As discussed previously, they’re more like super-terrorists. And they just did something shocking in the latest issue of their great series.
Originally published 3/4/16
The basic set-up of The Omega Men—written by Tom King, with art by Barnaby Bagenda, Jose Marzan Jr. and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.—is a familiar one. The evil Alpha Empire rules the Vega system with a grim religious totalitarianism. Pulled together from planets subjugated by the Alphas, the polyglot Omega Men wage asymmetrical guerrilla warfare to try and bring the empire down. What’s different about Omega Men is how the book’s main characters conduct their insurgency.
They’re not the scrappy, wisecracking heroes of Star Wars’ rebel alliance. Primus, Tigorr, Doc and the rest are all deeply damaged souls, sentient beings who have had huge chunks of their humanity riven out by the actions of the Alphas. Some of them worked with the Alphas and have seen up close how the Alphas’ oppressions destroy individual lives and entire civilizations. The Omegas have chosen to fight them in extremely dirty fashion, and their skirmishes have seen innocent lives taken as collateral damage.
The strategy to take down the Alphas started with the kidnapping of one-time Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and slitting his throat on a live broadcast in order to fool the galaxy into thinking they’d killed him. Using Rayner as a central figure is key because Omega Men is proving to be the inverse of the Green Lantern Corps concept. The emerald ring-wielders often get referred to as space cops, which is mostly true: they maintain peace and order through most of the galaxy. But a cosmic treaty prevents them from entering the Vega System. If any justice is going to be had in Vega, it’ll be found through the sowing of chaos. So, yes, they put a bomb in Rayner’s neck to compel him to go along with their plans, let mass slaughter happen to cover a getaway, stole a sacred artifact from one planet’s (admittedly corrupt) church and crashed a starship into a heavily populated area. The Omega Men do bad things for good reasons. This week, they did something that’s made their slippery brand of revolution even more complicated.
Stellarium is the reason the rest of the universe lets the Alphas sadistically squeeze the Vega system until it bleeds. It’s a rare element that stabilizes the structures of planets so that they don’t catastrophically explode like Krypton did.
The Alpha Empire has killed billions of beings to mine stellarium, and the rest of the universe’s civilizations turn a blind eye to the atrocity because they need the elements for their planets’ continued existence. Omega Men #9 has the team exposing that hypocrisy with one of the members making the ultimate sacrifice in a very chilling way.
The series’ plot so far has had Rayner chafing at the Omega Men’s attempts to sway him to their cause. At every turn, he’s expressed disgust with the tactics they’ve used to battle against Alpha. Last month’s issue #8 took the team to Voorl, a planet destroyed by the Alphas’ stellarium strip-mining.
Omega team member Doc was part of an AI contingent that killed the seven billion inhabitants of planet Voorl, with the exception of sole survivor Scrapps. After Doc reckoned with his past, Scrapps and the rest of the Omega Men headed to the Audience, a gathering of high-powered representatives that’s beamed all over the universe. Rayner still clung to his ideals, choosing to plead for a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the war between Alpha and Omega. He’d hoped the truth about what happened on Voorl would create enough moral outrage to stop what was happening in the Vega system. The Omega Men didn’t give Rayner’s entreaties time to sink in.
Instead, they exploded Voorl and the stellarium deposits there, forcing a final reckoning for all involved parties.
Voorl was already devoid of sentient life, but the Omegas’ action imperiled many more planets across the universe. The end goal of all their actions is justice, but any possible just resolution of the Vega scenario will comes from a disturbingly Machiavellian scheme.
It’s rare to see mainstream comics tackle thorny political quagmires as directly as Omega Men does. The series happens in a milieu that is intentionally reminiscent of the Middle East, leaning as it does on a political power structure undergirded by religious zealotry. Stellarium is a stand-in for real-world petroleum, and this issue forces Omega Men’s Western readers to think about the lies and sacrifices offered up to pay for continued access to a valuable resource.
King achieves some wicked meta-commentary in Omega Men by indirectly linking the series’ resources-fueled politics to DC Comics’ most important character. Krypton is Superman’s homeworld, and its explosion was a tragedy that gave Earth its greatest protector. However, the Alpha power structure thrives off of preventing more Kryptons; Superman’s high-minded brand of superheroism doesn’t fly in this sector of space. When Rayner invokes truth, justice and the American way during his speech to the Audience, it’s robbed off any inspirational power by the detonation of Voorl. Rayner gets his White Lantern ring back at the end of issue #9 but what remains to be seen is if there’s room for any kind of superpowered idealism in the brutal political philosophy of this series.
Omega Men is a comic book series that lives in the dissonance between what people say they believe and how that belief informs the way they actually live their lives. It’s a provocative series that interrogates the black-and-white morality so prevalent in the superhero genre and uses that process to shine an uncomfortable focus on the real world. The Omega Men aren’t superheroes; they’re a lot more real than the Last Son of Krypton.