The Omega Flap

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an entry (since deleted) about Marvel’s Omega the Unknown revival and how word of it reached me concomitantly with news that a major problem in my life had been resolved. I wrote that the latter news so completely overshadowed the Omega announcement for me that I just didn’t care what Marvel was planning to do with Omega. The real damage, after all, had been done 28 years earlier, when the company’s former management went out of its way to ruin the characters and the series. I wasn’t interested, I said, in how the new regime reprocessed the remains.

Which was true.

For about a week.

As the euphoria over the personal news subsided, so did my state of denial: Omega was one of only two series from my early days at Marvel that I really did care about in a personal way. The other, of course, was Howard the Duck.

Like the duck, Omega was a completely original creation, with no roots in any extant Marvel character. Unlike Howard, who had made his first appearance in a “Man-Thing” story, Omega the Unknown even debuted as its own title. The series was my first long-term collaboration with Mary Skrenes, who is now my oldest and best friend and my collaborator on Hard Time. Much of Omega‘s content was derived from personal experience, both mine and Mary’s. We drew heavily on our own childhoods for aspects of James-Michael’s story and on observation of our neighborhood — Hell’s Kitchen in New York, circa 1975 — for the setting of the book.

Omega meant a lot to both of us. Its cancellation was painful. Learning that James-Michael’s story had been brought to a conclusion by another writer was infuriating. But at least that seemed to be the end of it. Decades went by, Marvel did nothing with the series, and both Mary and I allowed ourselves to believe they never would. I was convinced Omega had been forgotten, and that was fine with me.

I can be such an idiot sometimes…!

I should have known that nothing in comics is ever allowed to stay dead. Characters who get their brains blown out are routinely resurrected. No series is ever really cancelled anymore; it just lies dormant until some writer or artist successfully pitches a new “take” to the publisher. Above all, no trademark is ever permitted to slide into oblivion.

I decided to express my frustration in a post to the Yahoo Howard the Duck Group, which I thought would be a slightly less public venue than this blog. (Anyone can join and read a Yahoo group, of course, but joining requires a conscious expenditure of effort, which deters far more people than you might imagine.)

The ensuing discussion “escaped” onto the larger Internet. I was going to write a long post about it myself, but Rich Johnston has saved me the trouble by summing it up very neatly in his Lying in the Gutters column (see the section titled “Into the Unknown”) on Comic Book Resources.

Take a look at that column, and I’ll have a few personal notes to add here tomorrow.

(Rich’s sidebar on the Ultraverse characters is interesting, too.)

10 Responses to “The Omega Flap”

  1. Richard Bensam Says:

    I’ve been counting the days until you were ready to post more about this. I’ve said this before, but I cannot overstate how much that book meant to me when I was exactly the same age as James-Michael…also finding myself freshly attending school in New York City after leaving a very different place. I always felt it spoke directly to me in a way that no other single work of fiction ever has. Quite possibly Jonathan Lethem would claim the same thing…but if so, that just makes it all the more aggravating if he never previously considered how you and Mary would feel about this. Mary’s view of the involuntary reversion to prepubescence by these outside writers is entirely correct, I think. But that’s no exculpation; understanding why someone can act like a fool doesn’t make the action any less foolish. I hope he takes you up on your suggestion. More, I hope that somehow all this will lead you and Mary to finally tell the whole story properly, even if you have to call the book “Zed” or “Aleph” or any other alphanumeric substitute.

  2. Leviathan Says:

    The ensuing discussion “escaped” onto the larger Internet.

    My apologies. You specifically recommended that I ask other professionals their thoughts, and the places I asked seemed good places to reach such folks. Had I realized you wanted it more private than that, I would have approached that project differently…

    Which would have been a shame, I think, because the ensuing discussions were fascinating, and shed much more light than heat. A refreshing change of pace for the Internet.

  3. Marc-Oliver Frisch Says:

    I’ve expanded on Johnston’s piece on the Ultraverse characters at my weblog:

    http://poppd.blogspot.com/2005/06/out-of-exile-todays-edition-of-rich.html

  4. Steve Gerber Says:

    Leviathan: It honestly never occurred to me that you might pose your questions in an open forum. It should have. That’s entirely my fault, not yours.

    I agree that it’s probably for the best that the discussion went public.

  5. mike mullins Says:

    steve, i was reading your marvel books (omega, defenders, howard etc.) at the zenith of my teen superhero-comics reading stage and was supremely disapointed when you left marvel. i immediately noticed the dive in quality of the omega and defenders books. i rarely look at the superhero stuff now but i always search out your stuff when you do comics. your stories and characters are uniquely your own and i can’t believe marvel wouldn’t have asked you to write an omega revival. i’m sure this new fellow is competent but i’m sure reading the revival written by anyone but yourself would feel not unlike a rape…i’ll bet none of the jagoffs at marvel have even read your original! i suppose this precludes a relaunch of void indigo that i still await!! do you own void at all? if so what are you waiting for?? i’ll beg and send you $$ and prizes!!

  6. Jonathan Nolan Says:

    I always feel a twinge of adolescent reversion when writing about comicbooks, and it is tempting to say that this sort of situation heralds the END of comics… but it doesn’t.

    What I do believe though is that comicbooks don’t have any more innocence to lose. As for workers from other industries coming in to write comics, to be honest I am no great fan of any of their work in other genres. And coming into comics to manipulate the intellectual property of others makes you a hack. Steve is a creator; he is original and his ideas are sound and potent. Someone else writing for his stuff without his authorisation makes them at best a copyist and at worst a hack, no matter how “entertaining” the comic is.

    Also for the record – comics now sell a fraction of what they once did so companies (and sort-of-insiders) looking at any of today’s sales figures with anything other than wry amusement is a little deluded IMO. There can be no “hit” comicbook in 2005 because none of them sell close to what was the historic high number of copies in the industry. In any other industry this would be acknowledged but there is always an influx of gutter naifs to comicbooks, as noted, and they keep the lie factories alive.

    In this day and age people should just self-publish, accept the lower initial return and have faith in the eventual lucrative payoff. The real audience is computer-literate and wealthy enough to find your stuff and buy it.

    My 2 cents, and that’s all it is.

    -Jonathan Nolan

    PS

    Steve, Mary – your comics are world changing.

  7. Steve Gerber Says:

    I do own Void Indigo. I can’t find a publisher for it. (If any publishers happen to be reading this, I own Nevada, too.)

  8. Kitty Says:

    My only exposure to OtU has been the profile in the OHOTMU Book of the Dead. On the one hand, I’m interested in meeting this character within the confines of story, but that is sorely outweighed by my empathy with Mr. Gerber’s position.

  9. Claudio Piccinini Says:

    OK, just a few words: Omega the Unknown has probably been one of the most poignant and at the same time depply respectful things I’ve read in my whole life. Only a few important novel and comics are placed alongside with it. I don’t want to read a “conclusion”. I just don’t want Marvel to ruin it.

  10. Matthew P. Says:

    Having read it piecemeal, YEARS after the fact, I can tell you that Omega is a VERY powerful chunk of writing… And that the cop-out ending in Defenders was more than just a little bit annoying, especially given the complete lack of characterization carrying over from the actual series. But Marvel is intent (and has been for decades)on reanimating the corpse of “The House of Ideas,” processing and crushing every single character, no matter how minor, into THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, and stripping every oddball character of their charm, seemingly only to protect copyright. Most telling to me, I’d probably read an Omega revival, until poor sales kills it, or the inevitable Wolverine crossover kills my interest. If only somebody at Marvel realized that creators OTHER than Stan were important?