Having examined DC Countdown, let’s turn our attention to the four mini-series it spawned, beginning with the one that most directly springs from DC Countdown‘s narrative: Greg Rucka’s The OMAC Project.
This is a story with everything. It has a mind-controlling villain at the head of a global organization that no one seems to suspect. It has a spy satellite that can even penetrate the Batcave and the Justice League’s headquarters. It has OMAC, a super-soldier program we’ll learn more about as the story continues. It has Batman, having learned about the League’s attack upon his mind, reunited with Sasha. And it has Superman, Wonder Woman, and Booster Gold investigating it all.
But writer Greg Rucka isn’t the only star here. Artist Jesus Saiz, who also provided pencils for one of DC Countdown‘s five chapters, was largely unknown before being given this series. But he is certainly a major artist in the making, one able to move characters dynamically and show profound emotion on their faces. His detail is impressive without being overwhelming — sort of like a somewhat toned-down Gene Ha. There are a few faces that seem slightly off — shading slightly misplaced, creating a sense of the odd-looking. But he is infinitely capable, able to illustrate mundane scenes as well as super-heroes, in motion or at rest. And he deserves considerable praise.
The mini-series might not be quite as strong as the stellar DC Countdown, but it’s very close and certainly the best of the four mini-series.
The OMAC Project continues directly from DC Countdown — so directly, in fact, that it begins with Maxwell Lord ordering his underlings to dispose of Blue Beetle’s body, which he has just shot dead. The body not only isn’t cold — it hasn’t stopped bleeding.
Right from the start, however, we also have Sasha Bordeaux enter the narrative, having not been seen in DC Coundown. Bordeaux was love interest for Bruce Wayne a few years ago, especially when OMAC scripter Greg Rucka was writing the characters. When Bruce Wayne was arrested for murder in 2002′s “Bruce Wayne — Murderer?” storyline, Bordeaux was arrested as well. But Wayne abandoned her when he subsequently broke out of prison (making “Bruce Wayne — Murderer?” give way to “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive”), leaving her to rot while he continued his career as Batman without an alter ego. She knew Batman’s identity, yet bore her suffering and refused to divulge Wayne’s secret — as best seen in the Rucka-scripted main story in Detective Comics #772. After the conclusion of the storyline, as Rucka departed the title, he kept Bordeaux from other writers’ clutches by freeing her from prison and inducting her into Checkmate.
Checkmate is a U.S. government agency introduced in 1988, first in an appearance in 1988′s Action Comics #598 and then in its own ongoing series — which didn’t last too long. The organization was organized based on the hierarchy of chess: kings and queens controlled knights and pawns — and so on. The agency has been seen intermittently since, and is not especially fondly remembered.
It’s important to note here that readers don’t have to understand all of this in order to understand The OMAC Project: it’s made clear enough that Checkmate is a government agency and that Bordeaux is Batman’s former lover. But knowing the roots of this story in DC’s history does add to the story — as well as to our awareness of how much fun Rucka must be having playing with Bordeaux again.
As that story continues, Maxwell Lord — the villain of DC Countdown — finds out that Batman has apparently deleted his files, including the shockingly complete files on DC’s superheroes, including (as seen in DC Countdown) their alter egos.
Then, we see the extent of Brother Eye’s spying capability: it can even see into the Batcave, Batman’s hallowed sanctuary. The whole world, it seems, has become a panopticon — a structure, after Bentham’s prison schematics, in which all is visible from a single authoritarian vantage point. The technology, as will be made clear enough as the first issue progresses, is actually one invented by Batman, utilizing satellites launched by Bruce Wayne. How exactly it works might be a point of criticism — it seems capable of multiple camera angles, not merely overhead shots — but we may just have to suspend disbelief on this one or imagine technological solutions.
High atop Checkmate’s mountain headquarters, Sasha talks with Jessica Midnight, a knight-level female operative in the organization. Though it may be hard to discern, given the two women’s similar build, hair color, and outfits, Jessica questions Maxwell Lord’s leadership and Sasha, apparently fearful that they may be watched, asserts the propriety of loyalty to Max. The two briefly scuffle.
