When DC Comics made the announcement that they were relaunching and renumbering their entire comic book line, they set the Internet ablaze, with fans and professionals alike buzzing about the 52 new and revamped titles. When the relaunch hits this September, one of those new series is “OMAC” written by DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio and co-written and illustrated by longtime DCU mainstay, Keith Giffen. Centering on a character named Kevin Kho, the series follows Kho’s adventures after he is transformed by the satellite Brother Eye into the superhuman One Machine Army Corp: OMAC.
If this sounds somewhat familiar to you, that’s because OMAC is a concept that dates back to 1974 when Jack Kirby created the first OMAC: Buddy Blank, an average Joe who is transformed by Brother Eye into the One Man Army Corps. Readers then got a second dose of OMAC in the early 2000s during “Infinite Crisis” when villain Max Lord and Brother Eye transformed swaths of the world’s population into Observational Metahuman Activity Constructs.
According to Giffen and DiDio, fans of all iterations of OMAC should be excited to see the duo’s fresh take on the concept — and judging from the banter on the phone when CBR News called to talk about the series, the creative team is pretty ecstatic about the book, too.
“The stuff is spectacular!” gushed DiDio, complimenting Giffen’s artwork. “I was actually out with retailers today and I had the first issue of ‘OMAC’ in my hands and I showed it to everybody in black and white — and they were all dying for it!”
Relishing “OMAC’s” status as the mysterious “dark horse” of the relaunch, Giffen and DiDio emphasized that the title is a return to the fast-paced comics of yesteryear, with Giffen proclaiming with a laugh that as long as they could get readers to take a peek inside the covers, “We win!”
DiDio and Giffen then went on to dish details about their “OMAC” series, share an exclusive first look at interior art from the first issue and expand on the story goals for DC’s 52 title relaunch.
CBR News: “OMAC” is one of the 52 titles coming out as part of DC’s September relaunch. The OMACs themselves have featured heavily in recent DC continuity, and OMAC is a character dating back to DC’s pre-Crisis era, created by Jack Kirby. Coming into this series, what do readers need to know to get into “OMAC?” Do they need to know any of the Kirby/”Infinite Crisis” concept or back-story?
Dan DiDio: What they need to know is just to pick up the first issue. I mean, with everything going on [with] all 52 books, the gameplan given to all the creative teams was to make sure every first issue read like a first issue and that nobody needed to read anything prior to the start of that. That was the way the story was crafted for “OMAC,” and that’s the way it’s going to go forward. It’s touching upon a lot of touchstones of the DC Universe, from every incarnation of OMAC. From our standpoint, we’re just trying to make this thing its own book in its own right, and build in the continuity and allure around it. Does that work, Keith?
Keith Giffen: Yeah. It’s a point of access. It’s a number one issue. We have the mindset that “OMAC” has never been published before, so as we drop things in and introduce them, even if it’s something that the hardcore comic book fans are very familiar with, we’re still going to be approaching it as if you see it for the first time. Part of the reason for that is, again, we’re going from number one. We’re launching from this point. Also, we might tinker with it a little bit so the long term fans might hear we’re using a character whose name sounds familiar, open the book and go, “Oh my God, it’s nothing like it was before!” Because technically, the mindset for September is, it hasn’t gone before! There is nothing before these books.
DiDio: And in this particular case, when you look at the original Kirby series, it only ran for eight issues, but it made such an impact on so many people. What we’re hoping to do is take a lot of what resonated with folks from that earlier series, and then take some of the things that people reacted to when we had the OMACs featured in things like “Infinite Crisis” and beyond. But this is a concept and direction unto itself, and we’re pretty excited about it. There were a lot of things that are built off of the DC Universe that take place in this book; it ties in with other series as we move forward, but it is its own book in its own right.
Giffen: One of the things that Dan and I talked about before we even began seriously working on the book was, we wanted to do the kind of comic book that, when we were younger guys, when we [bought] comics as kids, we wanted the type of comic book that made us want to do comics. Which means taking a little bit from the past, a little of the present, projecting into the future and just doing a book that, hopefully, you don’t know what’ll happen when you turn the page. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride.
DiDio: We have a new lead character with a new supporting cast in this book. His name is Kevin Kho, and we are following his life and his story as he is affected by “OMAC” and the events around him.
Let’s talk about that lead character. Kevin Kho is a brand-new character that you guys are getting to create; he’s never been used before, right?
