Oh, My Aching Cranium!:

Jack Kirby’s OMAC Deconstructed And Reconstructed, Part Fourteen

After the original OMAC series ended with a literal—if too-goddamn-tidy-for-its-own-good—bang in 1975, all was quiet in “The World That’s Coming!” for a couple of years, but one should never underestimate DC’s ability to milk a Jack Kirby concept for all it’s worth, and then some. The late-‘70s subpar revivals of The New Gods (in their own book) and The Demon (as a backup feature) served as a pretty strong indicator that the One-Man Army Corps would be back at some point, and in 1977 the inevitable finally happened—sort of.

OMAC “proper” didn’t come back right away, but Kamandi #50 (cover-dated May of ’77) did see the return of the concept, if not so much the character himself, in a half-assed story by Dennis O’Neil and Dick Ayers that posited a connection between The Last Boy On Earth and our Mohawk-adorned hero which pretty much flew directly in the face of The King’s original intent that their two worlds were, and should remain, completely separate and distinct from one another. Simply put, it turns out that OMAC was Kamandi’s grandfather—and that’s all the more we really need to say about that, because the idea is every bit as forced and lame as it sounds.

Still, it was enough to put OMAC back on his publisher’s “radar screen,” and he returned as a backup feature written and drawn by the recently-departed-from-Marvel Jim Starlin in Kamandi #59 (cover-dated October, 1978) for what was slated to be a four-issue run—until the so-called “DC Implosion” hit, which saw roughly half their line of comics, Kamandi among them, cancelled immediately. This wasn’t too big a loss considering how badly that book had floundered since Kirby’s departure a few years previous, but it did mean that DC editorial was sitting on three complete eight-page OMAC stories that now needed to find a new home, especially since the writer/artist had already , presumably, been paid for his work.

It would take some time for the one-time National Periodical Publications offices to fully regroup after the “Implosion,” of course, but once the publisher was back on its feet a bit more steadily, eight-page back-up stories were re-introduced into some of their books, one of them being Mike Grell’s popular futuristic sword-and-sorcery monthly The Warlord, issues 37-39 of which became the rather unlikely home for the remaining installments of Starlin’s inventoried OMAC story. As with the first part that ran in Kamandi, these were continuity-heavy yarns that were certainly well drawn, but were ultimately more concerned with both explaining how OMAC/Buddy Blank survived the explosion at Dr. Skuba’s lab and, confusingly, heaping extra layers of nonsense onto the character’s already-established—and fairly succinct, if a bit morally and intellectually questionable—origin. Starlin being Starlin, he just couldn’t resist adding in a cosmic alien connection to Kirby’s previously-told story, and shoehorns that into a bog-standard sci-fi runaround yarn, with the end result being, frankly, a mess that’s best left ignored. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Speaking of bog-standard, that’s about the most we can say for the serial that continued on from this one, which ran (again, as an eight-page backup feature) in The Warlord #42-47, published in 1981. Witten by Dan Mishkin and illustrated by Greg LaRocque, this short-lived revival bore little to no resemblance to anything Kirby had done with the character, and frankly OMAC himself could have been replaced with any sort of futuristic action hero here, so generic and by-the-numbers is the “effort” on display, and the story would have amounted to more or less the same thing. All this quick little run managed to do was to cement in DC editorial’s collective mind the idea that “The World That’s Coming!” was a thing of the past.

And so it would remain for a full decade until, in 1991, then-superstar writer/artist John Byrne introduced a “revamped” version of the character in a four-part deluxe-format min-series that was, curiously enough, published in black-and-white. Byrne, of course, literally built a career for himself mining ground upon which Kirby had previously tread, and his OMAC series started out as a fairly dry re-introduction to the future dystopian home of Buddy Blank, Dr. Skuba, Professor Myron Forest, Brother Eye, and the Global Peace Agency (all of whom appear in the book’s pages), before swiping the core concept of James Cameron’s classic sci-fi film The Terminator and sending a considerably tougher and more stereotypically “macho” Buddy Blank into the past in order to prevent the circumstances that would lead to his world ever coming into being.

