US: Dec 2011
When asked how he dealt with writer’s block, the poet William Stafford famously said, “Lower your standards.” Whether co-writers Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen were actually stuck or not, it seems they’ve taken this mantra to heart.
OMAC #2 doesn’t set the lofty goals of turning comics into literature or creating high art. Instead, its story and drawing purposefully replicate the fun, smash-and-bash comics of the 1980s. If this is indeed the goal, then OMAC is a success.
The story revolves around Kevin Kho, an assistant bio-tech manager at Cadmus Industries, who is turned into a cyborg known as the “One Machine Attack Construct.” As OMAC, he possesses incredible strength, but lacks free will. He is controlled by Brother Eye, a sentient satellite with a vendetta against Cadmus.
Here DiDio and Giffen employ the “bestial superhero” archetype. Their protagonist is physically powerful, but mindless. This archetype is rarely seen in comics, and for good reason. The “bestial superhero” shines in action scenes, but lacks the character depth to make him interesting in the long-term.
In current comics, there is only one successful series with a “bestial superhero”: The Incredible Hulk. The archetype works here, because the story centers on Dr. Bruce Banner who unwittingly transforms into the brutish superhero. At its best, The Incredible Hulk is a modern interpretation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which explores the monster within man. At its worst, however, the story degenerates to a vehicle for over-the-top action scenes.
Unfortunately, DiDio and Giffen unabashedly choose this second interpretation to develop their eponymous character. In OMAC #2, Brother Eye strands Kevin in Texas where he is to challenge another super-powered being, Rocker Bonn, also known as the Amazing Man. Half the issue is spent on an outrageous, though admittedly entertaining, fight scene. Afterward, Kevin is sent on a “detour,” which will undoubtedly climax with another epic battle in next month’s issue.
Beyond the storyline, Giffen also references the action comics of the 1980s in his artwork. The fight scene includes a multitude of Herculean feats exaggerated with campy block-letter sound effects. A building is toppled. KLLA-BLOOM. A tornado catapults OMAC. KKER-ASHH. A face is literally smashed to bits. WHAMP.
In addition, Giffen’s character drawings evoke the style of Jack Kirby, who created OMAC and co-created the Hulk. As a throwback, panels are blocked in the most simplistic squares and rectangles. Settings are described, as they were in older comics, with long introductory bubbles by an omniscient narrator.
On the whole, DiDio and Giffen have thus successfully created a smash-and-bash comic of the 1980s. But the question remains, why was this low standard of storytelling their goal in the first place?
Perhaps DC, in an attempt to draw back older readers, thought it would be wise to reintroduce this subgenre of over-the-top action and vintage-style artwork. In fact, it seems to be working, at least partially, because the DC message boards have lit up with positive comments about OMAC.
Still, history has shown that this archetype is tricky at best, boring and redundant at its worst. More importantly, it feels subversive to the comicbook medium that this low level of storytelling should be the goal of talented writers and artists.
Near the beginning of OMAC #2, a minor character named Sarge Steel spars against three training robots that he’s probably fought countless times before. He defeats them easily, but he isn’t proud. Instead, he poses a question, which seems an appropriate sentiment for this review. “C’mon, this the best we can do?”