Omega: The Unknown Premiere HC Hardcover – 24 Sep 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
This highly imaginative tale is a revival of a seventies superhero series with a difference. The tale does not follow the superhero, but the boy who is mysteriously connected to him. The story starts with a dream with the protagonist, Alexander (a home-schooled savant lacking any interaction with the outside world), imagining a superhero fighting against robots; followed by an accident, were he discovers his parents were not who they seemed to be and starting a new life in new york were he encounters a lot of trouble (and a certain blue-attired vigilante...and a sleazy superhero to boot... ) And thats just the tip of the iceberg....
A lot of the story is unclear admittedly, and a lot is left to ponder and wonder, which for me just builds upon the story much better than being presented neatly with the beginning, middle and end fully wrapped up and explained. There are a lot of ideas contained within the story, and all are as equally perplexing as they are as effective to adding to the bizarre premise. It does lack a bit of warmth from the characters (which i get the feeling is deliberate) The protagonist himself is fairly detached and lukewarm , as well as being bizarrely verbose and openly challenging. His character (and Omega) change the most over the story unsurprisingly, I just wished the other characters were fleshed out a bit more instead of being mostly hostile. Dialogue can be a little stilted (in particular, from Alexander...) and some of the other characters do feel a lot more realistic (dialogue-wise...) Maybe the story is a little too full of ideas at the expense of characterisation.Read more ›
Jonathan Lethem & Farrel Dalrymple
A few years ago, Marvel reissued the 10-issue 1975-76 run of its comic book Omega the Unknown in a paperback collection. I can't help but feel that if I had read that, I would have a greater appreciation for novelist Jonathan Lethem's recent reimagining of it, the ten issues of which are collected in this handsomely produced hardcover. Lethem, and his somewhat more popular fellow writer, Michael Chabon, are well-known superhero comic aficionados, and it's no surprise that Lethem finally got involved in scripting one. However, the outcome is typically frustrating. I tend to absolutely love roughly 1/3 of his novels and stories, and find the other 2/3 to be either highly annoying or disappointing. This project displays flashes of Lethem's brilliance and wit, but ultimately remains too obscure and enigmatic to satisfy.
The story revolves around a teenage boy whose robot parents are killed in a car crash, leading to his adoption by a nurse living in New York's Hells Kitchen. Having been entirely homeschooled and more or less isolated from the world, the emotionless and unsocialized kid has to come to terms with his environment, as well as with his strange dreams about a mysterious alien superhero who battles robots. Meanwhile, the reader is introduced to the mute superhero and his apparently neverending battle with a race of mysterious robots. Of course, the paths of the boy and the superhero cross, and their fates intersect with that of a self-promoting slimy superhero called "The Mink.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In this trippy retelling of the Omega story, Lethem finally tells the abstract tale of the mute superhero and his strange bond with an erudite teenage boy and brings it to a satisfying - if open-ended - conclusion. This is a fate that the original Omega and his fans deserved and unfortunately have not received until now.
There are just enough references to the mainstream of the Marvel Universe to suggest that it takes place in the traditional (616) continuity, and it will be interesting to see if any other writers dare to take a crack at the Omega mythos. Still, as a stand-alone work, Lethem's Omega is a terrific read.
The blue guy in question is the titular character of "Omega: The Unknown," where author Jonathan Lethem adopts Steve Gerber's quirky, silent hero. It's a suitably bizarre adventure for such a unique hero, and Lethem does a pretty good job with roaming hands, boy geniuses, bogged-down superheroes and the everyday tragedies of human life.
Teenage Alexander Island is en route to his very first day at an outside school, when there's a car crash. His parents are killed -- and even more shockingly, they turn out to be robots.
But while in the hospital, he's attacked by more mysterious robots -- and saved by a silent superhero, who leaves a pair of omegas burned into Alexander's hands. As Alexander struggles to handle his new urban life and a hostile school full of bullies, the mysterious blue guy -- Omega -- is being hunted by the city's resident celebrity superhero, Mink.
Unfortunately Mink has his own problems with the robots -- his hand has been taken over by nanobots, and subsequently escapes from the lab. More and more people are turning into robots across the city, and they fear only one thing: the hands of Omega. Unfortunately, Omega is no more invulnerable than the Mink, and Alexander learns that even a mysterious superhero can lose his way...
Steve Gerber first wrote about Omega in the 1970s, and it's pretty obvious that Jonathan Lethem is a die-hard fan -- the entire story is soaked in a sort of retro quirkiness, from the pajamas-y superheroes to the boy hero. Even Farel Dalrymple's art is a rougher-edged, unembellished, simpler sort of drawings without bright colours, like you'd see in older graphic novels.