We next switch to Booster Gold, coming out of the hospital in which we last saw him during DC Countdown. Emerging on the street, a fan accosts him, asking if he ever laid Black Canary, Wonder Woman, or Zatanna while a member of the Justice League. It’s fairly subtly done, but it shows the newly mature attitude ushered in by Identity Crisis. After Booster rebuffs the fan, that fan quickly switches to insulting the super-hero as a “loser” — one who endorses products, as referenced in DC Countdown and as seen in his own 1980s series (which may be seen as a forerunner of the capitalist super-heroics of Marvel’s X-Statix and the like).
Wonder Woman (whose ongoing Greg Rucka also currently writes) arrives and, taking Booster for a flight, reveals that she believed Blue Beetle even if the Justice League didn’t. She promises to search for Beetle with Booster, neither knowing that he’s already dead.
Next, scattering parts of Beetle’s bug vehicle around Paris, Sasha sends a package through the post. Presumably a few days later (given the realities of shipping to the U.S. from France…), Batman receives the package. It contains Beetle’s shattered goggles, which Batman correctly interprets as signaling Beetle’s death, and a note implying that Batman’s Brother Eye technology is indeed controlled by another.
The first issue closes ominously with a shot of the Brother Eye satellite in space, the powerful technology now under Maxwell Lord’s control.
The second issue opens with a flashback to Identity Crisis and the Justice League purging Batman’s memories as a means of covering up their magical lobotomy of Doctor Light. Batman’s narration implies that his creation of Brother Eye was a response to his returning memories and the concomitant recognition that he couldn’t trust the League.
This does beg a few questions, however. First, it’s not yet been made entirely clear as to exactly when Batman regained his memories, and the flashback sequence doesn’t help. Since the alternation of Batman’s mind was a retcon (or retroactive change in continuity) instituted by Identity Crisis, Batman could have hypothetically gained back his memories at any time — though there’s been no suggestion of this in his history (understandable given that most of it was written before Identity Crisis). The first time we saw that Batman had put it together was in the first chapter of DC Countdown. But this couldn’t have been around the time he figured it out if he launched Brother Eye in response, since DC Countdowndirectly precedes The OMAC Project. So the connection between Brother Eye’s launch and Batman’s returned memories appears unclear — and problematic, if we start to push backwards the date and thus start wondering why his realization and Brother Eye’s launch weren’t ever shown in his own plethora of comic books.
The second question this begs, however, is why Batman would need to realize the Justice League had altered his mind in order to stop trusting the League. Batman isn’t exactly the most trusting to begin with. In fact, in 2000, during Mark Waid’s brief tenure on JLA, it was revealed that Batman kept files on his teammates — including how to defeat them, should that ever become necessary. This was itself merely an extension of earlier plots in which Superman gave Batman a kryptonite ring, to be used if case the very powerful Superman ever went evil for some reason. So Batman didn’t need a reason to be paranoid, even if a world-monitoring system capable of multiple camera angles.
Of course, Batman might be lying about all of this. As we see on the subsequent page, he’s explaining all of this in the Justice League’s headquarters on the moon. His audience is the Justice League — or, at least, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Booster Gold. Then again, Superman asks whether Batman thought about how they’d feel about this spy system — as if that 2000 storyline never happened.
Here, as in Identity Crisis itself, there’s an interesting play between referencing details of characters’ pasts and ignoring or even changing others. In a genre that is today primarily nostalgic, this might be considered an interesting play to older readers and their knowledge while being willing to risk upsetting them in order to try new things with the narrative.
Batman produces Blue Beetle’s goggles, asserting his death. This produces rage from Booster Gold, who recalls how Batman rebuffed Blue Beetle during DC Countdown. Booster goes as far as to fire at Batman, but Superman blocks the blast. They all decide to hunt down who stole Brother Eye.
But all of this — shockingly, given what it implies about the spy system’s capabilities — is being watched by Maxwell Lord. Seeing Beetle’s goggles, Max knows someone inside the organization must be responsible. Worried about being discovered, Sasha Bordeaux is summoned by Max.
