Oh, My Aching Cranium!:

Jack Kirby’s OMAC Deconstructed and Reconstructed, Part Seven

Wow, the cover text sure promises a lot this time around, doesn’t it? “Movies In Which We Live!,” ”Parents Picked By Computer!,” and finally—“A Task Force Of–A Hundred-Thousand Foes!” How, exactly, are you supposed to pack all of that into DC’s 1974 standard of 20 pages of story and art?

Leave it to Jack Kirby to find a way, but expect more of the pattern already established in the first two issues of his short-lived OMAC monthly series to continue here  in number three—namely, more concepts flying at you than you get in about six issues of any given ongoing comics title these days. Guess they still cared about pesky little things like actually giving readers value for their money (all 25 cents of it) back then.

“The King” goes about his business pretty methodically here, and again shows an uncanny degree of prescience in his depiction of “The World That’s Coming!”  First off, as seen above,  we find the One-Man Army Corps taking part in one of those “movies in which we live,” a form of future entertainment fed directly into your brain via machine that’s not too terribly dissimilar to the core concept behind flicks like Total Recall, or the various “virtual reality” gaming constructs of our present age. With every movie in OMAC’s world being “a personal experience” that will “produce earth-shaking perils,” we get to thrill to our hero battling a fantastically grotesque monster that’s guarding “the mystery of the ‘talking skulls!” right off the bat, bit shit—just when things start getting good, a typically faceless, nameless agent of the Global Peace Agency yanks off the former Buddy Blank’s “mind-phones” in order to give him a new assignment, one that’s so dangerous he might wish he were back in his high-octane fantasy land after all.

First, the good news : OMAC’s been promoted to the rank of Five-Star General in the world army—except, ya know, the bad news is, there’s no world army for him to command. There’s just him. Talk about a promotion on paper only. And now he’s being tasked with bringing down those “hundred thousand foes” the cover speaks of, namely the mercenary force of one Marshal Kafka, which is “threatening its territorial neighbor.” Where this “territory” is located is anyone’s guess, but going by the landscapes shown later, somewhere in Eastern Europe isn’t such a bad guess, so with one fell swoop Kirby is accurately predicting both the Balkans-area conflicts that would come in a couple of decades, and the rise of paid thugs-for-hire (excuse me, “private contractors”) like the infamous Blackwater.

Before all that can happen, though, OMAC has to make time for another (admittedly brief) identity crisis, revealing to readers in a thought balloon that “they say I was once someone else — someone who was changed by electronic surgery—into a sort of—god of war!!” No sooner has he thought that, though, than a female GPA operative arrives on the scene to introduce him (and us) to—his new parents?

Enter Mr. and Mrs. Baker, an elderly, childless couple whose “lives have been empty—without a son.” Operating under the logic that “to serve humanity—you must know humanity,” OMAC’s bosses have assigned the Bakers to him as “test parents,” after their computer termed them all to be compatible. They seem pretty enthusiastic about their new gig—Mr. Baker says “we hope to pass that test, OMAC,” while our orange-camouflaged peace agent assures her charge that “to know them is to love them”—but all that happy home-making is going to have to wait, because Kafka is apparently mobilizing his brigand army right now!

The newly-minted Five Star general with no troops at his disposal is soon piloting a “capsule plane” straight into harm’s way, where he’s met by “smart rockets—guided by television!” (pre-figuring both “smart” bombs and drones in one go, thus continuing Kirby’s patterns of “doubling up” with his prescience in this issue) that make mince-meat of his aerial conveyance and leave him only a steering wheel and seat that can streak through the sky with which to do battle (hey, what self-respecting 1970s Kirby book doesn’t have a flying chair of some sort?).

In fairly short order we come to learn that even a One Man Army Corps can’t hold out for long against—how many foes was it again? Oh yeah, a hundred thousand—when he’s literally just flying by the seat of his pants, and after a dynamic battle sequence that sees Kafka unleash such wonders of mass-destruction as “vertical take-off aircraft” and a tank firing mace ball-esque “multi-shot,” the man with the Mohawk haircut and eye on his chest (curiously, super-satellite Brother Eye himself is uncharacteristically silent in this issue) is left with the daunting prospect of having to storm his enemy’s fortified bunker stronghold on foot.

That probably won’t prove to be an easy task, will it? OMAC is plenty stoked for the challenge, though, informing us—again by means of thought bubble—that “the world has had enough little Hitlers! I’m taking you in, Kafka!,” and with that little bit of again-ahead-of-its-time rhetoric (how many “new Hitlers” have we been told we’re sending our troops over to fight in the last couple of decades?), Kirby leaves things on a cliffhanger for the next issue.

OMAC #3 proves, then,  to be a bumpy but exhilarating ride, chock full of plenty of accurate predictions and some fine sci-fi military battles, and while the inks of D. Bruce Berry do, in fact, detract from the overall look of many panels as he appears to be rushing things in some cases and flat-out masking the power and impact of Jack’s pencils in others, for the most part the high-intensity action comes across relatively unscathed, leaving a book that’s certainly fun to both read and look at, while offering us a fair amount to think about at the same time.

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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. First, apologies for being a commenter-come-lately to your series, but I was waiting to read your articles until after I had read my copy of the OMAC hardcover.

    Second, I agree that Royer’s inks are better for Kirby than Berry’s; the hardcover makes clear how much influence the inkers had on the final product by including pages of Kirby’s pencils throughout. But in fairness regarding Berry’s inking appearing rushed, he was being asked to keep up with a breakneck pace of 15 pages a week that only Kirby was capable of achieving.

  2. “and while the inks of D. Bruce Berry do, in fact, detract from the overall look of many panels as he appears to be rushing things in some cases and flat-out masking the power and impact of Jack’s pencils in others”

    Do you have any specific examples of this? The inks seem fine to me…?

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