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Year of the Artist, Day 183: Jack Kirby, Part 7 – OMAC #1

omac2002 (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jack Kirby, and the issue is OMAC #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 1974. These scans are from the trade paperback Jack Kirby’s OMAC: One Man Army Corps, which came out in May 2008. Enjoy!

Kirby, as we know, was a terrific workhorse, so he cranked out a bunch of work simultaneously – according to The Jack Kirby Collector #62, which came out not too long ago, he was drawing OMAC #1 in August 1973 (yes, even though it came out a year later), and at the same time, he was drawing Mister Miracle #18 and Kamandi #14. Kirby would laugh at today’s prima-donna artists who take six months to draw one 20-page comic!!!! And yet, the quality of the art is superb. OMAC, of course, didn’t last too long, but it’s a tremendous book about a dystopian future that still feels relevant. And, of course, it features one of the most disturbing first pages in comics history, which I’m certainly not going to pass up!

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Obviously, many, many people have opined about this page, but it never loses its power. Kirby never struck me as a particularly kinky dude, but this first page definitely qualifies, I think. I’m stunned this made it past the censors, frankly. Lila’s head emerges from between her legs, with her sensuous open mouth seductively promising to be “your friend,” while Kirby rounds off her cheekbones to focus our attention toward that mouth. I mean, it’s a hole surrounded by hair in between legs – where were the censors, man? Kirby draws vacant eyes on Lila, adding to the whole “sex doll” vibe that’s going on, and Mike Royer, who lettered this, puts ellipses in the right places, making Lila’s speech even creepier. This is a terrifyingly sexual image, and this is the first page of the series. Man, that Kirby.

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OMAC destroys the “build-a-friend” factory, and Kirby gives us this touching page. OMAC believed that Lila was a real girl, so he touches her cheek and looks sad as he says goodbye, and Kirby continues to freak us right the hell out by making sure that Lila still speaks in her company-programmed drone. The final three panels are wonderful, as OMAC leaves the factory, and Kirby begins with him walking with head straight and then drops it as he continues on. He doesn’t need any words, which is a bit surprising for Kirby, who often didn’t trust the power of his own images. The destruction of the factory is typically awesome, as Kirby draws hulking machinery collapsing into flames before the final mushroom cloud engulfs it all, and we get the blacks on OMAC as he moves away from the bright light of the fire. It’s quite a moving scene.

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Kirby flashes back to dull Buddy Blank, who becomes OMAC, and shows why he was so affected by Lila, as he was convinced she was real. In Panel 1, he passes by one of the many rooms designed for venting anger (that’s really the only thing in Kirby’s dystopian future that sounds cool – who wouldn’t want a room where you could just torch cars?) because he’s not angry, just depressed. Kirby draws Lila like a typical Kirby female, but while he gives her more human expressions, in Panel 3, her eyes are just a bit vacant and Royer (or Kirby, I suppose – he often lettered the dialogue onto the page and let the letterer clean it up) still uses ellipses to show her trailing off. Kirby draws a good Buddy in Panels 3 and 4 – in the first one, he does a nice job with the anguish in Buddy’s soul when he talks about not being able to share secrets with Lila, while in Panel 4, he draws a good pathetic Buddy as he clings to Lila’s hand like a lifeline. The fact that we already know that Lila isn’t real makes the exchange that much more tragic, as Buddy thinks Lila is his only friend while we know she’s a robot. Kirby gets those emotions across quite nicely.

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OMAC is born on this page, although it’s kind of weird that Kirby doesn’t really explain how. I guess the answer is COMICS!!!!! It’s pretty neat, though, as Kirby goes nuts with the Krackle as the energy flows around Buddy and with the heavy blacks as he’s consumed and transformed. Buddy’s face as he transforms is interesting – in Panel 2, he’s horrified to find out that Lila is, in fact, a robot, and then in Panel 3, he’s a bit more shocked as the information hits home. By Panel 4, he’s almost in shock, as Kirby opens his mouth even wider so that he looks like a dead fish, while the black has almost overtaken his face. That’s the panel in which we see the malevolent eye on his chest, linking him to Brother Eye, the satellite that somehow gave him his powers. Kirby does a really nice job in Panel 7, as OMAC’s identity is subsumed to the power within him, so that all we get are blacks defining a little of his face. The transformation is quick but extremely powerful and even touching – Buddy might not have been much of a character, but his pathetic attempts to make a human connection with Lila made him somewhat interesting, and Kirby burns that all away.