Eager to distract Batman and the rest, Max unleashes a bizarre entity into a Moscow bar. The blue entity seems made of energy and has an eye sigil on his upper chest or lower neck, connecting him to Brother Eye. Moreover, he has a fin on his head that recalls previous versions of OMAC: One-Man Army Corps, a longstanding but rarely used DC property. The target is Overthrow, an obscure super-powered character seen briefly in the previous issue battling Rocket Red in Moscow. The blue being promptly slices Overthrow in two.
This issue doesn’t show this incident so much as promising to distract the heroes, as Max seems to intend, but it does foreshadow the power and danger of this new incarnation of OMAC — a danger important to the issue’s conclusion.
Brother Eye then alerts Max that he’s in danger of being assassinated. Taking Sasha with him, he attends a meeting of Checkmate leaders — where the previously seen Jessica (who sparred with Sasha back in #1) tries to shoot Max. Before he can, Max tells her to freeze, then has her kill the others instead. And, unable to control her own body, she does — horrified at her own brutal actions. At this point, Max gets a nosebleed.
At this point it’s useful to remember that Maxwell Lord, back in his Giffen days, had the power to control other people’s minds — or, at least, make them obey his voice to a limited degree. One side effect of this metahuman power is that he would get nosebleeds. It was an interesting plot device, one that helped Max consolidate power and manipulate political figures. Even if it was used for humorous effect, it was a notion ahead of its time.
Continuing our story, Max orders Sasha to dispose of the bodies — this is becoming a pattern, as she had to dispose of Beetle’s body in the previous issue. Sasha then has to take Jessica Midnight into custody so that they can blame the killings on her. And then Sasha is to go to Chicago to clean up any evidence of the leads that brought Beetle to Checkmate. As Max leaves the room, we see Jessica weeping, hands covering her face, a broken woman.
It’s brutal — and meaningful — drama like this that makes the series so successful.
Later, Batman, ruminating on what the League has done to him, arrives at one of Beetle’s Chicago warehouses, held by his alter ego’s company, Kord Omniversal. Inside, he finds Sasha. They kiss, not having seen each other for some time.
But Brother Eye has put two and two together, notifying Max that it was Sasha who sent Beetle’s goggles to Batman. So Max orders OMAC to retrieve Sasha and eliminate Batman. And suddenly threeOMAC soldiers break into the warehouse, interrupting Sasha and Batman.
If all of this sounds good, it is. But it’s not all: throughout most of the second issue, the top and bottom of the page feature tier-wide panels showing Brother Eye’s perspective. While a counter-narrative, often running above or below the main one, has been tried in comics before — particularly in Rick Veitch’s Swamp Thing –, combining this with Brother Eye’s perspective is especially fruitful.
The panels first pop up when Max orders Brother Eye to investigate who sent Beetle’s goggles to Batman. When Sasha wonders when she’ll be found out, her narrative captions run over Brother Eye’s panels which show his search for the culprit. When Brother Eye alerts Max of events in Moscow, those concerns take over Brother Eye’s panels. Before Brother Eye alerts Max to the plot against him, we see the computer spying on the conspirators. And then, near the end of the issue, we see Brother Eye putting it all together and matching a photo of Sasha in disguise in Paris, mailing the goggles to Batman, to her personnel photo.
It’s the coup de grace on an excellent issue — one that in many ways improves upon the first.
The OMAC Project #3 continues directly from the previous issue, as three OMAC beings attack the newly reunited Batman and Sasha Bordeaux in a Kord Enterprises warehouse. It’s nothing short of a stunning sequence.
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that the opening page, which shows the OMAC warriors surrounding Batman and Sasha, continues the previous issue’s technique of showing the computer’s perspective. Along with the Batman scene, other panels show us Rocket Red in Russia (continuing the Russian subplot from previous issues), Wonder Woman and Booster Gold in space (reminding us that this series also follows those characters), Superman at his computer at The Daily Planet (which connects to this issue’s surprise ending and to previous OMAC appearances in the Superman titles), and none other than Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor is a particular surprise, as it wasn’t yet clear howThe OMAC Project connected with Villains United.
