“The Omega Men” #1 feels like the opening sequence in a blockbuster action film. You’re dropped into a situation in media res, where you’re not entirely sure what’s happening or who the heroes and villains are. If there’s one thing that Tom King, Barnaby Bagenda and Romulo Fajardo Jr. do let you know pretty quickly, however, it’s that there’s going to be two things in abundance: style and a body count.
The closest comic comparison I can come up with for “The Omega Men” #1 is the infamous “Legion of Super-Heroes” series that began back in 1989 by Keith Giffen, Al Gordon, Tom and Mary Bierbaum. Just like that comic, King clearly has a large setting in mind, one with not only multiple languages and alien races, but actual cultural settings. There are jingles and songs, political unrest and characters who clearly know one another and don’t often refer to each other by name. Our protagonists are resistance fighters, who — in this first issue — take that category to heart as they fight, sneak and kill their way out of a bad situation. In short, it’s complex but with a real game plan.
That does mean that it’s not necessarily the most inviting of first issues, in that King doesn’t lay everything out simply or easily for the reader. With each re-read, though, you’ll start picking up new pieces of information buried within its pages, and there’s a lot lurking amidst the carnage and scrambling. What’s interesting about the violence in this comic is that King is careful to keep the majority of it off-panel; there are a few very notably gory moments that we see, but most of it happens in a manner that allows the reader’s mind to fill in the blanks. The end result is something where the issue comes across probably more bloody than it actually is, which is a nice little trick.
Bagenda and Fajardo have created a very visually striking book, a strange cross between creators like Pasqual Ferry and Stuart Immonen. The comic is drawn (with one exception, no doubt to give the new “two half-page ads” layout a try) off of a nine-panel grid, with Bagenda unafraid to occasionally merge three panels into a single horizontal panel or to use a full-page splash. It’s a strong usage of the form, using a lot of tight looks at a character’s face or hand and allowing for strong reaction shots and a lot of transitions as characters run and crash through the scene. The art itself is incredibly smooth, Bagenda’s art and Fajardo’s colors merging into a world of yellows and blues that isn’t afraid to look cluttered when it should be. Every panel and every page has a delight just lurking and, while there are similarities to other works, it’s ultimately not quite like anything else on the market.
“The Omega Men” #1 takes a big gamble. It starts off with a story that plunges people into the middle, with no context other than last month’s preview that featured the murder of Kyle Rayner. (Yes, that is touched upon here, and we are starting to learn a little more about what happened there.) You don’t need to have read anything else in order to understand this; I think it’s almost best to go in fresh for this mixture of new and re-imagined characters. Every time you re-read it, the book just gets a little better; this is a series that ultimately rewards patience. Give it a try. Then give that issue a second and third go-through. Guess what? You may have just found your new favorite space opera comic.