Sunday, 9 October 2011

OMAC (2011) Versus OMAC (1974):- Smith's Miscellany For Sunday 9th October 2011

In which your blogger continues his weekly tradition of comment, links, recommendations, apologies and thanks, all lurking beyond a briefer-than-normal-for-here look at the New 52 OMAC;

Compare & Contrast No 1a: In the original OMAC, the meeting between super-cop and Build-A-Friend provides one of the most touching and thought-provoking scenes in all of the history of the sub-genre.
1. OMAC versus OMAC

There's a great deal about the first issue of Dan Didio, Keith Giffen and Scott Koblish's new take on OMAC which appears to both draw inspiration from and offer homage to Jack Kirby's original work on the strip. Yet the OMAC of the New 52 reads as if its creators have been fired up not by the polemical, innovative and emotional content of Mr Kirby's work so much as by the hyper-kinetic spectacularisms of its admittedly-wonderful surface.

The fundamental and chasmal differences between the two versions of the property can be noted from the very beginning of the knowingly-titled Office Management Amidst Chaos.  For Mr Kirby introduced his OMAC with a first issue in which every scene contained a point-of-view character designed to intrigue and emotionally engage his readers. OMAC himself is first shown fighting to shut down a factory of terrorists preying on the loneliness of their victims with life-like robot-bombs, and the depiction of the super-cop's distress at the alienation which marks his future world is as touching as it is disturbing.(See above.) It's a process of informing action with character which continues when we're presented with the poor nebbish that's Buddy Blank, who serves as our sympathetic point-of-view character for much the book. In his ultimately tragic struggle to fight off the despair and isolation which his soulless, violent culture takes as the norm for human existence lies the theme of Mr Kirby's work on OMAC.

Compare & Contrast 1b:- While in the new OMAC, the meeting between super-brute and Build-A-Friend results in a great big, head-flattening punch-up.
And in Buddy's entirely unfortunate love for the - quite literally - sex-bomb Lila lies the most effective of all of Mr Kirby's narrative snares designed to discuss the dehumanising effects of runaway technology matched  with an excessive individualism. From the very first frames of 1974's OMAC, we're given individuals faced with pressing and intriguing moral as well as personal dilemmas, and we're presented with their emotional responses to these situations in such a way as we can't help but empathise with them.

Yet the OMAC of 2011 contains no such individuals, dilemmas or emotional extremes within its pages. Its One Man Army Corp is a Hulkified brute with little independent thought or feeling of its own. As for a mission which might help the reader generate some sympathy and interest for this as-yet generic super-monster, today's OMAC is being directed by an unknown power to access a secret base's "mainframe". This is not, as I'm sure you'll have immediately noted, an emotionally or compelling plot-point. The original OMAC presented us with a situation in which both the individual lives of typical people as well as the fate of the powerful and rich were threatened through the manipulation of their psychological and sexual needs and wants. Today's OMAC is out to smash his way through super-baddies towards a computer, and for reasons which are largely unexplained. Whatever theme this business of punching through walls and underlings is supposed to express, it's impossible to know. Whatever emotion it was designed to tap into has escaped this blogger at least. Where Kirby's OMAC used the conventions of the superperson brawl to weave a story of persecution and longing and atomisation, the OMAC of Mr Didio and Mr Giffen hits things, and then hits them again, and then hits them some more.

Compare & Contrast No 2a: The double-page splash in 1974's OMAC is genuinely innovative in its content, disturbing in the way it plays with identity and sexuality, and saturated with a sense of jeopardy and despair.
If the New 52 OMAC himself is nothing but a cypher of brute, then it's especially unfortunate that there's nobody else in the strip for us to associate with and understand this new world through. The closest to an intriguing character is Jody Robbins, but she's hardly allowed to be anything more than a grumpy if loyal girlfriend to the apparently missing scientist Kevin Kho. Given that she's introduced looking incredibly confrontational while declaring that's she might be going to "kick" Kho's "ass", she's hardly been delivered to the reader in a way that's entirely winning. Indeed, the suspicion lurks that this was intended to be a strong female lead, but she comes across as a bad tempered, scowling and yet emotionally dependent second-stringer. That she's then whisked out of the narrative, after showing a potentially interesting desire not to abandon her boyfriend when their work is attacked, is inexplicable. Removing the only slightly human character in the book from, firstly, the jeopardy of the tale and then, after 10 panels, from the entire story itself, is really the strangest of business. But then, so is filling up the first page of a new comic with a mass of backstory concerning Kho's "O.C.D." and his lateness with a "report of microbial cultures". If Mr Kirby's work delivered the reader immediately into a clearly-defined scene concerned with a distinct conflict, with particular opposing powers and an emotionally-engaging McGuffin, Messers Didio and Giffen present the newly-arrived consumer with a page of basically passive chit-chat about uncompleted reports on "microbial cultures".

