At first glance this may look like a review for O.M.A.C., the series penned by Dan Didio and Keith Giffen with art by Giffen, and in many ways it is. However, this isn’t entirely intended to be a review as it is also an examination of Didio’s writing skills (or lack there of). It’s a critique of Mr. Didio that I’ll gladly give you the conclusion of at the outset. Dan Didio should NEVER write comic books. This article isn’t just about hating on Mr. Didio as I don’t blame him for every negative thing about this book. While I provide many examples of why I feel so strongly about Didio, I also showcase how this book is not a total loss as it does improve towards the end of its run.
Oh yeah, and SPOILER ALERT. I reveal a bunch o’ stuff that happens in O.M.A.C.
So, let’s begin with Issue 1 of O.M.A.C. where we are introduced almost immediately to the main character. We quickly learn that Kevin Kho is OMAC and that he’s been commanded by a mysterious voice to infiltrate CADMUS Labs in order to steal their mainframe. Okay, a simple way to get the story on it’s feet. It’s not entirely enthralling but it’s a start. As the story continues we are introduced to Mokkari and Dubbilex, characters created by Jack Kirby in the 1970′s.
It’s not until the end of the issue that it’s revealed that the role of OMAC has been forced onto Kevin Kho and that he has no choice but to follow the command of Brother Eye, a sentient satellite in orbit around Earth. So, from the first issue it’s clear that Didio has decided to return to the roots of these characters that Jack Kirby initially set up for them in the 70′s. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. I think it’s good to go back to the roots of these characters every once in a while, but I feel that what good writers do is they take that root and plant it in modern soil so that the results we get are a fresh take on classic characters. That’s how these decades old characters survive in the modern world. I’ve seen Keith Giffen do this time and time again. A great recent example would be his work on Doom Patrol. Say what you will about the story but at least he made decades old characters feel like they belonged in the modern day DCU. I didn’t get that in this book and I can only contribute that to the only writer featured in O.M.A.C. that has consistently disappointed me throughout the years, Dan Didio.
And that is really the first problem I have with this book. The characters created by Jack Kirby that are used in O.M.A.C. do not really get the New 52 reboot treatment in any way that I can see and they seem to actually regress back to what they were in the 70′s. It’s true that OMAC has a different alter ego and that his skin is blue (a reference to the version of OMAC used during the Infinite Crisis story line) but those alterations felt superficial to me. This lack of significant change is due heavily to the writing but the art here is also a major culprit as you may be able to tell from the illustration above. This is a problem that is persistent throughout the book and I’ll get into the reasons why this bugged me later on in the post as there are other characters who get a similar disservice in light of the reboot. As for other, non-Kirby, characters reintroduced in these pages, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Okay, a quick history lesson before I get to the mixed bag I just mentioned. Amazing Man aka Will Everett was first introduced in the 1980′s by Roy Thomas in the pages of All Star Squadron, a book that took place primarily in 1940′s. As a character, he fought along side the Justice Society of America during World War II. Later on, in the 1960′s (in the context of the story), he became a civil rights activist and so became the first and ONLY black superhero in the DC Universe in that era to do so. The grandson of Will Everett, Markus Clay became the new Amazing Man in the early 2000′s to assist with the Katrina disaster in New Orleans and eventually joined the revitalized Justice Society. Here are a few pictures of the Amazing Men and then on to my point.
Alright, so in Issue 2 of O.M.A.C., we get this character.
His name is Rocker Bonn. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Great name! Unfortunately, it goes down hill from there. This is Dan Didio’s version of Amazing Man who was created by CADMUS to work as an agent of Checkmate (another shadowy government facility). He escapes from their control and uses his “amazing” powers to become…a fry cook. And a lazy one judging from the way Didio paints him. Kevin Kho stumbles upon this character in need of something to eat and moments later the cops show up, after just discovering Rocker’s true identity.
The ensuing action is far less than amazing than what our once great Amazing Man deserves. Didio has turned him into a “freak” and what seems like a criminal. As you can see from the picture above he has no qualms about killing people he once considered his friend and will stop at nothing to escape with his freedom. He fights OMAC like any other cliche supervillain would and attempts to bring him down. Eventually, Brother Eye tricks Rocker Bonn into attempting to absorb OMAC’s powers. Instead, Brother Eye absorbs “Amazing” Man and claims that he, Brother Eye, may have use for him later. SPOILER ALERT: He never does.
Granted the series is canceled so it’s possible that Didio had every intention of bringing Amazing Man back and perhaps even fleshing the character out to make him more heroic. Unfortunately, what we get here is a once great and noble African American character being reduced to a villain swaying so far away from the characters original intent that the only way he is recognizable is that the character refers to himself as “Amazing Man.”
