Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C. : One Man Army review

Paul rediscovers a lost Jack Kirby classic from the golden age...

Jack Kirby's OMAC

Jack Kirby is king. Quite possibly, he’s God. After all, he helped create the foundations of the Marvel Universe, having shaped the worlds of the Fantastic Four, Avengers, Hulk and Captain America for over a decade. His apparent defection to the parallel universe of DC Comics sent shockwaves throughout fandom, but it enabled him to establish another iconic world from scratch, the mythology of the New Gods. That led to the birth of other new characters from our future such as Kamandi , the last boy on Earth and OMAC, which seems closer to the present when you read it some 40 years later.

Lasting only eight issues, it took as its basis the familiar mild-mannered, bullied guy, (in this case the appropriately named called Buddy Blank) who discovers a startling secret at his office. This leads to his transformation into a mohawked fighting warrior, OMAC, whose power levels are controlled by an advance space satellite system called Brother Eye. OMAC, standing for One Man Army Corps, then become an agent to fight the forces which are determined to destroy the social fabric of the future. “This is the world that’s to come”, Kirby continually reminds us. In this collected octet of adventures, he battles the super-rich who can rent an entire city for their amusement; dictators threatening world peace; the devious Body Bank which transplants old brains into young bodies; and megalomaniacs who have learnt to steal entire oceans. Concepts that all seemed wild back in 1970s but now they have eerie parallels with modern society.

Kirby’s imagination is wild and prophetic, combining sci-fi with action and satire. He taps into traditions similar to HG Wells, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, and paints his visions on a broad, monumental canvas which seems to also find echoes in movies such as The Terminator. His ideas border on inventive genius at times – imagine an organisation called the Global Peace Agency that polices the world by keeping its agents’ individual identities hidden beneath a special cosmetic spray which renders them faceless, but equally ensures that they can represent all nations without any racial judgements.

The narrative throughout his panels is a precise construction, with Kirby’s trademark splash pages, foreshortened figures and cinematic double-page spreads; but they seem to lack the dramatic power of his galactic spectacles. Part of the reason for that is the looseness of the plotting. There’s plenty of panel space for pictures to breathe without any unnecessary background detail, but perhaps that’s not surprising when Mark Evanier’s introduction reveals that Kirby was contracted to produce a minimum of 15 pages of art a week…

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Just look at the energetic draughtsmanship on some of the original pages included throughout this volume; how many contemporary artists could achieve that schedule even in a month? But even with the assistance of inkers Mike Royer and D Bruce Berry, there’s a feeling that it’s a law of diminishing return for readers, as if being fed less nourishing food for the eyes even if the imagination was to be relished. Not surprisingly, the book was cancelled before it reached its ninth issue, leaving OMAC trapped helplessly in a prison of slag in space, and plotlines loosely tied up elsewhere.

Like many of Kirby’s later creations, it’s a character that’s ripe for a revival. John Byrne re-energised him in 1991 and, of course, OMAC has become an integral part of the DC Universe with Batman and Superman inevitably caught in the fray. Whilst Kirby’s 60s legacy indisputably remains a heavy influence in comics as well as movies, his 70s contributions are being reclaimed for modern audiences – the Eternals, Kamandi, even Devil Dinosaur has been granted the x-factor. But OMAC still harbours some home truths about the state of our society and indeed our planet. In fact, Jack Kirby is more than a visionary, he is OMAC – One Man Artistic Creator.

Review:

4 stars

Rating:

4 out of 5