THE OMEGA MEN and the Futility of War

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THE OMEGA MEN is not, by any means, a light-hearted comic. It begins with silence. Beyond the screeching of a chair against the floor, the entire first page is wordless. It’s not long after this that the circumstances start to reveal themselves. A large omega symbol on a white sheet serves as the background to Kyle Rayner’s interrogation and subsequent — or so it seems — murder at the hands of the titular Omega Men. The camera broadcasting every second of Rayner’s last moments cuts out just before his death can be seen in gruesome detail. In fact, for nearly the rest of the first issue, Kyle Rayner remains absent.

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In his absence, readers get to know the Omega Men. Branded terrorists, the rag-tag group leaves no room for mercy in their quest to destroy the Citadel’s oppressive hold over the planets in the Vega system. The six planets of Vega all contain the precious material stellarium. In order to avoid a planet meltdown of Kryptonian proportions, stellarium must be mined and injected directly into a planet’s core. The Citadel stands to profit from selling stellarium, but the mining process renders a planet uninhabitable. The ensuing chaos to clear a planet creates the Omega Men and a destructive cycle of bloody violence and war.

War is Senseless Sacrifice

In issue two of THE OMEGA MEN, the Viceroy sentences four thousand citizens of Ogyptu to death for harboring Primus. As a member of the Omega Men, Primus and the rest of the team violated Ogyptu’s non-violence pact with the Citadel by killing several of their soldiers.

Primus calmly explains the slaughter to a recovering Kyle Rayner. The people of Ogyptu, under Primus’ direction, worked to stand peacefully in the face of the Citadel’s oppression. And they’re being killed for it. As a Lantern, Kyle asks for Primus to let him go and save them. It’s in his nature to want to help.

the omega men
THE OMEGA MEN #2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Beyond being a Lantern, Kyle Rayner is the first Lantern to master the entire color spectrum. However, helping is the one thing Kyle can’t do. Kyle surrendered his ring because the Vega system doesn’t allow the presence of Lanterns. While he was unconscious, the Omega Men inserted a watch into his neck that will immediately detonate should he do anything they don’t want him to do — and Primus doesn’t want him to go help the people of Ogyptu.

After hearing Primus wax poetic about his efforts on Ogyptu, you’d think he would want to save his people. However, it’s made increasingly clear that the Omega Men are fighting a war. War requires sacrifice, and if four thousand people dying so the Omega Men can obtain a ship to embark on the next leg of their mission to save everyone, so be it.

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Kalista and the Cycle of Violence

Princess Kalista of Euphorix, as part of her training, brutally killed a “native” every single morning. The murders serve a dual purpose; to enforce the hierarchy between the natives and the monarchy of Euphorix, and to better Kalista’s swordsmanship. When placed under scrutiny, this reasoning is thin.

Before moving to Euphorix, Kalista’s people lived in the Citadel. However, their religion didn’t believe Alpha to be a god, like the religion of the Citadel, but the first king in their royal bloodline. As a result, they were banished to Euphorix where they lashed out at the native population. The ultimate philosophy behind the killing is that it reduces more killing in the future on a large scale. Other planets colonized by the Citadel are either having an all-out war or remain uneasily subjugated. By that belief, almost any death can be justified if chalked up to a shaky “greater good.”

princess kalista and kyle rayner
THE OMEGA MEN #4. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Kalista hates the killing but initially has no other choice than to follow orders. In a vain effort to make up for this, she demands to learn the names of everyone she kills. However, this doesn’t stave off the helplessness. Kalista tells Kyle in a moment of vulnerability that everyone’s trapped in a cage, and even if they manage to escape, they fall right back in. The cycle perpetuated by violence is difficult and bloody to break.

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The Alpha and the Omega Men

At the heart of the comic lies the essential ethos behind the religion of the Vega system. Alpha and Omega are opposing forces. To worship Alpha is to worship life. To worship Omega is to take refuge in the certainty that death comes for everything. There exists no space in between these two forces, as the Omega Men clearly believe. Truth is black or white. In fact, as Primus tells readers at the very beginning, Omega is truth.

