Okay, for those of you coming in late, here's your quick lowdown. DC Comics (they who publish Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman etc) are currently running a huge shakedown across their whole product line. They are literally reshaping the universe
in whats known as INFINITE CRISIS
. Admittedly, this would be more amazing if DC would stop doing this every ten years or so, but I guess the precedent has been set and its clear that every time they do it there's a good boost to their profits and it gets the fan base all excited again in the way only fanboys can be.
The cynic in me (who's been reading comics for about 14 years now) feels with stronger editors and iron control over treatment of characters you wouldnt get so much messy continuity that you have to start again, over and over and over. At some point, you just start to look a bit amateur and downright careless after all.
As this upcoming Crisis looms, lots of characters relationships are being shaken up and many founding principles and concepts of the DC universe are being refreshed and being tainted with doubt.
The Omac Project
is part of this. I wouldn't be so brazen as to say its a cash-in outright, but DC are running many one-off limited series to show how the characters in the DC universe are being affected by the upcoming storm. And as a fan the pressure is on to keep on top of all this stuff.
looked like it had potential. Anything with the Batman (currently hot again) as a central figure and rumoured parallels with the highly enjoyable JLA : Tower of Babel
mini-series gets onto my must-buy list.
Tower of Babel
was a logical conclusion to Batmans need for control and his slight paranoia. For; if it stood to reason that if guys like Superman could be mind-controlled and/or were vulnerable to control by magic, the question is; who would stop an insane Superman? Who could? Batman took it upon himself to treat his closest allies as potential foes, compiling dossiers and strategems to overcome their strengths and take them down hard. If the appropriate time ever came
. In Tower of Babel
Batmans files on the JLA were used by a foe to neutralise the Justice League and when the info was tracked back to Batman, nothing was ever quite the same again. Trust was lost, suspicions were raised, and Batman just narrowly avoided being forcibly removed from the main JLA roster.
Early info going into The OMAC Project
was that Batman was up to something potentially similar again.
As the 6 issue series has now concluded it's a good time to look it over and see whether or not it lived up to its hype and if it would be worth picking up the inevitable trade paperback.
Issue 1 : ..So that man may live
Ouch. This comic doesn't mess about. Within the first pages we are treated to the cold and heartless disposal of the body of the Blue Beetle, a much loved and fondly thought of B-hero who died via gunshot to the head. The trigger had been pulled by Maxwell Lord, an ex-director of the JLA and close friend of Beetle...or so we had thought.
It's brutal, it's shocking, it's moving. Good comics should aspire to all this, but in the case of the loss of Blue Beetle I'm not convinced that the lonely death of a popular character is the way to go about it. Anyone could write the death of say, Superman and sell a million copies. Oh wait, they did that already! The death of a long-running character should mean more than a cheap way to draw readers in, which for the majority of fans was how this came across.
His murderer, Maxwell Lord is ruling the secret ex-government task force known as Checkmate with an iron fist of tyranny, and while Sasha (an ex of Batmans) is part of the Checkmate team, and deeply sickened by what has occurred she daren't speak up for fear of her life. Indeed she carries on the pretense of being loyal knowing she is potentially monitored constantly by Checkmates mysterious "eye" computer system.
Elsewhere, Batman realises the system he calls "brother" has seemingly gone out of contact with him.
Beetles best friend, Booster Gold starts the search for his buddy, regretting the little attention that he and the other heroes gave Beetle when he felt he was under threat, quite correctly as it turned out - though Booster doesnt know that yet. Right now, Beetle seems to be just missing.
Sasha finally gets a message to Batman and he realises that "brother" just became a threat. His secret system just went rogue though it's not clear to us readers yet just what it was capable of....
Once more Batman thinks back to his recent discovery in Countdown to Infinite Crisis
that years prior he chanced upon some of the JLA members using magic to erase the memories of selected foes, effectively giving the unwilling recipient lobotomies
. Enraged at this inhumane treatment carried out by a kangaroo court, Batman was also given the same enchantment to remove the knowledge of his team mates actions.
