Oh, My Aching Cranium!:

Jack Kirby’s OMAC Deconstructed And Reconstructed, Part Nine

Immortality. It’s the big enchilada, isn’t it? The whole ball of wax. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The one thing that will probably be forever out of our grasp.

And well it should remain. Not just because we flat-out don’t deserve to live forever, but because you can fairly well bet that any notion of “progress” would stop if we did. Our time here is short, and most of us — myself included — fall well short of making the most of our brief crack at this whole living thing, so can you imagine how much less we’d get accomplished if we knew we were never going anywhere? Shit, why would a person even want to change the basic set-up of a society where they were gonna’ get to live forever?

And yet, the promise of immortality in some form or other remains a big business — more or less all of the world’s major religions are predicated on the (goofy, in my opinion) notion of “life after death” —usually in some form of paradise, at that — and various notions ranging from organ harvesting to self-cloning to cryostasis have gone from the pages of pulp sci-fi novels to the well-funded corporate laboratories of the modern world, whether they’ll readily admit to it or not.

Hell, reigning internet conspiracy king Alex Jones has even gone so far as to claim that the primary reason the so-called “illuminati” (a term which has evolved into becoming a sort of catch-all phrase meaning, essentially, whichever small cabal you choose to think runs the world) are so busy fucking the rest of us over all the time is because they have “secret life-extending technologies” that they want to horde for themselves, to which I can only reply  that Michael Jackson supposedly owned some kind of “suspended animation” contraption and he still didn’t make it past the age of 50.

Still, you can bet that those with enough cash are going to keep trying to find ways to buy themselves more time to amass it, and Jack Kirby envisioned just such a scenario in the fifth issue of OMAC, which he titled, appropriately enough, “Young Bodies For Old!”

This was the first installment of a two-parter from the mind and pencil of “The King,” and while its primary focus may seem, on paper, to be purely speculative sci-fi, a more detailed — and, by my estimation, accurate — assessment points to economic concerns of the type that were explored back in the series’ second issue (and that are, depressingly, coming true today) being the true raison d’etre at the heart of this damn good little story.

To that end, we find ourselves back in Electric City, the place where criminal mastermind “Mister Big” tried to kill OMAC back in #2, only this time the so-called “super-rich” have a new, more devious scheme going — in fact, in Kirby’s own words, it’s “the most horrible menace in human history” and “the most evil racket ever created!” Not satisfied with merely gobbling up an ever-increasing slice of the economic pie, the elite (who, in “the world that’s coming,” are all criminals — a none-to-shabby take on the situation as it really exists, if you ask me) are out to keep their sweetheart deal going forever by means of something called a “computer brain transplant” that will stick the minds of the wealthy-but-withering into healthy, young, freshly-kidnapped bodies.

The primary mover and shaker behind this plot is “made man” Fancy Freddy Sparga, a functionary (with a taste for the finer things in life, like a luxurious penthouse apartment and a “helium air bed”) within an organization known as the Crime Cabal who intends for his first customers to be his bosses in the “syndicate” (not exactly a smart move if you’re looking to rise up the ranks eventually, but whatever).

OMAC gets wind of the chicanery thanks to some undercover work done by  a GPA agent — the only one we meet in the series who seems to have much of any personality, despite his features being covered by “cosmetic spray” like all the others — and after surviving a “super-hit” with a “missile rifle” intended to wipe both he and the agent out ( super satellite Brother Eye, as you’d expect, stepping in at precisely the right time and protecting them both by means of a “heavy element beam”), he’s off to track down one Buck Blue, a low-level street hoodlum who was the agent’s source for inside information.