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Kirby, obviously, was really good at action, so when OMAC goes into the factory to tear shit up, he does a nice job with it. Panel 1 is so Kirby it makes my teeth ache – we get the unusual point of view, as OMAC grabs hold of the lintel and swings into the room, and Kirby shows it from below so that it appears OMAC is lying on the ceiling somehow. The fact that he takes out six (SIX!) dudes with that swoop is another wonderful Kirby thing, as the King loved showing one man destroying a group of baddies. Panel 2, with the dude firing the machine gun, leads us to Panel 3, where OMAC crashes into him, knocking him back into Panel 2. Kirby was good at not showing everything, making the world seem bigger than the actual panel, so the fact that we don’t see the entire bad guy as he is blasted backward helps create a bigger area than that bordered by the panel. There’s more Inverse Ninja action in Panel 4, as OMAC takes out three guys, and then we get a beautiful Kirby straight-on view in Panel 5. The simpering of Buddy Blank is gone – Kirby squares his chin off more than he did with Buddy, gives him slightly stronger cheekbones, a more militaristic hairdo (well, if you ignore for a moment the mohawk), and by tweaking OMAC’s eyebrows up a bit, he makes his face stronger and more certain. It’s a nice little change, but it shows what a difference a good mohawk can do to a dude’s disposition.

OMAC was too weird even for DC in the 1970s (and that’s saying something), and like the other DC Kirby projects, it didn’t last long. Not too long after the series ended with issue #8, Kirby was back at Marvel, and that’s where we’ll find him tomorrow, drawing his most famous creation. Come back and check it out! Or stay here and visit the archives – it’s your choice!

23 Comments

tom fitzpatrick

July 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm

I’ve always wanted a friend like Lila! :-)
To be frank, I’ve read the OMAC versions by Byrne, and Didiot/Giffen, and even enjoyed both versions.
I should read the Kirby version one day.

Say what you will about Kirby, but he was such a visionary.

Kirby was very much a transhumanist/posthumanist before those became big cultural formations.

I picked up the first two issues, then passed when dc went up to 25 cents.got them all now,IF Kirby had stayed at dc,I think omac could have become a great book,but dc being dc,just may have done what they did with so many other kirby books, and axed it after 16 or 18 issues.

I do have that one ( and some others afterwards) i really prefer royer’s ink on the king, to colleta’s..

imagine Mister Miracle inked by royer and not colleta…

greg, I hope that you ll get to Eternals and Silver Star..

Captain America’s Mad Bomb is a classic, i do like the first issues of Machine man.. but i think that Eternals and Silver Star are more interesting for your columns.

dr.j.: Well, the DC implosion happened in 1978, right? So if it had survived that long, it probably would have gone under.

ollieno: Sadly, I don’t own Eternals and Silver Star. I own some of Machine Man, but you’ll just have to wait and see what I do for the next three days!

Kirby’s most famous creation? . . . I thought you’d never get to Devil Dinosaur!

Funnily enough, I’ve been rereading these issues right now. Incredibly fun, inventive stuff. Way ahead of its time.

Curses! I hit the publish button too early! As always, Greg, thank you for spotlighting this art. I truly hope Kirby material such as this one can find a new generation of readers.

New Gods may be his finest work from this period, but OMAC is my favorite. The first issue is a perfect comic.

OMAC’s mohawk was intended to evoke war and the military, but more in the sense of the crest on a Roman officer’s helmet, or a Native American warrior’s haircut, rather than the GI haircut you’d get in the modern army.

If I ever parody OMAC I should call him MOHOC, for Military Orbiting Hormone Operation Computer.

