Kirb Your Enthusiasm (4)
February 22, 2011
Fourth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single panel from a Jack Kirby-drawn comic book.
OMAC arrived in 1974, a year after Jack Kirby’s cosmic opera “Fourth World” titles were canceled, leaving him with two years left on his contract with DC Comics and no real direction. Kirby’s career is full of such moments of financial and creative drift: when what must’ve felt like desperation resulted in great work — it forced him into the business in the late 1930s and pushed him to innovate for Marvel in the early 1960s. Of course he did just as much, if not more, good work under better conditions, but it was not always a bad thing when his natural grandiosity was pinched a bit, forcing him to condense rather than sprawl. In those two years of limbo he wrote and drew some of his best comics: The bulk of Kamandi and Demon, Our Fighting Forces and OMAC.
OMAC (One-Man Army Corps) was a working stiff named Buddy Blank who was “changed by remote-controlled hormone surgery … from space!” by Brother Eye, “the most sophisticated machine ever devised.” And he’s a force for peace — “large armies lead to large wars,” so OMAC contains conflict before they grow. Issue 2 (November 1974) finds OMAC on his way to Electric City to see Professor Myron Forest, the scientist behind his transformation. But the city is “closed” because villainous Mr. Big has rented it for the night; in return the citizens of Electric City won’t have to pay taxes for a year. Or, as Kirby presciently wrote: “It’s the era of the super-rich! When money, like technology, reaches complex proportions, complex situations arise.”
After OMAC fights his way into the city (“He’s breaking through!! This dude is a one-man army!”), he’s offered a ride in a convertible by two men — one in a harlequin suit and the other dressed as a skeleton. And here we arrive at our panel. It’s a typically deep space, seemingly stretching through the comic book itself, a technique Kirby probably learned from “Wash Tubbs” cartoonist Ray Crane. And within that space is Kirby’s blend of plausible machinery (really more like abstract patterning) and grounding realism, like a road and a goofy threesome silhouetted in a future car. Kirby is sometimes claustrophobic with detail — he’s controlling everything you look at, so there’s no way into his language. But sometimes, as with this panel, he allows himself transitions and moments of quiet (well, quiet and some exposition). Suddenly, rather than being in the middle of the action you find yourself just observing from afar.
After this panel, the story moves fast: The skeleton and the harlequin turn out to be hit men gunning for OMAC, but instead only succeed in killing Forest. Some pages later Mr. Big is defeated and OMAC is once again ready for assignment. And Kirby has finished a 20-page story about some of his primary themes: money, war and death, cloaked in hyperbole, esoterica and machinery. It all seems so simple, but then, like with this panel, you start to take it apart, look at what he did, and realize just how much this artist was able to pack in. Back against the wall, Kirby always produced.
2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker
ALSO ON HILOBROW: Joe Alterio’s Cablegate Comix | HiLobrow posts about comics and cartoonists | HiLobrow posts about science fiction | The New Gods generation
2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.
2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.
2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins
What do you think?
“Kirby is sometimes claustrophobic with detail — he’s controlling everything you look at, so there’s no way into his language.” This is especially true of OMAC, I think — I own the first several issues in the series, and I can never read all the way through one without getting visually exhausted. They are amazing, but you need to take a nap later. That’s why I was so pleased when Dan picked a relatively quiet panel about which to write. Nice.
OMAC is a beautiful nightmare of a comic. In my recent superhero seminar, we read OMAC #1 alongside the origin stories of Captain America and The Fighting American (super-soldiers all), and in light of criticisms of the superhero type as inherently fascistic. Many of my students seemed genuinely flummoxed by OMAC; it’s such a frighteningly dystopic vision.
(Evanier claims that OMAC was based upon an unrealized concept for a futuristic revamp of Captain America. The mind boggles.)
I agree re: the way desperation so often pushed Kirby toward terrific work. That’s the nutshell summary of his career, nearly.
Excellent post, Dan, thanks.
Charles — I dig ThePanelists.org. i wasn’t aware of it before I assigned this series (I swear!) but John Hilgart pointed it out to me recently. An entire website dedicated to this sort of thing — amazing.
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