Comics Ate My Brain

September 13, 2005

All Together Now: The OMAC Project #s 1-5, et al.

Filed under: crisis — Tom Bondurant @ 3:25 pm
[Plenty of SPOILERS, but you’ve probably already heard them.]

As the title indicates, I didn’t just read The OMAC Project #s 1-5, but included its prologue (Countdown To Infinite Crisis) and its digression (“Sacrifice”). I did this to be fair, and to get the most complete picture of the story writer Greg Rucka and his colleagues have been trying to tell.

The end result is a beast — a tale which, with the addition of OMAC #6’s 22 pages, will top out at an even 300 pages. Even with some editing in the Countdown and “Sacrifice” parts, that’s still over twice as much as the other 6-issue, 132-page Infinite Crisis lead-in miniseries. I wrote earlier that it feels like more has been happening in OMAC than in those others, and clearly much of that is due to OMAC‘s expanded scope. It’s tempting to observe that, like its villainous Brother Eye, The OMAC Project has slipped out of its creator’s control and is growing dangerous and unwieldy, but I don’t know how far that particular comparison goes.

Nevertheless, OMAC‘s strength is its air of doom. Brother Eye is strongly reminiscent of Solaris, the Tyrant Sun from Grant Morrison’s 1998 company-wide crossover DC One Million, and perhaps in the DC timeline that’s a happy coincidence. (Solaris, an artificial satellite, was a future enemy of Superman who had a brief “good” period. Also, where DC One Million featured the “Hourman Virus,” OMAC‘s eponymous virus makes ordinary folk into killing machines.) Like another Morrison creation, Prometheus, Brother Eye has the advantage of knowing Batman’s strategic mind and being able to think past it. An omnipresent satellite with an army of unstoppable cyborgs and a mandate to Kill All Hu– uh, Metas is a pretty potent combination for an adventure tale. Rucka does a good job of making Brother Eye and the OMACs believably invulnerable.

OMAC‘s other big asset is its air of manipulation. At its core, Max Lord’s plan is simply to eliminate all superheroes before they become too dangerous to be controlled. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, since Max is able to demonstrate how “easily” Superman can be tricked into turning on his closest friends. Because that also forces Wonder Woman to choose between either killing himself or Superman, Max again makes sure his interests come out ahead. Diana killing Superman would have been too good to be true, but even Max’s own death drives wedges between the Big Three. Batman is at odds with the JLA over their reaction to Dr. Light, and the JLA responds in kind to the creation of Brother Eye. Now Superman has attacked Batman, and Diana’s actions have alienated her from both of them. This division and conquest must only make it easier for the OMACs to eliminate heroes one by one.

Unfortunately, the narrative itself is all over the place. Countdown was a tale of a B-list superhero uncovering an A-list plot, and being ignored by the A-listers along the way — Death of a Salesman with Blue Beetle as Willy Loman. However, once Beetle was dead he became the McGuffin, and except for a few scenes where he serves as a martyr, the emphasis shifted quickly to the top of the A-list.

Speaking of McGuffins, perhaps none is more inexplicable to the uninitiated reader than this Sasha Bordeaux woman who Batman kisses passionately in issue #2. Batman isn’t James Bond, so this just isn’t something you think he does that often — but Rucka acts as if everyone knows who she is. Maybe he’s waiting for issue #6 for that bit of herstory. The OMAC artists don’t do her any favors either, making her only just distinguishable from the other dark-haired, black-jumpsuited Checkmate flunky with whom she spends most of the miniseries. Sasha was Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard, trained briefly by Batman once he learned she’d discovered his dual identity. She then spent some time in prison as a suspect in the murder of one of Bruce’s girlfriends, but was spirited away by the shadowy government agency called Checkmate — and now she’s a cyborg who probably holds the deus ex machina key. Everything up to that last part could have been explained a little better.

Then there’s the whole “Sacrifice” side trip, which highlights Superman’s mind-control with chilling effect, but which also pulls the reader farther from the central narrative. It’s basically a dream sequence that takes up about a third of the story, and was designed to take advantage of the periodical format. Thus, it comes off slightly less well when read all at once. I say “slightly” because I still think its repetitions work, but some of its twists are more obvious when all the parts are read in rapid succession. I don’t know if the impact of “Sacrifice” would be as great if it were told more economically, and I think that impact is crucial to the larger OMAC plot. It just feels like a right turn into high grass in the context of the OMAC miniseries, especially when combined with Countdown.

Honestly, I’m not sure OMAC was intended to be read as a single story. Its three parts — Countdown, the core miniseries, and “Sacrifice” — all feel separate enough from each other that there doesn’t seem to be a central plot thread beyond the looming threat of Brother Eye. The seeds of distrust sown among Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are naturally products of OMAC, but the miniseries seems to play out in “real time,” acknowledging events in the larger DC universe without any other comment. In other words, OMAC is probably best appreciated that way — read month-to-month over a six-month period not as a single narrative, but a series of waypoints; and probably read in conjunction with a handful of other titles.

Despite all of that, The OMAC Project has been a fairly exciting adventure story, with some genuinely scary moments. This helps redeem it from just being the chronicle of a process, but I am afraid that at the end of issue #6 the story still won’t be over.

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