Lethem doesn't always hit the mark -- the first half of "Omega: The Unknown" is a rather confusing tangle of subplots, and occasional plot threads lead nowhere (what's up with the robot parents?). The second half is where things tighten up plotwise, even if it leads to some extremely strange, surreal places both for Alexander and Omega. And the final chapter is the most unusual -- utterly without dialogue.
And Lethem goes full out on weird and satirical -- the Mink is a unheroic "hero" who declares war on Omega for threatening his "M" franchise, and the story is often narrated by a statue that only has hands and a head (and occasionally sings). Even weirder, one of the big threats to the city is Mink's robotic severed hand (which grows legs and walks out of the lab -- can it get much weirder than that?). Anti-robot salt, grilled birds and neighborhood bullies all play a part.
Though it's a stereotype that homeschooled kids are disconnected from the "real" world, Alexander makes a good hero for the story -- he's moral, hyperintelligent and becomes more determined and strong as the story goes on. But while Alexander grows more attuned to the world, Omega himself tends to wander through his journey, losing himself in wherever he happens to be.
While Jonathan Lethem occasionally loses his grip on the storyline, "Omega: the Unknown" is a suitably quirky revamp of an even quirkier superhero story, and definitely worth reading.
Jonathan Lethem is one of the most imaginative and acclaimed novelists of his Post-Millennial generation. His work is idea-heavy, and though he often references comic-book and science-fiction themes, the awards piling up around him as he taps away on his keyboard, his skillfully crafted prose, and virtuoso plotting, all keep him well-ensconced in the 'Literature' section at the local bookstore, instead of the Genre Ghettos of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Michael Chabon, who is Lethems' nemesis in every way (or perhaps Lethem is Chabons' nemesis), is also devoted to comic-books, SF, and pulp-fiction. His Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay', told the story of two young Jewish men who left Europe for America, where they made their names in the nascent comic-book industry of the 30's with 'The Escapist'. Loosely based on the creators of Superman, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, it incorporates the experiences of the many young Jewish immigrants who helped build the comic-book format and the concept of Superheroes (Stan Lee, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Bernie Krigstein, etc.). When he moved to try his hand as a comic-writer, telling the story of 'The Escapist' in a meta-textual spinoff Grant Morrison would approve of, it came out as a solid, but mostly uninspired debut in his newest medium. Douglas Rushkoff, a respected writer, created a dull mess called 'Testament' for Vertigo.
Lethem successfully makes the transition to sequential art, unlike his peers. He retains the weirdness of the 70's series and adds weirdness of his own. The character of 'The Mink', a nominal superhero whose boasting and shameless attempts at commodifying his brand contrasts with his occasional bravery and competence, is unforgettable and hilarious. This tale of an alien order of superheroes, determined to stop a nano-robotic epidemic that has wiped out planets across the galaxy, is perfectly suited for Lethem. When this plague reaches earth, turning humans into zombie-like slaves immediately compelled to build macro-scale robot warriors programmed to hunt down and kill their various Omega rivals, young Alexander Island is attacked by these Omega-hunters, losing both parents in the process. Even more disturbing, he learns that they were quite obviously not his biological parents, since they too were robots. As the incredibly bright young man finds a new home, a new school, and new friends (despite his intellect and manners), he begins to learn the secrets of his origin, and the role he must play in saving the planet he knows as home. This beautifully designed hardcover collects what is unquestionably one of the best mainstream comics of the new millennium. Farel Dalrymple is one of the most unique artists in comics and illustration, and his work on Omega the Unknown is 260 pages, two endpapers, two covers and a dust-jacket of the best art in modern mainstream superhero comics history. I know the names that people could throw like weapons in rebuttal -- Alex Ross (Marvels), Dave McKean (Arkham Asylum), Lee Bermejo (Joker), Paul Pope (Batman: Year 100), J.H. Williams III (Batwoman: Elegy), Frank Quitely (All-Star Superman), Eduardo Risso (Batman: Broken City) -- because those are the names I would throw. Those are personal favorites; but for one single virtuoso effort, Omega the Unknown is unassailable, the dark horse that takes it all. Apparently Marvel is letting this under-appreciated masterpiece go quietly out-of-print, and yet you can pick it up from marketplace sellers for the cost of shipping. It's such a great book, I had to buy a second copy... for this price, even at full price, this is a must-buy.
The bizarre plot: With the passing of his parents (who, by the way, turn out to be robots), 14-year-old prodigy Titus Alexander Island is declared a ward of the state, with guardianship of him falling to a nice young nurse who dwells in scuzzy Washington Heights, New York. As Alexander strives to fit in at his new school, the Sammy Sosa High School (no, really!), inexplicable things are going on around him. A mute, blue-clad being from outer space watches over Alexander and shares a tenuous psychic link with him. There are robots around, up to no good, and also malignant nanorobots. In the first issue, we meet the Mink, the sleazy self-designated costumed guardian of Washington Heights. He's not very likable and not much of a superhero. He's like the Stephen Baldwin of the cape & the cowl set.