Compare & Contrast No 2b: In the double-page spread of the 2011 OMAC, the new version of the property lifts up and breaks what seems to be a very large gel-pack. Theme? Character? Jeopardy? Ah, but there's that "Frrzttzkkkk-rraaack", though the exclamation mark to show how loud the noise is must have fallen off ...
Matched to the lack of emotion, theme and character in this year's OMAC is the fact that the new comic contains not a single new idea in its 20 pages beyond the fact of Kevin Kho's O.C.D, which is irrelevant to the plot of the issue, though undoubtedly central to those which are to come. Just about everything else that we see has been lifted and lightly adapted, if at all, from Kirby's Seventies work for DC. OMAC, Cadmus, the Build-A-Friend Female Robots, Lord Mokkari, Dubbilex; these are decades-old properties being put to use for nothing more at the moment than one long, woefully over-familiar brawl. Yet Kirby's OMAC was designed quite specifically, and with a ferocious sense of moral purpose matched with a disturbing measure of pessimism, to discuss the social choices facing the world of the mid-Seventies. As such, his first issue contained images and ideas the likes of which were both fresh and disturbing in the context of the comics of the era. The sheer shock of the comic's very first image, of the disassembled and yet disturbingly sexual Lila declaring that she ought to be "put together" so that she can be our "friend", retains its power even all these decades later. And Mr Kirby's themes concerned with how unrestrained capitalism will destroy the soul of human society are even more powerful and appropriate today.

Compare And Contrast 3a: The very first side of the 1974 OMAC remains as shocking - key New DC word, shock - as ever, as jarringly absurd as it's worryingly prescient.
Sadly, the New 52 OMAC says nothing at all about the World's That Coming from the perspective of 2011, though it might be argued that it expresses something of the all-surface-no-depth world which Mr Kirby so feared. In that, the tragedy isn't that Mr Didio and Mr Giffen have failed to tap into Mr Kirby's themes. No, it's that they seem to have none of their own of any substance or depth beyond the business of being really noisy and showing super-people breaking things. No doubt that will come later, but Kirby's genius was in large part connected to his skill in presenting ideas as well as action, in supplying food-for-thought as well as incredibly exciting smash-it-up confrontations. In an over-saturated comics market, it's hard to see how any so hollow and unambitious a book could rise above such an unpropitious beginning and move significantly up the sales charts. Let's hope that future issues of OMAC are characterised by a relevant contemporary moral purpose, a far smarter and more touching attention to character and emotion, and the presence of concerns and concepts largely unfamiliar to 2011's mainstream comics. Because this new OMAC desperately needs to reflect a determination to make us think and feel, even as we're being necessarily encouraged to sigh "wow" when something that's really big gets broken into lots of very little pieces..

Compare And Contrast 3b: The most surprising, if not exactly shocking, image in the 2011 OMAC; he destroys the Build-A-Friend by smashing its head. The more times change, the more they very much don't stay the same ...


Sadly, there's no Bun Toons lacerating the comic-book guilty this week over Ty Templeton's place, but there is a fine cartoon tribute to Steve Jobs over there, and it's one which succeeds in keeping the sentimentality far away while accentuating the warm-hearted respect. Those looking for a good feeling from fine creators might then care to travel over to the home of Kevin Nowlan, who has the unimaginable splendor of Hellboy sitting on a cow waiting for you. No, really! Hellboy-And-A-Cow. And - listen out DC - they're not fighting, they're friends.

Over at the Yellowed Pages, Captain Storm has reproduced scans of the comic-book which served as the programme for Pink Floyd's 1975 tour of America. Well, that's one piece which was I too late getting too, but it's fascinating to read again of how the conventions of both superhero and underground books were put to use there. Darren from the mOvie blog celebrates the coming of the new TinTin movie with a look at a number of the character's original adventures, including this review of the cautionary business of Tintin In The Congo, a comic which I'd bet everything I have and whatever I can borrow that Spielberg won't be respectfully adapting.

