One of the great things about those giant quarter bin sales that my LCS has a couple of times every year is that I can grab random, beat-up copies of obscure superhero books and not worry about whether or not they have to occupy shortbox space if I don’t feel like keeping them. Plus, if it’s a DC or Marvel title, I can also fill in any gaps with the digital issues that are available on their apps. And this is how I ended up reading the entire late-1970s run of Omega The Unknown.
Written by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes by art that was mostly by Jim Mooney, Omega the Unknown tells the story of a superhero who is … well, I’ll let the comic’s intro tell you:
ENIGMA THE FIRST: the lone survivor of an alien world, a nameless man of somber, impassive visage, garbed utterly inappropriately in garish blue-and-red. ENIGMA THE SECOND: James-Michael Starling, age twelve raised in near-isolation by parents who (he discovered on the day they “died”) were robots. ENIGMA THE THIRD: the link between the man and the boy, penetrating tot he depths of the mind and body, causing each to question his very reality of self! Stan Lee Presents: Omega the Unknown!
Pretty good concept for a comic book, right? When I saw this in the bins, I thought it might have been a Jack Kirby joint, one of those “noble failure”-type projects the king launched at various phases during the latter part of his career that never really caught on but are remembered fondly by a few people. Alas, it’s from the creator of Howard the Duck who is best known for his subversive take on comics and superheroes. However, this isn’t irreverent or subversive; it’s a straight-up superhero book that is surrounded by mystery. Who is our hero? What’s his connection to this kid?
The title only lasted about ten issues. I happened to fish slightly water-damaged copies of #3-7 out of a bin back in November thinking that it looked interesting and might be some sort of Marvel Bronze Age goodness that I’d missed out on. At the time, I was making my way through some old X-Men books and had flipped through the occasional Spider-Man adventure from that era so I figured it was worth the quarter I paid for each book (unfortunately, Professor Alan, the cover prices were a quarter and 30 cents so the discount is not deep at all on these). I read the rest of the series via Marvel Unlimited.
It was worth it. The opening of the first issue with Omega escaping his dying planet and James-Michael surviving a car crash where he discovers his parents are robots was intriguing and I was really interested in how those two were connected. When he’s taken in by the nurse of one of the doctors who treats him and gets shown around New York by her and her roommate (who calls him “punk” all the time), there’s some fish-out-of-water fun to be had, and Omega fighting villains like Electro and also having an encounter with the Hulk makes for some solid Marvel action.
Unfortunately, because this was only ten issues, the story has to wrap up quickly and doesn’t have that satisfying of an ending. I think a couple of loose ends were tied up in The Defenders at one point and I know there were other series with Omega The Unknown in the 2000s, but I didn’t pursue all of that. Instead, I enjoyed what I read and put it aside. But I do think that this series is a good argument for a maxi-series or at least a finite narrative in a comic book series. There’s only so long you can go with a central mystery of who Omega is and what his connection is to this kid, so if you decide that the series is going to run for, say, 12 issues and an annual, you’ve got a good amount of room from a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. Alas, that’s not how things were done in the 1970s.
If you come across this on the extremely cheap, give it a try. If you’ve got Marvel Unlimited, this is worth reading because the entire series is there and it’s not a long read. My copies are a little too beat up to do anything with and I’ll probably never come back to them, but much like a number of television shows I’ve watched over the years, they were time well spent.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?