Friday, June 24, 2011

OMAC, One Man Army Corps

With the new OMAC series in September giving the character a fresh new start, I thought I'd look back on the history of the character and all it's various incarnations during the last decade.

OMAC, the One Man Army Corps

A creation of legendary comic artist Jack Kirby (Avengers, X-Men, Thor, News Gods), the first issue of OMAC was released in 1974. The series came about as a replacement for the recently canceled New Gods series. While OMAC would prove to have an even shorter run, it still managed to spark the imagination and give a glimpse into the ever-expanding future Kirby was imagining. The series only lasted 8 issues, and was abruptly ended when Kirby had finally finished his contract at DC - a cliffhanger in issue #8 had to be concluded with a single new final panel added in to give some kind of conclusion to the story.

Every time someone, including myself, tries to explain OMAC, it's usually along the lines of being insane, ahead of it's time, or just plain weird. OMAC was a series set in the near future, always referred to as "The World That's Coming!". OMAC is a super-being made to protect us from the ever changing world. For a series that was written in the mid-70s, the themes in these issues have a lot more relvancy today than they did back then. Technology is increasing at an ever-alarming rate, nuclear war is more and more a real possibility -- and what I liked most about OMAC was his fight to take down Hitler-style despots, which our modern world has plenty of these days. Essentially OMAC was a God of War-styled fighter (explaining the mohawk) who would protect us from destroying ourselves.

A lot of the concepts developed in the series, and Kirby's weird and dark vision of where the future might take us, involved things like the rich being able to rent out entire cities for themselves, lab-created monsters and humans made into monsters. One of the most shocking concepts was revealed to us in the first page of issue #1, that of synthetic "build-a-friend" robots.

I have to tell you, this was probably one of the most disturbing images to find in the pages of a comic - but it showed the kind of disturbing future OMAC was suppose to protect us from. The synthetic "build-a-friend" robots are exactly what you think they are - sex bots. Nothing beyond the disturbing disassembled pieces are portrayed, but it's a subject frighteningly more real today was in was over 40 years ago.

The first issue featured Buddy Blank, the hapless pawn in the series who is chosen for mysterious reasons to become OMAC. He works in the building where they make these robots, but an illegal section was being run to send these robots to world leaders, and subsequently explode and kill them. Buddy stumbles upon this scheme and discovers that who he thought of as a friend, Lila, was actually just one of the robots. Right as Buddy becomes saddened and enraged, his transformation into OMAC began. Out of nowhere Buddy Blank's body is transformed into a fighting force for good. OMAC no longer had any of the memories of Buddy, but he could tell something deeply inhumane and tragic was involved with this disassembled robot Lila. OMAC preps the entire facility to explode.

OMAC is partnered with Brother Eye, a powerful Satellite which sends power and enhancements to OMAC as needed. The two are bonded, essentially like brothers. OMAC is also joined by the Global Peace Agency, who where the ones who began the project and assigned Buddy Blank for Brother Eye to transform. The Global Peace Agency are the series primary good guys - sort of akin to the UN. They all conceal their features with a cosmetic spray; supposedly since they have to represent every nation, they must appear neutral in appearance.

OMAC helps to bring a dictator, General Kafka, to justice, under the GPA's orders. They supply him with support, and help clean up the aftermath - but they are not allowed to engage in violence themselves. The main purpose of OMAC is that, in this world, large armies are outlawed - because the repercussions of nuclear war would destroy the planet. So OMAC's "One Man Army Corps" capabilities allows the GPA to handle threats with a single agent, instead of a large army.

The next disturbing threat in the World That's Coming are Body Snatchers - a criminal network being set up around a new technology that allows the elderly to switch their brains into the bodies of young people. The powerful and aging crime lords are willing to pay anything to achieve revived youth. OMAC has to track down the so-called "Body Bank", where innocent people are kidnapped to be used in this procedure.

