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Omega: The Unknown ()



OK, Virginia, There's No Santa Claus. But There Is God (TONY WOODLIEF, 12/25/08, Wall Street Journal)
As a parent, I believe (with the older apologists) that it's essential to preserve a small, inviolate space in the heart of a child, a space where he is free to believe impossibilities. The fantasy writer George MacDonald -- author of "The Light Princess" and "The Golden Key" -- whom Lewis esteemed as one of his greatest inspirations, suggested that it is only by gazing through magic-tinted eyes that one can see God: "With his divine alchemy," MacDonald wrote, "he turns not only water into wine, but common things into radiant mysteries." The obfuscating spirit of the "commonplace," meanwhile, is "ever covering the deep and clouding the high."

This sheds light on a seeming paradox in St. Paul's letter to Roman Christians: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. . . ." How does one see "invisible attributes"? Only people raised on fairy tales can make sense of that. It belongs in a terrain where magic glasses can illumine what was heretofore hidden, where rabbit holes open into wonderlands. No wonder some atheists like Mr. Dawkins want to kill Harry Potter.

I know Caleb and his brothers will figure out the Santa secret eventually, but I'm with Chesterton in resisting the elevation of science and reason to the exclusion of magic, of mystery, of faith. That's why I'm not giving up on Santa without a fight. Not everything we believe, I explain to Caleb, can be proved (or disproved) by science. We believe in impossible things, and in unseen things, beginning with our own souls and working outward. It's a delicate thing, preparing him to let go of Santa without simultaneously embracing the notion that only what can be detected by the five senses is real.

This all sounds like madness, I know, to people like Mr. Dawkins. But Chesterton held that believing in impossible things is actually the sanest position. "Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not," he hastened to add, "in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination." The alternatives to embracing man's mystical condition, he argued, are either to go the way of the materialist, who understands everything according to scientific principles, yet for whom "everything does not seem worth understanding," or the madman, who in trying to "get the heavens into his head" shatters his rational (but woefully finite) mind.


Not that comic book readers have ever been the in-crowd--especially not thirty years ago, but there comes a point in any bookish young man's life where his perfectly normal awkwardness may come to seem a burden of geekishness too heavy to be borne. Once upon a time that was the age at which he'd transition from costumed crimefighters to science fiction and the no less cartoonish writings of Ayn Rand. Nowadays they can just move on to computer games, where they get to play the superhero. But, suppose you reached that point and while you weren't ready to set aside the comics you did feel a tad juvenile reading them? What then?

Omega the Unknown, originally published by Marvel in 1976-77, offered one obvious answer to the conundrum. Written by Steve Gerber (of Howard the Duck fame) and Mary Skrenes and drawn by Jim Mooney it was so willfully obscure that the eager could mistake it for profound. As Jonathan Lethem, the popular novelist who rewrote the series for a 2007-08 run, says:
"The first issue of Gerber and Skrens' Omega was simply the greatest single comic book I'd ever read. It pushed all my buttons, and the series hadn't really even begun setting up the nerd-in-Hell's Kitchen theme that was going to become so vivid for me (and partly inspire The Fortress of Solitude.) I couldn't have articulated how it was setting up its reverberating mysteries, or functioning as a "serious parody" a metatextual self-deconstruction of the super-hero genre--but that's not because I couldn't have articulated those things. It's also that barely anyone had ever done them to that point."
But, of course, all that was really happening that the authors were forsaking the sort of universal themes and "radiant mysteries" that make for great art in favor of personalized navel-gazing and the pretense of deep thought. In a tribute to Gerber for Slate, Grady Hendrix notes that:
In the early '70s, most comic book writers were content to churn out insular, out-of-touch tales about the superheroes they worshipped in their childhoods. But when Gerber was first assigned a lemon of a book—Man-Thing, about a pile of sentient swamp ooze with a carrot for a nose—it didn't take long for him to turn it into freaky lemonade. He wanted to use comics to write about the real world, and, living in Hell's Kitchen, he was obsessed with landlords, slums, and moving to another city.
No offense meant, but are we really supposed to care that Mr. Gerber wanted to move or bother trying to figure out why he didn't just do so?

One is reminded that when the first Spider-Man movie was released in early 2002, it carried with it a timeless message that: "With great power comes great responsibility." Sure, Spidey is a silly superhero who dresses up like a bug and shoots gloop from his wrists, but such is the mythical form and the story's adherence to it that the film resonated in the post-9-11 world. Imagine releasing an Omega movie at that time, the gist of which would be that Hell's Kitchen was a crappy place to live in the mid-70s. Whoopty-flippin'-do.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C-)

  

Websites:

See also:

Jonathan Lethem (2 books reviewed)
Comic Books & Graphic Novels
Jonathan Lethem Links:

    -BOOK SITE: Fortress of Solitude (Random House)
    -Lethem in Landscape
    -ESSAY: Uncertainty Principle: Berger's Ambivalent Usurpations (Jonathan Lethem, May 2003, Voice Literary Supplement)
    -ESSAY: Russell Greenan's Genius: The return of It Happened in Boston? (Jonathan Lethem, 5/30/03, LA Weekly)
    -TRIBUTE : Wanting to be Joey Ramone (Jonathan Lethem, 4/20/03, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTE: to Amanda Davis (Jonathan Lethem, McSweeney's)
    -STORY : Glasses (Jonathan Lethem, Voice Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of Glue by Irvine Welsh (Jonathan Lethem, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of DESPAIR And Other Stories By Andre Alexis (Jonathan Lethem, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of TOUGH, TOUGH TOYS FOR TOUGH, TOUGH BOYS By Will Self (Jonathan Lethem, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of New York Characters, by Gillian Zoe Segal (Jonathan Lethem, NY Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Spider-Man directed by Sam Raimi (Jonathan Lethem, London Review of Books)
    -DVD REVIEW: The Killers (Jonathan Lethem, Criterion Collection)
    -PROFILE: Untangling the Knots of a Brooklyn Boyhood (DIANE CARDWELL, September 16, 2003, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: Under the influence of Philip K Dick (August 3, 2002, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY:Remains of the Day The Times takes a closer look at the gentrification of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, with the help of Jonathan Lethem, who explores the past of the neighborhood in his new novel, "The Fortress of Solitude." (NY Times, 10/13/03)
    -BOOK CLUB: Fortress of Solitude (Slate)
    -INTERVIEW : RE: Jonathan Lethem : Andrew Weiner talks to the award-winning novelist about his new anthology on amnesia, fiction as false memory, and the necessary art of forgetting. (FEED)
    -REVIEW: of Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (Alberto Mobilio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (Brian Logan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of Motherless Brooklyn (Luc Sante, Voice Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW : of Gun, with Occasional Music (Phil Daoust, Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem (Will Hobson, The Observer)
    -REVIEW : of As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem (Geoff Nicholson, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem (C.K. Hubbuch, Hungry Minds)
    -REVIEW : of As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lathem (Scotland Online)
    -REVIEW : of Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem (Gerald Jonas, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem (Andy Solomon, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of This Shape We're In by Jonathan Lethem (Judith Shulevitz, NY Times)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (A. O. Scott, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (Adrienne Miller, Esquire)
    -REVIEW: of The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (James Wood, New Republic)
    http://www.powells.com/tnr/review/2003_10_09 -REVIEW: of The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Fortress of Solitude (Brendan Bernhard, LA Weekly)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Omega the Unknown
    -Omega the Unknown (Wikipedia)
    -Omega the Unknown (Toonopedia)
    -SteveGerber.com
    -OBITUARY: Steve Gerber, Creator of Howard the Duck, Dies at 60 (MARGALIT FOX, February 14, 2008, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Steve Gerber, 1947-2008 (The Comics Reporter, 2/11/08)
    -AUDIO REMEMBRANCE: Steve Gerber, 'Howard the Duck' Creator, Dies at 60: Chris Claremont, former editorial director for Marvel comics, shares his memories of Gerber. (Talk of the Nation, 2/14/08, NPR)
    -Steve Gerber (Wikipedia)
    -TRIBUTE: One-Man Counterculture: How Steve Gerber changed comics with Howard the Duck. (Grady Hendrix, Feb. 20, 2008, Slate)
In the early '70s, most comic book writers were content to churn out insular, out-of-touch tales about the superheroes they worshipped in their childhoods. But when Gerber was first assigned a lemon of a book—Man-Thing, about a pile of sentient swamp ooze with a carrot for a nose—it didn't take long for him to turn it into freaky lemonade. He wanted to use comics to write about the real world, and, living in Hell's Kitchen, he was obsessed with landlords, slums, and moving to another city.

    -Jonathan Lethem (Marvel Comics)
    -PROFILE: Jonathan Lethem Enters the Unknown with "Omega" (Jeffrey Renaud, 9/28/07, Comic Book Resources)
    -INTERVIEW: JONATHAN LETHEM ON OMEGA THE UNKNOWN (Zack Smith, 7/20/07, Newsarama)
    -ESSAY: The Omega Flap (Steve Gerber, June 15, 2005)
    -REVIEW: of Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem (David L. Ulin, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Omega the Unknown (original series) (D. K. Latta, UGO)
Such was writers Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes literary, very enigmatic series, where James Michael seemed more the star than Omega...and whose "kitchen sink" experiences were every bit as fascinating as the super hero adventure (it helped that James Michael was an intriguing, thoughtful personality). The series was heavy on the questions: who was Omega? who was James Michael? why? how? And it's unclear whether Gerber and Skrenes had answers, or whether the enigmas were just an excuse for following these characters, and for ruminations on life and morality. Even the super hero battles seemed more than just fisticuffs as Omega and JM wrestled with each new experience, puzzling the paradox that is the human condition.

Some felt Skrenes and Gerber layered on style over substance, and there's some validity to that. But it was a potent, poetic style. Theirs was a down beat view of reality, too. In a letters page, Gerber said: "Our implicit suggestion?...society, cities, even other human beings constitute a hostile environment." Focusing exclusively on the iniquity around you is, in a sense, narcissistic ("everyone's out to get me") and as unrealistic as a writer who presents an exclusively Pollyanna view. But just because I don't accept, unreservedly, their philosophy, doesn't mean the series isn't provocative, nor the characters involving.

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