No Rocker, it doesn’t, but Mr. Didio clearly does not get that. I get really upset when the few characters of color that exist are killed off or, in this case, perverted to the point that they aren’t even recognizable anymore. The only hope I have for this character is that James Robinson is planning on revitalizing Amazing Man in his Earth 2 series which is currently rebooting the classic Justice Society characters. So, on the one hand, Didio does end up rebooting a character. Unfortunately that reboot involves taking a once great hero and turning him into what may as well be a super villain. In a climate where there is a spotlight on diversity of characters maybe Didio could have used this as an opportunity to introduce another hero of diversity in the New 52 instead of destroying one that has existed for 30 years.
Some people say the following problems I present are nitpicky but if it takes me out of the story I feel it’s more than just nitpicky so I’m going to mention them.
The first problem comes from Issue 3 and I’ll admit it doesn’t have to do with Mr. Didio. So Kevin Kho’s girlfriend receives a phone call but can’t answer it because she’s in the shower. Fortunately she has an answering machine:
It’s clearly an answering machine right? She runs out of the shower and picks up her phone but wait…
…That looks like a smartphone to me. Now, please correct me if I’m wrong but I’ve never heard of an answering machine for your smartphone. I mean, that’s what voice mail is for right? Things get stranger still when all of a sudden her phone magically transforms into another phone!
Granted, this would be the fault of the artist Keith Giffen and not Didio but still it caught my eye and really bugged me. I know this is a small thing, but it’s a noticeable inconsistency in the artwork and the entire sequence took me out of the story.
Another problem here is that even though the story is extremely simplistic Didio still manages to confuse himself. Take a look at the following from Issue 3 of O.M.A.C. Brother Eye asks OMAC a simple question:
First of all, this splash page is confusing as the first word featured is “SMASH” which is clearly supposed to be a sound effect. But, since it’s the first and largest word on the page it looks like OMAC is saying “SMASH.” However, the only dialog on the page is “Shut up.” So I read these two panels as: OMAC: “I…say…SMASH” but then my brain went “Oh, wait…he didn’t say “SMASH” he said “Shut up.” Not really that big of a deal but it still took me out of the story somewhat. But, whats hilarious is if you take a look at this panel that followed the one from above:
Brother Eye says “Smash indeed.” Wait…Huh? Did Didio just make the same mistake I made when I read the splash page? It really seems like Didio confused himself the same way I did and had Brother Eye repeat a sound effect as if it was what OMAC had actually said. I mean seriously Didio, if you’re this easily confused perhaps you should stop hiring yourself to write comics when there are so many more talented writers on your staff, not to mention the millions of aspiring writers out there trying to make it professionally.
Alright, let’s go back to the subject of character treatment in this series as my next problem has to do with this guy introduced at the end of Issue 3:
You might be asking yourself who this is and if you guessed Maxwell Lord you’d be absolutely right! Although, why you’d guess Max Lord is beyond me as THIS is how Max originally looked back when he ran the hilarious version of the Justice League in the 80′s.
Then, many years later, they revealed he was actually a bad guy and looked like this.
So basically, the O.M.A.C. version of Max looks nothing like the way he’s appeared in the past. The argument could be made that this is, again, the fault of the artist. However, comic book writers and artists generally work together to craft their work don’t they? And in this case, one of the co-writers IS the artist as Keith Giffen does the majority of the artwork with inker Scott Koblish. So, at the very least, Didio would have seen this artwork at one time and signed off on it. So my question is why make this kind of prosthetic change? What possible purpose could it serve? Again, this may not be a big deal to some but it bothered me greatly. More important is the depiction of Max Lord in this story. Max is a well known character and even though he eventually became a villain leading up to the events of Infinite Crisis, he was actually humanized somewhat in the pages of Justice League: Generation Lost. I feel that that the O.M.A.C. version of the character takes him back to being a cliche villain again.
Oh, and then there are these characters:
Little Knipper and Maribel . First off, those names are absolutely ridiculous and are laughter inducing. Which is extremely bad considering that these are our “heroes” supposedly deadly antagonists. I googled them to check if they were characters used in Jack Kirby’s run since it’s clear Didio is writing this as an homage to him. But aparently, these are NEW characters created for this comic. I’m sorry, is this the 1970′s? Wasn’t Didio just a major part of a line wide reboot attempting to MODERNIZE all the DC characters and bring them into the 21st century? So why in 52 hell’s did he decide that this throwback would be appropriate for the “NEW” 52? He even has Didio doing an homage of King Kirby’s artwork.
I know that’s intentional but I just can’t help but think how hypocritical it is to do this when Didio forced all of the writers, artists and not to mention, the FANS of DC Comics to start over with their favorite characters while he sits back and writes his comparatively simplistic and outdated tales. Batman debuted in 1939 but his character isn’t portrayed as if he’s perpetually stuck there. Grant Morrison was able to write Batman in a way that incorporated elements from throughout his entire history but he managed to do it in a modern way and left his mark on the character. I know a lot of people enjoyed this version of O.M.A.C. but I think the characters deserved more than what they got here. One look at Dubbilex from the TV series Young Justice will help you understand what I mean. THIS guy looks like he belongs in the New 52.
