4 out of 5
Omega the Unknown starts off as one of Steve Gerber’s strongest writing endeavors. His character work, when tempered by Mary Skrenes, is especially strong, and that hit a peak here; it’s also an incredibly unique tale – it was then, and continues to be now – that gives Steve the room to work on some of his preferred themes without the usual issue-by-issue requirements of a standard Marvel book.
Unfortunately, it was also canceled before it could shore up those themes, and suffered in consistency due to a couple of fill-in issues by the end. Unlike Void Indigo – another one of Steve’s unrealized projects – in which the potential wasn’t yet clear, as its opening salvo was more focused on weirdness, Omega was so much more zeroed in on its psychological concepts and commentary right from the start as to clearly be something special. It is, thus, one of comic’s great disappointments that whatever the initial run of it was going to be was never completed.
The opening issue toys at typical Gerber weirdness with one of our main characters – a boy named James-Michael – is in a car crash with his parents, which results in him discovering that his parents… are robots. But the tone of this reveal is horrific, not comedic, and we’re rather distracted by two other factors: that James-Michael seems wholly undisturbed by these events, processing them with analytical language well beyond his years, and that we’re also cutting to another thread – that of Omega, a silent, blue- and red-clad warrior on a different planet, fighting against some faceless aggressors. Omega is, for some reason, zapped to our planet, and James-Michael is recovering in hospital; there are reflections of behaviors these two share – one experiences anxiety at the same time as the other, for example – but there’s no real clear tie between the two, though the man does seem to be drawn to stay within close proximity to the boy.
There are no “story arcs” in Omega. Issue-by-issue, the silent alien tussles with some Marvel foes – more out of situational need than any purer motives – and James-Michael attempts to integrate into society, after being home-schooled and having lived sequestered in the mountains with his parents. Omega puzzles over humanity in terms of what it means to him – via Steve’s ever precise and steady prose – while J-M considers the same, but ironically from an outsider’s perspective: not understanding why people act the way they do, at his high school with bullies or on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. This is a much more patient study of culture than Steve had previously been able to effect, while also slowly evolving the mystery of Omega, and his ties to J-M; the latter begins to manifest some of Omega’s powers, and Omega becomes more and more directly concerned as to J-M’s well-being. Meanwhile, they’ve yet to actually meet beyond glancing encounters.
As mentioned, there are some fill-in issues, #7 and 8, which is especially odd for what was, essentially, a wholly isolated Gerber / Skrenes creation. The writers on these issues do a fair job of appropriating the tone of the book, but they’re not Steve: they narrate what happens in the panels instead of giving us parallel written / visual information to follow. The books are also more clearly standalone scuffles, not really advancing the plot much; still, they must’ve been working from some guidelines from Gerber, as some carryover from these storylines occurs when Steve and Mary return for the final two books. However, the blow to the sense of build-up has been struck: issue 9 feels like the writers trying to bridge a gap from the preceding issues back to their own flow, and then by 10 cancellation was known, so subplots are dropped and the book starts to escalate toward a conclusion that – as written by the creators – never came. Even these rougher-around-the-edges books offer an incredible amount of promise, though, taking Omega into a kooky but fascinating direction – he dons a suit, and heads to Vegas to gamble! – and J-M’s side of things becoming darker and darker.
Artist Jim Mooney was a great fit for the book, starting out with a more typical bubbly and bright style on Omega’s homeworld before transitioning to heavier inks and shadows on Earth. He continues this juggling of heroic bombast and grounded realism throughout, leaning more heavily on the realistic stuff since part of the shtick is seeing Omega stumble through New York while operating in pseudo-Superman mode.
10 issues is, thankfully, enough pages such that we get a good feeling for what this strip could’ve been; that is – it was those things – it was quite genius, and affecting – it just got cut off before it could properly conclude. However, despite the partial waywardness of its last few issues, the strengths of what’s present (and the near perfection of the first few issues) is absolutely enough to cement it as an incomplete classic, worthy of the collections and attention its gotten in subsequent years, and top tier Gerber work.