Oh, My Aching Cranium!:

Jack Kirby’s OMAC Deconstructed And Reconstructed, Part Three

It occurs to me that, before we dive too deeply into the contents of the first issue of OMAC, a brief overview of our title character’s “civilian” identity of Buddy Blank might be in order, simply because so many of the more intriguing themes that Kirby explored in this series all stem from the basic core question of “what happens when a hapless loser suddenly becomes the most powerful being in all of creation?”

This isn’t the first time comics had employed such a conceit, of course – Peter Parker was a no-count, no-luck science nerd before being bitten by a radioactive spider, and Billy Batson was a pre-pubescent kid right up until the moment he screamed “Shazam!” – but The King adds a new twist to this time-worn trope by transposing his anonymous less-than-everyman into a dystopian, 1984-ish world, and by putting the fate of that world almost entirely on said character’s formerly-scrawny shoulders.

Comics were, of course, a favorite pastime for the picked-on youth of days gone by – just ask Charles Atlas, who made a fortune peddling his dubious wares to the eternally-insecure via his “Hero Of The Beach” ads that were a fixture in Marvel and DC publications for years – but Buddy Blank was especially pathetic even by the standards his then-contemporary audience had come to expect.

Consider: here’s a low-level functionary who, when we meet him, doesn’t seem to have any sort of clue what his employers are actually making, even though the name of the place he works is “Pseudo-People, Inc.”  Sure, he spends most of his time lugging around crates and mopping floors – and is the constant butt of practical jokes and outright bullying on the part of his co-workers – but you’d think he’d at least know what kind of shit they make in a factory where he spends 40 hours (or maybe more, who knows? I could see union-busting being a pretty common practice in “the world that’s coming!”) per week. Yeah, ignorance is bliss and all that, but come on.

Further augmenting Buddy’s instant reputation for cluelessness in the extreme is the fact that it never seems to occur to him that his one and only “friend,” Lila, might be one of these Blade Runner-esque fake people herself. We’ll examine  this a bit more closely in our next segment, but one would assume that a guy who literally no one likes would find it at least a little bit suspicious when an attractive young lady with basically no unique personality traits of her own to speak of shows up at exactly the right times in his life, mouths the sort of empty platitudes custom-tailored to make him feel good but not much else beyond that, and then splits the scene in a hurry whenever he wants to have anything like an in-depth conversation with her.

To the extent that Buddy has any sort of self-awareness at all, it seems that he perceives himself to essentially be a full-time victim. Granted, this is a pretty accurate assessment of his lot in life, but his dwelling on it only makes him even more unpopular with his peers and his superiors – so much so, in fact, that he’s even ordered to undergo “psychological re-programming” so that others can stand to be around him. Much like the aforementioned Peter Parker, then – at least as he was originally envisioned by Steve Ditko (notice I don’t say “by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko,” because once Ditko left the book Lee and John Romita quickly turned Peter into a popular ladies’ man who just happened to have a passing interest in science, whereas under Ditko’s watch he was an entirely unlikable – and therefore infinitely more interesting –character who appeared to be mere seconds away from a complete nervous breakdown at least once in every issue) – Buddy’s constant self-pitying only makes him seem even more pathetic than he already is, and breeds exponentially greater contempt from the folks around him who wish the guy would, for just once in his completely monotonous life, stand up for himself.

Then there’s the issue of his name – calling someone Buddy fucking Blank pretty much tells you all you need to know about the character right there, doesn’t it? He’s nothing. Nobody. A shmuck who couldn’t matter less if he tried. Kirby expounds on this theme visually on the cover to OMAC number one, which features an extraordinary amount of negative, or “blank” space, and utilizes said space for maximum dramatic impact – but again, we’ll train a sharper eye on that in our next segment. Suffice to say that Jack always knew how to use his artistic skills to highlight the core attributes – and core truths – of his characters, even when that amounted to putting them in front of stark white backgrounds in order to emphasize the complete and utter “dime-a-dozen” anonymity of both their world, and their place within it.

And yet, it’s that very anonymity – the absolutely unremarkable nature of Buddy’s life – that brings him to the attention of the Global Peace Agency and, ultimately, leads to his transformation into the One Man Army Corps. He’s the ideal candidate for their program not because he’s special in any way, but precisely because he isn’t. He stands out by virtue of the fact that he doesn’t stand out at all. He’s the man for the job because he’s the last man for the job. He becomes known to the GPA for being completely unknown. And while that sort of set-up is definitely of a piece with numerous other “everyman” power-fantasies, it’s what Kirby chooses to do next – how he unquestionably subverts those tried-and-true fictional tropes – that sets OMAC apart not just from what came before it, but also from the other books on the racks exploring the same themes at the time of its publication. In fact, it still stands in stark contrast to much of what followed in its wake, even the stuff that’s out there today. We’ll begin exploring that avenue of inquiry in earnest when next we meet here on Sequart – as always, hope to see you then!

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Ryan Carey maintains a B-movie (with occasional comics-related content) blog at trashfilmguru.wordpress.com, and writes about films and comics for sites such as unobtainium13.com, dailygrindhouse.com, geekyuniverse.com, and now Sequart. You can follow him on Twitter @trashfilmguru.

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1 Comment

  1. I am enjoying this overview of OMAC. I wish I had discovered it before I wrote my recent piece on OMAC and Prez on my own blog: OMAC 4 PREZ: Future-Past-Prolepsis, but I am going to have to disagree with you negative assessment of Stan Lee’s contributions. Whatever the breakdown of actual work, I think something like OMAC just shows that despite his genius with art and plotting, Kirby needed a collaborator to smooth over some the rough edges and improve his dialog. Even Lee’s admittedly frequently crappy dialogue was an improvement over Kirby’s turgid words.

    Anyway, I too saw OMAC emerging from Captain America, but also see Joe Simon’s (terrible) Prez as emerging from it as well.

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