Writer Tom King is planning a modern cosmic epic as he launches The Omega Men in June, but the writer said the title is also something "edgy and different that people haven't seen in comics for awhile — something that has meaning, and is big, and is thrilling."
To kick off the story, King and new artist Barnaby Bagenda put together an eight-page preview that was released this week. And to the shock of most DC fans, it depicted the murder of beloved Green Lantern character Kyle Rayner.
The alleged murder of Rayner will be central to the new title's story as it begins in June, with the Omega Men characters — a space-based team of rebels — being hunted by the Citadel empire to answer for Rayner's death.
The Omega Men is launching in June along with several other new, innovative DC titles, as the publisher revamps its regular comics line after a two-month break during the Convergence event.
For King, The Omega Men is his chance to fly solo after launching Grayson last year with co-writer Tim Seeley. King's background includes the acclaimed graphic novel, A Once Crowded Sky, but his experience in the CIA as a counterterrorism operations officer has also come informed his writing.
So is Kyle really dead? And who are these Omega Men? What's so "different" and "edgy" about the series? And where did DC find new artist Bagenda? Newsarama talked to King to find out.
Newsarama: Tom, the preview came out this week, which was pretty shocking. We'll get to the apparent murder of Kyle Rayner in a minute. But the first thing that comes to mind with a scene like that is that it echoes real life — it feels like the sort of brutal murder videos we're seeing lately from ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Were you trying to echo the fears we're dealing with in real life?
Tom King: Yeah, what we're trying to go for here is the great, new, cosmic epic.
I think to modernize that concept — to make it relevant and cool, and to get people to leave their houses and go into this new sci-fi world, you have to ground it in what they're seeing every day on the news. You have to address real dangers. I think that's what all great sci-fi involves, and what great epics have done for over 2,000 years.
This is what makes us afraid today, so this is what's going to be in the story.
Nrama: I know that your background includes working for the CIA, and you pulled from that experience to co-write Grayson. Are you again utilizing your experience dealing with these types of threats as you write Omega Men?
King: Absolutely. The Omega Men — this is rebels against the empire. But this is a modern twist on it. These are rebels that don't fight clean. And most rebels against the empire don't fight clean. I mean, we didn't fight clean against the British, and the Iraqi insurgents didn't fight clean against the CIA.
So I'm taking that sort of experience — the counter-terrorism experience I have — and using that to inject at least some emotional intelligence in this.
Nrama: OK, so let's back up here. You're launching a brand new #1. If someone has never heard of The Omega Men before, how would you describe this series?
King: When they gave me this opportunity, they said, "We want to do something different, something very edgy.
We wanted to do something that people haven't seen in comics for awhile. Something that has meaning, and is big, and is thrilling.
My mind went back to my favorite comics — went back to The Dark Knight, went back to Watchmen, to Squadron Supreme, these great contained stories of my youth that took simple concepts and added a grounded, real-world element to them and sort of elevated them, made them even transcendent.
That's what I want to do with this.
I have the first 12 issues planned out almost beat-by-beat, and I want to tell one of those great DC stories — one of those stories that only DC Comics can tell.
Nrama: As you said, it's space based. Is it going to interact with other things in the DCU? Or are you just concentrating on building that corner of the DCU for the new universe?
King: It takes place in the DCU. I mean, Kyle, obviously was in the first eight-page preview. It's fairly self-contained, but there are DCU concepts inside it. We have no crossovers for the first 12 issues, but this is something that takes place within the DC Universe and is going to create a world that hopefully other creators can use after me and with me.
For the first 12 issues, it's one big story — the Omega Men and the Citadel, the bad empire. That's what we're focusing on.
Nrama: So who are the main Omega Men are in your series?
King: Right now, it's Primus — the bearded one you saw in the eight-page preview. Primus is more of a reluctant fighter. He's not used to this level of violence in his life now.
Broot was the big blue one in the preview. I call him a gentle zealot, instead of a gentle giant. He's a true believer in his own religion, but his religion is a kind of religion.
Nrama: We saw the irony of that in the preview.
King: Yeah. [Laughs.] Tigorr and Scraps are the muscle of the team. Tigorr's not only one of the best fighters, and one of the best tacticians in this system, he has a very complicated relationship with the Citadel empire. Scraps is a brand new character for this book, and she's the youngest member of the team. She has two guns, and you can't get her down.
