Starting off a new segment of the blog, it’s my long overdue retrospective on the canceled ongoing series and original New 52 alumni, Dan Dedio and Keith Griffen’s OMAC.
The origins of OMAC stretch back to the mid seventies comic by the legendary Jack Kirby, titled OMAC: One-Man Army Corps. It was created during the period in Kirby’s career when he’d left Marvel (for whom he’d created or co-created a large number of popular characters, like Captain America), and went to work at DC. The concept came out of Kirby’s desire at Marvel to tell a story about Captain America in a potential future setting. When this became unfeasible, he took the idea with him and made OMAC out of the idea.
It’s run lasted eight issues before Kirby unceremoniously left DC and left a short resolution in the form of one panel of text at the end of a cliffhanger. It’s not surprising, since that run was mostly meant to fill his page quota after New Gods was canceled. The character made several appearances since then, but save for The Losers, OMAC is probably one of the least appreciated of Kirby’s contributions to DC comics. OMAC’s most notable appearances include being retroactively made into the grandfather of Kamandi, another Kirby character; and the part played in Infinite Crisis by OMAC supporting character Brother Eye. It’s here the property gained ties to the organization Checkmate, and more specifically to Maxwell Lord.
With that we finally come to the newest incarnation of OMAC, in the New 52 ongoing of the same name. When I first saw OMAC on the list of ongoings in the New 52, I was initially puzzled. OMAC? Really? That was before I found a volume collecting the entire original series by Jack Kirby, and read it out of curiosity. I’ll admit the series had its flaws, but I liked the sincerity of it all. It was good old style comics, and classic Kirby. So by the time the new series came out, I was more than willing to give it a shot.
And I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was on my list of favorite books in the New 52 alongside the likes of Demon Knights and Swamp Thing. And I also knew before it even came out that it would be the first on the chopping block.
It’s a cruel feeling really. OMAC was one of the funnest books in the entire line – in stark defiance of the trend at the time of making everything darker and edgier – and yet I always knew it would never last. Because simply put it’s not the kind of book people read these days. It had no street cred with anyone outside of fans of Jack Kirby. It had a really stylized art style made to mimic Kirby’s. It barely had ties with other books. It didn’t take itself seriously. And it was so unlike everything else coming out of the New 52. So of course no one but me bought it. DC can’t be blamed for canceling a book that wasn’t selling; I just think it could have been so much more.
In fact, because it ended when it did there are a mountain of unanswered questions and unresolved plot points. In order to understand it all, we’ll need to establish what the series was about and what specific things ended up not amounting to anything because of time.
Issue one introduces us to Kevin Kho, a lowly researcher for Cadmus Industries, as well as his coworkers and love interest, Jody. Kevin changes into OMAC because of orbiting sentient satellite Brother Eye, and digs into the basement labs of Cadmus to link with the mainframe. So what did the mainframe tell Brother Eye? We get some things here and there, but mostly it’s just raw information that Brother Eye withholds from everyone, including us readers. In fact, that’s what characterizes the dynamic of this book: Kevin is just a pawn for an artificial intelligence, who leads him around to accomplish goals.
Over the course of the series we get the impression that Brother Eye wants to “help” humanity and protect it from threats, and will do what it needs to for that purpose. It’s a well-meaning computer, but a computer with machine logic nonetheless. As such, it’s not exactly a good guy from the usual perspective.
Issue two tells us what Kevin becomes when he’s OMAC, and establishes Brother Eye’s animosity and history towards Maxwell Lord, the head of Checkmate and amoral man capable of mind control. What exactly Lord did to Brother Eye in this continuity is never explained, especially since Infinite Crisis no longer happened in the world of the New 52. All we do know is that Lord tried to control the AI, and Brother Eye didn’t like that.
This issue also had OMAC fight the Amazing Man, formerly of some government agency or another and superpowered with the ability to absorb energy and attacks. This ended with him attempting to absorb the energies that make OMAC a cyborb monster, allowing Brother Eye to absorb him and presumably save him for use later on. In essence, Brother Eye found a potential metahuman resource, and “claimed” it for its own use.
In the third issue, Kevin is diverted in his quest for home to a maximum security prison, which was taken over by a psychic doctor called the Psi-Fi Man. He wanted to dominate OMAC and Brother Eye and use them as a part of his brainwashed army to conquer the world. It’s here that we see a really interesting concept take shape: that of a superpowered arms race between multiple factions attempting to destroy or swallow each other for their own ends. Eventually the Psi-Fi Man got away, and unfortunately we never see him again because of the book’s cancelation.
Issue four establishes a couple things. First is an exploitable weakness in OMAC (he can’t transform if his signal is blocked, say by being underground). Next is the further tension between Kevin and Jody, the latter feeling suspicious and hurt by Kevin’s sudden secrecy and erratic behavior patterns (as opposed to his OCD behavior patterns which are certainly not erratic). Kevin gets attacked in a sewer by cyborg monsters sent by Mokkari, a Cadmus member and related to Apokolips for those familiar with Kirby’s work. In fact, there’s an undercurrent of involvement from the New Gods that permeates this book and slowly builds over time. What it all amounts to, though, we never find out.
