What Is Known and What Is Unknown.


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When Jonathan Lethem’s 2003 novel, The Fortress of Solitude, hit the New York Times Best Sellers list on October 5th of that year, many comic fans were glad. They were happy not only because the novel’s title refers to Superman’s Arctic hideaway, but also because comic books played a big part of the book’s plot. It was a serious treatment and yet another step towards mainstream respectability for comics.

Considering the extent the medium appeared in his writing, it would only be a matter of time before Lethem was writing for comics. That time came in May of 2005, when Marvel Comics announced that the author would be writing a ten-issue miniseries starring their long-unused character, Omega the Unknown, originally scheduled for early 2006.

Omega the Unknown was created by writers Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes and artist Jim Mooney in 1976. He starred in the self-titled, bi-monthly series which itself lasted only ten issues before ending in 1977. Since the end of that series, the character appeared in only two issues of the Defenders in 1979. This series will be the first time Omega has appeared in comics in almost 18 years.

It seemed like the perfect situation. A hot, best selling author taking over an obscure character who was only gathering dust in Marvel’s archives—a character the author chose himself (Lethem has gone on the record in saying that the original series was one of his favorites as a kid). It seemed like smooth sailing for the company. But, alas, the waters got choppy.

Steve Gerber, co-creator of Omega, took issue with Marvel’s revamp of his creation. In a series of statements on the Howard the Duck Yahoo Group soon after Marvel’s announcement, Gerber spoke out against Lethem’s choice to bring back Omega from the dead. Gerber believes that any author reviving any character whose creators are still alive—and do not get royalties from their usage—are insulting the original creator more than paying tribute to him. He would rather that Lethem just left the character alone, or, since it is too late for that now, change the name of the characters from the original series to “make the book his own”.

Gerber’s comments distracted from the positive sentiment that Marvel was trying to create with their announcement, but it’s not the reason why the series is arriving over a year and a half after the company originally promised. Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada said in one of his regular interviews at Newsarama that Lethem winning the 2005 MacArthur Fellows Program, an award given to people who “have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction”, put “additional and unexpected demands on his time”.

Part of those demands had to be the creation of his follow-up to The Fortress of Solitude, the novel You Don’t Love Me Yet, which was released earlier this year. And some of the time was taken up by writing the Omega series itself. During the publicity blitz in March for his new novel, he stated that he had six of the ten issues written. So a portion of the delay could conceivably be attributed to Marvel wanting to get all the issues of the series in house before soliciting.

Omega is a mute alien who establishes a bond with a 12 year-old Earth orphan boy and acts as his protector. It is not known how Lethem’s series will relate to the 1970’s version. It being a sequel would be hard because Omega died at that series’ tenth issue. Whether Gerber considers it one or not, this new Omega series is Lethem’s tribute to the comics he grew up reading. It remains to be seen if this labor of love will resonate with today’s fans.  

Also out this week:

Howard the Duck #1:

The other Gerber Marvel creation from the 1970’s, Howard the Duck, arrives in a new series this week, and like Omega the Unknown, Gerber isn’t writing it. It must be “Let’s irritate Steve Gerber as much as we can” week at Marvel. I wonder if they are going to have staffers make crank calls to the Gerber household as well.

Gerber might not agree, but I think Howard is in good hands. Sure, it might not be as good as Gerber doing it himself, but Ty Templeton can write humor, and his Stig’s Inferno was one of the wittiest books to come out of the black and white boom of the ‘80’s. He is joined on art by Juan Bobillo, also a man familiar with comedy from his stint on She-Hulk.  

Ty Templeton (W), Juan Bobillo (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

The Vinyl Underground #1:

A supernatural story with ties to the London music scene? Didn’t we already see that several months ago with Image’s Phonogram? Yes and no. There are similarities in some ways, but this book is different. Think less Charmed, more CSI.

The Vinyl Underground is a quartet of occult detectives who solve crimes where there is magic involved.  Led by disc jockey and minor celebrity Morrison Shepherd, the team investigates these transgressions wherever they may occur—from the highest society to the dregs of humanity and everywhere inbetween. If you liked Vertigo’s Invisibles, if you are a fan of crime-noir, or you lean towards tales of the eerie and weird, than this book is for you.

Si Spencer (W), Simon Gane & Cameron Stewart (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99, Ongoing Series.

Beowulf #1:

Are you excited by the upcoming movie version of Beowulf? Starring Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie and dpringing from the minds of Neil Gaiman and Robert Zemeckis, it stand to be the movie event of the fall. The movie is bound to have its own share of tie-ins, this comic here is one of the first.

This four-issue, weekly series is the official adaptation of the November movie, but be wary of imitators . The poem was written over 1200 years ago, long before the ideas of copyrights existed, so therefore it is in the public domain. Anyone can do an adaptation of it, and hundreds of people have done so over the centuries. Markosia Enterprises has a different Beowulf comic scheduled for this month, and many other comics based on the poem exist in the back issue bins. 

Chris Ryall (W), Gabriel Rodriguez (A), IDW Publishing, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

All-New Atom #16:

You can’t blame Gail Simone for needing a fill-in issue. After all, she is gearing up to take over on Wonder Woman and still is working on Gen 13 and Welcome to Tranquility for Wildstorm. Something has to give. But who do you turn to to lend a hand? How about one of the most underrated writers in comics, and one with a history writing the Atom?

Roger Stern kicked off the 1988 Power of the Atom series. Of course, at that time, the Atom was Ray Palmer. So it’s no surprise that this issue, written by Stern, focuses on a little known aspect of Palmer’s life—and the effect it has on the current atom, his protégé Ryan Choi!

Roger Stern (W), Mike Norton (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.


William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.


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