Omega, the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem or why I’m not very good at reviewing graphic novels (or comics). First, I’m never very sure if it is a comic or a graphic novel. Because in the case of Omega the Unknown, apparently it started out as comics written and illustrated by some other people (Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, illustrated by Jim Mooney ) and ended up in this graphic novel looking format by Lethem. At the end of the novel, Lethem and Karl Rusnak, co-writer, discuss the original work.
Which brings up the second problem, people reviewing comics and graphic novels always seem to know the history of the series, the author, what strange publishing diversions occurred, etc. I just picked this one up because I saw Jonathan Lethem wrote it, and I think he’s a great author full of thoughtful ideas. See website. Futher insight on Lethem at Powell interview.
But when I starting reading it, I immediately became intrigued by Edie the sympathetic nurse from Oklahoma. Why refer to her as “the nurse from Oklahoma”? Are we a particularly empathtic (currently used as an unpleasant adjective, but only in relation to supreme court judges) lot? Was that a way of saying she was naive? I mean none of the other characters had a state attached to their persona. Maybe Lethem just understands, like the rest of us Okies, that Oklahoma is the center of the universe. I’d like to ask him why he picked Oklahoma for Edie and what does it mean? Characters also refer to Rumblefish. Another Oklahoma connection. Someone must have been an S.E. Hinton reader.
This is a story about a kid, Titus Alexander Island, whose parents were apparently robots. He has a relationship with the superhero Omega, who spends a lot of time being locked up. Omega seems to hang out in a mobile fry kitchen eating Bald Eagles. There’s the particularly annoying and nasty pseudo-hero, Mink, who is coincidentally dating Edie. Women are always suckers for the wrong guy. The history of Omega is slowly unraveled, as Omega is unravelling. There’s the omnipotent statute, “There are those who ask: If you know and see so much, why not lift a finger to alter the outcome? Believe Me, I ask myself that question every day.” There’s the sad story of the high school kid being bullyed and beaten. There’s nanotechnology and Mink’s hand growing legs. There are so many issues, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Four stars later ****,maybe a five. I liked this strange comic/graphic novel. The illustrations worked with the captions, dialogue and characters. At the end of the novel, Karl Rusnak, explains how Gerber raised caption narration to an art form. Well Lethem and Rusnak are genius at it as well. There is so much here that you just have to read this one for yourself. Farel Dalrymple is very clever, and I would like to see more graphic novels he has illustrated. It takes a long time for revelations to begin, hey, I’m in comic VIII before I really start to see the light. And comic X doesn’t leave much hope, the girls are alone, Titus is trying to recreate his parents and the heroes have been “warehoused”. I suspect I could read this 20 more times and find things I’ve missed, and still find it strangely compelling.
Links to people that know how to review comics, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?id=155&page=user_review