The first hero of Hell’s kitchen and more: TPBs read

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN CLASSIC by Steve Gerber and Jim Mooney (primarily) was one of the odder series of the Bronze Age. When a robot army overwhelms an alien planet, the last survivor journeys to Earth, ending up in Hell’s Kitchen. Meanwhile, a young teen named James-Michael sees his parents die in a very strange accident, his mother warning him of “the voices.” James-Michael, who seems about one step removed from a Vulcan emotionally, winds up in Hell’s Kitchen too. Hmm, coincidence?

No, though we never learn what the connection is as Gerber left Marvel shortly after the series was canceled; the cliffhanger ending promises a resolution in Defenders, which is odd as Gerber already left that book. What we do get is a Omega and James-Michael trying to make sense of life on Earth from their different perspectives, while also battling some villains, most memorably the Fool-Killer (“Live as a poem, or die as a fool!”). The slowly unwinding mystery of their origins was one thing that made the book stand out; another was the very gritty, brutal portrayal of their neighborhood where bars on the window and drunks passed out on the sidewalk are common. James-Michael’s school is particularly hellish; when a bully comes after one of his friends, it’s horrifyingly brutal (and ultimately fatal). This kind of thing would be common a decade later, but in the Bronze Age this was exceptionally hard-edged.

The TPB includes the two-part resolution in Defenders by Steven Grant, and it’s dreadful. The explanation for everything that happened is workable (given Grant didn’t have any guidance from Gerber where the story was going), but the ending is so crowded it gets laughable. James-Michael gets power cosmic! Corrupted by power he almost destroys the world!  A friend jumps in the line of fire so he suddenly decides to destroy himself instead! The psychic Moondragon reveals this was all Defenders’ fault for getting involved (this attempt to add a tragic spin falls completely flat). Too bad when Marvel did another Omega series years later they went with Jonathan Lethem rather than asking Gerber to finally write his ending.

FLASH: Perfect Storm by Joshua Williamson worked much better than it deserved: Grodd launches a scheme to gain control of the Speed Force, forcing Barry to recruit both Wally Wests (pre- and post-New 52) plus enemies such as Negative Flash and Godspeed to stop him. It’s a lively, action-packed tale and I love that Iris shows she’s whip-smart in the middle of this. However it shows what a joke “reboot the series to simplify continuity” is — it’s been seven years since the New 52, and I doubt any newbie could make headway through this (“Why are there two Wally Wests?” for instance). And it doesn’t work at all that so many stories and villains revolve around the Speed Force (Black Hole, Negative Flash, Multiplex, Godspeed, Hunter Zolomon and Grodd, for instance).

HICKSVILLE by Dylan Horrocks is an indie graphic novel that starts well — comics journalist Leonard Batts receives mysterious pages of old comics that lead him to Hicksville New Zealand — but doesn’t pull off the landing. In Hicksville, Leonard has to grapple with all sorts of mysteries, such as a store having a complete run of Action Comics back to #1, and why hometown comics superstar Dick Burger is a pariah there. The Big Reveal was interesting but not enough to justify the story, and too much of the story didn’t work; the longest chapter focuses on Dick Burger as Hollywood mogul, and it’s a mix of corruption and glitz I’ve seen countless times. Not without its merits, but not a lot of them.

RASPUTIN: The Voice of the Dragon by Mike Mignola, Chris Robertson and Christopher Mitten looks like the start of a new running series rather than the standalone I expected. It’s 1941, Professor Bruttenholm is working for British intelligence and he begins to suspect a Nazi occult conspiracy involving a British order of mystics. Little does he know that he’s about to meet Rasputin, allied with the Nazis to bring about the appearance of Hellboy on the mortal plane. However as that’s three years off, I imagine we’ll have more adventures before then. Good, though “the non-white supporting character dies first” is a trope I wish they hadn’t deployed.

#SFWApro. Cover by Ed Hannigan, all rights remain with current holder.


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