Review by Ian Keogh
In its original 1980s incarnation The Omega Men was a largely commendable blend of science-fiction with superheroics, primarily concerning itself with a rebellion against an entrenched evil empire. At it’s base level, Star Wars with super powers. Tom King has taken the themes of political rebellion at the core of that series and magnified them, and by reworking a cast with a minimal following he has the freedom to surprise.
Many different races inhabit the half dozen planets of the Vega system, and they’re culturally mixed across those planets, but ruled with an iron fist by the Citadel, from whom the Viceroy is the most visible representative. Rule is through fear and absolute cruelty. For every solider or official the Omega Men and their allies kill, a hundred citizens of the planet where this occurs are killed in retribution. This is hypocritically justified via lip service to a deity named Alpha.
Barnaby Bargenda draws most of the book in a loose style that effectively coalesces into detail, while the colouring of Romulo Fajardo Jr. plays with light in a profoundly unrealistic fashion, yet simultaneously adds depth. It’s mystifying and beguiling. Bargenda disciplines himself via a strict panel grid system, the regimentation working to such a degree that when guest artist Toby Cypress varies the layouts it immediately strikes as wrong. King, however, takes that grid system and at the final knockings flips it masterfully. The grid further brings to mind another graphic novel triumph, but that’s where any meaningful comparison with Watchmen ends.
King works a multi-layered game touring each world of the Vega system, posing questions with no definitive answer, moral, political, economic and religious, but primarily philosophical. To underline the intent every chapter ends with a quote from philosopher William James. King seemingly advocates a concept of right that works for individual rather than universal circumstances, with the means and their seeming callousness justifying the greater good. It’s uncomfortable reading within a genre that subsists largely on absolute statements and broad shades of grey. Real world parallels? Draw what you want. Omega Men can be drilled for allegory, and it’s there, but why obsess on the minor detail when the foreground is so fascinating?
Lacking a strong plot, that background canvas would rapidly wilt, and at times it appears on the verge of doing so, but on every occasion King drags it back with a fine revelation, a decent twist or some background information. A long game is being played by many parties, and integral to matters is the Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, lacking his power ring when he first meets the Omega Men, yet essential to their unknown purpose. The eventual divulging of his worth is amid a chapter shocking even given what’s been shown to that point, and King makes good subsequent use of the assorted colours associated with the Lantern spectrum.
Pay attention as you read. King permits the art to display a fair bit of what’s happening without underlining this via caption or dialogue, and if you don’t look closely you’ll miss matters, or at the very least be caught by surprise. Midway through the book there’s some excellent toying with identity, for instance, with Bargenda and King slipping one revelation alongside another.
The End is Here is ambitious, passionate, intelligent and majestic, a big beast of a graphic novel with an epic scope. Rarely can a re-boot have been both so surprising and so creatively successful. As King’s career and acclaim escalated, The Omega Men was reissued in a hardcover deluxe edition.