Friday, July 14, 2006

Omega the Unknown #9

Omega the Unknown #9, July 1977, Marvel Comics Group
writer: Steve Gerber & Mary Skrenes
artist: Jim Mooney
letterer: Susan Fox
colorist: Janice Cohen
editor: Steve Gerber

Two weeks later, I'm finally reviewing a Marvel Comic in the classic sense. This issue, from the presumably long lost adventures of Omega, "Mystery Man from Beyond the Stars," features the classic formula: superhero struggles with his place in society and inevitably fights villain in New York, illustrated in cosmic-dotted Kirby-esque detail. In my experience, despite the ongoing self-imposed sufferings of their heroes, early Marvel issues from this era are relatively episodic and easy to understand beyond the continuity of the entire series. Specifically, the superhero stuff is fairly uniform; you could swap Peter Parker from an Amazing Spider-man yarn with Matt Murdock from a Daredevil tale and experience the same story with little change to both the inner and external conflicts. Omega uses elements from this formula, but generally strikes me as a higher end concept, potentially controversial in the formative years of the Marvel Universe. Maybe that's why I've never heard of Omega 'til today.

In the character summary above the credits (and hokey element I miss from today's comics), Omega is described as "the lone survivor of an alien world, a nameless man of somber, impassive visage, garbed utterly inappropriately in garish blue-and-red." Hmm. I wonder if Omega's creators intended to parody or satirize any other characters in comicdom? Omega is Superman without the moral compass, his only apparent tie to humanity a boy "raised in near-isolation by parents who (he discovered on the day they 'died') were robots." Now, that sounds interesting, but we scarcely see the kid all issue. Even with the series glossary from the intro page, this story makes it difficult to get to know these characters.

Speaking of this story, I almost forget to mention the other Marvel mainstay of the mod mid-70s: a bunch of twentysomethings talking in a loft for a few too many pages. Spidey's buddies did it, the Avengers did it, and Omega's pals apparently did it. I can't begin to assume what that subplot is about. The only other plot element worth mentioning is Omega's motives in fighting the token tough guy in the issue's climatic finale. Shunned by the loudmouthed pedestrians around him, Omega vows to buy a suit and forsake crimefighting forever, so much so that he almost leaves robber and general bruiser Blockbuster to his own devices, 'til the storeowner offer a $1000 reward for the villain's capture. Omega's motivation is money, for the suit, I presume. Apathy turned to greed . . . Superman with the morale, indeed.

And without the fanbase. Consider this excerpt from a letter about a previous issue: "Omega #7 possessed nothing of value." Wow. They printed that, like it was the least severe of the criticisms they received. This is the high end concept I started talking about; I doubt the issue was void of value, but its hero was definitely valueless at his core. For all of Marvel's emotional baggage, their icons still fought for truth, justice, and the American way (or at least, the New York way). When they fight for themselves, there's really nothing marvelous about them. Like Omega, they're too alien to understand.

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