Omega the Unknown
|Omega the Unknown|
|First appearance||Omega the Unknown #1 1976|
|Created by||Steve Gerber
Energy Burst Projection
Omega the Unknown was an American comic book published by Marvel Comics from 1976 to 1977, featuring the eponymous fictional character. The series, written by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes and illustrated by Jim Mooney, ran for 10 issues before cancellation for low sales. Despite its short run, it has remained as a cult classic due to its intriguing characters and unusual storytelling. A 10-issue series revamping the character was published from 2007 to 2008, written by novelist Jonathan Lethem and illustrated by Farel Dalrymple.
Creation and concept
Unlike many other superhero titles, the main focus of Omega the Unknown is not on the super-powered person in an iconic costume and cape. Instead the story largely deals with an unusually mature 12-year-old boy named James-Michael Starling. Through the 10-issue run of the original comic book series it is made clear that there is a connection between the laconic superhero Omega and the strangely analytical child James-Michael, with most issues adding to the mysterious nature of their relationship. Interviewed in 2005 after the sequel to the original series was announced, co-creator Steve Gerber stated that he "wanted to do a series about a real kid who was nobody's sidekick, facing real problems in what today would be called a 'grim 'n gritty' setting." The series was cancelled in 1977, but Steve Gerber promised to wrap up its unfinished plotlines in The Defenders, which he was also writing at the time. However, Gerber was fired by Marvel Comics in 1978 and never completed the storyline. In 2010, Comics Bulletin ranked Gerber and Mooney's run on Omega the Unknown tenth on its list of the "Top 10 1970s Marvels".
In late 1978, Al Milgrom, the editor of The Defenders, assigned writer Steven Grant to complete the story, the conclusion of which was still being sought after in fan correspondence. Grant did this in two issues of The Defenders in 1979, at the end of which most of the original series's characters were killed. While Gerber seemed unhappy with Grant's conclusion, it nevertheless tied up the loose ends of the comic series, and is considered "canon" by Marvel. Grant later wrote that the character held no interest for him, but he had tried to approach writing the story in the way that he felt that Gerber would have, had he been allowed to complete it himself.
In the premiere issue, the character of Omega is shown as the last surviving member of an unnamed alien race. He escapes the mechanical beings who have devastated his planet in a ship headed to Earth. The story then cuts to James-Michael waking up in bed having dreamed the events that just occurred with Omega.
In his waking world, James-Michael and his parents are moving to New York City from the mountains so he can improve his socialization skills after years of home-schooling. En route to New York the Starlings' car is driven off the road and both of James-Michael's parents are killed, but not before the boy discovers that both of them were robots. James-Michael collapses into a coma and awakens a month later in a private hospital exhibiting an eerie lack of emotional response to his parents' deaths. The hospital is later attacked by one of the mechanical beings that destroyed Omega's home world, and Omega himself appears to defend James-Michael. The superhero and the android fight but the conflict ends when James-Michael himself destroys the alien mechanism with energy bursts from his hands (an effect used by Omega in James-Michael's dreams).
After this beginning, the story follows James-Michael's life as he is fostered to two young women in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. The series explores the problems he encounters in a strange new place, and his trials and friendships in a New York City public school. Issues of racism and bullying are addressed, although the stories' focus is on how the reserved and detached James-Michael relates to the world around him.
Meanwhile Omega the Unknown becomes a superhero figure in New York City, tending to fight only second-string super-villains (though he did once confront the Incredible Hulk)  with a variety of outcomes. Otherwise, Omega tends to appear when James-Michael is in danger and then takes a more proactive role. As the series progresses Omega and James-Michael eventually meet and interact, although the nature of their relationship remains unclear.
Omega himself is killed in the 10th (and final) issue, leaving the mysteries of the story unresolved.
Fictional character biography
Omega the Unknown is a humanoid being of superhuman power bio-engineered by an extraterrestrial mechanoid race named the Protar, from the planet Protaris in the Regreb System in the Milky Way Galaxy. The Protar, foreseeing its own extinction, decided to create an ideal race of true humanoids as their legacy to the cosmos. Their penultimate model, later called Omega, was placed on the planet Srenesk (an anagram of series co-writer [Mary] "Skrenes") to learn. He commandeered a Protar starship and fled to Earth after inadvertently destroying the world on which he was placed. The Earth was the home of the final "model" in his series, the artificially created boy James-Michael Starling, whom Omega sought to protect from the Protar.
While on Earth, Omega was employed for odd jobs by a New York City pawn-broker, and had a number of battles with local beings. He battled the Hulk, Electro, Blockbuster, and Nitro. While later embroiled in a rematch with Blockbuster, the second Foolkiller saved Omega's life by murdering Blockbuster.
Omega was finally shot dead in Las Vegas by the Las Vegas Police while battling Ruby Thursday; the police thought Omega was assaulting Ruby. James-Michael Starling, who had inherited Omega's power, learned the true origin of himself and Omega but refused to accept the truth. He threatened to use the power of Earth's biosphere against the Defenders. However, seeing the error of his decision, he committed suicide when he turned the power inward and self-destructed.
Powers and abilities
Omega was created through Protariana technology, and has superhuman strength. He has limited psychokinetic abilities, and has a psionic rapport with other Protar organic creations.
