Omega Men (DC Comics)
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Barnaby Bagenda, Toby Cypress (#3)
Omega Men: The Complete Series will be released August 30th, 2016
You’re meant to be disoriented when you start Tom King’s Omega Men. You’re tossed into the midst of war, specifically a military strike on suspected terrorist outpost. Even if you had followed previous incarnations of the Omega Men, you will feel just like the soldiers on the dropship: jostled around, anxious, not exactly sure what happens when the door drops down. Omega Men follows the titular outlaws of the Vega System, composed of Karna, Hy’nxx, Voorl, Ogyptu, and Changralyn. You will explore these planets in light touches over the course of the series but never truly know them. In the same way, you will explore aspects of our characters’ pasts but never really know them. In fact, the protagonist of the series, former Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, won’t even come to the forefront til the third issue. Omega Men subverts expectations you have about “superhero” comics at every turn, mainly because it is not about superheroes.
The original Omega Men were created in the pages of Green Lantern, but came into their own under the hand of Keith Giffen in their mid-80s ongoing series. The basic premise is that the Vega System is under the control of the Citadel, a tyrannical fascist empire. The Omega Men were originally simple renegades from planets under the heel of the Citadel. They rebelled and fought back with a rotating membership of other alien beings they encountered along the way. Kyle Rayner was created as the replacement for the longtime Green Lantern Hal Jordan. He operated as the hero during the 1990s and early 2000s. Most recently, Kyle was given the white ring and featured in the New Guardians series. With the conclusion of that series, Kyle was essentially in limbo until he re-emerged in Omega Men.
The art by Indonesian penciller and inker Barnaby Bagenda is stellar and improves as the series goes along. Some of those last few issues have such gorgeous panels. Panel structure is also very important to how this story is told. I was reminded of the layouts in Watchmen, nine panel pages, slight changes from panel to panel. This very precise structure belies a deeper meaning, tied directly to the themes King is exploring with religion and faith.
Tom King sets out to obscure the black and white nature of the original Omega Men concept. Without question they are a terrorist organization. They kill without guilt because they are justified through personal experiences and religious beliefs that these deaths are needed to achieve peace. Team leader Primus even comes from a political faction that starts with peaceful resistance but devolves into shedding blood in the name of peace. At the start, the Viceroy, leader of the Citadel, is presented a clear cut as the villain. But as the series progresses and his connections to the various members of Omega Men is revealed, that is becomes a lot less clear.
Other than Kyle Rayner and the Viceroy, the cast is made of Primus, Tigorr, Doc, Broot, Kalista, and Scrapps. If you are a fan of the Omega Men most of those names are familiar. Scrapps was Tom King’s original creation, based on his own daughter. All the characters are developed subtly in the first half of the series. It’s in the second half ,when some revelations are made about one of Vega’s planets, that the reality of how the Omega Men connect to the Citadel and the Viceroy is revealed.
King is interested in exploring the gray areas of war and religious conflict. It is much more interesting to have your perceptions of characters twisted and forced into re-examination. Kyle Rayner has traveled to Vega and given over his power ring to attempt to broker peace. When the series opens he’s already the hostage of the Omega Men. He has his throat surgically slit and a proximity bomb implanted as insurance to keep him around. His personal journey from prisoner to warrior to ambassador is the most captivating part of the series. The final pages, where Rayner recounts his former life as an illustrator and comic book artist takes the operatic scope of what he has just gone through and brings it together with an intimate examination of faith.
The most shocking thing about Omega Men is that our protagonists are essentially Space ISIS. It’s hard to justify much of what Kalista, a charismatic and bloodthirsty princess and Omega Man, does as heroic in anyway. Yet, the series finds ways to make us want her to keep fighting. We learn the reasons they have come to the point of this incredibly violence is through violent subjugation at the hand of the Citadel’s Alphas, the elite upper class of the Vega System. The extraction of natural resources and the environmental harm is does to ecosystem and populations is also brought to the forefront.
Kyle Rayner is changed by war and the Omega Men face very uncertain futures at the series’ conclusion. There is a moment where Kyle gives an inspirational speech, the type of thing designed to turn the tide and rally people for the greater good. This is brutally undercut by a vicious act of terrorism and it leaves him reeling. He’s used to leading and being the savior. But in the midst of a war of zealotry no one is willing to hear reason. Probably one of the most relevant comics DC has produced in many years, the twelve issues of Omega Men serve as a statement on not just the conflict in the Middle East, but conflicts at home and abroad, physical battles and ideological ones, and how when we blind ourselves to empathy we’re left with a world not worth saving.