As much as I can’t believe it, 2021 marks the ten year anniversary of the DC Comics publishing initiative known as The New 52. For a variety of reasons, DC made a clean break from the previous continuity by blowing it up and starting it all over from scratch — except when they didn’t. Over the course of a year, I’m going to go back and re-read every single debut issue from The New 52 line-up to see how much it changes things from the way they were before, how much of this new status quo stuck around and just how well the comic holds up ten years later.
The announcement of The New 52 came with a lot of expected announcements; you’re going to have Superman and Action Comics; Batman and Detective Comics; Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash. However, the breadth and scope of The New 52 allowed DC to take some pretty big gambles and risks with characters, franchises and titles that fans hadn’t seen for some time. One of the biggest surprises of The New 52 was O.M.A.C. by Dan Didio, Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish, Hi-Fi and Travis Lanham; not only because a 21st century reimagining of Jack Kirby’s bold sci-fi super-soldier was unexpected, but because of how good it ended up being.
Dan Didio was served as DC Comics’ driving creative force for over fifteen years, first as executive editor and later as co-publisher with Jim Lee; his tenure as DC’s head honcho was more tumultuous than I have time to get into in this article but as a comic book writer, he didn’t have best reputation. Prior to O.M.A.C., he only really had two significant credits to his name; he took over Superboy for its final six issues in 2003 and he wrote a forgettable run on The Outsiders prior to The New 52 relaunch.
Much of what makes O.M.A.C. as exciting a comic as it is comes from Keith Giffen and Scott Koblin’s crisp but chaotic action, which beautifully melds a classic Kirby influence with Giffen’s unmistakable personal style. The design of O.M.A.C. himself is perhaps the biggest departure from Kirby’s influence, but the key identifiers are there; he’s still got the eye emblem on his chest and the unmistakable O.M.A.C. mohawk is a must, but Giffen’s takes on it is much more a fin than it is a mohawk. It sways with his movements and adds to the otherworldly nature of the design which is emphasised also by O.M.A.C.’s electric blue hue, itself a nod to the robotic sleeper agent O.M.A.C. design of the mid-2000s.
O.M.A.C. #1 owes a lot to the first issue of Kirby’s 1974 series, but perhaps too much. The main crux of the issues are exactly the same. In the original O.M.A.C. #1, Brother Eye sends O.M.A.C. to Pseudo People, Inc to shut down the operation and in 2011’s O.M.A.C. #1, Brother Eye sends O.M.A.C. to Cadmus to shut down the operation. In both issues, once O.M.A.C. breaks through, there’s pretty much no stopping it and it feels like the panels and pages of the comic are doing everything they can to keep up with the one man army as it marches towards the end of the comic.
There are two big differences between O.M.A.C. (1974) #1 and O.M.A.C. (2011) #1 which I think show Didio and Giffen’s story as more cynical than their inspiration. In the original story, Brother Eye send O.M.A.C. in because Pseudo People, Inc is using its product to lure influential individuals into traps while in the modern story, Brother Eye sends O.M.A.C. in because it needs access to Cadmus’ mainframe. The fact that Cadmus is a shady operation is kind of secondary to Brother Eye and O.M.A.C.’s mission, whereas shutting down Pseudo People, Inc is the right thing to do because people are being hurt.
The other big difference for me is that Kirby’s O.M.A.C. is more human than Didio and Giffen’s and he gets a brief moment to showcase that, a brief respite with Lila, the Build-A-Friend that reminds you that underneath the one man army is a real person. Didio and Giffen’s take on that moment is to make the Build-A-Friend a willing accomplice and a walking weapon which attempts to use its attractive female form to stop O.M.A.C. and when that fails, resorts to violence. I think it says a lot about what Didio and Giffen took from the original O.M.A.C. and what passed them by that they reinterpreted this scene in such a cynical and violent way which misses the entire point of what kind of stories Kirby was trying to tell.
That said, there’s only so much you can compare something to the original work because O.M.A.C. #1 is almost like a remix issue, incorporating a number of different Kirby concepts within one story. Cadmus, Dubbilex and Mokkari are characters and concepts which were first introduced by Kirby as part of his Fourth World saga, specifically in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen while Kevin Kho’s girlfriend will later be revealed as the cousin to Jody Robbins of the Challengers of the Unknown. I also think it’s really important that this is an O.M.A.C. that exists in the present day; the original series was Kirby as his most futurist, predicting things like AI assistants and the gig economy, but with their New 52 interpretation of the concept, Didio and Giffen are saying “the future is here.”
O.M.A.C. #1 is a love letter to Kirby that works just enough in its first issue, although it’ll really come into its own in the subsequent issues. In interviews regarding the recent Eternals relaunch, Kieron Gillen noted that he often pondered “What would Jack Kirby do?” and realised that his answer to that question is “make up something new” which O.M.A.C. #1 doesn’t do enough of. It’s a fun, exciting comic in its own right but it leans just too heavily on its inspiration to really set itself apart. However, ten years later it does still remain Dan Didio’s greatest work as a comics writer, which is as much of a compliment as you want to interpret it as.