Omega was educated as a warrior on the planet Srenesk, trained in the fighting skills of a Srenesk warrior. The extraterrestrial Sreneskian endowed him with the ability to draw upon the psionic energy of the biosphere to project energy bolts from his hands and fly. Using biospheric energy beyond a certain level could result in global destruction, however.
In 2005, novelist Jonathan Lethem announced that he was planning to revive the character of Omega the Unknown, in collaboration with artist Farel Dalrymple, in a ten-issue limited series to be published in 2006. Lethem was a childhood fan of the first Omega series, and referenced the character in his 2003 novel The Fortress of Solitude. When asked about Omega's appeal, Lethem stated,
When Marvel invited me into their vault of iconography, I simply leapt at the icon that resonated most deeply with me. It didn't hurt that Omega had been laying in neglect for so long, I might have had trouble trying to utilize a character who'd been put through so many paces as Spider-Man or the Hulk, say. Omega seemed a resource of thwarted possibility, open to speculation, not plumbed-out.
After hearing of Lethem's plans to revive Omega, the character's co-creator Steve Gerber expressed personal outrage over the use of the character without his participation, though he and Mary Skrenes later discussed the project with Lethem and admitted that he had "misjudged" him. The first issue of the revamped Omega the Unknown was published in October 2007, and Marvel released another issue each month until the tenth was published in July 2008. All ten issues have been collected and reprinted in a single volume.
The series was nominated in the "Best Limited Series" and "Best Lettering" categories in the 2009 Eisner Awards. An excerpt was selected by Neil Gaiman to be anthologized in The Best American Comics 2010.
The stories have been collected into individual volumes:
- Omega: The Unknown Classic (collects Omega: The Unknown #1-10 and Defenders #76-77, 224 pages, January 2006, ISBN 0-7851-2009-2)
- Omega: The Unknown (collects Omega: The Unknown vol. 2 #1-10, 240 pages, premiere hardcover, October 2008, ISBN 0-7851-3052-7)
- Sanderson, Peter; Gilbert, Laura, ed. (2008). "1970s". Marvel Chronicle A Year by Year History. Dorling Kindersley. p. 175. ISBN 978-0756641238. "In March , a new super hero series began called Omega the Unknown, created by writers Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes and artist Jim Mooney. The title character was an alien humanoid, who rarely spoke and served as protector to an eerily precocious young boy."
- Johnson, Rich (June 14, 2005). "Into the Unknown". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
- Grant, Steven. "Permanent Damage". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- Sacks, Jason (September 6, 2010). "Top 10 1970s Marvels". Comics Bulletin. Archived from the original on August 3, 2013. Retrieved August 3, 2013.
- Grant, Steven (w), Trimpe, Herb (p), Mitchell, Steve (i). "Little Triggers!" Defenders 76 (October 1979)
- Grant, Steven; Gruenwald, Mark (w), Trimpe, Herb (p), Milgrom, Al; Stone, Chic; Mitchell, Steve (i). "Waiting for the End of the World!" Defenders 77 (November 1979)
- Gerber, Steve (June 14, 2005). "The Omega Flap". Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2006.
- Sanderson "1970s" in Gilbert (2008), p. 190: "Writer Steven Grant devised this wrap-up of the Omega story line, killing off the other protagonist, James-Michael Starling. The mysterious connection between Omega and Starling was never elaborated upon."
- Hatcher, Greg (August 5, 2006). "Trapped In A Friday He Never Made!". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2006.
- Gerber, Steve; Skrenes, Mary (w), Mooney, Jim (p), Mooney, Jim (i). "Welcome to Hell's Kitchen!" Omega the Unknown 2 (May 1976)
- Gerber, Steve; Skrenes, Mary (w), Mooney, Jim (p), Mooney, Jim (i). "Omega the Unknown" Omega the Unknown 1 (March 1976)
- Gerber, Steve; Skrenes, Mary (w), Mooney, Jim (p), Mooney, Jim (i). "Burn While You Learn!" Omega the Unknown 3 (July 1976)
- Edelman, Scott (w), Mooney, Jim (p), Mooney, Jim (i). "Blockbuster!" Omega the Unknown 7 (March 1977)
- Stern, Roger (w), Elias, Lee (p), Mooney, Jim (i). "A Blast From the Past" Omega the Unknown 8 (May 1977)
- Gerber, Steve; Skrenes, Mary (w), Mooney, Jim (p), Mooney, Jim (i). "Fightin' Fools!" Omega the Unknown 9 (July 1977)
- Gerber, Steve; Skrenes, Mary (w), Mooney, Jim (p), Mooney, Jim (i). "The Hottest Slot in Town!" Omega the Unknown 10 (October 1977)
- Winters, Rebecca (May 1, 2005). "First Look: Meta-Hero Worship". Time. Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2006.
- Renaud, Jeffrey (September 28, 2007). "Jonathan Lethem Enters the Unknown with 'Omega'". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved November 5, 2007.
- "2009 Eisner Award Nominees Announced". Comic Book Resources. April 7, 2009. Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
- Lethem, Jonathan; Dalrymple, Farel; Gaiman, Neil, ed. (2010). "Omega the Unknown (Chapter Seven)". The Best American Comics 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 352. ISBN 978-0547241777.