Breaking down "Event" comics, Part Four: <i>The OMAC Project</i>; or, why hasn't anyone killed Batman yet?

Before I begin, the last comment on the Day of Vengeance post made me sad.  Once again I was called "the reviewer."  Hi, I'm Greg - call me Greg!  We're all friends here, right?  "The reviewer" sounds like a bad 1980s drama starring a rogue cop - "They killed his partner.  They kicked his dog.  The system has pushed him too far!  Now he roams the mean streets of Des Moines looking for trouble and saving people from reading bad comic books - he is ... The Reviewer!"  Remember: Greg!  Second, the commenter (see how impersonal that is?) said he felt I was going into the series with a chip on my shoulder.  Well, I try to remain objective.  I think you'll agree that with Countdown to Infinite Crisis as a lead-in, it's difficult!

So, have we cleared that up?  Good.

I'm conflicted about how to break down the second of the four mini-series that make up the prelude to Infinite Crisis.  On the one hand, I rather liked it.  On the other hand, the things I didn't like were so bizarre and off-putting that they almost ruined the entire thing for me.  However, the interesting thing about The OMAC Project is it begins to make clear something that has been bubbling throughout these series, just below the surface.  I will, of course, elaborate, and I will watch for it as we move forward through these books.

On its own, OMAC is not a bad little story, a story of power and how it's used and abused, what we should do about the powerful, and whether abusing power to stop the abuse of power is justifiable.  Got all that?  Maxwell Lord is worried about metahumans.  Batman is worried about metahumans.  Wonder Woman is worried about Maxwell Lord.  Sasha Bordeaux is worried about Maxwell Lord.  Everyone is worried about Brother Eye.  There are a lot of layers to the book, which I appreciate, because this story (without the superhero trappings) is the kind of book Rucka seems to excel at - and it's why I have hopes for Checkmate.  However, it is a superhero book, and it is tied into the grander scheme of DC, so it suffers.  It does allow us and throw into sharp relief exactly what DC and Dan DiDio are doing throughout these mini-series.  It's an interesting yet worrisome (the fans, I should have mentioned above, are worried about just what the hell DC is doing) trend.

The series is really about layers of villainy.  The heroes, such as they are, get pushed to the back and have very little effect on the resolution of the story.  Other heroes, who do not act heroically, are the main actors in the drama, and this highlights the two strands of storytelling that run throughout the grand crossover so far.  First, DC has realized that villains are much more interesting than heroes, which the rest of us figured out long ago, and so the books are either about the villains or the heroes have to act like villains.  Linked to this is the hierarchy of DC heroes - there are A-list, B-list, and C-list heroes, even though some people might argue that it doesn't matter because a good writer can make anyone interesting.  Well, sure, but there is still a hierarchy, damn it!  These books, so far, have studiously avoided the A-listers, for the most part, but in this series they can't: Batman is a big part of the plot, obviously, and Superman and Wonder Woman show up and play key roles.  Prior to this, what the writers have been doing is making the A-list heroes less heroic in order to raise the B- and C-listers up.  This is rather strange.  It's prevalent in OMAC, but noticeable in the other series as well.  Flash casts the deciding vote to erase Dr. Light's memory.  Batman acts like a dick toward Ted so that Ted can be the hero of Countdown, not Batman (which would have made more sense, really).  The Phantom Stranger, always one of the most powerful figures in the DCU, is turned into a mouse so that a bunch of nobodies can stop the Spectre.  And then there's OMAC.  In this series the true hero is ... well, I suppose it's Booster Gold.  When I say "true hero" I mean the guy who actually acts like a hero.  Batman?  Don't make me chuckle.  Or chortle, even.  After the fiasco that was Mark Waid's first JLA story (the story wasn't a fiasco, but what happened in it was), one would think two things: A) Batman would think twice about sending satellites into orbit to spy on all the superheroes; B) Superman and Wonder Woman would keep a real close eye on Batman, because they can't trust him to not do that sort of thing again.  Of course, the reprehensible actions of the old Justice League didn't exist when Waid wrote the Ra's al Ghul story, so at least this time Batman has a reason to be paranoid, but one would think Superman or Wonder Woman would have mentioned that Batman did this before when he tells them about Brother I (or Eye).  "Bruce," Clark could say before he incinerated him with his heat vision, "what did we tell you last time?  If it happened again we'd have to reduce you to a pile of ashes.  Sure, the Joker maybe kills a few more people, but at least you'd be out of the picture."  So Batman is as much of a dick as he is in Countdown.  More of one, actually, as Booster points out when he sarcastically says Batman never makes mistakes and that if he was working the same case as Beetle, he pretty much allowed him to be killed.  Batman later claims he does acknowledge that he makes mistakes.  Um, when?

How about Sasha Bordeaux, Rucka's favorite character ever?  Well, she comes off a bit better than Batman, but she still stands around while Max kills Beetle and allows Jessica Midnight to slaughter the rest of the ruling group of Checkmate.  Sure, you can argue that she's in so deep that she needs to keep her cover, but that necessarily excludes her from being completely heroic - I don't mind, because, as I mentioned, Rucka seems to write spy stuff well and moral ambiguity is part of that.  But she's not really that heroic.