Still up for the various debates inspired by the New 52? Before you start, perhaps you might like to go to Monardo, Gran and Seaton's cartoons of "Strong Female Characters", a page I'd stupidly forgotten the existence of until Jim recommended to me earlier this week. I thought Greg Burgas's discussion over at CBR of every single DC book in one go was terrific fun as well as smart stuff too. And if that's not enough, there's 190 comments too, including some, strangely enough, by folks who don't seem capable of being either generous or polite. For those looking for more pith while retaining a necessary core of fibre, I'd head off to Siskoid's blog for his concise analysis of the real state of diversity in DC's new books.  Elsewhere, Julian Darius continues his quest to try to make sense of the inexplicable sexism of the C.C.C. over here, while Bill Reed offers a typology using the song-titles of Morrisey and Marr to express what he thought of the Didio revolution. (I suspect I'll be trying to, er, appropriate this for use later this week.)

I hope that anyone who, by whatever chance, comes to the end of this has had the kindest of days. As always, and as best as you can, Stick Together.   



  1. Cry "OMAC!" and let slip the dogs of words!

    I expected the new OMAC #1 to be much worse than it turned out to be. There's a brief echo of Kirby in the work, mostly due to riffing on his concepts, but it's all very 70s Marvel in a way Kirby's OMAC just wasn't you know?

    The second issue helped me figure out what Giffen and DiDio were shooting for much more than the first did, and I *think* they're shooting for a DeFalco-and-Frenz style Kirby-inspired action comic, in the Mighty Marvel Manner. But Kirby's classic 70s work for DC was far from that style of comics, being a fever dream poured on the page from the inkwell of one man's brilliant but oft-misunderstood mind.

    Anyway, I'd like the new OMAC a lot more if it was the Keith Giffen from 1992 and Tom and Mary Bierbaum were scripting. Basically, I'd like it more if it was The Heckler.

  2. Thank you very much for the link Colin!

    Apologies I haven't been around more of late. New job and real world concerns ("real world? what's that?"). I'm just lucky I had most of those reviews in the can, so to speak, before the month began. still, means there's more of this to catch up on when I get a chance!

  3. Hello Bill: "Cry "OMAC!" and let slip the dogs of words!"

    In the original Klingon?

    "I expected the new OMAC #1 to be much worse than it turned out to be. There's a brief echo of Kirby in the work, mostly due to riffing on his concepts, but it's all very 70s Marvel in a way Kirby's OMAC just wasn't you know?"

    Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. It's as if the folks involved haven't really read OMAC so much as pawed its surface. And yet, that's ridiculous. Mr Giffen for one must know OMAC backwards, and Mr Didio was saying how he most wanted to bring back Doctor Scuba from the original run. Now, I'd've preferred it if he'd have said he wanted to investigate the modern experience of atomisation in the fact of globalisation and deindustrialisation, but I guess Dr Scuba is a sign of some familiarity with the originals.

    "The second issue helped me figure out what Giffen and DiDio were shooting for much more than the first did, and I *think* they're shooting for a DeFalco-and-Frenz style Kirby-inspired action comic, in the Mighty Marvel Manner."

    Because those comics were such a success even when the industry WAS still speaking to younger male readers? Although the folks of the time didn't always recognise it, Kirby's work of the period had far in common with Gerber, for example, than it had with the Isabella/Mantlo school of Marvel books.

    "But Kirby's classic 70s work for DC was far from that style of comics, being a fever dream poured on the page from the inkwell of one man's brilliant but oft-misunderstood mind."

    Those books are so *!£$ smart. They're all about IDEAS, aren't they? The absence of any thematic content of any obvious quality in 2011's OMAC seemed to me to a sign that the book wasn't respecting it predecessor as it ought to. Kirby's double-page splashes worked their best when they were saying something more than Hulk-smash.

    "Anyway, I'd like the new OMAC a lot more if it was the Keith Giffen from 1992 and Tom and Mary Bierbaum were scripting. Basically, I'd like it more if it was The Heckler."

    The Heckler was a smart book. And the Bierbaums have gotten a raw deal from comics history. My ideal writer for OMAC would be Gail Simone. She's proven in Welcome To Tranquility and Secret Six amongst others that she can write political issues in a smart, smart way. As far as I can see, OMAC's about social issues or it's just the story of a big guy with an odd haircut.

  4. Hello Darren:- It's good to hear from you, and there's no need to even mention having a life - shock, horror - which prevents visiting this obscure neck'o'the'woods :) There's only so many hours, aren't there?

    I hope the new opportunities are going well for you. Good luck with them!

  5. O.M.A.C. was the one of "The New 52" that I wanted to try for a few issues (and still haven't been able to get hold of). Now I'm very much on the fence about it. I'm thinking maybe I should just get the original issues from the 1970s.

    (I never collected it, but I had a friend who loved Kamandi and he also had the first issue of O.M.A.C., and I read it and didn't think it was that great, but I think about it a lot, for some reason, over the last 20 or 30 years.)

