|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".
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.