The Omega Men: The End is Here
Medium: comic
Year: 2015
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Barnaby Bagenda, Toby Cypress, Ig Guara, Jose Marzan Jr
Keywords: superhero
Format: Twelve 20-page episodes, plus an 8-page prelude
Website category: Comics
Review date: 31 March 2021
I remember the Omega Men. They were a 1980s DC superhero team, written by Roger Silfer and drawn by Keith Giffen (whom I don't think of as an artist since he's one of my favourite DC writers, thanks to Ambush Bug). That's where Lobo began and you can see the 1980s Omega Men in the Lobo's Greatest Hits trade paperback.
In 2015, a new Omega Men series was launched. This was part of DC's 2011 "New 52" reboot of its continuity, more specifically under its 2015 "DC You" rebranding, but before the 2016 "DC Rebirth" reboot. (These reboots are why I lost interest in DC.) Comparing this series to its predecessors would be absurd. This new version has:
(a) incredible, painted-looking art. It doesn't look like most DC Comics books.
(b) a story of terrorist anti-heroes, innocent civilians getting shot in the head and off-planet governments that ask the local viceroy how many natives he'd like to execute as a gesture. These horrors have as much power as you'd expect of a documentary about real-life dictatorial regimes. They feel real. There's a crime here so horrible that it wouldn't be possible in reality, because the planet Earth doesn't have enough people.
(c) war. Actual, full war. Civilisations try to smash each other by throwing their soldiers into the meat grinder of battle. That's what the Omega Men's actions are heading for.
(d) no one is the goodie and everyone is the baddie. There's one straightforward old-school hero (Kyle Raynor, former Green Lantern), but the Omega Men who've captured him are super terrorists, not superheroes. The book's postscript suggests that they're not that easily distinguished from the tyrants they'd been fighting. Some of them just like killing lots of people... but some of them have backstories that are shocking even in the context of this series. You''ll probably swear at the page.
Heroism itself is being examined. Raynor wants to find a third way between the extremists... and that's what the Big Purple Baddie was trying to do too. Raynor is a Christian who prays to God even while being a space-travelling superhero (perhaps surprising), but the Omega Men themselves represent an alien theology of their own, embodied in the Alpha (beginning) and the Omega (end). Guess how much peace this alien religion brings.
Oh, and the Omega Men seem to be led by a pacifist, devoted to non-violent resistance. He masterminds and commits lots of killing, but he's philosophically opposed to it.
Don't read this book if you're looking for heroism, or indeed for likeable characters with redeeming qualities. It is, though, more stark and shocking than almost anything published in mainstream English-language comics. It also pulls off a deceptively difficult trick in telling a story of revolution, interstellar war and clashing civilisations, yet it always feels character-focused and locks your attention on to its main characters. (The dirty secret of "epic" is that it too often means "boring"... but not here.)
What I'll remember most strongly from this are two "holy shit" origins. Just those on their own would have made this one of the most remarkable graphic novels on my bookshelf.