OMAC Review: Hi-Fi
Here’s a fun fact for you superstitious types: OMAC was cursed to end when it did. Eight is the magic number for OMAC, with the original Jack Kirby series only lasting 8 issues, the 2006 miniseries only being 8 issues long, and now the New 52 series only being 8 issues. Coincidence, or do the powers that be simply hate OMAC? I’ll let you decide.
I first read OMAC a few months after it had been cancelled, at the time wanting to check out some kind of limited series. I chose OMAC because of all the books cancelled to make way for Wave 2 of the New 52, it seemed to be the only one people really missed. I heard bad things about Static Shock and Mr. Terrific, Hawk and Dove had the taint of Liefeld on it, and nobody seemed to care about Men of War or Blackhawks. But people were saying good things about OMAC, so I checked it out. I was not impressed. This “review” I did of the series on my own blog pointed out my main problem with the story: it just isn’t very interesting, and it’s hard to get into. But it’s been nearly a year now, and I’m older, and wiser, and own a couple of suits, so taking another look at the comic, has my opinion changed? Was this the stinker I thought it was, or was there something more to it?
Let’s start with the art, because I really do enjoy the art of this book. Keith Giffen’s pencils, while not my favorite in the business, are good. He’s a little rough, and sometimes the characters’ faces stretch in weird ways, but he really draws a diverse set of characters and makes them all look different. He draws all kinds of body types, including big lumpy inhuman monsters, short and stout characters, petite women, knockout women, lanky scientists, and more. No two characters look the same (except carbon copy henchmen, but, well, they’re supposed to), especially not in the face department, and in a time where even incredible artists draw faces the same, it’s nice to have a comic where everybody has a distinct look that makes them stick out as an individual character, a look that doesn’t rely on the use of a mask (although obviously some characters stick out due to inhuman appearances).
You will never mistake one character for another in this series, and that is a very good thing.
However, what really ties the art together is the coloring of Hi-Fi. To this day, I’m still not sure if Hi-Fi is a person or a company, but I know that any time I see a book colored by Hi-Fi, I like it. Unlike books like Batman or Green Lantern, which take place in locations which heavily limit the colors you see, OMAC goes to lots of different locations and has a lot of cool sci-fi weaponry in it, so you basically get to see every color in both basic and glowy neon flavors. It is a very lively book, and even when things gets chaotic, you can still make out what’s going on pretty well.
Space: It’s Beautiful
There is a real charm to this book; many of the writing elements are fun, tongue-in-cheek throwbacks to the Silver Age. Every issue’s title is an abbreviation of the word “OMAC”, including “Occasionally Monsters Accidentally Crossover” during the Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. crossover, “Omit, Mutilate, And Cancel” for the final issue, and my personal favorite, “Origins Matter After Cancellation” in the OMAC chapter of DC Universe Presents #0. I also like how the credits for each issue give the creative team nicknames, with Dan Didio being “Daring”, “Death Row”, and “Undead” at different points throughout the series. There are also times when the narration becomes completely bombastic, and it is wonderful, with text boxes declaring that “No prison can hold him! No army can stop him!” Moments like these make me feel like I’m reading an old issue of the Brave and the Bold I’d find at a convention, and it’s wonderful.
There’s also a common element of Dan Didio’s writing style all throughout this book that I absolutely adore, and it’s probably my favorite thing about the guy: he acknowledges the whole DC Universe. You will see a lot of characters and nods to other events happening in the DC Universe, including the previously mentioned Frankenstein crossover, an appearance by one of the Female Furies, a reference to Didio’s work on the Challengers of the Unknown story he was doing for DC Universe Presents at the time, and even characters from the Kamandi series, which certainly hasn’t been given any kind of acknowledgement anywhere else in the New 52. If anything, it shows that Didio certainly deserves his position as co-publisher at DC. This is a man who knows the DC Universe inside and out and loves it. And that really comes through at times in the writing. Now I don’t know for sure who contributed what ideas, but I’m following patterns here present in other things Didio’s been on when I say it’s Didio’s work. Either way, Didio and Giffen are having fun with this book, and that is never a bad thing.
Alas, fun does not equal quality storytelling. And while time has given me a new appreciation for the fun elements of OMAC, it has not changed my stance on the comic’s biggest flaws.
The run was written by both Dan Didio and Keith Giffen, and the story just isn’t that interesting. The main focus of the series is as such: Kevin Kho is a Cadmus employee whose body gets hijacked by the AI satellite Brother Eye. Eye turns him into OMAC, the One Man Attack Construct, a super powered cyborg that does his bidding in Brother Eye’s own personal war against the UN agency Checkmate, led by Maxwell Lord. The premise in itself is interesting enough. You’ve got a normal guy turned into a Hulk-like figure. But unlike Hulk who is triggered by his inner demons, Kevin is turned into OMAC by an outside force, an omnipresent, omniscient AI who sees Kevin as an incredibly whiny tool. And then he’s going up against the global leader in top-secret mad science, fighting instant monsters (no really, instant super-gators, just add water), super humans, and guys with weapons made of lasers that fire other lasers. There’s action, intrigue, and even tragedy on Kevin’s part, and when you really think about it, the concept sounds like a winner.
