If you are a lover of Bronze Age Marvel, you should pick this run up — it has been collected, but it has more appeal if you manage to find cheap copies of the original run.
This classic comic review of Omega the Unknown #1 contains some spoilers.
Steve Gerber must be one of the most under-rated writers of all time, and Omega The Unknown is one of his most puzzling and hidden runs ever.
Back in the Bronze Age of comics, writer Steve Gerber was surprising readers everywhere with some crazy arcs on Marvel titles, that often go unnoticed today. Most of you will perhaps remember his outstanding, and often controversial, work on Howard The Duck, and his mind-bending stories in Man-Thing. His wordy, often multi-layered scripts would take the most trippy ideas and embed them in the world of that time.
Gerber’s career would run right through to the 2000s, and he sadly passed away in 2007. His other work would includes The Defenders, Daredevil, and She-Hulk for Marvel and some backup stuff for DC including Doctor Fate and Nevada for Vertigo.
However, today I had a look at issue #1 of Omega The Unknown.
Written by Gerber and long time collaborator Mary Skrenes, with art from Jim Mooney, the cover has Omega fighting what looks like a robot attacking young James-Michael Starling, who is in a hospital bed, reading copies of The Amazing Spider-Man.
It’s a classic cover in the Marvel style, bombastic, colorful, and beautifully designed by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnot. Marvel covers had a house style, and it’s plastered all over this one.
The splash page again throws us straight into the action, with Omega on the run while being attacked by laser fire. By page three he has been shot in the back by his attackers, and in a segue to the next scene that Alan Moore would have proud of, we switch to 12-year-old James Michael, who has experienced the attack through a nightmare in his sleep. James is comforted by his parents, but he is anxious about leaving his mountain home and attending a new school. There is an aloofness to these characters that is deliberately unnatural and lets the reader know there is more going on than at first sight.
The next day, James’s parents explain that he must now start attending school, but in the car on route, there is a terrible collision with a truck, and in the wreckage, we see that his parents are robots. As his “mother” starts to dissolve, she leaves James with a cryptic warning.
Meanwhile, on another world, Omega has been captured and is witnessing a robot army destroying everything in its path. He manages to escape to a rocket that he pilots away before we switch scenes again to James, now hospitalized after being in a coma after the crash.
The doctor in charge is puzzled and eager for answers as to why there are no remains of anyone else being in the car, so in order to keep tabs on James, he persuades nurse Ruth Grant to look after him, including having James move into her apartment with her and her room-mate.
The parties all agree on this plan, but while still under the care of the hospital, James is attacked during the night by one of the steel assassins that have been attacking Omega. Before he can be vaporized, Omega arrives and fights the robot off, and in the heat of the battle, James suddenly fires energy bolts from his hands, destroying the robot. Omega lifts it up and disappears with it just as Dr. Barrows enters and sees that burnt into the palms of James’ hands is the symbol Omega.
It’s a tremendous first issue, and there’s a lot going on here, yet Gerber manages to introduce us to the concept in an easy 18 pages. The fact that Omega never speaks, creates a mystery around who he is, where he comes from, and who the robot killers are. James too is a mystery as we wonder who he is, where his robotic parents came from, and why are they on Earth at all? We know there is a connection between him and Omega, but what is it and why?
Omega the Unknown ran for 10 issues, but low sales meant that cancellation was inevitable. Gerber would fall out with Marvel over the rights to Howard The Duck, and the newspaper strip featuring Howard, and there would be legal battles that widened the rift.
However, the 10 issues of Omega the Unknown would find an audience and garner a small but loyal following. Eventually, to try and resolve the loose threads, Steven Grant would be requested to finish Omega’s story in 2 issues of The Defenders. Although it did the job, it is not considered to be a satisfactory ending for many fans.
Omega would finally receive another shot at glory, though. After languishing in comics limbo, novelist Jonathon Lethem would be allowed to work on a maxi-series featuring the cast from Omega. Lethem was a fan of Gerber’s run, and despite initial rumblings from Gerber, the two would meet and discuss the series, with Lethem eventually getting Gerber’s blessing on the project.
If you are a lover of Bronze Age Marvel, you should pick this run up — it has been collected, but it has more appeal if you manage to find cheap copies of the original run. Lethem’s highly praised run is also available, and for completists, it’s a must read.