THE OMEGA MEN hones in on the cyclical and inescapable nature of war. From the moment Kyle Rayner hands over his ring and becomes part of the Vega system, he too becomes incapable of remaining separate from tragedy. He tells Kalista, “I came here to show people I could save them when no one else could. And I wake up on a planet with a bomb in my neck and 4,000 about to die. And I could’ve helped. I could’ve fought for those people. And these great Omega Men with their great ideals just kept me in their cage. I couldn’t get out of their cage.”

THE OMEGA MEN #4. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Kyle’s experience as a Lantern is defined by the fact that he got his ring by chance — Hal Jordan’s bout as Parallax left the Green Lantern Corps desperate for anyone to take up the mantle. The death of his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, forces him to take the chance seriously. Kyle Rayner finds meaning in his life as a Lantern through saving people. More specifically, saving everyone. If he can’t do that, what’s the point of having the ring?

Perhaps this is best illustrated when the Omega Men, against all odds, win the war. An exhausted and battle-worn Kyle Rayner advocates breaking the cycle and sparing the Viceroy’s life, stating, “He’s the Alpha. We’re the Omega.” He’s nearly successful, too. Until Kalista steps forward and decapitates the tyrant.

So the cycle continues.

The War May End But It’s Not Over

The war between the Omega Men and the Citadel occurs through numbered panels. That’s the only way to know how time is progressing — otherwise, all that can be seen are various types of violence depicted in various places by various characters. All the while, the same song refrain hovers over the scene. The Omega War unites the disparate planets of the Vega system, until day 182 of the war finds the Omega Men at the Viceroy’s door to finally end it all.

THE OMEGA MEN #11. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

After killing the Viceroy, Kalista says, “The war is over. I won.” Yet nothing is ever that simple. As Kyle is seen walking amongst destroyed corridors strewn with dead bodies, the military attache debriefing him calls him a hero for his work in Vega. However, just because the war is over does not mean the violence has ended. Each member of the Omega Men returns to their respective chaos.

Tigorr’s home planet, without a greater threat to bind them, turned against each other in a civil war. Primus, the non-violence advocate who sold his soul to Omega to win the war orders the deaths of 453 unarmed protesters who objected to his new regime. Scrapps, the sole survivor of the genocide on Voorl, disappears completely. Citizens who dare dissent against Kalista, the new ruler of the all five planets in the Vega system, disappear by the thousands. Omega reigns supreme.

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Readers Are Not Exempt

THE OMEGA MEN ends with Kyle Reynor in plain clothes, talking to his military attache. The attache expresses concern about Kalista — not because her subjects are disappearing in droves, but because she won’t clear a planet in the Vega system to mine for stellarium. The desire for stellarium is what threw the delicate balance of the Vega system into disarray in the first place. The military attache makes it clear to Kyle that if Kalista’s refusal continues, war is imminent. Stellarium prevents planets from going down the Krypton route. If destroying a planet in a far away system means saving everyone on Earth, so be it.

It’s just like sacrificing four thousand innocents for a chance at saving an entire system.

The military attache prompts Kyle to a pick a side in the inevitable conflict, especially after becoming so invested in the Vega system’s freedom. Instead of answering the question, Kyle talks about his past as a comic book artist. Specifically, he talks about the grids used by artists to create panels. The grids, Kyle says, resemble cages. As readers, the story is locked away from us, a separate reassurance that the story doesn’t have to be a reflection of who we are. It can just be a story. Throughout the entirety of THE OMEGA MEN, not a single illustration breaks out of the grid.

the omega men
THE OMEGA MEN #12. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

It’s no secret that THE OMEGA MEN acts as an extended allegory for the conflict in the Middle East. Replace stellarium with oil and the Omega Men with contemporary rebel groups, and you’ve got the same story with the same players. Kyle’s fourth-wall break at the end of issue #12 forces readers to recontextualize the Omega War in reality. It can be easy to read THE OMEGA MEN and think that the violence there doesn’t exist in our world. However, that would be denial. The destructive cycle of war will only continue if we don’t wake up and break it ourselves.

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