Jul 1, 2017
The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 857: Omega the Unknown #6, January 1977
Though Omega stands head and shoulders above much of the mainstream superhero output of the Big Two in the 70s, it doesn't always manage to avoid the annoying cliches of the medium of its origin. Today's cover is so thoroughly misleading. Let's look just past the fact that the antagonist is actually a blonde man in the comic itself (strange that that could be missed in the colouring. I wonder if the same person does the colour guides for the cover and the interior?). The large man in the overalls also appears to be specifically targeting Omega, and to be villain monologuing at the same time, neither of which is actually the case in the comic. Instead, we have a mentally-unbalanced man hearing voices and having a large amount of pain in his head lashing out at all and sundry in an effort to make the pain stop. What Gerber, Skrenes, and Mooney are obviously doing in the comic is portraying a very seriously disturbed man who is little in control of himself. What the cover depicts is a "bad guy."
There's conversations to be had about a number of things here. First we can think about this in terms of judging books by covers. That's what much of the comics industry relies on, really. A catchy, well-designed cover will draw the eye, and tempt one into looking within. And if that cover also features some awesome-looking action starring our hero, so much the better. It's not that cover is completely lying about what happens in the issue. Omega is attacked by a large man with a wrench (though it's the bullet between the eyes that ultimately takes him down !!?!), it's just there isn't the actual intent behind it that seems to be being portrayed here. Second, and this might be a stretch, portraying this man as villainous on the cover but troubled in the interior problematically stigmatizes mental illness. It's quite obvious from the interior captioning that we're supposed to have some sympathy for this man struggling with what seems like an insurmountable psychic problem. So to see him as villainous on the cover implicitly links dealing with serious mental illness to villainy. That's worrying.
Did I mention that Omega gets shot in the head right in front of James-Michael in this issue?
The next two issues of the series are guest-written. My thinking is that this is when Gerber started really being in conflict with Marvel over HTD, which perhaps necessitated some fill-ins. I wasn't going to read them, but I think I actually will. One is written by Roger Stern, who's a writer I really like, so that'll be cool.
To be continued.