Monday, July 29, 2019

Jack Kirby’s OMAC: One Man Army Corps by Jack Kirby

Some interesting ideas rather simplistically executed
Comic book artist extraordinaire Jack Kirby is best known for his pioneering creation of enduring superheroes for Marvel Comics, but later in his career he also briefly worked for DC Comics. In the 1970s, Kirby was granted a fair degree of autonomy to create new titles for DC, and it was during this period that he came up with some of his more outlandish and idiosyncratic creations. One such creation was OMAC, the One Man Army Corps, which only ran for eight issues from 1974 to 1975 (though DC would later resurrect the concept in other incarnations). Jack Kirby’s OMAC, a 2008 volume from DC Comics, reprints all eight issues of Kirby’s OMAC series in full color, along with an introduction by Kirby’s biographer and former assistant Mark Evanier.

OMAC is based on an unrealized idea Kirby had at Marvel to create a Captain America of the future. In a not-so-distant dystopian world, average joe Buddy Blank is transformed into the superhero OMAC, a soldier for the Global Peace Agency. In this new form, he is not only possessed of super strength and speed but also psychically linked to a sentient orbital satellite named Brother Eye, who endows OMAC with auxiliary powers through the transmission of molecular beams. The almost personality-less OMAC is not a particularly compelling hero, but the title allows Kirby to present his science fiction visions of the future of human society. Unfortunately, most of the ideas Kirby comes up with aren’t all that different from what you might see in science fiction movies of the ‘60s, such as android dolls created for human companionship, wealthy oligarchs with private armies, and elderly brains transplanted into beautiful young bodies. Kirby unveils his most original and ingenious idea in issue number 7, “The Ocean Stealers,” but issue 8 ends in a cliffhanger and the storyline is never resolved.

Beyond each story’s presentation of the futuristic villains’ nefarious plans, the stories presented in these eight issues are mostly just simplistic punchfests with terrible dialogue. There is little of the narrative complexity and attention to character development that marked the early Stan Lee and Kirby masterpieces. These 18- to 20-page OMAC stories feel like 7- or 8-page sci-fi tales from 1950s issues of Strange Adventures that have been stretched out to fill a larger page count. The art is not quite up to Kirby’s usual standard of excellence either. Perhaps his herculean workload caused him to cut corners, perhaps one can blame it on the inkers, or maybe the fault lies with DC. While Kirby’s layouts for Marvel were always bombastically action-packed and dynamic, his OMAC frames are much more static and simple, as is historically characteristic of DC’s artistic style, though occasionally you get one great, highly detailed splash page that calls to mind his former glories. After his ‘70s tenure at DC, Kirby would return to work for Marvel and do much better work, both writing and drawing, on their Captain America title (see the paperback volume Essential Captain America, Volume 5). OMAC, however, calls to mind Kirby’s early ‘80s work in animation for Hanna-Barbera, like the cartoon series Thundarr the Barbarian.

Kirby’s 8-issue run on OMAC inspires mixed emotions. On the one hand, you get to see a genius at work; on the other hand, this isn’t exactly a work of genius. If you are not a diehard Kirby fan, you might be better off skipping OMAC and exploring other Kirby worlds like those of the Eternals or the New Gods.
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