Saturday, May 28, 2005

SPOILER Review: THE OMAC PROJECT #2

Greg Rucka and Jesus Saiz bring us the second installment of THE OMAC PROJECT, the INFINITE CRISIS lead-in mini-series following most closely the primary story in COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS. In this issue, Batman’s investigation into the death of Blue Beetle heats up, Maxwell Lord makes a vicious and daring move to take control of Checkmate, and the JLA begins to disintegrate under the weight of events in IDENTITY CRISIS< COUNTDOWN and other stories leading into INFINITE CRISIS. Dense (in a good way) and story driven, OMAC #2 delivers in every way and drives us ever closer to the coming CRISIS.

One thing to note here is that for the first time in one of the lead in mini-series, we are given all the information we need to enjoy this title. While not a big deal for obsessive DC fans, the lack of sufficient background information on characters and plots in the inaugural issues of DAY OF VENGEANCE, VILLAINS UNITED, and RANN-THANAGAR WAR made those books less than accessible to someone just returning to or discovering DC during this summer’s lead in to the fall’s main event. If THE OMAC PROJECT suffered from the same problem in its first issue, then the problem was solved thoroughly in #2. I commend Rucka and editor Joan Hilty for making sure new readers can come on board and hope that the #2 issues of the other three lead-in minis do the same . Having read DAY OF VENGEANCE #2, though, it doesn’t look like it is going to happen.

If the art in OMAC #1 seemed a little muddied by the colors and paper, the problem seems to have cleared itself up in this issue. Saiz’s work is clearer and just looks better, and we get a lot more expressive close ups for our characters. Given the emotional nature of the story and dangling plotlines it follows, this is a very good thing. Not much can be said for Rucka’s writing that I didn’t say in my review of #1; his characterization and dialogue are spot on and the story moves briskly forward.

Now, on to the spoilers.

After a brief review of the events in IDENTITY CRISIS that started all the trouble -- these are same pages that appeared in the preview -- we are witness to a meeting between Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and Booster Gold on the JLA moon-base headquarters, the Watchtower. Batman admits to creating, and then losing control of, the Brother I satellite. When he informs the others that the search for Blue Beetle has gone from a missing person’s investigation to a murder investigation, there is a tense stand-off between Booster and Batman. Who knew Booster had the intestinal fortitude not only to get in the Bat’s face, but take a (high powered) poke at him, too? Superman intervenes to save Batman -- who, by the way, stands stoic throughout the entire exchange -- and presses Batman for information. Batman knows Checkmate stole Brother I, and that Checkmate isn’t the organization it purports to be.

All the while, Maxwell Lord, the Black King of Checkmate, is watching. Exactly how the Brother I works and how it can view any conversation anywhere is still unexplained, but it is a power that Lord uses to full advantage throughout the story. He knows someone inside Checkmate leaked information to the heroes and sets about discovering who. There is a little red herring moment where it looks like Sasha Bordeaux’s cover is blown -- she is, after all, Lord’s right hand Knight , but is working against him and was the one to send a message to her old flame Batman that Blue Beetle had been killed and Brother I was in Checkmate’s hands. Even as Lord sets up a “meeting” with the other Kings and Queens of Checkmate, he sends one of the OMAC units -- there seems to be quite a lot of them -- to take out yet another B-lister: Overthrow. A quick check on The Unofficial Guide to the DCU Universe says Overthrow is an old Blue Beetle villain. The reason for his elimination is a little unclear, but my guess: DC is killing off all the Charlton related heroes and villains in order to re-boot that little universe on its own after INFINITE CRISIS. Maybe I am full of bunk, but that’s the call I am making right now -- which means Booster isn’t likely to be standing by the end.

When we return to Lord, he has gathered the Kings and Queens of Checkmate together and promptly outs Jessica Midnight -- the Checkmate Knight who revealed herself as a traitor to Sasha last issue -- and then mind-controls her to kill the Kings and Queens. In a nice little twist, Lord keeps Jessica alive to use her as a scapegoat for the killings. “We’re going to need someone to blame for this bloodbath, after all” indeed. It is a little thing, but it is a nod by Rucka toward a realization that there is a larger world out there and no matter how much Lord may control the inner workings of Checkmate, there is some sort of accountability.

Afterwards, Lord orders -- threatens, really -- Sasha to clean up any evidence Blue Beetle’s may have left behind that would lead to Checkmate. Batman finds her there and instead of sharing a few punches, they share a kiss. Of course, Lord is watching and that’s when not one but three OMAC units break in. Given that one OMAC unit went toe-to-toe with Superman, exactly how Batman and Sasha are going to survive and escape should prove interesting -- or make issue #3 fall flat, if it is too contrived 9which is the danger of creating threats equal to every scale of power in the DCU).

I give THE OMAC PROJECT #2 a 9 out of 10, not only because it moves the story forward -- which is always a good thing in this day and age of decompression-to-fit-the-trade-market -- but because it makes sure the reader, new or returning, is able to jump right in. Remember, writers, ever issue is someone’s first issue.

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