    Of the handful of "The New 52" books that I got hold of, my favorite was Wonder Woman #1. I liked Action #1 as well. And Detective #1 was ... quite a shocker. It was just about the only time a comic book made me physically ill. (But I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the second issue.)

    - Hoosier X

  6. Hello Hoosier X:- "I never collected it, but I had a friend who loved Kamandi and he also had the first issue of O.M.A.C., and I read it and didn't think it was that great, but I think about it a lot, for some reason, over the last 20 or 30 years."

    I think that says alot, doesn't it? There are so many comics which for all their competency never trouble our thinking again once the first rush through them is over. Kirby's OMAC # 1 is a strange, thoughtful, and in places deliberately confusing comic. It exists not just to entertain, but to inspire thinking. I wish we had more of them being printed.

    But please don't let my opinion put you off. I always thought the job of anyone discussing anything was just to give an opinion and through that start a discussion with someone else. I often read negative reviews and want to find out if they're in any way valid. I've been wrong so many times before. So, please, if its appropriate for you and your circumstances, give OMAC a go!

    "Of the handful of "The New 52" books that I got hold of, my favorite was Wonder Woman #1. I liked Action #1 as well. And Detective #1 was ... quite a shocker. It was just about the only time a comic book made me physically ill. (But I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the second issue.)"

    And here there's even more evidence that our tastes don't coincide. Which is of course no bad thing; it means I'll learn from your opinion! But I thought Detective was a terrible book. I say this not to disparage your take on it, but to make sure I'm not denying OMAC a sale :) I agree with you about Action and Wonder Woman, but I don't think that either book was anything more than competent. In particular, there wasn't anything of emotion in either book. I like a bit of character and emotion in amongst all that brawling and limb-loosing.

    But I know that's not a majority opinion, and I'm not one of those who thinks the majority are always wrong. If my reviews seem very sure of themselves, that's because putting "I think" and "I might be wrong" in every sentence doesn't read well.

    But I do think that I very much might be wrong!

  7. I wouldn't worry too much about putting me off any of "The New 52" books. I can't even find the ones I want! The whole ordeal has been an ordeal! I hope it's not as bad getting the second issues for some of these. And I'm not sure I'm that eager to get the handful of comics that I wanted but couldn't find. (At this point, that's O.M.A.C. #1, Batgirl #1, Batwoman #1 and Birds of Prey #1.)

    - Hoosier X

  8. While I was looking for "The New 52," I got several issues of the Stephanie Brown "Batgirl" series and some of the Batwoman issues of Detective from last year.

    (And Detective 879 to #881. It wasn't until the second time I read it that I realized that Dick Grayson was Batman. "Why is Oracle calling Batman a dick?" I wondered.)

    So I got some good books. I enjoyed them. I liked the stories in Detective with Renee Montoya as The Question.

    So it hasn't been a total loss.

    - Hoosier X

  9. Hi Colin: I picked up the first two issues of OMAC together and quite enjoyed them. Of course, I'm not as familiar with Kirby's DC efforts, so I looked at the material without comparing to the old series. I can see your point that the current writers are more concerned with Kirby "the spectacle" as opposed to Kirby "the humanist creator". But isn't that artwork awesome? I wish more comics were drawn like that in today's market.

  10. Kudos for mentioning The Heckler, which I quite enjoyed!

    I agree with your take on the new OMAC, and yet I found myself thinking (1) the art is delightful and (2) if we're doing throwbacks, I'd take OMAC over '90s retro like Hawk and Dove or Justice League International or some others. (See, again I find myself defending a comic, despite not loving it and agreeing with your criticism of it.)

    I went through the list of the entire 52, every single issue of which I bought or was given, and I looked at what I'd grade a C or higher. I believe there were seven (which is depressing). Frankenstein and Demon Knights didn't make the list, but Action, OMAC, Voodoo, and Aquaman did (of the six you've covered so far). And all of those came with reservations, which you've hit upon quite directly. It's like a statistic proof that we're on the same wavelength! ;) Though you're doing the hard work of talking about them!

    And I simply can't thank you enough for the wonderful plug, which I'm sure I don't deserve!

  11. Hello Hoosier X:- Thank you for your response :) And of course, who'd listen to me, and quite rightly so. Yet I've no wish to be even a slightly influential blogger where others choices are concerned. In fact, it worries me greatly that I might loose a single book a sale which it needs to survive. That doesn't mean that I think I'm of any importance, but it does mean that I don't want to do any harm. There has to be a way of expressing an opinion while admitting that that opinion of no objective worth at all. Everyone that reads the blog knows that, of course, and yet I worry ...

