Monday, September 19, 2016

If You Blinked You Missed..."Omega the Unknown" by Gerber, Skrenes, and Mooney

Greetings, Groove-ophiles! For those of us who were growing up during the Groovy Age, one of the most unique and well-remembered Marvel mags was Omega the Unknown. Co-created and written (mostly) by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, designed by Gerber, Len Wein, and John Romita, and illustrated (usually) by Jim Mooney, OtU was dark and mysterious--and yes, grim and gritty--long before it became "The Thing To Do." Gerber wanted to create a new kind of mag; one about a kid (James-Michael Starling) facing the dangers of the real world. Being 1970s Marvel, the powers-that-were there knew that a comic called "James-Michael the Emotionless" wouldn't long survive the spinner-rack jungle, so there had to be a super-hero headliner. Enter strong, silent (and I do mean si-LENT), and enigmatic Omega. He looked like a grown-up James-Michael, was super-strong, had strange mental and energy-based powers, and sported an omega motif. Gerber and Skrenes made him purposefully uninteresting so the focus of the story would remain on James-Michael who faced the horrors of growing up in Hell's Kitchen. J-M faced horrific living conditions (rats, roaches, winos--and those are the cheerful problems) at home with his young guardians, nurse Ruth Hart and photographer Amber Grant (who had the annoying habit of calling J-M "punk"), as well as flat-out hate and brutality at the local public school.  James-Michael's experiences were so similar to (but so much more frightening than) Young Groove's own school experiences, I felt the need for escapism--while I was reading the comic! Things were so rough for the kid that when Omega fought the (usually second-rate) super-villains, it was acually a relief. The villains didn't seem as bad as the "real" bad guys J-M faced. Says a lot when the "lightest" ish of a series is the one in which the protagonist sees his own parents die!
Cover art by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott

Omega the Unknown lasted 10 issues (December 1975-July 1977). Hardcore fans mourned the mag's passing because of the myriad questions that were left unanswered by writers Gerber and Skrenes. Gerber planned to tie-up Omega's (and of course, James-Michaels') loose-ends in Defenders, but he was fired from Marvel before that came to pass. Writer Steven Grant would valiantly try to do "what Gerber might have done" by wrapping up the OtG storyline in Defenders 76-77 (July-August 1979), but while Marvel was satisfied, fandom was not. Gerber never got to finish James-Michael's story, which is sad, to put it mildly. But we still have those ten amazing issues (well, two of 'em were fill-ins, but they weren't bad) to enjoy on a totally different level than most any other comic mag...ever.

More Omega next month!


  1. Thanks for highlighting this, Groove. Omega was indeed a fascinating little experiment - granted, it was flawed and uneven, but never not intriguing. And like you said, it's truly unfortunate that Gerber never had the opportunity to finish the story the way he (and, I assume, Skrenes) wanted. I agree with general fandom's dim view of the wrap-up in Defenders written by Grant (and I really did not like Lethem's reboot or whatever that was).

  2. God, I loved Omega The Unknown, or as I should call it: ' The Adventures Of James-Michael Starling with a sort-of superhero thrown in so Steve Gerber can get away with it '. So much to say about this series I'll have to do a piece on it meself, but basically, yeh, yet further proof how far ahead of everybody else Steve was.

  3. Fabulous first issue Groove! Yeah, I have those Defenders issues where the omega storyline concluded, tragically for young James-Michael as I recall. Great stuff Groove!

    - Mike from Trinidad & Tobago.

  4. Omega never really caught fire. I had a hard time figuring out what Gerber was trying to do with the series. Still, this came out during the period where Marvel was trying out so many different concepts, almost in defiance of any commercial considerations. I miss those days. You might want to run all 10 Omega covers as a theme some day. The last issue with its Cockrum/Marcos artwork was a beaut.



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