Friday, January 04, 2008

Top 20 of 2007: #13 Omega the Unknown

Imagine a world where superhero comics didn't rehash the same standard plot lines again and again. Imagine a world where unconventional, idiosyncratic artists could work on comics once part of the "mainstream" universe. Imagine one of the best 21st century novelists scripting such tales. Imagine reading the comics and having no idea what's going to happen next because everything feels a bit off, a bit strange, but in a good, exhilarating way.

That's what the new Omega the Unknown series is like. And it's getting better every issue. (With over half the series still remaining!)

Steve Gerber and Jim Mooney's Omega the Unknown was certainly one of the most unusual superhero comics ever published. It featured an elliptical narrative involving a mysterious "hero" juxtaposed with a tale of harsh city life for a brilliant young high school student who seemed more robot than adolescent. It was about the connection between Omega and James-Michael, two characters who failed to connect with almost anyone else in the world. But nothing was ever explained--it was a surreal superhero journey with plenty of social commentary thrown in. And the story "ended" in another comic, well after Omega's series was canceled. Omega the Unknown (volume 1) was all promise and hope and despair and uncertainty, but it resolved (in The Defenders comic) in a tidy, unsatisfyingly neat little package.

Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple's Omega the Unknown began with a faithful retelling of Steve Gerber's first issue, but it has diverged wildly to become something unique in the Marvel universe: an absurdist, anachronistic, bizarre, Dan Clowes-esque exploration of a group of inexplicable weirdos. The teenage dialogue reads like something out of an S. E. Hinton novel, while an insane "superhero," called the Mink is up to who knows what. Meanwhile, some guy with gigantic "Fonzie" bling finds himself infected by some kind of super-nano virus, and then there's Omega (the title character and presumed hero) lurking around in the back of a food service van. I really couldn't begin to summarize the plot thus far, but it's definitely building to something, and the mood of the series is unlike any other.

Lethem and Dalrymple are major talents, and although their interpretation of Omega the Unknown is only 13th on my list for 2007, I bet a lot of people (myself included) will rank it much higher next year once its all complete. Don't ignore Omega the Unknown; it's more brilliantly insane than you'd ever expect.

Read it, if you're looking for something that's more than a bit out of the ordinary.


Chad Nevett said...

This book was on my longlist, but will most likely make the shortlist next year like you said.

Marc Caputo said...

I should have known! I've come down a bit from my anger at this, as I looked at the truly horrid things of '07, I couldn't bring myself to hate on this so outwardly. I still think it doesn't work, but I'll flip through the tpb if you say it ends well.

But I'm buying the Gerber/Mooney tpb FIRST. So there.