June 20, 2009

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Jack Kirby's Omac: One Man Army Corps

Written by Jack Kirby
Illustrated by Jack Kirby, D. Bruce Berry, and Mike Royer
DC

Those of you who've read my reviews at other places are probably aware that I'm not overly fond of a fair amount of the 1970s Kirby without a partner work. Working as writer, artist, and editor, the King may have had free reign, but no one to help reign him in, either.

And Mark Evanier himself notes this is one of the more difficult Kirby creations of that time period for a reader: "Speaking as a fellow reader--I'd stopped being Jack's assistant some time before he did OMAC--I don't think he took me along on the ride, at least the first time out. I didn't fully 'get' OMAC on first reading."

On top of everything else, as a reader, I'm not overly fond of space stories, especially in comic books. It's just not my thing, Green Lantern being the only exception--and my least favorite of his (you pick the "his") adventures are those dealing with space.

So, in a move that I admit surprised even me, I am here to tell you that I not only "got" OMAC, I loved it. Hooked right from the start, I was left after eight issues wondering where Jack was planning to go and being sad that he left the book clearly with more to say.

Maybe it's the great inking work from Berry, who apparently did not do much comics work but found a way to bring out the best in Kirby's pencils in the majority of these issues. (I actually think his issues are better than Royer's, who was a more frequent Kirby art partner.) Maybe it's the fact that Jack got to work free of all continuity and therefore was not trying to force his wild ideas onto people that it didn't work for (Jimmy Olsen, Captain America) and harming the story's punch. Maybe it's the fact that the story just hints at the darker side of the Utopian police force OMAC works for, giving everying an air of mystery.

Or maybe I've just changed as a reader and I should try Bicentennial Battles again.

Nah. That one's still a clunker, even if you do like your Benjamin Franklins replaced by trolls.

At any rate, OMAC is the story of a future where the UN has moved into the idea of a global force trying to save humanity against itself, as it does things like create artificial life for destruction, bribe entire cities so rich people can enjoy them alone, exchange old bodies for unwilling youths, and other genetic mutations designed for personal gain (at the harm of others). The solution is the unwilling creation of OMAC from a bumbling everyman. Now able to get whatever powers he needs to save the day, OMAC thoughtlessly aids the Peace Agency against any perceived threat.

The genious thing about the series is that OMAC is a product of the very things he's sent again--an irony I'm sure Kirby intended to address later but never got the chance.

While there are still some problems present with any Kirby solo project, they are minor enough not to throw me out of the story. His dialog is very comic booky in places (which you'd expect from a man whose work dates back so far into the Golden Age) and the story often seems to end just because he ran out pages. But that was the nature of the beast, then--writing longer, drawn out epics just wasn't done back then, especially at DC.

But what impressed me most here is the artwork. Kirby's monsters are grand! This is a man with a fertile imagination or one hell of a set of nightmares, let me tell you. And his page layouts--the first thing you see is a "human" contorted into a block of cement in a horrific image of pain--are in my opinion, some of his best. (This is where I feel I've matured as a reader. I took a lot of time looking at his compositions and a bit less time with the quality of the story.) Even the human villains are distorted into figures of evil, giving the innocent bystanders a more pathetic aura.

For those who like to know such things, there are plenty of Kirby guns, Kirby crackle, and Kirby Close-Ups, too--all of which feel like they flow more naturally here than in any other place I've seen them. This is just a well-constructed book, and it's a shame it went out with a whimper--even if the last panel is technically a bang.

If you're a Jack Kirby fan, this is a must read, and I can't thank DC enough for collecting it. If you've been scared off solo Kirby by some of his later Marvel stuff, give this a try. I think you'll dig it. It certainly opened my eyes in terms of how I view Kirby's chops as a creator, and makes me really excited to dig into those hardcovers I just got a few days ago. Excelcior, indeed!