Wonder Woman?  She snaps Max's neck (okay, he asked her to), and when Clark asks her what she did, Xena answers, "What I had to."  Now, I don't really have a problem with Diana killing people - when Perez re-imagined her, she was a warrior of Thermyscira, and that was something that warriors do.  It's not terribly heroic, however - it's necessary, maybe, but I'm looking at people acting heroically in this series.  As far as I can remember, Max's power works when he can talk, not unlike a certain villain in a certain Wildstorm series that just ended recently.  So couldn't they sever his vocal chords?  I'm just asking.  Killing Max seems a bit extreme.  That Diana - she's X-treeeeeeem!

Again, it's not that killing Max is that bad an idea, per se.  It's that in trying to make their heroes "accessible" and "human," DC is actually making them morally worse.  Readers don't identify with Diana snapping Max's neck, they identify with Diana worrying about what's-her-name - Vanessa - because she (Diana) feels that she has let her (Vanessa) down.  Yes, it's through the prism of a supervillain fighting a superhero, but we can recognize Diana's humanity.  And that makes her a more interesting hero than killing Max does.

Once Brother Eye goes all screwy and the OMACs go on the loose, the book becomes a lot less interesting.  It becomes a big fight, which is fine, but it loses some of the tension of the first three issues - we know that Batman and Sasha will figure something out and the heroes will save the day.  I don't mind the last few issues, it's just that it's less compelling than the early part of the series.  Where the mini-series goes horribly wrong, of course, is between issues #3 and 4.  Why?  Well, like a Russian nesting doll, there is a mini-series within a mini-series, and after issue #3 we're expected to go buy four issues of, presumably, Wonder Woman fighting a under-Max's-control Superman, the end result of which is Diana snapping Max's puny neck.  I have not read "Sacrifice," but it seems the height of bad planning to create a six-issue mini-series in which the most important moment takes place outside of that mini-series.  It's insulting to the readers - DC is saying, "We know you have invested your time and money in this book, but we're going to make you buy four other books just to see what happens to our main villain."  I knew it was coming and I cursed Dan DiDio when I got to the point.  It's such a stupid idea that it almost makes the entire series fall apart.  Not quite, but close.

There are other, small things that bug me about the series, but they're more nit-picky than anything.  Whenever I pick nits in a series, various readers take me to task for it, but DC and Marvel are the ones who claim Kontinuity is King, so don't blame me.  The inclusion of Beatriz is nice, because I'm a fan, but I thought she was in the Global Guardians before the Justice League, and I assume Rucka is making her a spy because he felt like she always was one, just like Renee Montoya and her ways.  Maybe there's a reference to it before this, but I doubt it.  I don't mind (just like I don't mind with Montoya), but it just seems a bit bizarre with all that we know about the character prior to this.  I love Beatriz, but a spy?  Really?  And Superman and Wonder Woman don't seem to recall that Batman has done this sort of thing before.  That's weird.  And Bea, Guy, and Booster are investigating Ted's death after Max is dead and the mystery, it seems, is solved.  And how in the hell does Brother Eye see absolutely everything that happens in the world?  And, as someone mentioned (as usual, I can't remember who, but it was a good point, which is why I'm repeating it here), how does Batman get all these satellites into orbit anyway?  These are somewhat minor points, but they nag at me.

Ultimately, this is more enjoyable than Day of Vengeance because it feels more organic.  Day of Vengeance, as was pointed out in the comments of that post, was done largely by editorial mandate.  You can enjoy it or not, but that doesn't change the fact that it had a specific end in mind - the death of Shazam - and it took six issues to get there.  This series had a specific purpose - to discover who killed Ted Kord - and it went from there.  The end, disappointing as it is (and that doesn't bother me, as I know all of these are feeding into Infinite Crisis and are therefore going to be incomplete), feels like it flowed naturally from the events in the book rather than the events in the book forcing us toward the end.  If that makes sense.

There's a lot of good stuff in The OMAC Project, and it highlights a real problem that both publishers have.  If they get a "hot" writer, they immediately put him on a superhero book, because it's their bread and butter.  Rucka does not appear to be terribly good at writing superheroes.  His run on Detective tended to bog down when he got too involved in superheroics, and from the little I've read of Wonder Woman, he tried to avoid it there too.  However, because superheroes are their thing, they offer titles to any writer who happens to have some success, whether he can write superheroes or not.  Superheroes are not easy to write, but it seems that DC and Marvel think anyone can do it.  It would be nice if they could recognize that some writers are stronger at certain things and some are weaker.  It might help all their titles.  I mentioned I have hope for Checkmate, because it seems like something Rucka does well.  I hope he doesn't try to inject too many superheroes into it.

So: DC appears to be turning their A-list heroes into "bad" guys in order to put them on the same or even a lower level than their lesser-tier heroes.  It's a weird strategy, and I wonder if it might backfire on them.  We shall see, as I wade my way into the next series, which has villains as its stars (I assume): Villains United!

By the way, in case you're interested: Don McPherson enjoyed issue #1, Silver Bullet Comics thought #1 was intriguing and has the same problem with issue #4 that I did, Comic Critique was lukewarm about the first two issues and really hated Wonder Woman #219 and issue #4, Paperback Reader thought issue #5 was okay, and Brian Hibbs has some issues with Maxwell Lord. Phew!

Superman: Year One #2 is a Wild Swing and a Miss for Miller and Romita

More in Comics