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Thursday, June 16, 2016

A brief summary of The Omega Men ongoing series (1983)

The Omega Men house ad (circa 1983). Property of DC comics.


When Marv Wolfman first discovered that he would be writing Action Comics in 1980, he had big plans for the Man of Steel. According to Wolfman, the writers at DC had a “tendency to create aliens faster than rabbits created heirs” and, for continuity reasons, this was difficult for a writer to keep track of. Thus, Wolfman’s first order of business was to create consistent alien races to be integrated into the DC Universe - hence he came up with the Citadel and the Psions*. Before Wolfman started writing Action Comics, he discovered that his proposal for a new Teen Titans series had been approved and decided to incorporate his new alien races into the New Teen Titans (ex: Starfire was on the run from the Citadel AND the Psions). Around the same this time, Wolfman was assigned to write the Green Lantern series, so he also took this opportunity to incorporate the Citadel in a story about Green Lantern battling space aliens in the distant future. Several months passed and Wolfman was looking to write a fill-in issue for Green Lantern and decided on a whim to write a story about a bunch of aliens on the run from the Citadel. Created by Wolfman and Joe Staton, they originally named the group “The Outcasts” but decided on a different name since Wolfman saw spin-off potential with this new team. The three Green Lantern issues that the Omega Men appeared in received a very positive reaction from fans and Wolfman realized they were on to something. Wolfman had the Omega Men appear in a few other stories he had written (ex: New Teen Titans, Action Comics) to gauge fan reaction before DC boldly unveiled the 1983 prestige format The Omega Men ongoing series to comic book shops across the country.

I refer to the 1983 The Omega Men series as ‘bold’ for two reasons:
  • they were part of DC’s pilot project to publish deluxe books - these consisted of an offset printing process and superior quality Baxter paper (the books sold for more than newsstand prices) 
  •  the series had no Comics Code Authority seal whatsoever - they could print all of the gore, foul language and sexually explicit material they wished

(Both of these modifications were made in an effort to appeal to serious comic readers who wanted higher-quality products with more mature content and mainly bought their comics from comic book specialty shops.)

The 1983 Omega Men series was a huge departure from the precedent Wolfman had already established. For starters, Wolfman was too busy with other projects so the writing tasks for this series were assigned to Roger Slifer (Wolfman remained as editor, however). Whereas Wolfman’s Omega Men was an adventure book about a team who banded together to battle foes, Slifer’s Omega Men was about a team of characters who joined to battle a common foe but were overcome with internal disputes and conflicting personal agendas. The series started with a bang and within the first six issues the Citadel War had been resolved with the Omegans as the victors. The first six issues were pencilled by Keith Giffen and were absolutely fantastic to look at. Giffen dropped the book after the sixth issue citing 'Science Fiction Super Team Overdose Syndrome’ as the cause - Giffen had to let one of his sci-fi books go, so he dropped The Omega Men and stayed with Legion of Super-Heroes (just for context, Giffen’s infamous Legion of Super-Heroes Poster came out around this time). Tod Smith took over as penciller after Giffen left.


1983 Legion of Super-Heroes poster by Keith Giffen. Property of DC Comics.
The poster that almost caused Giffen to quit comics!


As previously mentioned, The Omega Men series did not have the Comics Code Authority seal, and the first six issues contained a lot more graphic violence, adult language and implied nudity than some fans thought was called for. Slifer defended the content by saying that war was not pretty and by toning it down, the book would water-down the horrors of war and lose the impact it was trying to make. Slifer recognized that the longer the series focused on the Citadel war, the sooner it would stagnate - so he opted to end it quickly. Instead, Slifer had the series focus on the aftermath of the war - so we had a lot of stories involving political intrigue, the rebuilding of war-torn cultures/planets, power struggles, the moral ambiguity of characters within the series and how relationships played out amongst the Omega Men. Not too many readers realized that Slifer was weaving a lot of political allegory into the plot lines reflective of present-day world political situations in 1983 (ex: Vietnam/South American conflicts). Additionally, Slifer tried to keep The Omega Men self-contained with not much involvement from other mainstream DC characters (probably because he had realized they had created their own comic universe). Roger Slifer left the book at issue #13 because of irreconcilable differences with DC (it was due to creator’s rights, apparently) and Todd Klein (former letterer for the series) filled in as writer for a few issues until Doug Moench became the regular writer.

When Doug Moench and Tod Smith became the regular Omega Men creative team (The Omega Men #17) the series took a sharp turn: the mood was lightened and the series was less about fighting a bloody galactic war and more of an action/adventure comic. Some fans criticized Tod Smith’s illustrations for being too cartoony. Other writers and illustrators came and went (ex: Sharman DiVono, Kevin O'Neil, Marv Wolfman) before the final creative team of Todd Klein and Shawn McManus was settled upon (The Omega Men #26). Marv Wolfman gave up editorship of the series to Alan Gold after issue #24 - mainly because he was too busy with other projects - but still provided Gold with editorial advice to keep the series moving along. Back-up tales featuring the citizens of the Vega star system began to appear after issue #24 - this was a popular feature with fans and included stories written by Alan Moore (among other great talent). McManus’ painted covers for the series also received a lot of praise and adoration from fans. Omega Men #33 experienced a format change as more pages were added and advertisements were removed - Klein and McManus had to stop accepting other assignments so that they could focus on the creative thrust in the series. Sadly, the series was cancelled after issue #38.

Shawn McManus painted covers:
cover of The Omega Men #34 (1986). Property of DC comics. cover of The Omega Men #36 (1986). Property of DC comics.



