‘[T]he lone survivor of an alien world, a nameless man of somber, impassive visage, garbed utterly inappropriately in garish blue and red…’
The opening quote from the banner blurb that, after its first, would introduce each subsequent issue of the short-lived (1975-1977) Marvel comic series Omega the Unknown, gives a sense of just how simultaneously wondrous and weird this comic was. Although it has become commonplace today to look at movies and TV shows for determining the potential value of a given comic, artistic merit should, and often does, also play a role.
When I think of under-valued Marvel Bronze Age stories, I can’t help think of this book.
Because its original run was abruptly cut short by problems facing its main writer (Steve Gerber was unceremoniously fired by Marvel in 1978), Omega never got a chance to fulfill its potential. Still, to this day, this comic has its admirers. The fact that it was revived years later by Marvel, in 2007-2008 under the helm of Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple, speaks to how influential this unusual comic has been on subsequent artists and creators.
To a large extent the main achievement of Gerber’s Omega title can be attributed to the imaginative force that was the hallmark characteristic of his writing. Although better known today for his work on the Defenders, Man-Thing and Howard the Duck, in Omega Gerber, with help from Mary Skrenes and Jim Mooney, achieved what was arguably one of his most artistically accomplished works for Marvel. Of all of the many series produced by Marvel in the Bronze Age, Omega the Unknown stands out as slightly more ambitious, albeit weirder but, in many ways, narratively more complex than other titles produced at the time.
In hindsight, over forty years later, the Omega comic can also be viewed as a bridge between Gerber’s super-hero scripts published in titles like the Defenders and the stranger, existentialist inspired, stories he developed in the pages of Howard the Duck. Although it suffers from a somewhat rushed and abrupt ending, and from the presence of too many guest appearances from other Marvel characters (obvious attempts to boost sales), all in all, taken as a whole, Omega is still an excellent psychologically driven sci-fi adventure mystery. Moreover, in spite of its shortcomings, it’s also still a joy to read.
The original saga was actually concluded in a two part story in the Defenders (issues #76-77), written by Steven Grant; but if he had the chance Gerber might very well have done things differently. It’s a shame Gerber didn’t properly conclude the saga of Omega himself. And even without an Omega the Unknown MCU movie anywhere on the horizon, this book deserves some recognition as a standout comic from a seminal period in Marvel’s history.
Omega the Unknown is basically the grim story of a precocious twelve year old boy named James-Michael Starling. Starling, as we quickly discover, is not what he seems. Within the pages of the first issue after a brutal car accident, we see that his ‘parents’ are actually sophisticated androids. ‘Beware the voices’ his dying mother’s decapitated head tells him before it is incinerated by the roadside. Later, we discover, James-Michael has a special connection to a bio-engineered warrior called ‘Omega’ – the product of alien Protarianan technology. This first issue traces the journey of Omega to earth and begins his interaction with the boy known as James-Michael. The highest known sale of this comic was a 9.8 certified copy for $395.00 on September 3, 2016. The last 9.8 sold however sold for only $142.95 on July 26, 2018 (both ‘buy it now’ sales on eBay), which isn’t bad but shows a strong downward trend. Add to this that the only sale of note in the last 2 months, has been a 9.6 eBay auction that ended at $46.00 on December 31, 2018 and it can be said that returns over the last year are mixed to negative: although slightly positive at +12.4% on 9.6 grades, sharply down (- 43.6%) on 8.0 copies after only two sales.
James-Michael Starling eventually begins his life again in Hell’s Kitchen moving in with his nurse Ruth and her roommate, part-time Daily Bugle photographer, Amber. Enrolling in public school, the comic begins to trace the day to day toil of life in a modern metropolis; all the while never ignoring the accompanying alienation and violence involved. Sure, there were many Super-people encounters along the way (Hulk, Mysterio, etc.), but Omega was never really a super-hero comic at heart. It was a sci-fi mystery. As such, it is a Bronze Age masterpiece. Issue #8, moreover, features the return of an original Gerber villain who is a stand out: the second Foolkiller. Originally introduced by Gerber in the pages of Man-Thing bringing him back here works and makes this issue the sleeper key of the Omega run. Only 4 recorded sales and only 15 copies on the CGC census. The highest sale of this issue was a February 2018 eBay buy of $159.00.