Our hero finds Blue engaged in the popular recreational activity of hunting “hologram beasts,” and once we get to this part of the story that’s  dealing with the so-called “criminal element,” Kirby engages in some fun throwback-style dialogue that wouldn’t sound out of place coming out of, say, Edward G. Robinson’s mouth. “This is your last chance to talk — before I lower the boom!,” “that’s real heavy talk,” “hold it, fuzz!,”  “who’s the muscle with him? “  — you get the idea. Remember, Jack had recently worked on In The Days Of The Mob and cut his teeth on books like Justice Traps The Guilty.

In any case, after a brief skirmish at the “amusement center” where the hologram-hunting is taking place (OMAC telling one of the thugs who swarm to protect Blue during their scuffle “Bull’s Eye! You win a hernia!”) Mr. Mohawk lets his reluctant new “ally” know that he’s got the situation sussed out pretty well: Blue mugs and kidnaps young people, delivers them to a place called “The Terminal,” and they’re stored there for use in these soon-to-start-happening “computer brain transplants.” The gig’s almost up, though, as OMAC — who’s been given, against all odds and budgetary common sense, another personal aircraft (and not just any old personal aircraft, but a “magnetic flyer with computer drive”) — and “stool pigeon” Buck (who agrees to go along if OMAC will just “stop bugging” him)are heading out to bring the whole thing down.

We get to see some more cool Kirby tech in the pages that follow, as the GPA launches an operation to find “The Terminal” at the same time OMAC and Buck are headed to the “large suburban residence” of an oversized, decidedly ill-tempered mob boss known as “The Godmother,” and along the way we learn a bit more about Global Peace Agency internal policy, as well, such as the fact that agents are “never to harm a human being” and subdue their quarry with knock-out gas that is “harmless, painless, and odorless.” Maybe the Ferguson PD should hire these guys.

The showdown at the residence of “The Godmother” takes something of a surprising turn when Buck discovers that one on the “new bodies” they’ve taken to swap out “for old” belongs to none other than his girlfriend, but being the full-time scoundrel that he is, he nearly agrees to sell her out for $500,000. OMAC puts a stop to that proposition — and to “The Godmother” herself — with little to no hassle, though, and when the ever-polite GPA agents escort her — with no weapons and a laughable “come with us, please” — from her palatial home, it almost looks like we’re not going to get any cliffhanger ending here at all. That is, until —

OMAC turns to Buck, and announces that their next target will be “The Terminal” itself! Furthermore, Buck’s going to take him there whether he likes it or not, and they’ll “crack ‘The Terminal’ or die in the attempt!” There we go, Jack —that’s a good and proper cliffhanger, after all!

One more — and perhaps final — time, I’m going to stick up for D. Bruce Berry here. I’ve had a look at a fair number of Kirby’s pencil pages for this issue, and by and large, the inks do them at least a decent level of justice. The King has some real fun doing the tech designs in this issue, and the finished images come out looking pretty good. There are some rough spots here and there, sure, but Berry doesn’t get too sloppy and rushed with his OMAC work until about the midway point of the next issue. For the most part, with some admitted exceptions, things look really good here on the whole.

As for the story, as you can tell, it’s a real barn-burner, and benefits from some of Kirby’s numerous (and accurate) prognosticating slowing down just a bit. We’re revisiting a lot of already-established themes here, and that’s just fine as it lends some thematic depth to the proceedings and more fully fleshes out the character of “the world that’s coming.” All in all, it’s a very enjoyable issue that once again highlights “the most evil racket ever created” — economic disparity, of which “new bodies for old” is just one more symptom.

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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. As I’m sure you’re aware, the idea of people extending their lives by transferring their consciousnesses to a younger physical vessel is not new to Kirby, but what makes this issue stand out for me is that in Kirby’s exploration of the idea, the wealthy and powerful are extending their lives at the explicit expense of the poor and typical. It expands on the idea from issue 2 of the super-rich living by a different set of rules and establishing a political/social system whose sole purpose is to preserve their privilege.That seems to be the motif of this series and while I’m sure he meant it as broader social commentary, I have to wonder if it was in some way meta-commentary on the comics publishing dynamics under which he operated.

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