Spotlight Sunday 9.29.19

From the Archives, Spotlight Sundays

Getting lots of reminders about a comic I read to destruction as a kid means that the Spotlight is shining again today, and there are spoilers ahead for…

DC Comics Presents #61
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: George Perez and Pérez and Pablo Marcos
Cover: George Pérez

OMAC lives so that man may live!

Over on Twitter, there’s been a lot of discussion about comics that have gotten me thinking about this particular issue of DC Comics Presents. In particular, there was a question about your “go-to” comics, the books that you would read irrespective of the creative teams involved, particularly in your earliest days as a comic reader. In one of my replies, I mentioned digests and team-up books, because they were really vital to helping fill in some of the knowledge gaps.

Digests often reprinted classic material, and team-up books gave characters who were a little more obscure a chance to be in the, er, spotlight.

Another question asked people to identify the single comic they’ve read the most. There are a lot of potential candidates for that title, but as I thought about it, I realized that it was probably this one. I loved this comic and read and re-read it to the point of destruction, and ultimately replaced my tattered copy of it – which I refused to get rid of for decades, despite its condition – a few years back, and I’ve re-read it on DC Universe a time or two as well.

I’ve also seen more than a few people refer to this issue as a favorite, and Kurt Busiek recently referred to it as one of the best of the run.

So…what makes it so great? Let’s find out!

Our story opens in “The World That’s Coming,” a time far in the future, in which “unrelenting technology is the new religion.” The One Man Army Corps known as OMAC has burst through the defenses of the illegal laboratory being run evil Intercorp scientists, and attempts to foil their latest scheme.

Unfortunately, OMAC is too late – they achieve their goal of sending a robot assassin back in time, using a time machine that will immediately self-destruct after use. Heedless of the danger, OMAC follows, diving though the time portal just before the machine explodes.

In the present day (1983), we find ourselves at the scene of a liquor store robbery in Metropolis that has gone sideways, and the would-be robbers are preparing to go out in a blaze of glory as the cops surround them. However, things take a turn for the strange as a giant robot suddenly materializes and, finding the police to be a nuisance preventing it from achieving its goal, the robot – Murdermek – causes them to scatter, and in so doing, catches the attention of the Metropolis Marvel.

Unfortunately, Murdermek manages to catch Superman off guard with some powerful missiles, sending him flying backwards into a condemned building, which collapses upon impact and buries the Man of Steel under tons of rubble.

As Murdermek, convinced that the “superior-humanoid” is no longer a threat, heads off to complete his mission, the criminals decide that wherever the robot that inadvertently saved their bacon goes, they’ll follow.

OMAC, meanwhile, materializes in the store, and as he sets off in pursuit of the robot, he, too, is hassled by the cops, and, like Murdermek, has no patience for them. Seeing this, Superman, who has made his way out of the rubble, decides to take out his frustrations on OMAC.

Naturally, the misunderstanding is immediately cleared up, and OMAC explains who he is, who he was – an average Joe named Buddy Blank – and why he’s here, and we get a nice transition to a confab between Murdermek and its would-be henchmen.

Murdermek decides to go to a place where its target is likely to be, as it’s the place where most of Metropolis is at that time of day: Metro Central Station.

It pays off.

While Superman tangles with Murdermek down in the tunnels, OMAC has troubles of his own, as Murdermek has kitted its henchmen out with some high-tech gear.

OMAC makes short work of the henchmen, but Superman’s battle with Murdermek takes a bit longer. Many people inaccurately assert that Superman solves all of his problems with his fists. It’s not true, and, in fact, he initially thinks he’s defeated Murdermek by encasing him in several tons of metal and glass, having used a combination of heat vision and super-breath to trap Murdermek in the slagged remains of a subway car it was going to use to wail on Superman.

However, when you’re Superman, there aren’t a whole lot of problems that can’t be solved with brute force, and so it’s one really solid punch that ultimately takes Murdermek down.