Much to my surprise, something completely unexpected happens as the book improves in Issue 5. However, I can only contribute that to Jeff Lemire co-writing the issue due to a crossover with Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. And I have a suspicion that maybe Didio didn’t have anything to do with the scripting of this issue at all. Mind you, this is only a hunch, but the issue just feels so much more like something that Lemire would have written. Everything from dialog to the fast paced flow of the issue is very much like his main title Frankenstein. PLUS there is the following oddity:
The caption above reads One MAN Attack Construct. In ALL of the issues besides this one the “M” in O.M.A.C. stands for Machine. Why the change for just one issue? Could it be another mistake by Didio’s hand? Or could it be that Issue 5 actually is entirely penned by Lemire, and that he might have made a simple mistake with the acronym since he doesn’t usually work with the character? Once again, this is just a hunch. I have no proof of this one way or the other but it’s another oddity I wanted to point out.
Moving on to Issue 6, I feel I must first mention that this issue was illustrated quite nicely by Scott Kollins and his pencils certainly make for a refreshing change. Consequently, Kollins draws Max Lord much closer to what he’s traditionally looked like in the past although, strangely, only in profile. His hair is even brown like it’s supposed to be. However, once we see Max straight on he reverts back to the way he looks in all of the other issues including the black hair! This is so strange to me that I just had to mention it. Here are the panels I’m referring to.
I may or may not have put those words into Max’s mouth. Anyway, despite the varying quality of the book, Dido and Giffen did manage to pique my interests at the end of this issue. It is revealed that Max Lord once had control over Brother Eye, a reference to 2006′s Infinite Crisis, a sequel to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths from the 1980′s. However, Didio has revealed that the original Crisis is no longer a part of the New 52 history so we can assume the sequel is no longer a part of the new history either. Could it be that there are remnants of those stories in the New 52? It’s exciting to me to think that there might be. Additionally, Issue 6 shows the following scene that also seems familiar.
Max gets a gun pulled on him by an unnamed assailant. Max then uses his mind control abilities to “push” the would be assassin to do himself in.
The scene above is extremely reminiscent of this scene from 2005′s Countdown to Infinite Crisis.
In case you are unaware, the body lying lifelessly behind Max Lord in the above picture is the former Blue Beetle, otherwise known as Ted Kord. In life, Ted Kord owned a company by the name of Kord Industries before the New 52 reboot. Kord Industries, for whatever reason, is printed on the orange uniform of the man sent by Brother Eye to kill Max Lord in Issue 6 of O.M.A.C. Is this just a nod to an event that took place long ago in a continuity far, far away? Or was Didio trying to tease something to his audience as he’s well known to do while speaking at convention panels? One can only hope this is explored further in the DCU.
Anyway, Issues 6 and 7 continue to reintroduce more classic concepts and characters of Jack Kirby’s such as a new Female Fury from Apokolips, a concept featured originally in Fourth World and Prince Tuftan of the Animal Men from Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. These issues were all written fairly well and the rumor is that at some point in the series Keith Giffen took a much larger role in the writing duties. I believe in the rumor simply because of the way book improves. Keith Giffen is one of my favorite writers and has given us so many quality tales throughout his career. On the other hand, Dan Didio has given us mostly garbage. However, while the dialog certainly improved, the book still failed to provide characters that have been revitalized for the New 52 in either tone or appearance.
The final issue of the series provides additional backstory to Kevin Kho, revealing that his parents have been dead since he was a child. Why so many DC heroes nowadays are orphans is a mystery in itself. Maybe Bruce Wayne has some kind of disease that kills parents off or something. Either way, the issue is actually not half bad as it concludes the confrontation that has driven the entire series forward between Brother Eye, OMAC and Max Lord. It also leaves Kevin Kho and OMAC with a new status quo that is being explored further in the pages of Justice League International (yet another canceled book) written by Dan Jurgens.
There is no telling where OMAC will go from here but at the end of the day there is potential for the character depending on who pens him after Jurgens. Like I always like to say, there are no bad characters just bad writers. Which is why the conclusion of this post advises that Dan Didio NEVER write comic books. I’m not blaming every problem of this book on him as there were others involved with its production. I placed blame on them when I felt it was necessary but when all is said and done if Didio had not introduced this character so incredibly poorly it may have had a fighting chance. Once other more talented and experienced writers began to handle the character the book improved greatly. I appreciate Mr. Didio’s love of old school characters, especially ones created by comic book legends, but while he spearheaded a reboot of an entire line of comic books, he neglected to truly reboot his own book in any meaningful way. I think that and the fact that Didio is simply a poor writer led to this book never catching fire and its inevitable cancellation.