I just received my copy of this book in the mail today, so an interesting temporal convergence of interests here. I’m going to be teaching OMAC in my Fall 2014 comics course; it’s the Kirby text.

Was slowly walking away from an explosion already a movie cliche at this point or was Kirby ahead of the trend?

marty: Not quite …

rdsthebarbarian: You’re welcome. I would like to think that, for comics readers, Kirby is always on their radar, but I doubt it, so any little bit helps!

Felicity: Yeah, good point. I didn’t think to mention that, so thanks!

Rob: Very cool. I taught Watchmen to high school kids once, and they loved it. I wish more comics were taught in schools.

jccalhoun: Good question. It feels more recent, but maybe not. Kirby was a trendsetter in so many other ways, so why not with this, too?

Going on a bit of a tangent –
I think if you want to talk about these things as they are meant to be, scanning from the reprints has one drawback: the colours become garish. They’ve used the same colour separations (I think) as the original, but the ink on newsprint look is fundamentally different than ink on gloss.
I like the original, muted colours better.
Compare this page with this – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-B9YxPe-3BBc/TpFp5a-NzYI/AAAAAAAAHRY/fygtlHXkA50/s1600/OMAC+%25281975%2529+1+Double+Page+Splash.jpg with http://www.byrnerobotics.com/forum/uploads/NathanGreno/2012-04-10_002909_JKOMAC01.jpg
Which do you prefer? If they’d just take 25-40% of the colour out of the colour separations, I think it’d look much better…

LouReedRichards

July 3, 2014 at 9:47 am

@ ollieno:

You are aware that Royer inked from Mister Miracle #5 on, right?

It does look much better than Colleta’s inks.
Colleta’s look worked on Thor, but not anything else.

Greg, do you own any Capt. Victory? I’m wondering where you’ll end with Kirby and that series was crazeee.

LouReedRichards: No, I don’t own any Captain Victory, unfortunately. I’m kind of hoping that Dynamite publishes some new trades now that they’re relaunching the series. That would be nice.

LouReedRichards

July 3, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Oh by all means get it. Obviously it’s not his masterpiece, but if you’ve read a lot of Kirby you can definitely pick up on a tonal change to his work. The optimism and humanity that is inherent in so much of his work seems to be almost completely gone by this point and Kirby seems far more bitter and a little paranoid by the end of the series.

At least that’s what I gathered from reading them, it’s been well over ten years since I read the series straight through, so maybe my opinion will have changed.

It’s 100% unbridled Kirby, weird art and bizarre scripting – good times.
Plus: Paranex: The Fighting Foetus – The sensational character find of 1982.

Greg: this is the U of Illinois’s first dedicated comics course. I pioneered it last fall and am back for another round this fall. The reading list: Superman Chronicles v. 1 (Siegel/Shuster), Corpse on the Imjin (Kurtzman), Amazing Spider-Man v. 2 (Ditko/Lee), OMAC (Kirby), Glitz-2-Go (Noomin), Watchmen (Moore/Gibbons), Safe Area Gorazde (Sacco), One Hundred Demons (Barry), Fun Home (Bechdel), and Building Stories (Ware).

Remco (sorry, your comment got caught in the net): You’ll notice that I don’t write much about the coloring when it’s a collection, because of what you noted. I don’t own the originals, and I’m usually pretty positive that things have been spruced up in the coloring, so I tend to avoid it.

Rob: Man, that sounds like a cool class.

Omac was always one of my favorites but to me Kirby’s best DC work was Kamandi! His imagination really went crazy with that series! Everyone is right, Colleta’s inks were always weak and his thin lines diluted Kirby’s dynamic blacks!

Kevin

Jeff Nettleton

July 4, 2014 at 10:09 pm

OMAC was so far ahead of its time! I’m still not sure that comics have caught up to Kirby, yet.

Crunch C.: I haven’t gotten Kamandi yet, unfortunately. I’m trying to catch up on all the Kirby I don’t own, but it’s taking a while, perhaps not surprisingly given how prolific he was!

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