And then we have a character named Doc, who's from the old Omega Men series, but didn't appear in the original Omega Men, the Marv Wolfman Omega Men. Doc is Wall-E at war, is what I say.
Nrama: From the Pixar Wall-E?
King: From the Pixar Wall-E, yeah. He's the only one who doesn't believe in violence.
And there's going to be a few others that I can't reveal now.
Each one comes from a different world in what we're calling the Vega System, which is a six planet star system.
Nrama: Do we get an origin story on how they came together, or is that something you reveal over time?
King: Yeah, I have a 26-page master document, single spaced — the planets they're from, the religions they believe in, who their parents are, where they were born. You're only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and the iceberg is huge.
Nrama: That should be in the back of the first collection.
King: I was just… we have to have a map. This is a world that needs a map.
I feel, in the post-Game of Thrones fiction world we're in, that you can't operate simply anymore. You need that kind of back-up story.
But yeah, the way I write, I write all action. I don't believe in exposition. I mean, if you read Grayson, I don't use captions or explanatory captions. I live by the motto that action is character.
It'll all come out through what they do, but it won't be explained all at one.
Nrama: This eight-page preview — as I said, it's pretty shocking, and I assume it's important to the story you're going to tell. So is it part of the first issue? Or do you pick up after this preview ends, with the aftermath of what they've done to Kyle?
King: The first issue takes place a month after this preview. So it's almost as if it's in real time.
None of these previews will be part of the first issues. These are just sort of free tastes for fans everywhere.
But my preview will play into the whole plot of the story. It's the kick-off to the story.
Nrama: They're hunted down, right, for allegedly killing Kyle? I'm sticking with "allegedly" right now! [Laughs.]
King: [Laughs.] Yes, they were already the most wanted people in this Vega star system, and the price on their heads just went up because — and this is not just my continuity — the Vega star system has a deal with the Lanterns that they're not allowed inside it. And so to have a Lantern killed on their territory means that, if they can't find these killers, they might have to let Lanterns in, which is unthinkable to the Citadel that owns this territory.
So the stakes are very high to find these killers.
Nrama: OK, now the point-blank spoiler question. Is Kyle Rayner really dead? I mean, you didn't' show him die.
Nrama: OK, let's put it this way. Will Kyle never, ever be seen again?
King: The story of Kyle Rayner and his role in the DC Universe is not over.
Nrama: That's a good answer.
King: Buy The Omega Men. It's going to blow your mind.
Nrama: Are you an Omega Men fan?
King: They're a little before I got into comics — like two or three years before — but I had gone back and read them. The first 13 issues, the Roger Slifer, who unfortunately just passed away — a fantastic writer — are absolutely amazing, especially the first four, where Keith Giffen is helping out with the artwork on them.
They were incredibly experimental and on the edge for its time. And I love them.
And even if you put all that aside, Alan Moore told two of his best stories of his life in the Omega Men universe, which makes me worship them even more.
Nrama: The artist on this — Barnaby Bagenda. I don't recognize the name. What's his art like, and what's he bringing to the comic visually?
King: You shouldn't know him very much. This is basically his first work. He does some small stuff for small companies. He's an artist out of Indonesia, which very much works with some of the themes I'm bringing into the book.
We found him through samples. I mean, we literally searched through thousands of people and were looking for the best match. We wanted someone with a unique perspective on this material. And we loved what he put forward, and we hired him from that.
And he's just, so far, been amazing.
I don't know how to describe his style, because it's so unique. It's not cartoony, but it's not — one thing DC has told us is that DC wants to move away from any notion that DC has a house style.
Barnaby's not a house style.
This is something new and refreshing. He puts a ton of emotions into his pencils. There's nothing stiff. It's all about getting across what these people are feeling. And his designs are amazing.
He came out of nowhere for me as well, and I couldn't be happier.
Nrama: I literally just googled his name and "sample," and this document with a ton of cool stuff came up.
King: We got very lucky. And I write these very twisted scripts where I ask him to do these impossible things, like you just read in eight pages where he wasn't even allowed to move the camera at all — he couldn't change the angle. Every single piece of action had to be just face acting. And he pulled it off somehow. It's amazing to watch.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Tom, anything else you want to tell potential readers about Omega Men?
King: The amount of effort DC and Barnaby and I are putting into this is amazing. Every single panel, every single beat, we're working toward making this story climactic in issue #12.
We're going to use a ton of old comic book tricks and new comic book tricks to tell a story that hasn't been told before. Please check it out. We're doing something different.