My recent comics purge brought two series into my To Be Read pile. And both how now entered my mindset, but with decidedly different results. First up is the bad.
Now V was a television mini-series aired in the early 1980’s about a convert war being waged against humanity by alien invaders. The first one was a huge success and very much a Nazi allegory. When the next hugely successful mini-series aired, the humans finally won, but that technicality didn’t stop a weekly series from starting up shortly thereafter. And with it came this comic. Now I was an early and insane fan of V, and grabbed this DC Comic up like a hungry dog.
Unfortunately, as the television show started hemorrhaging viewers, interest died off and cancellation happened. My viewing stopped before that, and I only saw the last batch of episodes a few years ago on dvd. This coincided with my finally scoring the elusive last issue of the comic, which had studiously avoided me for over two decades. My main reason for completing the series was my Geek OCD, because, quite frankly, those early issues failed to impress. And the scuttlebutt I had heard of the rest of the comics was along the same lines.
So with my Great Comics Purge of 2013 done, V was yanked out to finally consume with my fanboy eyes.
And yes, my initial assessment, and the general fanboy rabble, was correct. This series sucked.
We start off with the awful, plot based writer Cary Bates who could never seem to get the series bible right, topping his sins with cheesy dialogue. The real problem is using late artist Carmine Infantino, whom I could never fathom his popularity in the 1970’s, drawing these stories. I have never liked Infantino. It is painfully obvious that he doesn’t try half the time. And consistency is a foreign concept to him. Multiple more rants could be done here about my intense dislike for him, but I shall move on. See end note for more.
The one bright light is issue seven. Guest writer Mindy Newell, who did quite abit of work for DC back in the 1980’s, provides an excellent character study of the human resistance leader Julie. This story had so many nuances, I read it twice in order to make sure I got the ending right. And even then I wasn’t quite sure. Infantino even stepped up to the plate and offered half decent art.
One of the sad parts of this series was every time the writer actually came up with a pretty good idea, it either ended too quickly or went nowhere fast. These glimmers of hope being doused like that made the later half of these eighteen issues a chore. To his credit, Bates penned a storyline towards the end that sought to clarity part of the television series final episode, which for a fan makes me slightly grateful.
Interestingly, the letters pages for most of the series presents massive praise for everything they do, with only minor nitpicks and quibbles being raised. Harsh criticism, like what I am leveling here, only come about towards the end of the run, and mostly echo my gripings.
Am I sorry for questing for the entire series? No. Am I sorry to have read the entire series? No. Am I sad they will no longer be a part of my collection? No. I still have the dvd of the first mini-series and the book. And most importantly I still have the memory of watching V back in the day. The Visitors Are Still My Friends.
Next up is the mostly good.
The Omega Men became another complete series to finally be yanked out and read. In the early eighties, these space faring freedom fighters from the Vega star system took the DC Universe by storm. First appearing in Green Lantern #141 and originally conceived as a one off idea, writer/creator Marv Wolfman saw some potential in this motley group of super powered aliens. Another Green Lantern story later on, followed by a lame Action Comics guest two-parter, paved the way for my premiere exposure to them, in The New Teen Titans #24. This was also my first Titans as well.
From here, DC launched them into their own series in April 1983. And that’s where my collection halted. The comic was direct market only, meaning newsstands would not get it, and this allowed more mature subject matter to be showcased. It was not till many years later, after the comic had ended, that I finally went about and gathered all thing Omega Men. My last, missing issue, came to be mine in August 1987, which meant that I promptly read them all soon thereafter. Yeah, right. Over twenty years later, I finally pulled the trigger on consuming them all. I can be very punctual as a Geek sometimes.
So Omega Men number one starts with Wolfman editing while Roger Slifer writing and Keith Giffen drawing. The war, the drama, the characters, the mayhem, the issues, the violence, and the science fiction are all played out extremely well and very entertainingly. Giffen’s touch is evident, with ideas popping up all over the place, and the storytelling being particularly strong. Lobo, by the way, makes his first appearance in issue three, wearing a really ugly outfit.