DiDio: Exactly. And that’s the fun part about it, too. The character of Kevin really fits within the concepts and the ideas of the story. It’s really about a person who lives his life under a lot of control and is used to being able to have things in a very orderly fashion. Enter into his life “OMAC” and the events that occur, and basically, he loses control of his own life. A lot of the story is about his struggle to regain control, to re-establish himself as an individual again, as other events are pressing against him.
Giffen: It’s very much taking somebody who is, like Dan said, the kind of guy who, when he sits down at his desk, he has to have his pens aligned a certain way and his desk blotter there. It’s the equivalent of somebody kicking over his desk and saying, “I’m going to be doing this to you every day!” It’s not just about this big guy OMAC smacking people around, although there is a lot of that. It is about what happens when events, which you have no control over, start dominating your life and how you deal with it.
DiDio: We think we put that at the heart of the story — it’s a theme and a concept that can resonate with so many people. Also, once you put it in a superhero setting the world, as Keith is creating it, the sense of scope and fantasy just goes beyond reach. When we look at every issue we look at something that starts in a very, very normal, quiet circumstance, a place that people can easily relate to. And then something flips into hyper-drive and the stories just take one these crazy outlandish proportions. I think that’s one of the fun parts of the series.
Giffen: It’s a build. You start mundane, you introduce the fantastic and you keep introducing more and more of the fantastic, layering it and layering it and layering it. By the end, you have this massive crescendo. It’s kind of an internal rhythm we hope the book will adopt. In the first issue, I definitely felt as I pushed forward — it had to top what went before. If every issue starts off with something you can recognize and by the end you’re going, “What the hell — what the hell just happened?” we won!
DiDio: I can’t express enough just how crazy beautiful Keith’s art is on this stuff. It is beyond all my expectations. I mean, it is really something that people should take note on what a comic should be about and what a comic should look like.
Giffen: I’m having fun, Dan! You know, that’s a key element in comics, by the way, that seems to have been lost somewhere down the line. These books are supposed to be fun, not just for the people reading them but also for the people making them. If the team is really into it and having fun and bouncing ideas off of one another in a friendly, can-you-top-this [way], I think the readers respond to that and it becomes something they expect when they pick up the book. Paul [Levitz] and I definitely had it in the Legion [of Super-Heroes days], and Dan and I are working towards it in “OMAC.” I think, a couple issues down the road, it will literally be him throwing curveballs at me and me tossing curveballs right back at him! We’re not even sure what’s going to happen!
Since you brought up art, Keith, how are you approaching drawing this character? It’s obviously very influenced by Jack Kirby…
Giffen: I’ve always been very influenced by Jack Kirby, Gene Colan and that era of Marvel when the artists were putting so much power on the page. When I first started approaching “OMAC” I knew I wanted to get back to that. For the first time in my career ,really, I felt, “You know what? I’m going to draw this the way I doodle.” There’s obviously a Kirby influence to the artwork, and boy, there is nothing wrong with that, because if you are going to be influenced by somebody, you might as well be influenced by the greatest. But I put my own little touches in there, and it’s just been very relaxing to do. It’s not trying to fight the influences that have pretty much followed me around. It’s just doing what I want to do on the page, within the confines of Dan’s story of course — I’m not going to launch off in a weird direction! [DiDio laughs] It’s just trying to get the feeling of power back in the visuals.
When we were first starting, I said to Dan, “When was the last time you saw somebody get hit and there was a white explosion and the white explosion was contained by the bricks in the wall in the background?” And we realized we couldn’t really remember any time that was done, so I thought, we may as well do it here, because that’s the stuff I just absolutely loved when I was a kid! When it comes to drawing OMAC, I’m kind of doing it as much for myself as I am for the readers, hoping that they’ll be willing to come along for the ride. I can guarantee one thing: this is not going to be a dull book! Again, by having fun — to me that’s more than half of what you want to put into the book.
“OMAC” seems like an unusual choice to be one of the first 52 titles coming out in September. For you, as the artist and writer, what really drew you to this concept?
Giffen: I have no idea. Dan called me up and said “OMAC” and I jumped at it! This is yours, Dan.
