09 December 2016

The (First) Return of the Omega Men

DC's Omega Men has got a lot of press over the last year thanks to its revival by Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda, and I look forward to reading it, hopefully soon. But what many people forget is that after its original 1983-86 run by Roger Silfer, Keith Giffen, Tod Smith, Doug Moench, Todd Klein, and Shawn McManus, it was revived for a six-issue miniseries in 2005-06. (It has not been collected by DC. Given that a solicited collection of the beginning of the original Omega Men run was cancelled, I must imagine this incarnation will never ever be collected.) I assume this was commissioned because Adam Strange: Planet Heist had just shown the Omega Men at their coolest for the first time in twenty years.

The original Omega Men was about fighting a revolution (against the barbaric Citadel), and then it became, ambitiously, about what you do after winning a revolution-- though the writers turned out to not be really up to the task of making the new premise work. When Todd Klein took over, he had the Vega system be reconquered, this time by the mysterious Spider Guild. The series ended with the Omegans creating a refuge from the Spider Guild, but most of Vega still under their control. The Omega Men's reappearances in Invasion!, Blasters, Starman, Planet Heist, and the like have made it clear that Vega is still under the control of the Spider Guild, and so, despite years of losses (only three of the Omega Men in this miniseries were also the original Omega Men #1), the Omega Men fight on.

The focus of Andersen Gabrych and Henry Flint's revival isn't really on liberating Vega, however. The Omega Men have discovered the Spider Emperor has accessed an object of enormous power-- much as their own Ryand'r has-- and have come to Earth to find out what's going on. So has Vril Dox of L.E.G.I.O.N. There are in fact four Heartstones, coveted by Lady Styx, a villain introduced in 52 who has occasionally bedeviled the space heroes in various titles.

Things get pretty cosmic pretty quickly, which is both the strength and weakness of this series. Flint's gigantic panels of enormous events are evocative, but it's sometimes difficult to make out what's actually happening in the midst of them. Gabrych provides the series with a real scope, but it's one so big that the Omega Men become mere accessories to its events. Tigorr gets a lot of focus: I like that he was confronted with all the dead Omegans from over the years (there are a lot), and I was pleasantly surprised to see his lover Felicity make a comeback. But beyond him, they don't get to shine very much, especially Broot, who's just muscle (Doc and Elu get to make jokes occasionally, at least). L.E.G.I.O.N.'s Vril Dox gets a good showing here-- basically too good a showing, as he gets a lot of the best lines, and makes too many of the important moves.

I haven't cared much for Lady Styx in many of her appearances; she often comes across, like so many comics villains, as a cut-rate Darkseid. But here I really liked her. Her creepy army of Darkstars, her being made up of the bodies of her adherents, the chanting and her emphasis on love all conspire to make her seem like a deep, genuine threat to the cosmos. This is the best she's ever been, I reckon, thanks to Gabrych and Flint.

This is an interesting comic, but an imperfect one. I don't think the cosmic threat plays to the strengths of Omega Men as a concept-- I want more sense of them as a band of misfits coming together against great odds, but here it feels like they spend most of their time standing around and watching. There are touches of greatness here, but the writing and the art are both too frequently too obscure.

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