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