Between the premature halt of his “Fourth World” saga at DC and his return to Marvel in the mid-1970s, Jack Kirby birthed a vision of the future that featured a hero with a blue Mohawk, a giant eyeball in space, Fancy Freddy Sparga, and the mysterious Dr. Skuba. I’m talking, of course, about “O.M.A.C.: One Man Army Corps,” which DC has recently released as a hardcover collected edition, using the same cover design as the “Fourth World Omnibus” series. According to the Mark Evanier introduction — and he would know — “O.M.A.C.” came about because Kirby needed something new to draw to fulfill his monthly DC quota of 15 pages a week. That’s right, fifteen pages. Per week. And Kirby was in charge of writing, penciling, and editing each one of those pages. With “The Demon,” and “Mister Miracle” at an end, and the success of his post-apocalyptic “Kamandi” series, Kirby was nudged toward another futuristic concept. He’d had an idea for a “Captain America in the future” comic at Marvel a few years earlier, but he decided against it. So take one part future-Cap, one part Kamandi, 98 parts Kirby genius, and mix them in a super-space blender, and — presto! — “O.M.A.C.: One Man Army Corps.”
The series only lasted eight issues — all of which completely written and drawn by Kirby. Issue #8 even ends with a question, “Is this — the end?” The answer: I guess so. Because no more Kirby “O.M.A.C.” issues were ever released. So the question for today’s reader becomes: “Is this hardcover edition worth my twenty-five bucks? Or is this just a desperate money-grab by DC since the Fourth World Omnibuses sold a few copies?” My answers: yes, and yes. A desperate money-grab though it may be — as everyone seems willing to put out Kirby hardcovers all of a sudden, at Marvel, DC, and even Image — it’s still Kirby in his prime. I’ve argued for years, to anyone who would listen — which was a small population, to be sure — that Kirby’s 1970s work was far more transcendent and dynamic than anything he produced in collaboration with Stan Lee a decade earlier. Yes, the “Fantastic Four” run is phenomenal, but Kirby got even better as an artist once he began doing his own stuff in the Bronze Age. His page layouts exploded, his characters became even more geometric, and his ideas become weirder and weirder (in a great way).
“O.M.A.C.” isn’t one of his strangest concepts, but it’s a solid example of his work during that era. It fails to reach the cosmic heights of either the “Fourth World” stuff or his later “Eternals” series, and it doesn’t have the manic strangeness of “Kamandi,” but it’s still a series about a Mohawk-sporting super-cop from the future, who hangs out with faceless dudes, and was madly in love with a “build-a-friend” doll.
In the introduction, Evanier also talks about how much more “real” and relevant this series has become since it first premiered. He indicates that we are “edging closer to the era of Buddy Blank,” and that has made him appreciate this long-underappreciated series all the more. With all due respect to Evanier, I don’t think relevance is what makes “O.M.A.C.” work. What makes it work and what makes it worth your time is the madness of Dr. Skuba, who attempts to corner the market on water by sucking up all of the oceans into handy-dandy “bars” he can carry around in his flying red ship. Or Mr. Big, who rents out an entire city for his own private amusement, until O.M.A.C. busts in to stop the fun. Or the double-page spreads of fresh young bodies getting sold to the highest bidder, for brain transplants!
Admittedly, D. Bruce Berry is not Kirby’s best inker, and he embellishes the bulk of the issues in this story (although Mike Royer — arguably the ideal Kirby inker — does handle the first and the last). And some of these pages look and feel like they were just cranked out by Kirby working on fumes. But what amazing fumes they were! “Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C.: One Man Army Corps” may not be Kirby’s best work, but it’s still full of more energy and ideas than fifty other comics by anyone else. Is it worth the twenty-five bucks. You bet it is.