Praise Alpha! Praise Omega!
[Warning: This piece contains a minor spoiler for ‘Green Lantern: New Guardians’ as well as a brief discussion about the early plotting of ‘The Omega Men’]
So, if you’ve been following DC’s Rebirth initiative, you might have heard of Tom King. He’s writing this little book called ‘Batman’ with pencils by David Finch, inks by Matt Banning, Danny Miki and Sandra Hope, colours by Jordie Bellaire and letters by John Workman. Its first arc ended just last week with #5 and the final page proves the ride is only going to get crazier.
You might not have heard about ‘The Omega Men’ which started in June 2015 from King, Barnaby Bagenda, Joze Marzan, Jr., Romulo Fajardo, Jr. and Pat Brosseau with covers by Trevor Hutchison. Sadly it was DC’s lowest selling book which is incredibly unfair because it’s the best DC book from the past 5 years.
I’m being deadly serious; this book was the highlight of my pulls month to month and has firmly cemented itself in my Top 3 DC books of all time as well as my Top 10 Comics of all time. And as luck would have it, the collected edition is being released the week I publish this piece. What are the chances?
(Quite high, its release was the impetus for this post)
When I’ve been recommending it normally, I’ve called it this generation’s ‘Watchmen’ and I’m not just saying this because it’s a 12 issue maxiseries, but also because how it uses a 9 panel grid and how each issue attempts something different. For example, #3 sees the Omega Men attempt to capture a high value target and when things turn violent, the framing is locked in place resulting an action sequence that’s crisp and choreographed expertly meaning you can see exactly how the characters transition from each move or stance to the next.
So the Omega Men were created by Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton in ‘Green Lantern’ #141, they then had their own series which ran 38 issues by Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen and a later 6 issue series by Andersen Gabrych and Henry Flint. The Omega Men hail from the Vega system which is ruled by the Citadelians with an iron fist looking to indoctrinate the citizens of the system into their regime. The Omega Men are a group of rebels fighting back. A treaty has decreed that the Green Lantern Corps are forbidden from entering the Vega system. In the original material, the founding members included Primus, Kalista, Tigorr, Broot and Doc.
But What About the Newest Series?
The set-up for King’s 12 issue series is very much the same, except Kyle Rayner (a White Lantern) comes to the Vega system and hands over his ring in order to gain passage in the hopes of being able to kickstart negotiations between the Citadel and the Omega Men so peace can return to the Vega system. Instead the Omega Men stage his execution, stick a bomb in his neck and attempt to coerce him into joining their cause.
In this series King doesn’t so much as blur the lines between black (evil) and white (good) resulting in a grey (morally ambiguous). Instead, he removes the lines and allows readers to decide whether the Omega Men’s cause is righteous and if their actions are justified. Essentially imagine the opening to ‘A New Hope’ where the Tantive IV is being pursued by a gargantuan Star Destroyer, but picture it so both sides are fighting dirty and neither much cares who’s caught in the crossfire so long as they achieve their goals. Possibly inspired by the time he spent in Iraq, the series examines war, its purposes in the world and its consequences. Whether it can be good, or righteous. Whether it’s just a means to an end or something more. Whether it can be deemed ‘worth it’ once the dust has cleared and the true extent of the damage can be examined.
Bagenda creates a new world every issue which feels lived in and distinct – the two panels above this paragraph adhere to a general aesthetic, but are completely different worlds (Thanks to Reddit user /u/Kobe13 for providing the panels), Fajardo, Jr.’s colour palette is fairly muted, so when there’s high-octane panels which demand the colour pops and stands out, that effect is achieved. I could probably write a piece about Hutchison’s covers which take the form of propaganda posters. Some of them are defaced which bolsters the idea this is a war of give and take where both sides are fighting to push forward, but hold on to what they already own.
This is most evident when you look at the cover to #6 which combines elements from #2’s cover as well as #3’s with an image of Kyle as if someone has tried to tear the posters off the wall and a subsequent poster has been placed in the same spot. Another interesting dynamic to the cover is how someone has clearly tried to rip off the poster of Kyle, likely as a result of the word ‘Capture’ which is mostly visible and suggests that support for the Omega Men has grown, so much so that people are willing to try to protect them in whatever way they can.
I could probably write a piece on each issue – how #1 skips front-loading the book with exposition and instead we join the frenzy in medias res (Yes I’m putting my film degree to use, what of it?) meaning the characters are defined by their actions in battle, how #2 uses the 9 panel grid to provide a disturbing take on the Green Lantern oath by comparing it to how it’s recited in other comics, I’ve already spoken about the staging of #3 and I feel it’s unfair to tell you about the following 9 issues and instead let you discover how wonderful it is for yourself.
As a final point I want to add that the book was originally cancelled after the release of #4. It was subsequently uncancelled within the week. It was DC’s lowest selling book, way below the normal amount a book needs to sell in order to carry on being published. Fan support was so strong that DC reversed their decision and let the story play out to its natural conclusion. The last time they uncancelled a book was ‘Manhunter’ which was almost 10 years ago. That doesn’t happen to any old book.
Tom King is now writing Batman, just over 2 years after he got his start at DC, just over a year since Omega Men started, he’s headlining their flagship book (and almost ironically after Omega Men’s sales, their best-selling book in June). They don’t hand out that gig to just anyone.
I’ve bought every single issue of the series. I’m buying the trade. I’ll buy the Absolute if they do one. I’ll buy it in every format I possibly can. You should too.
That’s how good it is.
Thanks for reading.
If you enjoyed this then please share it with others. Keep circulating the hot takes.
P.S. Also each of the 12 issues and book as a whole is symmetrical and that’s really freaking cool.
If you’d like a taster of the book then check out the sneak peek DC released prior to the series’ release which sets the stage. What’s genius about the sneak peek is that it’s 8 pages from a static camera angle which draws comparisons to videos from ISIS and other such terrorist organisations which creates an expectation in your mind of who the Omega Men are. It purposely makes them out to be the bad guys because they’ve captured Kyle Rayner and slit his throat which can then be juxtaposed to the following issues as we delve more into who the Omega Men are.
So I was trying to work out a way to include this in the main body, but to discuss it would reveal more about the series than I would like to. Regardless this video is from Strip Panel Naked (a channel you should be following anyways) about #9 and how it utilises the 9 panel grid and the symmetrical nature of the book to convey control. Ideally watch this after you’ve read the series, but if you need some more convincing about how well this series is structured then give it a watch.
And now a multitude of places where you can purchase the collected edition.
Should you be someone who reads digitally
Amazon UK and US links. Obviously if you live elsewhere then just search for Omega Men: The End is Here because there’s not enough space here for every country’s Amazon.
Wordery should this be cheaper than your standard online retailer.
InStockTrades link for you lucky yanks with ya cheap books and free shipping when you spend on cheap books. If you want to qualify for free shipping then why not pick up the rest of King’s work – Grayson, Vision and Sheriff of Babylon
Or you can of course buy from your Local Comic Store should you wish to support them.