Chekhov’s Science: Jack Kirby’s Omac (#SFWApro)

As I’ve mentioned before, Jack Kirby’s 1970s work (after his New Gods and related series at the start of the decade) left me baffled why he was considered so great. JACK KIRBY’S OMAC: One Man Army Corps is similarly disappointing, but rereading it reminded me how close it came to being very good.
The 1974/1975 OMAC series is set in “the world that’s coming,” where a Global Police Agency maintains a watch over WMDS, mad science and other threats to world peace (the agents have faceless masks like the Question, so it’s impossible to know their race or nationality). An orbiting GPA satellite, Brother Eye, transforms ordinary schlub Buddy Blank into the One-Man Army Corps, an unstoppable warrior for good (This idea had its roots in Kirby’s plans for a futuristic version of Captain America, which he dropped when he moved from Marvel to DC).
What hooked me at the opening was all the cultural detail. Omac exists in a world with android girlfriends, crying rooms at corporate office (“I feel so much better after a good cry.”) and burning rooms. Feel so angry you’d like to set a man on fire? They have mannikins and gasoline!
This may sound bizarre but it’s right in line with some of the “where are we going?” speculations of the early 1970s, which gave it a really cool feel; if we’d gotten more of that, I’d have been fascinating. Instead, we got some fairly generic stories—Omac takes down a mad dictator, Omac fights a mad scientist, Omac fights a big ugly monster, etc. Omac himself is a cipher, with no personality other than heroic. Even the Black Panther series Kirby did later had a little more life to it.
Rereading, I think a bigger problem is that Kirby makes up Omac’s powers as he goes along. Omac gets hurt, Brother Eye heals him. The bad guys turn on a flamethrower, Brother Eye shields Omac in a “molecular coccoon.” In #3, Omac’s flying chair just pulls out one weapon after another (freeze gas! Acid jets!) as necessary. And if Brother Eye doesn’t have a ray to fix things, the Peace Agents show up.
Hence the title of this post. “Chekhov’s gun” is the rule that if you introduce a gun (or whatever) at the start of a story, you’re supposed to use it later. The flip side of that is that if the gun’s going to play a role later, you may want to set it up. In Omac, there’s no set up, just improvisation. Just like magic, if there’s no consistency in super-science the story falls apart.
In fairness, I think what Kirby was shooting for is a “wow” factor by showing all Omac’s cool toys and amazing powers. He did the same thing in Mr. Miracle. A super-escape artist, Mr. Miracle pulls off getaways as much from his advanced alien tech as from his escapologist skills. As with Omac, Kirby was trying to demonstrate the “super” part of his title—no mere ordinary Houdini tricks for him! As with Omac, it came off as cheating—with an unlimited supply of miracle gadgets, there were no clear limits to his abilities.
But Mr. Miracle was part of Kirby’s New Gods mythos, which had a stronger backstory, a stronger plot arc (can Scott Free finally break with the dark realm of Apokalips?), stronger leads and stronger villains (Dr. Bedlam, Granny Goodness, Virman Vundabar), so I can overlook it.
Omac, not so much.

mistermiracle2(Covers by Kirby, rights with current holder)


Filed under Comics, Reading, Writing

2 responses to “Chekhov’s Science: Jack Kirby’s Omac (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Books (not so Christmassy) (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Odred Smrti - Alex Jones | Area272

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