OMAC: Omactivate can be seen as a tribute or, more cynically, a land-grab. Certainly each issue of OMAC credits Kirby as the character's creator; however, considerably more of Kirby's creations appear in these pages than just OMAC.
Despite that one other of Kirby's characters has already appeared quite prominently in the DC Comics New 52 universe, it's a surprise to see many of these others so early and, distressingly, to see them in a title that's subsequently cancelled. Whether their use is to stake claim to these characters in the New 52 from the outset or to feed other storylines still to come, it is nice to see Kirby's world perseveres, but OMAC fails to innovate with the characters in any significant way.
[Review contains spoilers]
DiDio and Giffen's Omactivate, to be clear, is plenty of fun. It's a brawler of a comic in Incredible Hulk fashion, with shades of the Hulk or Fugitive television shows. Hapless Kevin Kho is ushered from town-to-town by the sentient satellite Brother Eye, inevitably running afoul of some weird science creature that necessitates Kho's transformation to the brutish OMAC. This can get repetitive, though OMAC never professes to be more than what it is. Some slack must also be given to the book since it's still very much in set-up mode when the series is cancelled with this volume's final chapter.
The OMAC, if visually appealing, is the least interesting aspect of the series (nor is Kho all that developed, at least until the final and perhaps best chapter, when the creators open up about Kho's Cambodian heritage and his childhood feelings of isolation). Rather, DiDio and Giffen turn the series on the forces working both for and against OMAC -- Brother Eye, Max Lord and Checkmate, Sergeant Steel, Frankenstein and SHADE, and what even appears to be a Female Fury. On a number of occasions, it's the story's "guest stars" -- those people Kho encounters in his journey -- who steal the show, including the new Amazing Man Rocker Bonn, and the talking tiger Prince Tuftan and his crew.
All of this makes for an enjoyable comic. It's hard to see how OMAC could continue without some change in the status quo, most likely Kho asserting some independence against Brother Eye and taking control of his own adventures. This happens, to a point, at the end of the book, but it's hard to say if this was always meant to be or a quick-change function of the book ending. Either way, OMAC is rock 'em, sock 'em fun, though it's not hard to see why this book was cancelled since all rock 'em, sock 'em does not a lasting book make.
The inclusion of Prince Tuftan, however -- along with a Female Fury and also Project Cadmus, Dubblex, Mokkari, and the Evil Factory -- ought be an indication to DC Comics historians that OMAC is not the only Kirby property at play here. Rather, OMAC is a veritable Jack Kirby mash-up of OMAC and the Kamandi and Fourth World characters, though Kirby is only credited here for OMAC. This is not the first time all of these characters have met, mind you -- these characters had some interplay in Karl Kesel's Superboy and Final Crisis/Countdown to Final Crisis, if not even earlier.
But in as welcome as a Kirby mash-up series might be, it's a shame DiDio and Giffen don't stretch it farther. OMAC himself may have subtle changes, but Cadmus is still a covert genetics project still secretly run by the forces of Apokolips, Mokkari is still the lead scientist, his partner is still the man-ape Simyan, and so on. From the moment Mokkari comes onstage, the informed reader knows Simyan is around the corner, so when Simyan is "revealed" in the seventh chapter, it's not much of a surprise.
In essence OMAC follows exactly the larger story of Kirby's Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, with Kevin Kho to an extent in the Olsen role and Max Lord replacing Morgan Edge as Darkseid's unwitting pawn. Eric Wallace's short-lived Mr. Terrific series, in contrast, took the basic personality and character set of the "old" DC Universe's Mr. Terrific and reimagined and expanded on it for a new universe; DiDio and Giffen instead simply graft the original Fourth World story on to DC's new continuity.
The difficulty is that whereas a television show like Smallville could tease Clark Kent's eventual transformation to Superman for ten years, the same in the DC New 52 must lose its value at some point. When Sergeant Steel appears in OMAC two-handed, the reader knows it's only a matter of time before he loses one of those hands to be replaced by a metal one; sure enough, by the end of the book, he does. This kind of call-and-answer is gimmicky, placing the focus not on storytelling but on little teases toward the eventual (but at the same time unlikely) reestablishment of the "old" DC Universe.
It's the same reason readers receive the romance between Superman and Wonder Woman with some skepticism, because they know it's only a matter of time until a writer gets the green light to let Superman date Lois Lane. When the Female Fury in OMAC just happens to describe another Fury resembling Big Barda, the reader already knows that Barda will break free from the Furies and end up with Mister Miracle -- or, trying to run against type, the writers will have Barda stay with the Furies, or hate Mister Miracle; either way, OMAC sets DC on a path of telling the same stories over again. Giving Mr. Terrific new enemies and a new supporting cast takes the DC Universe in a new direction; having Mokkari kowtow to Desaad in the depths of Cadmus is just more of the same.
OMAC: Omactivate will be a treat, therefore, for Jack Kirby fans or those Kirby fans worried that "The King"'s more esoteric characters might not have survived the transition to the DC New 52. At the same time, this is simply a re-telling of Kirby's original stories, without even the modernization or mystique Grant Morrison applied to them in Final Crisis, and probably more needs to be done for those characters to appeal to the type of audience DC's New 52 is trying to attract.
[Includes original and penciled covers, variant covers, sketchbook and designs by Keith Giffen and Jim Lee]
Coming up ... Hawk and Dove, Deathstroke, Batman: The Dark Knight, and more.