Meanwhile, in the World That’s Coming, Brother Eye, who doesn’t know what to do with himself without OMAC around, decides on a course of action and begins the process of repairing the time travel device, and as our story ends with a fun little twist that I won’t reveal (but that is kind of obvious if you read the story closely and aren’t a dumb 11-year-old like I was when I first read it), Brother Eye finishes the repair job and returns OMAC to his own time.

I recall that in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Byrne’s The Man of Steel, during that period in which it was unclear which stories never happened in the new continuity and which remained canon, this was the story that I was most worried about “losing.” I convinced myself that it was still canon, because there wasn’t anything in it – though the use of super-breath was a bit dodgy – that contradicted the new status quo. If anything, the idea of Superman really struggling to defeat an opponent made it a better fit for the new continuity.

But that was how much I loved it. I was perfectly willing to scrap everything else that came before, but not this story.

I really can’t tell you why I love this issue so much. I guess it’s just a lot of little things. The dialogue was especially snappy, and I recall it seeming a little more…modern and “hip” back when I first read it, particularly in comparison to some of the stodgy, old-fashioned dialogue of most books at that time.

Also, it was a fun concept, and one that really stood out for me after I saw The Terminator, as the comic had come out over a year before the movie but had that same “kill the hero’s ancestor” concept. It was a comic that was ahead of its time, which is only fitting, given that it centered on time travel.

The art – with breakdowns by Pérez, who had already been my favorite artist for years at that point, and finishes by Marcos – is great as well, with cool designs, excellent storytelling, and exciting action. One of my favorite panels in the whole story is when we see Superman straining at his utmost to really lay on the heat vision and melt the subway car.

Beyond that, there were the stirring speeches, which I was a sucker for at that age. We have OMAC’s “OMAC lives so that man may live,” and when Murdermek keeps knocking Superman down and asserting that it is invincible, Superman tells it that he’ll keep getting up, and as he delivers the finishing blow, informs the machine that it’s fighting more than a man – or even a Superman – it’s fighting an ideal…

And an ideal can never be destroyed!!

I think it’s also that this issue is where I first really got acquainted with OMAC and developed a love for the character. Prior to this, I’d mostly only seen him in old house ads, and had maybe read a story or two of his back-up feature in The Warlord. But here, I got the inside scoop on who he is and what he’s about, and learned some of the basic things about the character that add to my fondness for him.

He started out as just a guy – a janitor, basically – then became something more, something greater. As a nobody myself, that had a certain appeal.

I also loved his relationship with Brother Eye, and the scenes of Brother Eye in the World That’s Coming freaking out and fretting about the loss of OMAC just struck me as really poignant.

Beyond that, I mean…just look at him. OMAC looks cool AF. It would be many years before I finally got to read the original series by The King himself, and when I did, that cemented him as one of my all-time favorite Kirby creations.

(I also love the black and white mini-series John Byrne did in the ’90s, and the short-lived OMAC series that launched with the New 52 was a lot of fun as well. I’m less fond of some of the other things DC has done with the concepts, like the whole Brother MK I and the OMAC Project thing.)

In any case, with how much I’ve been reminded of my love for this issue lately, I thought it was worth taking the time to shine the Spotlight on it and share the love.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever return to writing these posts on a regular basis, but the odds are they will continue to pop up every so often. Especially now that I have some time on my hands, given that I’m no longer among the ranks of the employed.

So, with that in mind…

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One thought on “Spotlight Sunday 9.29.19

  1. I loved the opening issues of Omac with details like the crying room and stabbing room in the basement of his office building. Or Mr. Big buying an entire city for a night’s fun-and-murderous-games. But Brother Eye often got a little too deus ex for me.
    As you may know, Kirby originally conceived this as a kind of Captain America reboot at Marvel, but this was at the point he’d lost interest in letting them make big bucks off his ideas so he kept it with him until he was at DC.

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