But the execution really isn’t. The action’s certainly there, but it’s not very entertaining. OMAC basically just smashes stuff while repeating whatever the last word of the previous command Brother Eye gave him was, and that’s it. Sometimes Brother Eye may activate an energy surge or something, but the fights are just a mindless drone with super strength doing what mindless drones with super strength do: follow orders and break stuff.
This was probably the most diversity OMAC displayed in combat in the entire series.
The intrigue isn’t really there either. To Didio and Giffen’s credit, they make Brother Eye an interesting character by giving him a snarky personality (kind of like GLaDOS from the Portal video games, but nowhere near as much of a sadist) and having him actually engage in dialogue with Kevin rather than just making him a robot voice that focuses only on the mission. He addresses Kevin’s concerns and is usually willing to answer questions or even help Kevin as he sees fit, but his war with Checkmate is really boring. Most of the issues are just Brother Eye sending Kevin to a place where he’ll be forced to transform into OMAC and smash something in a way that will hurt Checkmate, though Checkmate doesn’t really seem to care. Maxwell Lord always takes loss in stride, never really seeing OMAC as anything more than a nuisance set upon him by a loose end from his past that he needs to tie up. I’m all for a confident villain who has a plan even in the face of defeat, like Lex Luthor often does, but Maxwell Lord doesn’t have a plan. He just doesn’t care. Because of this, OMAC’s victories against the forces of Checkmate never feel like they actually accomplish anything, and I don’t find myself rooting for the story’s protagonist.
The book’s real salvation could have been in the character of Kevin Kho himself, but it’s a missed opportunity. Kevin’s relationship with Brother Eye is by far the most interesting part of the book, with Kevin acknowledging that he’s basically controlled by Eye now but still trying to exercise freedom whenever he can, and Eye acknowledging that he can’t really achieve his goals without Kevin, and as such trying to at least keep him docile and give him small concessions when he isn’t OMAC. They have this mutually-dependent but also hostile relationship with each other, but we just don’t see enough of it. Kevin tries to keep his normal life going, continuing his job and trying to maintain his relationship with his fiancée Jody, but we just don’t get enough of it before he gets torn away from normalcy again, and Didio and Giffen could take advantage of this fact to tell a really interesting story, but just don’t. The big problem with Kevin is that we really don’t know much about him throughout the story. We know about his fiancée, and his job, and the fact that he has OCD is touched on a couple of times, but that’s it. We get all of Kevin’s backstory in the form of narration boxes during the final issue. While OMAC just punches a punch of Checkmate operatives, the meat of the issue is reading about Kevin’s life and psychology, and it’s really interesting stuff that’s ruined because it’s breaking the rule of “show, don’t tell”.
This sequence showcasing Kevin’s OCD is my favorite scene from the whole series, and I would have liked to have seen more character insight like this.
Compare OMAC to the first volume of Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing. For six issues, Alec Holland is still human, and not the Swamp Thing. For six months, readers were led along the adventure of a man who was not Swamp Thing in a book called Swamp Thing, and they loved it. In those six issues, we got to learn all about Alec. How he thinks, how he feels about his connection to the Green, about his life and love and past experiences. We learned all about and followed the adventures of the man, so when it finally became time for him to become Swamp Thing, we were all the richer for it. OMAC could have done something similar with Kevin, his past, his life, and his relationship with Brother Eye, but it doesn’t. This was OMAC’s greatest potential strength, and also its greatest failure.
Final Verdict: 2/5
OMAC is not the worst comic I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely one of the most boring. So much happens in OMAC, but none of it really feels meaningful, and what little of it that does feel meaningful leaves me wanting more, but only because I clamor for resolution. The book has its fun moments and charm, the art is good, and like I said, Didio and Giffen are definitely having fun with it. But the whole thing just feels like an exercise in wasted potential. The thing is, I don’t think Didio and Giffen are bad writers. I’ve read other works of theirs and greatly enjoyed them. Giffen’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comic is awesome, and Didio’s current Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger comic is in my personal top five list right now. These are not untalented men producing a terrible comic. These are talented men with good ideas failing to harness their talents properly, and that’s just a shame.
All eight issues of the series can be found in OMAC Volume 1: Omactivate! The volume can be purchased for $16.99 USD, with discount deals offered at the seller’s discretion. It can also be purchased digitally for Kindle for $10.36 USD, or you can purchase all of the issues through Comixology for $14.92 USD. Collectors can hunt down the individual physical issues as priced by various sellers. I would also like to note that while the series does crossover with Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. at issue #5, you do not need to purchase Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #5 to get the full OMAC experience, as it’s just the same story told from Frankenstein’s point of view instead of OMAC’s.