(To be fair, the "guilty" heroes were in a situation that many, including myself, felt demanded this radical step)
It is clear Batmans "brother" program is at least partially a response to his newly discovered lack of trust and faith in his colleagues. The potential of his team-mates to be a threat to humanity while under enemy control still remains as always, and it seems likely "brother" was at the very least least some sort of superhuman monitoring method, as evidenced by the satellite in orbit shown in the closing pages of Issue 1.
Batman gives the news
Batman reveals to the JLA that Beetle is dead, thanks to Sasha's info, and sick with grief Booster Gold makes a quick assasination attempt on Batman which Superman deflects.
Remembering how Batman was dismissive of Beetle when he asked for his help days before, Booster seethes at the knowledge Batmans system is likely also involved in some way in the death of his best friend.
Maxwell Lord activates an Omac. In a bar in Moscow a third rate villain who likes to try to pick up chicks while wearing his goofy costume is brutally sliced in two after a member of the public transforms into a blue robotic sentinel looking creature. Despite his best attempts to defend himself, the Omac adapts to each attack and neutralises the threat efficiently.
Maxwell then consolidates his power by using his previously unknown mind-control power to have his main rivals killed. Max is obviously executing a well thought out strategy, and we are left to wonder what is coming next.
Sasha escapes Checkmate and meets Batman in secret, or so they thought..
As the Omacs go to work on killing our heroes, Batman has no knowledge of what these things are which suprises Sasha as she had believed "you created brother - I thought you created these things too!".
Sasha is recaptured after Batman is wounded but he fights on until he finds that these things bleed. Knowing there are people inside them, his guard slips and would have died but for the timely intervention of Superman.
Booster Gold meets up with Guy Gardner and they decide to reform their version of the JLA to get payback for the loss of their good friend Beetle.
Worried by what he sees via spy technology of the heroes actions, Maxwell decides to bring his plans forward. Using his mind-control via remote link it becomes clear he just took control of....Superman
. It looks like Batmans deepest fears may have been valid after all!
Issue 4 : Last Stand
Ok, this is where the series lost me. Where i basically threw my arms up into the air and swore in Kryptonian. 3 issues of this baby I had bought and suddenly there has been a huge jump in the story which took place in an issue of Superman. Sure, I can piece together what i missed fairly quickly, but c'mon - shit like this just pisses people off. If I need to buy an issue of Superman to get the full story, just call it a "6 issue series plus 1 of Superman" please. Killing off the man who had been the main protagonist in this storyline up until now in another comic
was just plain wrong.
Maxwell Lord is dead. (Very suddenly
if you didnt buy that bloody Superman issue. Probably missed a good fight or two, anytime Superman is a bad guy there's gotta be some good action, right?)
Wonder Woman stands over Max's body unrepetant.
From here on out our threat is the Omac, the earth orbiting satellite that was key to Maxwell's schemes. The blue sentinel drone droids, known as Omacs are his obeying footsoldiers.
Omac activates a contingency plan previously set to be executed on the death of Maxwell Lord. Was his own death always part of his plan? Possibly..
Superman is outraged at Wonder Womans actions but before they can get into it, distress calls come in think and fast. Omacs are activating everywhere worldwide, even in Checkmates own headquarters as their own troops are slaughtered wholesale.
Sasha escapes in the chaos but it becomes clear to us and her that she is no longer entirely human herself.
"Brother" contacts a badly beaten (must have happened in that Superman issue, damnit!) and resting Bruce Wayne to explain it's new identity as Omac and how it is going to purge the earth of all "metas" to protect mankind. The lingering threat of all metahumans and their potential for mass slaughter means the only logical conclusion is to protect mankind by effective metahuman genoicide. By combining Batmans program for purely monitoring metahumans, with a virus that transforms and controls normal humans, Maxwell has created something truly diabolical. Despite Bruces screamings of the "perversion" of his original programming by Maxwell Lord he is helpless as Omac broadcasts his attacks on members of the superhuman community, both heroes and villains.
Issue 5 : Pawn no more
Ok, thankfully no more jumps in the story.
Heroes attack Omacs worldwide but as soon as one Omac falls two arrive to replace it. Omacs seem endless in number, can the heroes survive? Adapting instantly to attacks and seemingly infallible in their knowledge of the metas abilities and limitations the battle is fierce indeed.