The first wheel falls off in issue seven, when Giffen suddenly departs. It coincides with the origin of the war and various other mysteries being explained, but not very convincingly. Slifer tries to keep the momentum going, bringing in real world parables for what is going on in Vega, as issues twelve and thirteen will attest, but it also becomes really clear problems behind the curtain are effecting the creative directions the title is taking. Slifer admits as much at the end of his run in issue thirteen.
Some fill-in issues limply move the stagnant plots and subplots forward, but make for laboured reading. Issues sixteen and twenty-one are fill-ins not even for The Omega Men. These awful stories have been minimally altered to fit into this world, but really should go back to whence they came.
Amidst this chaos is plopped writer Doug Moench. I have read very little of his long and accomplished work on Batman from this period, but to say he is a mismatch for this comic is an understatement. These eight issues feel like forever, with non-sensical plots and adsorb logic. It is during this time sales started slumping, even going into “tatters” as the new editor Alan Gold openly admits later in the series.
The Omega Men issue twenty-six is the new beginning for all involved. Writer Todd Klein teams with artist Shawn McManus and jumps us directly into a new exciting storyline. The Citadel are still threats to the free worlds of the Vega system, the Psion scientists are still marauding around and kidnapping innocents for fiendish experiments, but now a vile new evil called the Spider Guild is rampaging through their planets. Old characters are moved around and freshened up while new ones are thrust into the spotlight. The mantle of whininess is passed from leader Primus to newcomer Ryand’r, but thankfully only temporarily. My absolute favourite is the little guy in the glowing forcefield, Elu. They never show what he/she/it looks like unhindered, but I have some theories.
The rollercoaster of plots and characters and reinvention rambles on full throttle at this point. It is clear Klein loves this comic and keeps things jumping. The covers look amazing from this point on as well. Even more new freedom fighters are brought in, with veteran Omega Man and unrepentant coward Shlagen, becoming a featured character. Always loved Shlagen.
By issue thirty-two, a great solo story shows us how much Klein has mastered his craft, while issue thirty three is where everything is put into play and story tracks are setup for the next year. Oho-Besh is a most excellent addition at this point, providing a different slice of humanity to this war. Page seventeen is classic here.
While I would love to say The Omega Men went on for years and years at this point, giving us wonderful reading, but it is not so. Even a crossover with The New Teen Titans and Superman happening, sales did not rebound enough. Issue thirty-six closes out the story of Broot, one of the original Omega Men, and issue thirty-seven giving one last kick at Lobo in the series.
With the last issue, number thirty-eight, one of the major storylines is resolved in an emotional way. To say The Omega Men try to bring some much needed peace to their beloved Vega system with a very creative solution is an understatement, and one I did not see coming. Another coda for The Omega Men occurs over a year later in Teen Titans Spotlight issue fifteen. Here, Klein ties up two more loose ends with expert finesse and keeps the dream alive for a little while longer.
The Omega Men came out of limbo a few more times over the years. The crossover comic Invasion, another mini-series, and popping up in R.E.B.E.L.S. were some of the places they starred, but nothing that really thrilled the masses.
Reading the letter pages as I do with these old issues, it is interesting how much of what I think and feel is echoed in these missives. The early issues have people complaining about the violence in a war book, with later issue just complaining about the comic generally.
The Omega Men have a lot going for it, but mostly in the first year and later when Klein takes over. Many parts of me are happy to read these, and many parts still cringe at the middle. Such a shame DC could not make the original concept work, because it had so much potential. Maybe Klein and McManus could pitch a re-imagining to DC for The New 52.
Two series, both from the same time period, both featuring similar ideas. And both with very different results.
…is currently reading The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay by Michael Chabon.
P.S. Artist Carmine Infantino passed away after this post was written, but before it went online. While I stand by my comments about his artwork, I moved the release date to now out of respect for his loved ones.