18 April 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XVIII: The OMAC Project

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005
Borrowed from the library
Read March 2014
The OMAC Project

Writers: Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Judd Winick
Artists: Rags Morales & Michael Bair, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz & Jimmy Palmiotti, Ivan Reis & Marc Campos, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning, Cliff Richards & Bob Wiacek, David Lopez, Tom Derenick, Georges Jeanty, Karl Kerschl, Mark Propst, Bit, Dexter Vines, Rob Petrecca, Nelson DeCastro
Colorists: Moose Baumann, Paul Mounts, Guy Major, Steve Firchlow, Richard & Tanya Horie
Letterers: Nick J. Napolitano, Phil Balsman, Todd Klein

First off, let's look at those credits: twenty artists worked on the eight issues collected here. Twenty. I guess superhero comics are not an auteur medium.

Secondly, let's reminisce. Though I didn't read a whole lot of superhero comics back in 2005, I was becoming aware of them, and I remember the first time I saw the title "Countdown to Infinite Crisis." I thought it was a parody comic. Then I realized-- the title was real. Which was horrifying.

That said, the story of that title collected here turns out to be rather good. Nine years later I think it's okay to say that this is the story where Blue Beetle dies. Now, as a big fan of the Justice League International days, I really like Blue Beetle. I like to think he's what I'd be if I became a superhero: chubby, well-meaning, a little bit insecure, trying his best every day. "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" shows him off at his best, tracing a mystery no one else can be bothered with (except for the ever-loyal Booster Gold) across the Earth. All things said, it's a good mystery story, and despite being a fan of the JLI days, I even think the twist about the villain works. When Blue Beetle is shot in the head, you feel it in the gut.

"Countdown to Infinite Crisis" is followed by three chapters of "The OMAC Project," which runs two parallel stories: while Batman, Wonder Woman, and Booster Gold try to figure out who killed Blue Beetle (and what was worth killing him over), Sasha Bordeaux starts to fret about her role in the mysterious "Checkmate" organization. I guess Sasha was in some Batman stories I haven't read, but you actually don't need to know that for this story to work; Greg Rucka is skilled enough a writer to make her plight instantly sympathetic. Her attempt to get to Batman and let the truth out is a great thriller story, the kind of stuff Rucka is really adept at. I also like how this story spins out of Identity Crisis, showing a more-- and justly-- paranoid Batman. There are real repercussions for that story, which stops it from being the shilling shocker it's sometimes characterized as.

Something I particularly liked about "The OMAC Project" is the way that Rucka and letterer Phil Balsman use the computer lettering of the Brother Mk. I satellite, sometimes on the edge of the narrative, sometimes on top of it, sometimes interrupting speech bubbles. It's used to clever and sometimes chilling effect, and the way it can run in parallel to the main story on the page is the kind of thing I'd assert you can only do in comics. The repeated motif of the satellite's eye logo is also well used: an all-seeing eye, a Panopticon for the postmodern age.

"The OMAC Project" is interrupted halfway through by "Sacrifice, Part 4 of 4." Bizarrely, parts 1-3 are synopsized and you can go read them in another book-- after you've read the end here, I guess. The book actually gets away with it, though; the synopsis proves enough to get you through this story: famously, the one where Wonder Woman kills Maxwell Lord. I have to say, it's built up to pretty compellingly; this is no callous murder, but a genuine life-or-death situation that there is truthfully no other way out of. Of course, both Rucka and Lord contorted to make that the case, but it promises some interesting repercussions, which I guess will be in some other book. I only wish it had better art: ten of the book's twenty artists are used on this one 22-page story, and it is not to the tale's benefit.

The last three parts of "The OMAC Project" shift the focus from the now-dead Maxwell Lord to the supercomputer he stole from Batman, Brother Mk. I, which has now rebranded itself "Brother Eye" and elected to purge the Earth of superhumans. Since Batman lost control of it, it's gained the ability to turn any human who's taken a certain nanite-infused vaccine into a One-Many Army Corps (of old Jack Kirby fame). An army of OMACs comes at the Earth, which makes for a couple great splash pages from Jesus Saiz. (Indeed, I liked his art throughout the book; he does great facial expressions and body language, though it's baffling that he draws a second Checkmate agent who looks almost exactly like Sasha.)

Though I think the OMAC army's defeat comes a little too cursorily, there are a lot of great moments along the way, especially when Booster Gold leads his old JLI teammates (Guy Gardner, Fire, Mary Marvel, Metamorpho, Martian Manhunter, and Rocket Red) into battle to avenge Blue Beetle. This era may have been pilfered for shock value and retconned to death by this whole story, but the old team is still being treated with respect, thankfully.

Like Day of Vengeance, I'm left with little idea of where this is all going as it counts down to the Infinite Crisis, but I'm interested and ready to find out, and even if this goes nowhere, Greg Rucka and Jesus Saiz constructed a really enjoyable and thrilling ride.

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