As we flip the page, the three OMAC beings are already striking at Batman and Sasha: one fires a blast through Batman’s cape from a laser cannon on his arm. Exhibiting his usual paranoia, Batman wonders if Sasha betrayed him, luring him into a trap. But, in his narration, Batman remembers “Not Sasha, she never betrayed me… / …even when I gave her every reason to” — a reference to how Sasha Bordeaux kept Batman’s secret while in prison during the Batman titles’ “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” storyline.
During the fight, revelations come quickly about the OMAC project itself. It’s Sasha who reveals that the beings are called OMACs. Sasha then Batman if he created these beings — she assumed he did since he created Brother I. Batman says no, thereby answering a question about the plot: while Batman created Brother Eye, he didn’t have anything to do with the OMAC technology. Sasha then reveals to Batman that the spy network and the OMAC beings are controlled through the same technology.
Hearing this over the network, Maxwell Lord orders the OMAC beings to prioritize capturing Sasha. As Sasha and Batman flee, she tells him that Checkmate was responsible for Blue Beetle’s death. But it’s here that the battle between the three OMAC beings and Batman really heats up.
As Batman swings Sasha out of the way, an OMAC being fires a laser through Batman’s shoulder and he drops her. Remembering how he ignored her in prison, he watches helplessly as an OMAC being stuns her and other flies her away.
After Maxwell Lord again orders Batman’s death, the vigilante dodges a laser blast and strikes one of the OMAC beings with a sword he apparently pulls from his tool belt. Batman notices that the OMAC being is bleeding — that, in Batman’s narration, “it’s not a machine.” Although this was made clear in the text accompanying Prelude to Infinite Crisis just over a month before this issue was published, it had not yet been revealed in a comic book story before.
The wounded OMAC being punches Batman, knocking him out of the warehouse. As the comes to, the OMAC being grabs him by the neck and uses a blade on its hand to slice at Batman. While Batman’s armored costume keeps the blade from penetrating, Batman’s tool belt has been severed. Taking Batman’s high-tech handcuffs from Batman’s belt, the OMAC being puts them on Batman. The OMAC being then blasts Batman again, this time from the OMAC being’s eye, sending Batman plunging into the cold harbor water ofChicago’s Lake Michigan.
It’s pretty clear, at this point, that Batman’s effectively dead. His narration reveals that the handcuffs are inescapable without the keys, kept in his lost belt. Going into the water, Batman takes a lungful of air and promptly begins to sink under the weight of his own armor. The OMAC beings’ stunning superiority to Batman is now well-established.
Batman is saved, but not of his own devices: Superman arrives, pulling Batman out of the drink. And while Batman survives, coughing on his knees on the dock as Superman removes the handcuffs, it’s clear Batman would have died were it not for Superman’s intervention.
Again, we turn to how we’re learning more about the OMAC project in this issue. Superman asks if Batman’s attacker was the same being that Superman fought in the Amazon forest in Ecuador and later in Metropolis — references to OMAC appearances in Superman’s own titles. Batman reveals that there were three attackers, and indeed this is the first time more than one OMAC being has been seen at once — ominously meaning any number of them could be out there. Even with his powerful vision, Superman can’t spot the OMAC beings anywhere — and Batman mutters they may have blended “back into the crowd” instead of disappeared, suggesting that he’s already suspecting the OMAC beings are transformed from regular people.
Refusing medical treatment, Batman heads to the JLA’s headquarters, the Watchtower, to further investigate.
Elsewhere, Wonder Woman and Booster Gold search in vain for the Batman’s Brother I satellite. Booster wonders if Batman lied to them about the satellite, further suggesting the growing rift between the various heroes. But then Green Lantern Guy Gardner arrives, having heard the news that Blue Beetle’s been killed. Guy, who served with Booster and Beetle during their Justice League days, questions what Booster’s doing with Wonder Woman instead of assembling the old gang — including Max, who no one yet knows to be a criminal. Guy tells Wonder Woman to shut up and comments on her body, treating her as an outsider. Guy and Diana briefly fight, but Booster stops them, siding with Guy: solving Beetle’s murder, as far as the two men are concerned, is a job for insiders. It doesn’t hurt that we remember how the Justice League refused Beetle’s requests for help before his murder. Booster and Guy fly off, leaving Wonder Woman alone in the cold void of space.
