The late Steve Gerber certainly created many memorable characters with a voice that only he could recreate. However, his career was still at times rather rocky, and that led to some rather unfortunately shortened runs over time.
Perhaps the most frustrating of those runs cut short was the bizarre story of Omega the Unknown.
Omega the Unknown sounds like a somewhat familiar sort of character. He was an alien possessing superhuman strength, flight, and some energy projection powers, the last survivor of a doomed planet that came to Earth and fought evil. He also wore a cape.
That does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
Here’s where it’s different: Gerber, for reasons that are never really explained (by him at least) focused as much of the narrative if not more on a 12 year old boy named James-Michael Starling. James-Michael dreamed of Omega escaping a race of mechanical beings called the Protar. Omega was ostensibly on Earth to defend the world from the Protar, and he had some connection with James-Michael, but what was it?
It looks like Gerber never got around to answering it. James-Michael had problems of his own, some of which were fantastic and others that weren’t. James-Michael had some problem socializing, and his parents en route to New York so he could make friends or something were revealed to be robots, and while Omega did show up to eventually defend the boy after he woke up following a month-long coma, that didn’t really answer much. Sure, James-Michael had energy blasts like Omega, but the two didn’t become partners or anything.
That more or less covers what was going on in a way. Omega would have superhero problems. James-Michael would have kid problems involving racism and bullying. And eventually…Gerber got fired. Omega the Unknown was canceled with issue #10 during which, um, Omega was killed by the police while he battled supervillain Ruby Thursday because they thought he was the bad guy.
If that isn’t the perfect Gerber ending, I don’t know what is.
For what it’s worth, fan demand did get Marvel to finish the story in the pages of The Defenders, but that was writer Steven Grant basically being told to finish the story he didn’t even like all that much himself. He did the best that he could (pissing Gerber off in the process) with a story that had James-Michael realize he was an android of some kind, possessing the power to use energy projection by channeling power from the Earth’s biosphere. If he used too much, he’d destroy the planet. James-Michael threatened to do just that because he didn’t want to accept the truth, but then decided against it and killed himself with that energy instead.
How much of that was Gerber and how much was Grant, I don’t know.
Now, that would have been the end of it, but then something odd happened: novelist Jonathan Lethem was asked by Marvel to create something using any Marvel icon he wanted to. And he chose…Omega the Unknown. He got a chance to retell Omega’s story, using the same number of issues as Gerber did way back when, and once Gerber was consulted on the project, even he approved of it. The new Omega the Unknown got a couple Eisner nominations, and Neil Gaiman included as excerpt for his Best American Comics 2010.
That’s…not bad for a character whose actual story was probably never really finished. I mean, I got a bit mixed up just trying to recap this. I may have to try reading it myself somehow…