Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Alpha of Omega

Jonathan Lethem's revivial of Omega the Unknown received a fair amount of free ink. Some of it was, technically, bad publicity. "Omega" creator Steve Gerber was unhappy about another writer revising one of his creations while he was still alive. Refereeing the various interests of Gerber, the very respectful Lethem, and Marvel Comics is not my job, thank God, so I'll not dwell on that aspect of the work.

But my interest in the work was roused by previous enjoyment of both writers' work. Gerber's Howard the Duck series with Gene Colan was an off-kilter look at the Marvel Universe that remains way ahead of much of the "deconstruction" done in the next decades by Brihish writers. (Some were and are worthy successors, but that's a topic for another post.) And Lethem is the author of Gun, with Occasional Music, Amnesia Moon, and--ya know it, baby--Motherless Brooklyn. He needs no introduction.

Assisting him are co-writer Karl Rusnak (who I don't know) and the fine indie artist Farel Dalrymple. It's the kind of creative team you'd more expect on Dark Horse's late Amazing Adventures of the Escapist.

How do they do here? Well, they've done something different. Even the logo seen on the cover is a very different sort of block lettering, something that might appear in a Fantagraphics collection of early Popeye cartoons. The big O himself looks similar to his '70's self. He's got shorter hair and his costume now covers more of his chest. (He's not a slab of meat, dammit.) Dalrymple gives him a barely-superheroic bod and a quirky long face. If Jason Schwartzman ever plays a spandex hero, this one is all his.

The premise of the new series parallels the old one. James-Michael Starling, the kid who shared a symbiotic relationship with the title character, has been replaced by a boy named (symbolism alert!) Titus Alexander Island. Titus has been home-schooled, and also appears to be a high-functioning autistic. Now I can identify somewhat with a young person who's sheltered and asocial. But that also means there's also a lot of fluent Spock-ese spoken in the premiere issue. In addition to Titus, his ill-fated parents, the doctor assigned to his case, and the weird costumed scientist known as The Mink all throw a good deal of jargon into their verbose sentences.

There are two exceptions to this trend. Edie, a kindly nurse from Oklahoma, is taking Titus in at the end of the issue. And there's also a sleazy New Yawk cop tailing her and Titus. It would be good to emphasize these characters for variety's sake.

As for action, I can say there is some. Fight scenes don't take up much space, by mainstream comics standards. This is intriguing in itself, and indicates that Lethem and Dalrymple are working without a net. Of course, there's a reason so many work with a net. There are nine more issues, so wait and see.

Gerber may not be happy about Lethem being given the reins to his creation. By his own account, he probably won't read it. But if he does, he'll find that it's no travesty of his own work.


susan said...

oh Howard! trapped in a world he never made..

Ben said...

As Chrissie Hynde said.