The PopCult Bookshelf
Jack Kirby, of course, is the legendary creator of Captain America (with Joe Simon), The Fantastic Four, The X Men, Thor, The Avengers and most of Marvel Comics (with Stan Lee) and The New Gods, Kamandi, The Demon, The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur. His work is historic and influential, and is the epitome of what an action-oriented comic book should be.
Which makes examining one of his lesser works so fascinating. On its surface it seems to be a typical science-fiction superhero comic book, loaded with action and explosions and lots of Kirby’s trademark mayhem and monsters. But when you look at it closer, it’s filled with the seeds of a million ideas, amazing storytelling potential, concepts appearing ahead of their time and Kirby’s personal philosophies.
“OMAC: One Man Army Corps” is basically Kirby’s take on how to send an earlier creation of his, Captain America, into the future. According to the introduction by Mark Evanier, Kirby had cooked up these ideas while working at Marvel, watching as his collaborator Stan Lee contributed less to their partnership but took more of the credit, and rather than give these ideas away, Kirby decided to keep them in his files for future use.
OMAC is more than simply an update of Captain America, though. The story is set in “The World That’s Coming,”an odd Utopian/Dystopian future where a one-world-government keeps things running in an orderly fashion by using unarmed “Peace Agents” who use cosmetic masks to hide their ethnicity so that nobody thinks they favor one nation over another.
“Peace agents” are armed with technology, but the fear of conflict is so strong that they do not use weapons or armies. Organized crime and villainous behavior is out of control, and the Peace Agents, who work for an organization that evolved out of NASA, begin a secret project that will select one person to become a One Man Army Corps.
Created by Professor Myron Forest, Project OMAC is intended to keep the peace on Earth. The Professor explains, “The nations dare not use large armies. Large armies lead to large wars. That’s why you exist, OMAC, to contain conflict before it grows…”
The key component of Project OMAC is a satellite called “Brother Eye.” Brother Eye is an artificial intelligence that watches over and sends beams that power up a fellow chosen for his non-partisanship, Buddy Blank. When souped up by Brother Eye’s power beams, Buddy becomes a beefed-up muscular superhero with a mohawk. Code name: OMAC.
So you can see there’s a little bit of Captain America, a little bit of the original Captain Marvel, an interesting take on a future where peace is a fragile, precious goal, and loads of Kirby’s wild ideas.
There are so many concepts that are crammed in here as throw-away ideas that it’s hard to believe that this comic was done in 1974 and 75. There are missles guided by television cameras like drones are today. Satellite communication is common. There is genetic and hormonal manipulation of people. Ultra-realistic sex androids are turned into bombs, pre-dating both Real Girls and the exploding Fembots in “Austin Powers” (this was done first in “Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs,” though) There are political ideas at work here that were decades ahead of its time.
The problem is, this is not Kirby at his most inspired. He was near the end of his run at DC Comics and was feeling unappreciated. Promises made to him when he jumped over from Marvel had not been kept and OMAC has the feeling of a work that was created just to mark the time until he left.
It’s still solid comic book storytelling. But it’s also filled with unrealized potential. Kirby sets up, but never explores the tenuous grasp of the one-world government on worldwide peace. We clearly see OMAC being psychologically manipulated and controlled by them, but that never boils over into a conflict. Brother Eye’s relationship with Buddy is unique, almost like Jiminy Cricket combined with the Wizard Shazam, but it is merely depicted, not tested. OMAC’s blind loyalty to both the Peace Agents and Brother Eye is one major weakness of this story.
Much of this is because Kirby left DC and OMAC was canceled with issue #8. The last panel of what was to have been a cliffhanger was hastily re-written to abruptly end the story. It’s a real shame because Kirby obviously had a lot of ideas left and could have told some great stories in the universe he created for this character to inhabit. The disappointment with OMAC is that you are left wanting so much more.
The series was revived a few years later for a short run by Jim Starlin and was tied to another creation of Kirby’s, Kamandi, by other writers. Later other folks like John Byrne finished up the story of the orignal OMAC. A couple of drastically different reboots of the character have appeared in recent years with little success.
It’s the original eight-issue run by Jack Kirby that gives us the primal concepts. And that’s what we get in this collection. It’s part crime-fighting superhero, part mid-1970s futurism and part political thriller. That the last part is not fully realized is the weakness here. A nice addition to this volume, along with Evanier’s introduction, is a handful of Kirby’s pages presented in pencil form. They show a bit of Kirby’s work process. The orignal books are inkned by Mike Royer and D. Bruce Berry.
“Jack Kirby’s OMAC: One Man Army Corps” is a key book for Kirby completists, and it’s a solid action comic book. Even lesser Kirby is head-and-shoulders above the work of most other comic book creators, but it is not his best work.