    I think it's shocking that you're finding it hard to actually get hold of those books. If it's any consolation, I suspect that they'll soon be as easy to acquire as Youngblood No 1 or the first Lee/Claremont X-Men, and that'll be especially true with the second and third editions.

    I do think it's grand that you picked up some fine comics from the old DC. I actually enjoyed more of the old DC's books than the new, and those Renee/Question stories were worth the reading. The past may be written out of continuity, which is a shame from where I'm sitting, but it's all still there.

    Good luck with your issue-hunting. I'm sure I heard that Batgirl at least was going back to the presses.

  12. Hello Eric:- I've ALWAYS been a fan of Mr Giffen's art. I adored his work when I first saw it in the old All-Star Comics With The Super-Squad issues - when he was inked by the peerless Wally Wood - and I've followed his career through the Defenders and the Legion and onwards. OMAC reminds me very much of his Defenders work, which I've raved about on this blog, and it's work I enjoy looking at. Yet I don't find that those enticing panels are actually ABOUT anything much. The story is at best for me thin as thin can be.

    So, yes, more artwork with that degree of 'flow' and invention and cleverness would be welcome in today's marketplace. But without a story to inform it, splendid art will always be just that. If only OMAC was better written. The second issue is a little better, if terribly familiar, but it's still so thin that I doubt anything will save the book over the next few months.

  13. Hello Julian:- I don't think we can defend a book's quality by stating that it's not as bad as some of its peers :) OMAC is pretty looking, but, as I hope the panels scanned in above can support, it's all surface and little depth. That it's a world away from the regrettable titles you mention - including that little-panned but woefully under-achieving JLI - is undoubtedly true. But if there's no story of any real worth, then KG's artwork - with Mr Koblish's fine inks - is just wallpaper. No matter how brilliant this OMAC becomes, no-one's ever going to look at the title's first two issues and place them right up there in the pantheon, snuggled between, perhaps, Ultimates I and Daredevil: Born Again.

    I know, not everybody can produce such work. But I don't see any sign that folks are trying. I can see folks striving and even achieving high standards, but I don't see much that's ambitious and hyper-competent.

    It upsets me greatly, I will admit, no matter how mockable that makes me seem, that I don't admire let alone enjoy more of the New 52. There are writers I love whose 52 work I haven't enjoyed at all. Yet I do reject the argument going the rounds that this is a good thing, because it shows that DC is producing comics for the key young-bloke market again. I've no problem enjoying work from the Dandy to Drawn & Quarterly. Good work is nearly always accessible to a broad range of audiences. If it is that DC is aiming so precisely at one young blokish market that everyone can go wander away, then that's surely commercial suicide in the long term.

    Imagine if the new Star Trek, Dr Who or Sherlock had been designed according to such a principle!

    And, hey; if I thought linking to your words would look like anything other than a sensible thing to do, I'd not do it :) There's no playing favorites here, old boy.

  14. Those 70s OMAC scans never stop being fundamentally weird. And not just that creepy Build-a-Friend (and you're right, that'd be a perfect 2011 concept), how about OMAC's stilted, politely-blunt announcement? That's less a macho, superhero battlecry and more a surprise health-and-safety inspection. It's weird. And that minion saying they outnumber him looks scared when he says it, like he doesn't believe himself. There's something off about OMAC.

    - Charles RB

    - Charles RB

  15. Hello Charles:- The more I return to it, the more I think that OMAC # 1 is one of the finest and the weirdest comic ever. And I mean that too. Who'd've thought it in the mid-Seventies, when the hip young gunslingers of the time were often being so impossibly rude about the post-Fourth World Kirby books?

    That 'health and safety' OMAC you mention is so chilling, because it appears when Buddy Blank's consciousness is almost gone. OMAC only ever gets emotional and confused when Buddy's memories are still somewhere within reach of his mind. But when Buddy's wiped, OMAC looses most of his humanity beyond an occasional confusion. It's chilling, and, again, brilliant.

    Yes. There's something OFF about OMAC indeed. He's bloody terrifying when you start digging under the surface. He's supposed to be representing the forces of freedom against evil, and yet OMAC is a zombie-cop whose host-body was murdered and consumed and rebuilt against its owner's will.

    Bloody hell. No matter how I try to think that through, it remains staggeringly odd and moving and frightening too.

    Another thought strikes when reading your comment; those Build-A-Friend robot women? Market them now and the world would be their makers. A catastrophically depressing thought, but Kirby was right.

    In the world that's coming .....