"The Omega Men" #8 finally answers the oft-repeated question: "Why do the Omega Men need Kyle Rayner?" The team brings their kidnapped Lantern to near-mythic Voorl, a reportedly "free" planet protected from the Citadel by its planetary shield, but things are not as they seem. Writer Tom King and artist Barnaby Bagenda keep the personal and political revelations coming, with an attention to pacing and detail that leads to huge emotional payoff. More than any other superhero book out there, "The Omega Men" really makes the reader feel large-scale injustice and tragedy. I can't wait to see where the series goes from here.
King and Bagenda have constructed this story like a puzzle box -- both on the physical page and in the narrative structure. The slow, piecemeal build was something that perhaps hurt the series sales-wise but has paid off immensely story-wise. Eight issues in, we're only just learning how the team was recruited and how DOC and Scrapps came to know each other. Other creative teams might have felt the need to introduce this backstory earlier, but King and Begenda have embraced a less linear, figure-it-out-as-you-go structure. This takes the reader on the same journey as Kyle.
More crucially, the creative team takes the reader on the same journey as the Omega Men through this approach. They've established the villainy of the Citadel as an accumulation of cruelties and indignities, executed through a nest of nefarious methods, rather than as one big, evil plan. This mirrors how oppressive systems work in real life: through the repeated, daily application of force. With all the planet-hopping, backstory hints and nine-panel grids, King and Begenda have shown the Citadel at work in a dozen different schemes. This is what ultimately makes Kyle's moral conundrum in this issue so believable. After repeatedly seeing how the bizarre, inescapable logic of institutional violence forces otherwise unthinkable choices on other people, it's easy to understand how those same choices could be pushed on our protagonist.
Bagenda and colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. have also created a vivid, surprisingly painterly science fiction feel. Much has been said about nine-panel grids in "The Omena Men," but it bears repeating, because the two that bookend this issue are just devastating. These small, tight panels are all about judicial use of details, and Bagenda really knows how to pick them. Whether it's body parts in the lower corner or the angle of a character's eyebrow, he uses detail and scale to great emotional effect.
While every page of "The Omega Men" has similar grandeur, Romulo Fajardo, Jr. is sneakily varied with his coloring. From the lush, Titian-in-the-jungle colors on Karna to the softer Monet-on-Mars palette on Koorl, he definitely plays with the color intensity and brush style to fit the mood. In a book with so many settings, his fluidity is a very necessary storytelling device.
With issue #8, "The Omega Men" provides yet more proof that it deserves the full twelve-issue run. This is easily one of the best comics you can buy.