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OMAC: Omactivate!
Writers: Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, and Jeff Lemire
Pencilers: Keith Giffen and Scott Kolins
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Hi-Fi Colour Design
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Keith Giffen

By Michael David Sims
25 May 2012 — As I did with Hawk & Dove, first let me praise DC Comics for trying something different when they launched OMAC as part of the DCnU. An obscure character to say the least, they tried to give him a bit of the spotlight. The problem is, when your series never explains who the lead characters are, what they can do, and what their motivations are, your book has failed.

After reading all eight issues of OMAC by Dan Didio and Keith Giffen, I know nothing more about OMAC than I did beforehand — beyond the surface level, that is. This iteration of OMAC is Kevin Kho, a genius of some sort who works at Cadmus Labs, is OCD, and has a fiancιe who also works at Cadmus. And that's it. The series starts with Kevin having already been infected with the computer virus that's turned him into OMAC. Never do we see this, nor are we told how or why it happened. Having read and discussed the first issue last year, I assumed future issues would delve into Kevin's past and how his transformation came about, but, instead of that, we're treated to what I can only describe as a book that wants so desperately to be a techno Hulk comic.

In a lot of ways it's like Ghost Rider 2099: "Let's take a preexisting character, give him cyber and / or tech powers, and call him something else!" At least in the case of Ghost Rider 2099, Marvel admitted what they were doing. (It's kinda hard not to when you're using the name of the preexisting character in the title of the book.) Here, I don't think we're supposed to notice that this is The Hulk. But how can you not? A smart man is turned into a mindless beast he cannot control and wants no part of. Upon transforming back into his human form, he has next to no recollection of where he's been, what he's done, or how he got there. The government is after him, and, to survive, he makes a deal with the beast (or, in this case, Brother Eye) to survive the attacks long enough to get away. And by the end of the series he's truly one with the entity and shuns his past life to simply be alone. Now, I don't know anything about previous OMACs. Maybe this is a common origin for them, but if it's not — hell, even if it is — this kind of non-parody ripoff is lazy. If I want to read Hulk stories, I'll read The Incredible Hulk. Now I'm not saying The Hulk is wholly original, either, because, of course, he's based on Robert Louis Stevenson's "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." However, having read both the novella and The Hulk's first appearance, I can tell you they are, despite the very core idea, vastly different concepts. Here, though, that's not the case. Right down to his human form, this OMAC is The Hulk with nothing more than a palette swap and a mohawk.

While I'm talking about the book trying to be something else, the art needs to be discussed. When you hire Keith Giffen, you've hired him for his beautifully smooth lines, perfectly natural bodies, and unbelievably expressive faces. You do not hire Keith Giffen to be a Jack Kirby stand-in. Granted, it's very clearly done out of love and respect for the man, but if I want to read a Kirby-drawn OMAC comic, I'll look for back issues. I don't want I Can't Believe It's Not Kirby Drawing OMAC. Giffen's Kirby-inspired style lacks the crazy energy that Kirby naturally brought to the table. Nothing against Giffen's normal style — which is, in its own way, filled with crazy energy, and is a style I love to death — but the Kirby-ish work he's producing here does not compare to the life Kirby brought to every page. Look at any issue where Kirby drew a guy being punched or people thrown around by explosions, then compare it to panels of the same nature by Giffen. Yes, they share a look, but where's the spark of life that made Kirby a legend? Worst of all, I feel Giffen got the short end of the stick. Instead of introducing his brilliance to a new generation of comic book readers, he's charged with a job anybody with a light box could have done. (I'm not saying he did copy panels; I'm simply saying anyone could have done this with the right tools.) It's also a shame for the readers who bought the book looking for Giffen's typical style. In a way, it seems like a bait-and-switch. You're still getting the same guy drawing the book as was promised, but it's not what you expected or wanted.

One more thing about the art: every single fight scene is the same. Neon energy is exploding everywhere, cluttering the page, causing you to lose your sense of place. Most of the time I couldn't keep up with what was going on because it became so frantic and bright, and there's no rhyme or reason to the storytelling. That said, there are some truly beautiful pages, especially some of the single- and double-page splashes, but they really don't make up for the rest of the messy battles scenes.

Getting back to the writing, as I said with Kevin having no backstory, we're given no backstory to this world. From the first page we're tossed into Cadmus. And yeah, sure, we're told what they supposedly do (RE: genetic research), but what's Kevin's job? What project is he working on? What's the company working on right now? It might seem nitpicky, but you cannot expect us to know this portion of the DC Universe for several reasons. First, this isn't Superman or Batman, whose worlds we most likely already know. This is an obscure character that, despite a few recent pushes, has little to no representation in the DCU. Even some longtime comic readers, such as myself, have little to no idea who or what OMAC is. And, frankly, if it weren't for the DCAU, I probably would have only heard of Cadmus once or twice. That said, two, the DCnU was meant to bring in new readers. More than anyone, they're clueless when it comes to Cadmus and OMAC. I'm not saying there should be page after page of exposition or an introductory page outlining the players, but instead of starting the issue off with Kevin't girlfriend looking for him while being hit on by another guy, how about starting it during a meeting where their boss outlines the status of their current project? Toss in some banter between the characters, and you have a chance to give us a little about this world in a natural way, introduce the supporting characters through their jobs and relationships with their coworkers, and, most importantly, introduce us to the main character before the second-to-last page of the book! During said meeting, Kevin's cell phone could go off, and he excuses himself to answer it. Over the phone, he receives an odd message: "Kevin Kho — OMACtivate!" He then transforms into the techno-beast, and rampages through the building, completing the objective he was programed to carry out. What I just did there was a very minor rewrite, which altered maybe the first three pages of the book, but would have given us much-needed information and some depth.