On the surface, OMEGA THE UNKNOWN is a superhero comic. But, no, not really. It tends to deconstruct the superhero mythos. It's also just a bizarro story. The focus is on the kid, Alexander. So, Alex is a 14-year-old who is socially obtuse and boasts a comprehensive vocabulary. And there's his pyschic link thing. And, lest you think he's still a normal geeky teen, okay, he also happens to shoot laser rays out of his palms, palms which are then branded with the Greek letter Omega. So, no, not normal.
I'll backstroke some. Back in the mid-70s, writers Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes created the OMEGA THE UNKNOWN comic book for Marvel (see Omega: The Unknown Classic TPB). This title was immediately weird and iconoclastic, and it didn't sit well with most comic book readers. It was axed after only ten issues, but not before garnering cult comic status. It definitely shook up the world of one young Jonathan Lethem.
This trade, then, is Jonathan Lethem's very recent revival and reimagining of OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, also all done in ten issues (ah, symmetry). It's his comic book debut, because Lethem in his everyday guise is a bestselling novelist, and a quirky one (The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn). He's never quite forgotten Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes and their brand of 1970s oddity, so it makes sense that he gravitates towards this particular title. In a Newsarama interview, he's admitted to admiring the original OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #1 so much that he ended up borrowing prodigiously from it for his own first issue. Of course, Lethem's ensuing issues would begin to veer away from the original story. This trade also contains ten pages of Lethem and co-writer Karl Rusnak's reflections on the original OMEGA, as well as reprinting several panels of artwork from that comic.
Although set in the mainstream Marvel Universe, there isn't much in the way of cameos, guest-stars from or even many references to characters and things already established in that continuity. I think there's one mention of the Daily Bugle and one of the Avengers... What this does then is isolate Alexander and his strange cast and make their story into a more unique and unsettling experience. Without all the other Marvel Comics freaks around, you feel the strange impact even more. Farel Dalrymple's awkward, unconventional illustrations keep you further off-balanced.
Even I note that the robots' infiltration of society is a metaphor to technology's rapid encroachment into all aspects of our lives. But Lethem and Rusnak don't make it easy, not really. The narrative, often outrageous, sometimes ambiguous, will startle and flummox, will make you question the context of the authors' created reality. OMEGA THE UNKNOWN delves into themes of alienation and friendship, of franchising and technology run amuck and of the value of reading S. E. Hinton's Rumble Fish, and who knows what else. There's humor, but it's from around the bend and subversive. I like that the nanotech poisoning initiated at a fast food chain is combatted thru the ministrations of a food truck. And I really like the epithet on the deceased giant hand's tombstone. This hand, by the way, sprouted its own legs (again, so weird).
Wonderfully offbeat, but, in the end, I'm left reeling inside just a bit, and still with questions. Yeah, some of the enigmas are explained, yet not every truth is spelled out. This series is simply stingy with the clarity. For eff's sake, when all's said and done, I don't know that much more about the eponymous guy in blue. He is one truculent dude.
I guess it's apropos that the final issue is virtually without dialogue. Betcha it's another metaphor.
Jonathan Lethem is a somewhat popular "literary" author, who like his fellow writer Michael Chabon, has an affection for superhero comics that is reflected in his works, most notably with Lethem's book Fortress of Solitude. Nonetheless, Lethem is not the first name you'd think of when it comes to comic book writing, which makes the graphic novel Omega the Unknown all the more interesting.
The basic origin story of Omega is the same as the original Gerber comic: Omega is a silent warrior created by an alien race to defend their planet from robot invaders. Now he has come to Earth where he has a link to the 14 year old Titus Alexander Island, a kid raised in isolation by--as it turns out--robots. When his guardians perish, Alexander is thrust out in the real world. Omega and Alexander both have the same power: from omega-shaped marks on their hands, they can project beams of destructive energy.
As Alexander adjusts to his new life and Omega works behind the scenes, other robot invaders have targeted humanity, using nanotechnology to possess people. Working to protect humanity is The Mink, a costumed hero that is almost all media image and is in truth more villain than good guy. The Mink views Omega as both an adversary and a resource for new powers.
Though this technically takes place in the Marvel Universe--as indicated by references to the Avengers and the Baxter Building--no familiar characters pop into this standalone story. And as would be expected by Lethem, this is a story that is both sophisticated and accessible, with both serious moments and a lot of humor, such as with the Mink's hand which takes on a life of its own. The art isn't always pretty, but has a distinct style that fits the narrative. So although Omega the Unknown would generally fit into the same category of forgettable `70s Marvel heroes like Killraven and the Human Fly, Lethem and company are able to make him a very memorable character indeed.
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