DiDio: I’ve always known the particular books that get Keith excited, and I’m happy he’s involved in this one, and also other things down the road that really he likes to gravitate towards. For this particular case, when we looked at the big line-up of all the 52 books, we were missing that one book of transformation and beastly nature. I look at books like “Frankenstein” and I look at things like “OMAC,” and it’s a voice, a tonality that wasn’t being reflected through the line with all the other characters. When you look at the amalgam of all the characters and titles that come out here, you want to cover as many different types of the archetypes of superhero storytelling and comic book storytelling. There was a need to do something with that giant, bestial transformation-type thing that takes place in comics, and “OMAC” seemed like the perfect character for that.
Giffen: I came onboard when Dan looked at me one day and said, “Want to do ‘OMAC?'” [Dan laughs]
DiDio: I’ll be very clear to say that OMAC has always been an all-time favorite character of mine, from the moment I started at DC and we pushed forward “The OMAC Project” to now, I always felt like the bits and pieces that Kirby created in the Fourth World material and all the other series have been so important to broadening the scope of the DC comics and the DC Universe, and this seemed like the right time for the character.
Giffen: I was a huge fan of the original OMAC, but to be honest with you — I call them this all the time — I was not a real big fan of the “blue Smurfs.” That kind of OMAC. But again, if you cherry pick, you can put together something really wonderful. What drew me to “OMAC” was the vast untapped potential, the capabilities to go anywhere you want and tell any story you want, and I like the dark horse aspect of it. I like that people are looking at it as a fringe book and are wondering, “What the hell are they going to do with it?” Clearly, when you announce a “Superman” title, you pretty much have an idea of what they’re going to do with a “Superman” title. I think we have it a little bit easier in that it’s going to be easier to surprise people with this book.
Going along with that, “OMAC” was announced as one of the DC Edge titles. What makes “OMAC” fit into this category? Is it just that it’s, well, edgier or more action-packed?
DiDio: This book is probably one of the most action-packed books we are creating. Also I think what puts it on the Edge is that you have a character in the lead who doesn’t want to be OMAC, who doesn’t want to be the hero. He’s being forced into these circumstances. So that puts him on the fringe of how well the other, more traditional heroes are acting and behaving. He’s looking to find a way to get out of the situation more so than to embrace everything that’s happening to him. I think that’s one of the things that puts it more on the Edge than anything else.
Giffen: Yeah, its more the tonality to this story, like you mentioned before. Does it mean it’s more action-packed? All comics should be action-packed, so really that doesn’t apply to just “OMAC” or our handful of other titles. The term Edge, I thought it was that these were the characters that circled the edge of the DCU. Certain fans love them, they have a cult following, God knows the professionals love them, but they’ve sort of been all but outside of the main DCU, and this is a chance to say, “Here’s DC Edge. Just watch how we integrate these characters into the DCU right now.”
Finally, you have Brother Eye and Checkmate involved, and the solicits say Kevin is being used as a pawn between them. What roles do Maxwell Lord and Checkmate play in the series?
DiDio: Well, Max Lord, right now, is the head of Checkmate, and it’s a very well respected organization. He plays it behind the scenes and he plays it kind of dirty, but he’s definitely been sanctioned by the government. Beyond that, Brother Eye is being hunted down as a hostile satellite and something that is a danger to all mankind. With OMAC being tied to Brother Eye, it automatically puts him on the wrong side of the law and of other people. The importance of the story is that Checkmate is hunting OMAC, and Brother Eye is gathering pieces and pawns through OMAC so that he’s able to counter the attack and bring the fight back to Max Lord.
Giffen: When it comes to Checkmate, the only thing I really asked Dan was, “Would Checkmate be the group of people who put Patrick McGoohan in the Village?” And when Dan said yes, I thought, “I got ’em!” It’s not going to be like this vast, huge government agency. Even though they are that, we aren’t going to play it along those lines. Checkmate is a peacekeeping force, they’re an espionage force, they are a law enforcement force, but we’re going to sort of focus on some of the more action-packed aspects of Checkmate in “OMAC.” You’re not going to see them sitting around their meeting room, page after page after page, discussing what they are going to do. We’re going to drop you right into the middle of the action with some Checkmate cells and Checkmate platoons and show you what they do.
DiDio: This is the fun part of my job, when I get to talk about “OMAC.” I can’t say enough about the chance to work with Keith — as much as he drives me crazy!
Giffen: It’s part of the job, man!
DiDio: I’ll tell you right now, my first meeting with Keith — he was the first creator I met when I joined DC Comics. I was sitting at my desk and he stuck his head in the door and said, “Run, run while you can!” I didn’t pay attention to him then, but now I understand why he told me to do that! [Laughs]
“OMAC” #1 hits stores September 7