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browngirlcomics ([personal profile] browngirlcomics) wrote2017-02-11 03:01 pm

Omega Men (2015)

Omega Men (Amazon US) is published by DC Comics, but it has pretty much nothing to do with superheroes or the Justice League or any of that stuff. It stands apart as a sort of space opera masterpiece; the kind of science-fiction that isn't so much speculative as it is reflective of human society.

Just, you know. Featuring feline aliens and murderous military robots that look like Wall-E.

The conflict in Omega Men is pretty much the wars of the Middle East as they have been since the end of the 20th century. The allegory is sometimes too much on the nose; never more so than the first pages where a character is seemingly killed by a terrorist organisation -- and all of it caught on film.

There is religion ("may it please Omega"), violence, and moral quagmires that are never quite resolved. There's brutal, horrific colonialism. Dictators; a cycle of them, in fact. The morals of the "good guys" start in the grey and progressively moves into near-black. Stellarium, the oil-like commodity that people would kill to get their hands on. Israel, Saddam Hussein, sectarian violence -- it's all there.

And yet, rather than being heavy-handed as metaphors, they are effective. The characers and space setting are just different and interesting enough that Omega Men doesn't become a boring history lesson; but the kind that makes us think about how advanced society is still nowhere near utopia -- unless you're wealthy and/or privileged, of course.

It helps, I think, that the writer, Tom King, isn't some keyboard warrior making his observations from the comfort and safety of his home in the Civilised West™:

King, who served in Iraq, took his own first-hand perspective of the contemporary wars of the Middle East and brought the painful realities of it into Omega Men. And that is why it works. But I do also have to wonder how it would read to someone who lives in that region; who grew up with the backdrop of terrorism, revolution and Western interference in regional politics.

And that is what the book ultimately leaves me with: a desire to hear from the 'real' people whom King and his collaborators use to develop their the fictional archetypes. I don't see that as a failure of the book, but as a demonstration of its effectiveness as art. Art, at is most potent, helps us think critically about the world we live in, and better understand things that we may not otherwise fathom or even care about. King even uses William James quotes at the end of each chapter -- the same William James who devised the ethical quandry that underlies Ursula K LeGuin's famous parable, Those Who Walk Away From Omelas.

There are some really great discussion out there about Omega Men, but I haven't yet found any from people who maybe don't live so-called "First World" countries -- no readers who perhaps have a closer perspective to the story here than even King himself. But I'm sure they exist. They're maybe just not online, or at least not in the English-speaking parts of the internet.

Still, they are some great commentaries. Here are a few I liked:

  • The Omega Men Just Pulled Off One of the Darkest Endings in Superhero Comics Ever: There were no quips or mixtapes here, just the thirsty serrated edge of a moral dilemma.

  • Restriction & Revolution: 'Omega Men' And The Nine-Panel Grid: "... It's a dense story, full of world building that has managed to introduce an entirely new alien society and the two competing religions that drive it, and still have room for big action sequences where outer-space tiger men tear people limb from limb. It's a lot to get through, and the grid is one of the things that makes that possible..."

  • Cover Artist Trevor Hutchison On Designing 'Omega Men' Covers: "...At the start of each issue we’d all look at the themes and/or localities of the issue and pitch concepts that would work with our 'vandalized propaganda' theme..."

  • Fandompost Review: "... The sophistication with which Tom King handles the politics along with the plot and character is simply breathtaking. Like an origami rose, each layer reveals another, and peeling them back adds both complexity and clarity to the situation..."

  • HeroMonitor Review: "... The book's conclusion is rather disillusioned, and Kyle’s faith is shaken. The political reality sets in and very real questions arise about the effectiveness of violence, the existence of long-term solutions, and the consequences of waging an asymmetrical war..."