Monday, April 25, 2005

OMAC PROJECT #1

Way back in the halcyon days when JLA had a regular writer and some level of consistency as a result of it, there was JLA: Tower of Babel.

Tower of Babel, one of the high points of both Mark Waid's run and the entire series, had a rather dark premise: Batman is paranoid and has elaborate plans to keep himself from getting either blindsided or overwhelmed. But what happens when someone else gets their hands on those plans and uses them for evil?

In ToB, that someone else was Ra's al-Ghul, who stole Batman's secret files on how to contain his fellow JLAers should they go rogue and used them in tandem with some general global depopulating schemes to attempt some real damage. This was years before Identity Crisis, so while there were thousands of civilian deaths, none of the heroes died despite the close calls and the upshot was Batman getting tossed out of the JLA and some follow-up team chemistry problems that were never really carried through on other books because this wasn't a Crossover Event. The final resolution came in JLA #50 with the team revealing their identities to each other (leading into the superb Id arc).

OMAC Project, taken in tandem with Countdown to Infinite Crisis, bears a strong resemblance to ToB -- if ToB had had no safety nets and had been a crossover story. We have another villain who knows Batman's secret identity using resources Batman set up to keep an eye on everyone else, except they are now being used for nefarious purposes. We also have Batman realizing too late that he's gotten everyone in a whole lot of trouble. And while it's still easier to accept Ra's al-Ghul as evil overlord instead of Maxwell Lord, well, you play the cards you're dealt and Greg Rucka presumably helped come up with this scenario.

OMAC Project #1 picks up quite literally where Countdown finished -- with the corpse of Ted Kord. The Checkmate agent who helped bring the late Beetle to that condition is revealed to be none other than erstwhile Rucka creation Sasha Bordeaux, missing since the end of the Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive epic. This first issue, showcasing Jesus Saiz's stunning art (not news to those of us reading Manhunter), is split between the follow-up to Countdown --most notably a strongly played Booster Gold (really as Michael Jon Carter) and Diana -- and establishing Sasha's place and motives. Sasha is caught in a bind: recruited into government covert ops to save the world, she has seen Checkmate perverted and wishes it were not so. Toward that end she has a tiger by the tail in that she is Max's right hand gal, which means not only that she can see everything he does, but also the reverse. There are very few who can help her and she will have to do many awful things to maintain her position and not let Lord suspect her.

[For those lucky enough to skip the BW:M/F arc, Sasha's backstory in a nutshell: free-spirited ex-Secret Service agent Bordeaux was hired by Waynetech to bodyguard Bruce Wayne. Bruce, dating Vesper Fairchild at the time, fell for Sasha and, in order to deal with that complication, turned her from Bruce's bodyguard to Batman's associate -- because everyone including Bruce knows Batman has no successful social interactions with anyone. Sasha was with Batman while Vesper was being murdered, but rather than blow Batman's identity, she became Bruce Wayne's accomplice to murder and refused all offers to rat him out. "Taking the bullet" for her employer, Sasha was 'killed' in a prison incident before she could be cleared and recruited into Checkmate. After Batman made life difficult for Checkmate with his refusal to believe Sasha was dead, she confronted him one last time where he told her he loved her, she told him it was too late and to forget about her, and they went their separate ways.]

Left unexplained from Countdown was how Max Lord could have taken over Checkmate without anyone in the costume business noticing. Rucka offers up an explanation that is doubly slick for also serving as an explanation for one of the most annoying aspects of post-Crisis Batman: Bruce Wayne's near-omniscience. Most of the reason why that omniscience is so annoying (beyond the obvious) is that it has been used so many times by lazy writers for a quick joke. All those Hamburger Helper plot advancements have snowballed and Batman ends up knowing things that there is no possible way he could have ever known -- why did he know Tempest puked after 'killing' the undead Tula (Tempest #4, referenced in JLA #68)? Here we find out how: Batman has spy cameras everywhere. Everywhere. The Brother MK1 network is on par with the Agents from The Matrix -- anywhere, anytime, anything. And now, instead of Bruce Wayne's passively voyeuristic and paranoid eye watching over the world, Maxwell Lord is using it in tandem with his corrupted Checkmate to take over.

Apart from the idea that NASA never noticed all that space junk flying around in low orbit (the final-page shot, looking like a space invasion, sort of begs the question 'Why not?'), the Brother system is kinda cool and freaky, aided by the technobabbly stream of data running through the panels where we are watching events through its eyes. In theory, it should be nigh on impossible to sneak anything past that system -- Sasha knows of the one dead spot along the balustrade at the Checkmate headquarters (yet seems curiously unconcerned about both that prominent camera by the Paris Metro station and the dead giveaway nature of the contents of the package she sent and the fact that she signed the note), but Batman would have made sure any and all corridors of power were easily visible.

The titular project -- One Man Army Corps -- is not a featured player in this issue beyond the fact that files related to it were the only ones to survive the sudden memory deletion at Checkmate. From Countdown we know that OMAC is Batman's baby and we have seen it in action elsewhere (Superman), but its relevance to bringing down the Black King of Checkmate has yet to be fully revealed.

Bottom line: Was this any good? For a first issue, it wasn't bad. As for the promise of the series? It could be great. Saiz's art is worth the price of admission alone and Rucka has made himself a modest career as a writer of thriller novels and thus knows his way around a fast-paced story. The deciding factor will be what sort of fast pace can he set when he's got to mobilize the entire DCU in tandem with the other Prequels to Infinite Crisis. Everyone knows that a caravan travels far more slowly than a single vehicle and I have concern that Rucka will be forced to travel well under the speed limit.

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