Just how redundant is this thing? Well, considering the fact that it turns out his own time-travel incursion is the lynchpin event that sets the whole OMAC/Brother Eye/GPA ball rolling in the first place, I’d say pretty fucking redundant indeed. Of course, The Terminator “borrowed” this central plot conceit from the 1972 Doctor Who story “The Day Of The Daleks” (featuring Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor), and the “you’re responsible for the creation of your own past by trying to prevent it!” meme had appeared in numerous print sci-fi and pulp adventure stories prior to that, so who’s to say who was ripping off who here? In any case, 1991’s OMAC was following a road that was very well-travelled, and despite being reasonably well-drawn and written, ultimately didn’t offer readers anything they hadn’t seen done both before and better.

After that, things get more than a bit confusing. OMAC and, crucially, Brother Eye would return in a number of different short-lived series—most notably a couple of six-parters in 2005 (titled The OMAC Project) and 2006 (simply called OMAC) that served as lead-ins to DC’s mega-crossover “events” of those years (Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, respectively) and which “enhanced” the origin of the super-satellite and his human “partner” even further by positing that Brother Eye was a piece of Wayne Industries technology, originally developed by Batman to keep tabs on his fellow Justice League members, that “went rogue” and some point in the future and took over the world. The mantle of OMAC is passed from Buddy Blank to a character named Michael Costner, but there’s literally an “army of OMACs” in between there, as the concept of the One Man Army Corps becomes a catch-all for “mindless human servants of Brother Eye.”

With the advent of DC’s “New 52” universe, it looked like something of a “back-to-basics” approach was the order of the day for the character, and the announcement of a new monthly OMAC series—this time bearing the title of O.M.A.C.—was certainly one of the more surprising bits of news when the company laid out its re-launch plans in 2011. Written by DC “suit” Dan DiDio and illustrated by Keith Giffen in a Kirby-esque “throwback” style, the new iteration of OMAC was an unremarkable drone-worker from the future named Kevin Kho who is conscripted into becoming a superhuman (who’s considerably bigger than Kirby’s original character and, curiously, blue—but hey, at least the Mohawk is still there, albeit in a longer, more flowing style) by a Brother Eye satellite that is at war with a future version of the super-powered-spy organization Checkmate. It’s a decent enough little run—certainly better than what DiDio and Giffen would later do with Jack’s seminal creations The Forever People—but all in all falls far short of being remarkable, and doesn’t seem concerned with doing much beyond mimicking the tone and style of its 1974 predecessor. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that it, too, was axed after just eight issues.

All of which brings us, finally, to the present. O.M.A.C. may have bitten the dust pretty quickly after the company’s much-ballyhooed relaunch, but DC is once again utilizing its characters as part of its current weekly crossover “event” series (funny how Kirby ideas always seem to be so “crossover-friendly”) Futures End, which borrows many of the same conceits used in previous OMAC-centric “blockbuster” stories, only this time with a “New 52” twist. Brother Eye has returned to the role of rogue evil super-satellite, with an army of OMAC foot-soldiers at his disposal, but, presumably in an effort to keep Batman’s hands clean, now he’s not a piece of Wayne Industries tech turned bad, but is the handiwork of Mister Terrific—who, of course, just had no idea that his advanced A.I. spy-in-the-sky would go over to the dark side.

So I guess we’re back to an increasingly-evil Brother Eye and an increasingly-servile OMAC, then, both of which are more or less 180 degrees removed from Jack Kirby’s original vision, which saw the two of them linked as “brothers” fighting for the greater global good in a soulless, sterile, future world. They’re no longer the solution to evil in “The World That’s Coming!,” but the source of it, all of which can be traced in a pretty straight line back to John Byrne’s Terminator-esque take on the characters. In fact, one gets the distinct feeling that DC editorial has mandated that all creators working on OMAC (and its related concepts) have to go back and re-read those 1991 stories, but ignore The King’s originals. And people wonder why this shit we’re getting today just isn’t very good.

Still, for all my bitching and moaning about how nobody since Kirby has been able to get this character and his world right, there are, in fact, a couple of guys out there who did take it upon themselves to continue the adventures of OMAC in a way that his creator would have been proud of. They’re two people you’ve most likely never heard of, they did their story without DC’s blessing (and so far without incurring any legal hassles from the publisher, thank goodness), and we’re going to meet them in our next segment.

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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. Bruno Franco says:

    Could you tell me who they are? Im curious and would like to research them.

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