It’s safe to say that Jack Kirby’s time at DC Comics in the early seventies was a time the man didn’t remember fondly. Drawn to the company with promises of creative control and free reign to do as he pleased, Kirby quickly discovered that the competition was exactly like the company he had fled, Marvel Comics. His magnum opus, the Fourth World, was cancelled after only a year’s worth of stories, cut short by the sure death of low sales. Editors continuously made changes to his work, frustrated that Kirby’s unique style didn’t match the company’s own. The company didn’t particularly care what it was Kirby was working on, they just wanted his name on more and more books. After all, his name had been in large part what made Marvel so successful, it should’ve been working for them as well. But, no matter where they stuck Kirby, nothing seemed to initially click and, not wanting to give him the time to develop the numerous series, they pulled the plug again and again. Eventually, Kirby would find success with Kamandi, but in the meantime the King needed to fulfill the demands of his ridiculous contract. Kirby was not only contractually obligated to work on more than one title a month, he was also obligated to produce fifteen pages of art a week for DC.
Most modern artists can barely produce five full pages a week, and here Kirby was pumping out fifteen, writing, illustrating, and, most of the time, editing his own work on multiple books a month. It’s an insane workload for any man, but somehow, Kirby met the challenge with aplomb. That doesn’t mean he particularly enjoyed the experience, but he could do it as a reasonable pace, so that was enough. During the success of Kamandi, Kirby needed another project to meet his weekly quota. One book a month, at only around twenty pages, wasn’t going to cut it. So, Kirby did what he always did and pulled something magical out of his hat.
While working at Marvel, Kirby had toyed with the idea of doing a Captain America story set in the future, where the Captain was a lone soldier in the fight against doomsday. It’s a solid concept, so he retooled it and the world was graced with the first issue of OMAC, the One Man Army Corps. The initial idea was a relatively simple one: a meek and mild nobody would become the greatest soldier ever known to man, a true zero to hero. He was so meek and so mild that his name was literally Buddy Blank, with nothing interesting about him and no friends or family to interact with. He worked for a company in the future that produced android replicants for companionship in the modern world. Though pathetic, Buddy eventually is able to strike up a friendship with one of his coworkers, something he cherishes. It’s only when he discovers that the facility he works for plans to repurpose the androids into programable assassins that Buddy’s true destiny begins to take shape.
Captured and about to be killed, Buddy is suddenly bombarded with strange energies that transform him into OMAC, the One Man Army Corps. A true super soldier of the future, OMAC fights his way through the facility, taking out the armed guards and eventually discovering that his best friend was a replicant all along. Devastated, OMAC destroys the facility and is approached by the Global Peace Agency to work for them in protecting the world from a horrific future catastrophe. They reveal that it was they who bombarded OMAC with the energies to transform him into a super soldier with the help of their orbital satellite, Brother Eye. Indebted to the GPA and seeing nowhere else for him to go, OMAC agrees to go with them and defend the world.
Though the super solider was far from a novel concept (heck, Kirby had created more than one himself!) Kirby was able to put it in a completely new setting, the future, and use it to explore entirely new concepts and ideas about humankind. Throughout its eight-issue run, OMAC confronted cities that mob bosses could rent out for a weekend, an entire country’s military power, avenging atomic warbots, brain-swapping youth thieves, and mad scientists seeking to bottle all of the world’s water in order to sell it. It was wild.
Kirby was a noted futurist, always considering just what the world was going to look like in the coming years. He predicted the demise of the newsstand distribution of comics and the rise of specialty shops. He deduced that the world was going to find a way to bottle and profit off of simple water. He even guessed that, eventually, the world’s superpowers were going to grow too strong to fight in traditional wars. If any two world powers went to war, it would destroy the planet, so they would have to manufacture super soldiers to single-handedly fight wars for them. And, while a lot of that stuff exists solely in Kirby’s four-color adventures, a good number of them came true. OMAC was a fantastic opportunity for Kirby to explore any number of crazy ideas about the future and the One Man Army Corps’ continuous fight to save it from disaster.
Unfortunately, all the fighting in the world couldn’t save OMAC. Once again, abysmal sales prevented the book from really gaining a solid foothold on the newsstands and it was eventually cancelled after only eight issues. Kirby’s contract with DC would end soon afterwards and he would never work on the character again. Others would try their hand at the high concepts of OMAC, even connecting the hero with the other Kirby creation, Kamandi. It was eventually revealed that OMAC was Kamandi’s grandfather and had failed to prevent the Great Disaster that Kamandi explores in Earth-AD. An awfully somber end to a great action hero, but it was better than being in limbo.
OMAC wasn’t a book that Kirby particularly cared about all that much. It was a series created simply to meet a quota for a company that could care less about the man meeting them. It was dreamed up in a space where anything that stuck to the wall was considered better than nothing. It was, after all, just Captain America in the future, it wasn’t something Kirby had to try very hard to come up with. But I think that’s incredibly telling about the kind of creator Kirby was. He could take a simple, unimportant concept and make it into an essential, must-read series of the Bronze Age of Comics. Kirby was many things, but a lazy storyteller wasn’t one of them. He put everything he had into every story he ever told because he knew that somebody somewhere was reading it. It was his job to make sure that time spent reading his work wasn’t wasted. That’s not something you see every day.
If you want to read Kirby’s OMAC, you’re in luck. There’s only one real option and that’s the Jack Kirby’s OMAC: One Man Army Corps collection. It contains all eight pulse-pounding issues of the super soldier sensation of the future and you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t check it out.
The World That’s Coming is waiting.