Back at Checkmate headquarters, Maxwell Lord arrives to talk with Sasha, who’s chained in a cell with Jessica Midnight — the woman concerned with Maxwell Lord’s command who talked with Sasha in issue #1 and was imprisoned after Max forced her to kill his opposition within the organization in issue #2.
After confronting Sasha about her treason, Max pulls out a handkerchief. Sasha knows what’s coming: he’s going to use his power to force her to talk. Her narration — “he’s going to take mymind from me” — particularly echoes Zatanna’s midwiping of Batman and various villains in Identity Crisis. But despite his powers, Sasha won’t answer — leaving Max to leave, confused and frustrated. After he does, Sasha and Jessica exchange an ambiguous look.
Back at the Watchtower, Wonder Woman has joined Superman and Batman. Wonder Woman seems suspicious of Batman, asking Bruce if he hasn’t told them how the satellite would have avoid detection. Bruce assures them that whoever took control of the satellite is the one hiding it. Superman says he’ll use his powers to search for the hidden satellite, while Batman promises to use the JLA’s computers to find this new Checkmate. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, promises to go to Moscow and investigate reports of an OMAC being having killed Overthrow, as seen last issue. She and Superman teleport away.
Returning to his computer control room after his failed interrogation of Sasha, Max watches a replay of the conversation in the Watchtower. He clearly wants to stop Batman before Batman succeeds, but Batman’s alone in the Watchtower — presumably without people to turn into OMACs. “It’s too early,” he says. “I didn’t want to do this yet.” He has the computer contact someone, and he begins talking, warning the unknown person that he must act against those who mean harm to him and the people he loves.
On the last page, we see Max’s unknown listener: none other than Clark Kent, at his desk at The Daily Planet. Max appears in black on Clark’s computer screen. Clark’s reply? Strangely enough, it’s this: “Don’t worry, father. / I’ll keep us safe.”
The OMAC Project #3 is a stunning issue for three reasons. First, we are dramatically shown just how impotent Batman is in the face of the OMACs. Second, we learn a good deal about the OMAC project — its name, that Batman didn’t build it, and hints that the OMACs are transformed people. Third, the surprise ending: even after seeing Brother I’s seemingly unlimited spying abilities and the destruction caused my the OMACs, seeing no less than Superman apparently mind-controlled still comes as a shock — one only accented by Superman’s creepy, if not utterly insane dialogue.
Still, the issue isn’t quite perfect. Jesus Saiz only illustrated the first fourteen pages, and the artistic team of the last eight pages isn’t quite as good. While Cliff Richards and Bob Wiacek do an able job, they’re particularly weaker when communicating through facial expressions. The silent shot of Batman’s face after Superman and Wonder Woman depart, in particular, stands out as something Rucka probably wrote for Saiz, knowing it was something Saiz could have pulled off, only to have fill-in artists with different strengths step in to keep the mini-series on schedule. But Richards and Wiacek hardly disgrace themselves.
All in all, however, it’s a stunning chapter. But it’s also unique in that it incorporated the mini-series’s tie-in issues as no other Countdown to Infinite Crisis issue had: it continued into them.
Read the Rest
This article continues here.
“Your Guide to Infinite Crisis” attempts to spell out and outline the whole of this sprawling, complicated crossover. It has several other installments, organized by the narrative thread under discussion:
The OMAC Project
- DC Countdown
- you’re reading The OMAC Project
- “Sacrifice” Concludes
- The OMAC Project Concludes
- “Sacrifice” Aftermath
- Tie-Ins to The OMAC Project #6
Day of Vengeance
The Rann-Thanagar War
- A Brief History of Adam Strange
- “Adam Strange: Planet Heist”
- “Adam Strange: Planet Heist” Concludes
- A Brief History of Hawkman
- A Brief History of Hawkman, Part 2
- Hawkman #46
- The Rann-Thanagar War
- The Rann-Thanagar War Concludes
- “Coalition in Crisis”
- The Rann / Thanagar War Special
The Return of Donna Troy
Crisis of Conscience
- Identity Crisis Epilogue
- Dr. Light in Teen Titans
- “Crisis of Conscience”
- “Crisis of Conscience” Epilogue