The last two issues of OMAC began a story where a mad scientist had developed a way to condense all the water of the oceans into contained cubes of matter. The end of issue #7 sees the return of Buddy Blank, as the connection between OMAC and Brother Eye is interfered with. Buddy has no idea where is is now, and Brother Eye is put under direct assault at the end of issue #8. The final panel, which would have been the cliff hanger, was changed to explain how the villainous scientist's machines where strained in the attack against Brother Eye and subsequently exploded. For one panel the change did it's job, but it pretty much meant Buddy Blank would have died along with the scientist, and Brother Eye would have crashed to earth in defeat. I believe John Byrne came in many years later and gave a more cohesive conclusion to the story of OMAC. It was a short-burst of insane creativity by Kirby, but the series simply didn't prove successful.

Since OMAC essentially was a stand-alone tale set in a possible future, connecting it to the regular DC Universe wasn't immediately necessary. There where some attempts, but nothing stuck. After Kirby left there where some connections made with Kirby's post-apocalyptic series Kamandi, where it was revealed that Buddy Blank was Kamandi's grandfather.

OMAC made a triumphant return in DC's Infinite Crisis, where Greg Rucka developed a new and modern angle. In this version Batman created Brother Eye, but lost control of it to Maxwell Lord, the villainous leader of Checkmate. Max wanted to exterminate all meta-humans, and used Brother Eye to create an army of OMACs, this time termed "Observational Meta-human Activity Construct". These versions of OMAC, like Buddy Blank before him, where ordinary citizens who where infected with a nano virus that would transformed them into powerful cyborgs whenever they encountered a meta-human.

With an army of OMACs under his command, Maxwell Lord began a crushing assault on the meta-human population. Superman, the most powerful, and thus most dangerous meta-human of them all, was Lord's primary focus. Having powerful telepathic powers himself (yes, he is indeed a hypocrite), Lord successful took control of Superman's mind. Under Max Lord's control Superman nearly killed Batman, and only through a vicious battle against Wonder Woman was Superman finally stopped. With the magic lasso of truth wrapped around Lord, Wonder Woman asked him how she could stop him from controlling Superman. He answered truthfully: kill me. In a shocking turn, Wonder Woman did just that and snapped Maxwell Lord's neck. This would prove to only be the beginning - as Wonder Woman's actions where recorded for the whole world to see. Brother Eye began a campaign against Wonder Woman, not only making the public turn against her, but also launching an army of OMACs in all-out assault on Paradise Island.

It wasn't until a one-shot during Infinite Crisis that the now power-mad Brother Eye was able to be destroyed by a strike force of heros lead by Batman.

The re-interpretation of OMAC proved very successful, but after Infinite Crisis there came a long series of attempts to make OMAC a permanent presence in the DCU. A regular series was started where Brother Eye is trying to reconstitute himself and activated a back-up OMAC in a human named Michael Costner. Costner has to struggle to regain control of his body and his newfound powers as an OMAC, and eventually fights back against Brother Eye - eventually destroying him.

During a year-long weekly series called "Countdown to Final Crisis", we saw a number of Jack Kirby concepts revived and utilized. The 52 issue mini-series didn't prove as successful as the weekly series of the previous year, but it did have quite a few nods to otherwise completely ignored Kirby concepts. From the biker gang in the pages of Jimmy Olsen, to a virus that would wipe out the world and give us the animal controlled future of Kamandi - Countdown was trying to do a lot, all on top of preparing the News Gods for their eventual final tale in the pages of Final Crisis. Brother Eyes resurfaces yet again, this time trying to assimilate the planet of Apocalypse. The entire series was a mixed bag - but did prove to involve OMAC near the very end. In an alternate dimension, that would eventually be labeled as Kamdandi's world, we see a scientist-version of Buddy Blank. After the virus that de-evolved humans, and evolves animals has spread and destroyed the Earth, Buddy Blank is saved by Brother Eye - and transformed into a classic version of OMAC.

Since that version of OMAC took place in an alternate dimension, and since Countdown wasn't very successful, this version of OMAC was never seen again.