After Cadmus, we're expected to understand what Brother Eye is. Who built it? Why is it there? What's its purpose? How is it able to transform Kevin into OMAC and control him? Late in the series it claims to have an altruistic motive; it says it wants to help guide mankind, but that comes far too late. By then we've seen it ruin Kevin's life, force OMAC into battle after battle, cause destruction on an unimaginable scale, and it never explains itself to Kevin. "Do this — because Eye said so!" (That's not a typo, by the way.) As if that weren't enough, here comes Maxwell Lord and Checkmate. Somehow Checkmate and Cadmus are connected, but I'm not too clear on the link, because I think Lord, who runs Checkmate, is at odds with Cadmus. Or something. I really don't know. All I know is Lord wants to mess with Brother Eye and vice versa. Why? Because fuck you, that's why. And if that weren't enough, Lord calls in Frankenstein from the SHADE organization to help capture OMAC. So now we have Cadmus, OMAC, Brother Eye, Maxwell Lord, Checkmate, Frankenstein, Father Time (who's a small girl), and SHADE. All introduced with little to no explanation, and most given no motivation beyond "MWA-HA-HA! I'm evil!"

Every single thing that happens in this series does so because the plot needs it to. Not because the characters want anything, not because something unexpected happens and they must follow up on that lead, but because the writers said, "We gotta go here and here and here. And OMAC has to fight everyone along the way. And Superman's gotta show up, and so do the animal people from Kamandi. And Max and Brother Eye have to fight because that's the way it was in the DCU, so that's the way it is now."

Worse than that, issues end because they need to; stories stop because the writers ran out of pages. Of the eight issues, five of them have Brother Eye teleporting OMAC / Kevin out of danger in the end, and one of the other three have him doing it mid-issue. Not only is that too convenient a plot device, it's a cheap way to end battles and issues.

One of the reasons I love Quantum Leap so much is because if Sam screwed up, not only would he be stuck in the past, but the person he leapt into would be stuck in the future. Lives would be ruined forever because he couldn't leap out. And as much as I liked Sliders, it was flawed because the characters never had to actually get involved. They could explore a world for a few days while the timer ran down, and, when it did, they could slide out. Unless the timer broke or the world was in ruins, they did not need to go on life-threatening adventures. Sam, however, did because fixing people's lives was the only way he could leap. What we have here is a variation on the inherent flaw in Sliders; Brother Eye might not teleport OMAC away if he failed, but the option was always there. And with an option like that, there's no danger. Hell, during his fight with Superman, OMAC takes so much damage that Brother Eye is forced to send him away. The only time this doesn't happen is when the all-powerful, sentient satellite loses contact with Kevin because he entered a subway. But that was false drama to begin with because if Brother Eye can remain in contact with OMAC in the high tech sub-, sub-, subbasement of Cadmus and through the stone walls of a prison meant for terrorists, a subway tunnel is not going to provide any sort of problem.

And speaking of Kevin being jailed for terrorist activities, how is it he's able to go back to work without incident after escaping from said prison? Did the FBI suddenly forget he was on top of their Most Wanted List? And that brings me to some nitpicks. Whenever Kevin is transformed into OMAC, he or Brother Eye will yell "OMACtivate!" Yeah, no. That doesn't work. At all. Sorry, DC.

It would seem Brother Eye is incapable of saying "I" without it being a pun on its own name. "Eye have been monitoring your bio-rhythms." "Eye own you." "Eye highly doubt that is true." E-Y-E, every single time, hence the reason I mentioned the non-typo earlier.

And the last one is the worst of all, because it distracts from an otherwise great page. In the sixth issue, as OMAC and Frankenstein battle across a double-page spread, in the lower righthand corner an editorial note reads: "Add any sound effect you want. I'm sitting back and enjoying this epic battle." Why is that there? If you want us to buy into this world, to believe in this battle, do not pull us out with a terribly pointless joke / statement about how cool the scene is. That's like whispering a grocery list into your lover's ear at the moment of climax. Why would you do that?

What disappoints me most about OMAC is that even as a pure action comic, it fails. Not every book needs deep characterization, crisp dialog, and gripping motivation; some books can survive on the strength of their action sequences alone. OMAC, however, was not one of them. OMAC should maybe make a few appearances a year in books like Action Comics (Grant Morrison could work wonders with him), Justice League International (he is slated to appear in the final issues of that book), and Stormwatch (where his full potential could be realized), but otherwise he needs to fade into the background for a while so this series can be forgotten.

A version of this review was used as the script for episode 518 of Earth-2.net: The Show.

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