portray the mystery, the elegance, and even the simplicity of what these characters embodied in their first lifetime. With the changes made to iconic characters such as Superman, it is unclear as to whether we will see the return of the New Gods or if we instead will witness a variation that does not embody Kirby’s spirit of the characters.