Showing that someone at DC just really likes the OMAC concept, DC did yet another attempt at the character. In the pages of the Outsiders a disabled OMAC body is recovered by Batman. All memory and data is deleted from this OMAC, to make it a force for good on Batman's Outsiders team. Dubbed ReMAC, this version of the concept didn't last very long.

During the Final Crisis mini-series OMAC helps the restored Checkmate organization in it's struggle against the conquering Dark Gods of Apocalypse. Their partnership is a matter of mutual survival. Meanwhile Renee Montoya is approached by figure-head of a soon-to-be new group called the Global Peace Agency, which they want Renee to lead. Since Renee has taken on the faceless persona of "The Question", this seemed in-line with the faceless look of the GPA. This proposition to Montoya was predicated on the idea that Darkseid and the Dark Gods where going to win and take over Earth, so the plan on leading the surviving remnants of humanity on another world never actually panned out.

I don't know this for sure, but it seem pretty obvious that someone high-up at DC really likes OMAC. What Jack Kirby created is dated and off-the-wall weird, but the subject matter of the dangers the future holds for us ring more true today than ever; so I appreciate the many attempts DC made. Even though it never lead to anything stable, it did give us the perfect analogy for Big Brother (Eye) watching us.

In a big surprise, OMAC actually made it to TV in an episode of Batman Brave and the Bold. Since the series reguarly pairs Batman up with the lesser known heroes of the DCU, and the series seemed to have an afinity to Jack Kirby's creations with appearences by The Demon and Kamandi, it seemed natural to see OMAC likewise get a chance in the limelight. And it worked out pretty decently.

The episode showed Batman coming in to help the Global Peace Agency bring General Kafka to justice. This series re-worked the mythology Jack Kirby devised and sort of jammed it into the modern-day world of Batman, all with pretty good results. The GPA had more of an edge, though, possibly being just as dangerous as the villains they pursued. This was high-lightened in their treatment of janitor Buddy Blank, who they unwittingly transformed into OMAC for missions. Unlike the folksy Buddy Blank, OMAC he was gun-ho and militaristic. Batman objected to this, thinking of what Buddy would think of OMAC's violent actions. It was a really good episode, and while the setting and characterizations weren't exactly like the comics - it definitely seemed faithful in heart to the source material.

Now the DCU is being rebooted in September, and a new reinterpretation of OMAC is being made. I believe this one is going to be the one that sticks. Keith Giffen is drawning and co-writing the series with Dan Didio. Didio, I believe it's safe to say, is probably that higher-up person at DC that has been pushing the character to succeeded.

Keith Giffen just got done with an incredible run in the pages of the Doom Patrol, where he brought his insane and unique ideas to the table each and every issue. I'm expecting just the same from this new OMAC comic. The series is going to revolved around a new protagonist named Kevin Kho, who in yet another unwitting pawn destined to be OMAC. (This time standing for "One Machine Army Corps"). Kho is supposedly going to be caught in the middle of a war between Checkmate and Brother Eye.

I don't know what, if anything, is being carried over from the old DCU continuity. I would suspect very little is remaining, and everything will be starting from square one. I hope this new iteration of OMAC proves successful. It already seems to be attracting attention as the odd-gem among the swarm of new series starting in September.

Comic Book Resources released an interview with Didio and Giffen, discussing the new series and showing some of the incredible new art. We got a preview, in the recent Legion of Super-Heroes annual, of Giffen's new faux-Kirby style. It's really impressive looking, especially with digital coloring and effects. It's been described that Giffen is essentially trying to channel Jack Kirby as best he can for this series. I'm so looking forward to this new series and urge anyone to at least give issue #1 a try.


  1. Good overview. However, the name is Giffen, not "Griffen." And you forgot to mention the OMAC back-ups in Warlord and the BW mini series by John Byrne (which is a great read, by the way.)

  2. Thanks for the reminder about how to spell Giffen's name.

    I did mention Byrne's mini-series - but didn't fully go into it or the back-ups because I've never actually read them.