Rocket Red, a long time standing member of the JLA sacrifices himself nobly to bring one of the many battles to a brief respite that allows the heroes to regroup and get their injured to medical aid.
Elsewhere Sasha battles for her very existence and transforms into a metal hybrid human similar in look to the Omacs. Clearly against her will she has been turned into some sort of Omac version 2, though she has no idea what this may mean. Thankfully however she is in full control of herself and her actions. She further discovers the human hosts of the Omacs have a virus inside them which allows them to be turned into mindless robot Omac soldiers. If the host dies however so will the Omac legacy in that person. The hosts are blind to what they carry and their activities when transformed.
Sasha contacts Bruce and lets him know the Omacs are being activated.
All of them.
All One million, three hundred and seventy three thousand four hundred and sixty-two
Issue 6 : Animus Autonomous
Batman determines not to worry about the foot soldiers but to aim for the source, the Omac satellite in space.
Sasha sends out the worldwide call for any and all info on combatting the Omac, whether the intel comes from friend or foe is irrelevant, everyone is on the same team now. The team that wants to simply be alive tomorrow.
The late Blue Beetle had been a respected thinker and inventor. Batman makes a move to grab one of the Beetles tools that can generate an electromagnetic pulse strong enough to create the equivalent of a "fifty-megaton blast".
He tasks the Green Lanterns with spreading the word that he needs as many heroes in one spot as possible to draw as many Omacs as possible in.
Some days it sucks to be a hero
The EMP is detonated, the ruse works and the heroes go from pure survival mode to trying to save the human hosts of the Omacs as they are returned to normal, most in mid-air at the time.
Sashas new found abilities let her tap directly in the Omac satellite but she is noticed and ejected forcefully. As she is reunited with Batman, she tells him over two hundred thousand Omacs remain and the Omac satellite has gone into hiding.
Worldwide the meta community licks their wounds and counts their blessings. For now. Some days, just surviving is enough.
As a parting shot however, Omac simultaneously broadcasts to every tv station worldwide the footage of Wonder Woman snapping the neck of Maxwell Lord. Taken out of context, it looks bad for Wonder Woman and is sure to have repercussions for our favourite Amazon warrior.
My overall thoughts?
A good read, plenty of action and drama which is tricky to convey in an article like this. It's a page turner, there's no denying it. There were clear moments of good writing although a series like this will always be controversial with the long standing fans with myself.
Maxwell Lord for example, was a deep rooted figure in the DC universe who was clearly and blatantly a good guy, and his sudden transformation to uber-villain would have been downright unbelieveable if it hadn't been carried out so sincerely. As a reader we basically have to accept it that "good guys sometimes go bad" despite the fact it's a character we've laughed and cried with over the years.
The edgier nature of comics these days continues with the harsh treatment of Beetles body. It's a trend i continue to find disturbing. If comics had been like this when I was a kid I don't know I'd have got on board with them, though as an adult now I can go with it. Just.
And it's good to see Booster Gold being written better. For years writers seemed to forget he was from the future and should have knowledge of stuff like this, including when heroes die. His parting comment of "i'm going home" resonates deep for me, he was a favourite hero of mine at one point in my youth. I look forward to finding out where his future lies now.
Series like this will be infamous both for the good and the bad contained in them. You do feel that sometimes as long as people are talking about them, DC will consider it a victory, regardless of the short-term taste they may leave in the mouths of some readers.
At the time as I was picking this up monthly, it was an attention grabbing read which left me eager for my next installment, in retrospect and in rereading as a whole it does naturally lose a fair amount of impact.
There is also something faintly unsatisfying about the way the series is set clearly as piece of a bigger puzzle and is harder as a result to judge on its own merits. And frankly, the EMP solution to the Omac situation was a poor cop-put, unoriginal and probably done better many years ago in the James Bond film. Or Oceans Eleven for that matter. It was too neat a solution to a major problem of a million plus foes, with the further cop-out of the Omac satellite escaping to be a threat in the future.
Overall a good read, but lacking in resolution in too many areas to be a clear-cut quality experience.