Issue five is mostly a crossover with Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE. But there are points that matter in the grand scheme of the book (or would at least, had it gone further). We’re reminded that all the various covert organizations and agencies running around Earth A do not like each other. Brother Eye gets to show off as a master strategist when it comes to fighting against super-science forces like SHADE (even though it’s mostly techno-babble, not that I mind). Finally, Mokkari mentions the enigmatic “Zero Patient”, all while talking to the equally enigmatic “Grand Director”. Though from what I can tell, it’s probably one of Darkseid’s minions whose name escapes me. Both the Zero Patient and what anything has to do with the Grand Director are left unexplained by the cancelation.
Issue six has Brother Eye ask Maxwell Lord what Zero Patient is, and while he claims otherwise, Lord doesn’t know about it and gets no information from Mokkari. We do get a peak at this Zero Patient, though we can tell little as it floats in a glass tube. But what we can learn (and it’s something I just noticed while writing this retrospective) is that is somehow has to do with Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and one other I don’t immediately recognize from the stickers on the tube. It says a lot about the visual design in that there are a wealth of details in the art itself that provide clues to those paying attention.
Also Kevin goes on a double date with Jody, his friend/coworker Tony, and the new consultant at Cadmus that’s interested in Kevin specifically. Turns out she’s Leilani, one of the female furies under Granny Goodness, another of Darkseid’s generals. And she’s after a Mother Box (think supercomputer of the New Gods and key to many things, including teleportation and presumably the tech behind OMAC itself). In fact, it’s heavily implied that OMAC’s power is Apokoliptan in origin, because Leilani uses the same kind of energy. Not that this is explained, nor is Leilani’s threat to bring the rest of the Furies against OMAC ever followed up on. Add those to the growing list of plot threads severed by the book’s cancellation.
The penultimate issue sees Kevin spending time at the zoo. I wish I was kidding, but it’s obvious this was meant to be a minor issue in between larger ones. In fact, issue five ended promising this adventure next, but it seems the creators were informed of the cancellation and moved the issues around. Kevin runs around and meets intelligent anthropomorphic animals trying to escape, and helps them try saving one of their family from a lab beneath a zoo ride. It’s headed by Simyan, yet another of Darkseid’s generals and head of the lab experimenting on Earth animals. We also get to learn that Kevin had a tragic past involving his parents.
That plot point eventually comes to a head with the final issue, which has Kevin narrating his entire backstory over top a climactic fight scene against the forces of Checkmate. Turns out Kevin was the last survivor of a family that protested the tyranny of an unnamed East Asian nation, resulting in them being hunted by the local forces. As Kevin grew up without his parents, he tore away everything unnecessary and developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as a means of enforcing order on his life. And then he met Jody. It’s all pretty decent so far as exposition goes, but I can’t help feeling this would have been far better if established over a longer time frame.
As for the fight, OMAC battles Sergeant Steel and his partners again, this time resulting in Steel losing his hand in this continuity. Meanwhile, Brother Eye fights off missiles sent by Maxwell Lord, which serve rather to magnetize the Satellite’s hull and crush it in debris. With it’s last act, Brother Eye modifies OMAC, giving him Kevin’s consciousness but rendering him unable to change back. It’s kind of reminiscent of the old Kirby series, which ended in a cliffhanger where Brother Eye was seemingly destroyed, and the old OMAC (Buddy Blank) having been rendered powerless after the entire series spent as OMAC. The issue ends with Kevin!OMAC walking away from Jody and sadly proclaiming Kevin Kho no more.
This ending could have been considerably worse all things considered. The writers did a great job at least wrapping up Kevin’s personal plotline. But no matter what, it just illustrates the utter waste of it all. There were so many questions left unanswered, it’s criminal that it couldn’t last longer. And it never got to do what it was always meant to do. We never really got a superpower arms race (or at least not in the scale it seemed to go for), and all the stuff with the New Gods will remain a moot point because plot points brought up here apparently won’t be resolved anytime soon, if at all.
But there is some good news. In a recent issue of Justice League International, OMAC gets introduced and even teams up with that group. I got a chance to read the full issue, and it looks like the next issue will continue that team-up. And I swear Justice League International, if you make OMAC into a regular member of that team, I will gladly follow you. The characters in that series have to be more likable than the way the regular Justice League is portrayed.
The OMAC series was one of bittersweet feelings. The joy and fun it brought constantly hindered by the niggling knowledge in one’s mind that, with the book being what it is, it’ll eventually get scrapped for some other series. While nearly every other book wanted to be dark and mature and everything else woefully popularized by the nineties, OMAC wanted to recapture the spirit of those days when Jack Kirby, King of Comics, created stories that uplifted and encouraged and entertained. It was an experiment on DC’s part, but one that simply didn’t get the attention it deserved because the comic reading public never gave it a chance.
For Brother Eye’s sake, Red Hood and the Outlaws – the book that turned Starfire into a complete slut in the first issue – is still going on. As is Red Lanterns – a criminally dull book constantly spinning its wheels (don’t worry, its retrospective comes next). Yet OMAC, a book full of fun and deep characters and interesting concepts, gets canceled? It’s a sad, sad world we live in when a book like this doesn’t get what it deserves.
Well, at least we now have Earth 2 and Dial H. Who wants to bet the latter lasts about as long as OMAC for parallel reasons?