With all of the brilliant things going for this series, why was it cancelled? Well...

A lot of fans were put off with Keith Giffen leaving the series after issue #6. Roger Slifer leaving after issue #13 didn’t help things either. I’m going to guess that the momentum that Giffen and Slifer created kept the series going strong, because in issue #18 the letter column reveals that The Omega Men was one of DC’s best-selling books at the moment. Strangely, while The Omega Men had excellent sales, they were somehow receiving hardly any fan mail. It was speculated that they started to lose readership around issue #22 - one theory was that the sea of other deluxe comic books being sold at specialty comic books shops were just too much competition for the title to bear. A new creative team (Klein and McManus) was brought in at issue #26, and in an effort to bolster sales introduced new characters (a former Green Lantern Corps member and Starfire’s younger brother) and a new war-themed storyline. Sales took a major dip around issue #28. Despite the boost in artistic quality that McManus brought to the table, he was unbelievably slow at getting issues illustrated and editor Alan Gold often had to find fill-ins to buy some time allowing McManus to catch up with whatever story he was working on. By the end of the series, The Omega Men had turned into an anthology book in an effort to tie up loose ends - the series was a victim of creative floundering (ex: characters were left under-developed, sub-plots were suddenly dropped for inexplicable reasons, some writers felt that The Omega Men should be a 'team book' and other writers did not, etc). In retrospect, Alan Gold admit that ending the Citadel War so early in the series may not have been the best story-telling strategy. The Omega Men mainly relied on word-of-mouth as far as advertising was concerned and you’d be hard-pressed to find an ad for the title in any DC publication at the time. Cancellation at issue #38 meant they couldn’t conclude a few storylines that had been developing. Most of the core team of the Omega Men died in the 1988 Invasion! DC comics company-wide cross-over event.

What was great about this series was that it was constantly evolving. It went from being a book about a band of rebels fighting a galactic war, to a book exploring the aftermath of a galactic war and the chaos that ensued. It then jumped to an action/adventure series - exploring the characters and their personalities further. It later turned into a giant space opera with weird sci-fi undertones. All the while the series explored themes such as diplomacy vs blind action, aggression vs trusting love, and blind obedience in religion (to name a few). Throughout the series the origins of just about every race that Wolfman dreamed up (Psions, Tamarans, Okaara) are gradually revealed and their cultures are thoroughly explored. This series lasted 38 issues and 2 annuals (which is not bad for a self-contained non-mainstream DC book) and covered a lot of ground in regards to Wolfman’s imagined Vega galaxy. I mentioned that Slifer wanted to keep this series self-contained but that ultimately did not happen - the Omega Men had a Crisis on Infinite Earths cross-over (The Omega Men #31), a Blue Devil appearance (Blue Devil #18) and a Teen Titans appearance (New Teen Titans v2 #16). Despite the Omega Men starting in the mainstream DC Universe (way back in Green Lantern v2 #141) they ultimately evolved into a sci-fi book with their own galaxy of characters.

cover of the Omega Men #3 (1983). Property of DC comics.
First appearance of Lobo (1983)


If anyone remembers the 1983 Omega Men series for anything, it would be for the infamous first appearance of a bounty hunter named Lobo (debuts in The Omega Men #3). When Lobo (created by Giffen and Slifer) first debuted he was a skinny clown-looking guy who rode a flying chair. So, basically, Lobo looked nothing like the jacked-up space-biker anti-hero we all know and love, and that’s because he only got his makeover by artist Simon Bisley sometime in the early 90s. After The Omega Men were cancelled in 1986, Lobo became a recurring character in Giffen’s 1989 L.E.G.I.O.N. series and basically became the poster boy for comic book anti-heroes.

*An early prototype of the Psions first appeared in a back-up tale of 1973’s The Witching Hour #13 (written by Marv Wolfman)

panel from The Witching Hour #13 (1973). Property of DC comics.
Early Psions (sounds like 'science')


Addendum: 
Alan Moore was editor Alan Gold’s first pick to write the Omega Men ongoing series: “Alan Gold phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to write The Omega Men, but I couldn’t because I’ve got a lot of other stuff and The Omega Men is not something I could see myself do easily without making some really really major changes … But what I did was, I offered to write a synopsis of a possible way that the Omega Men could be sorted out and made into a more viable sort of concept. I wrote about 27-30 pages.” (Amazing Heroes # 58, October 1984)


Further Reading:
What was Marv's opinion on this series? Glad you asked...


[This article first published on DC in the 80s tumblr in October 2013]

2 comments:

  1. American HawkmanJune 17, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    I loved the Earthman Harry Hokum that was the Citadel's military advisor unconditionally. He was like an evil Adam Strange!

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  2. How crazy is it that Roger Slifer left this to become a co-creator and story editor on JEM? Truly, truly outrageous.
    I don't think you can miss how the "skinny clown" you describe resembles a creation of his best friend, David Anthony Kraft. Lunatik, in turn, was inspired visually by Alice Cooper. Kraft was a motorcycle enthusiast, so it's ironic Lobo was re-made as a biker! But while Bisely created the peak popularity image of Lobo, this violence-parody character was actually remade biker style in the pages of 1988's JLA #18, penciled by Kevin Maguire, I think. Giffen plotted those books and may have thumb-nailed this issue; I wouldn't put it past him to be behind the image remake. And with whom did Giffen work at Marvel, on The Defenders, in 1977? Yep! Dave Kraft!

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